Cemetery ceremony a Memorial Day tradition

Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 15:08
  • Members of the Glacier Brass play a musical prelude at a Memorial Day gathering at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery May 29, 2017. The annual event featured proclamations, an invocation, speeches and ceremony in honor of fallen U.S. servicemen and women. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Gravestones decorated with American flags at Fort Richardson National Cemetery May 29, 2017. Hundreds of Alaskans attended an annual Memorial Day ceremony there. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Col. Suellyn Novak, executive director of the Alaska Veterans Museum, salutes the flag during a Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Richardson National Cemetery May 29, 2017. Hundred of Alaskans attended the annual event in honor of fallen U.S. servicemen and women. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Verdie Bowen, director of the Alaska Office of Military and Veterans’ Affairs, speaks at a Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Richardson National Cemetery May 29, 2017. The annual event featured musical performances, proclamations and a rifle salute in honor of fallen U.S. servicemen and women. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Flags catch a brief ray of afternoon sunshine at Fort Richardson National Cemetery during a Memorial Day ceremony May 29, 2017. Despite wind and chilly temperatures, hundreds of people attended the annual event. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Maj. Gen. Laurel Hummel speaks at a Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Richardson National Cemetery May 29, 2017. The annual event featured speeches, musical performances and proclamations in honor of fallen U.S. servicemen and women. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • A crowd takes part in the Pledge of Allegiance during a Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Richardson National Cemetery May 29, 2017. Hundreds of people attended the annual event in honor of fallen U.S. servicemen and women. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Eagle River resident R. Clayton Trotter holds a portrait of his son at a Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Richardson National Cemetery May 29, 2017. U.S. Army Sgt. John Trotter was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan speaks at a Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Richardson National Cemetery May 29, 2017. The annual event featured speeches, musical performances and proclamations in honor of fallen U.S. servicemen and women. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Fort Richardson National Cemetery Director Virginia Walker attends a Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery May 29, 2017. Hundreds of people gathered for this year’s event. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Veterans lay a wreath during a Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Richardson National Cemetery on May 29, 2017. Hundreds of Alaskans attended the annual event. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Before the speeches, the brass band and the rifle salute, Memorial Day at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery began with silence and the sound of flags flapping in the wind.

Families strolled between rows of graves, holding hands and bouquets of flowers. A man sat silently between marble headstones, head bowed. Further down the path, a woman searched for the place where her husband lay.

Mary Wyne said she drove three hours from her home on the Kenai Peninsula to be at Fort Richardson on Memorial Day. Her husband, World War II veteran Roy Wyne, was buried there more than 18 years ago. She tries to come up as often as she can, she said. She comes to remember.

“They always have a beautiful service,” Wyne said.

Marked by somber ritual, the annual Memorial Day ceremony drew hundreds of people to the Anchorage military cemetery Monday afternoon.

At noon, they gathered around the flagpole to remember those lost. The Glacier Brass and the Midnight Sons Barbershop Chorus performed patriotic melodies. A volunteer recited the names on Alaska’s Bivouac of the Dead. Pastor Charles Forrest delivered an invocation. U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addressed the crowd. Maj. Gen. Laurel Hummel, adjutant general and commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs, read the official Memorial Day proclamation from the State of Alaska. Verdie Bowen, director of the Alaska Office of Military and Veterans’ Affairs, gave a guest speech. Members of the U.S. Army’s 59th Signal Battalion delivered the closing rifle salute. Many more people worked behind the scenes.

“The volunteers just come out of the woodwork, which we love,” said Virginia Walker, Fort Richardson National Cemetery Director.

It took a small army to pull it all together, she said. There were the volunteer musicians; the U.S. Army and Air Force members who help with sound and setup; the members of the Sergeants Association, who helped construct the Avenue of Flags.

Planning for the event starts in February, Walker said. She’s been doing it for 17 years now, and it’s still a labor of love.

“We have been trying everything we can to make it the best day possible,” she said.

For Anchorage resident Gayle Cleary, the ceremony is a powerful reminder about the price of freedom. Raised in a U.S. Navy family, she said she started attending the Fort Richardson event years ago as an example for her daughter, still a young girl. Now her daughter is grown, Cleary said she hopes the lesson sticks.

“I wanted to teach her about patriotism,” Cleary said. “To show her that there are people out there who are willing to sacrifice their lives so that she could live free.”

Eagle River resident R. Clayton Trotter knows about those kind of people. People like his son.

Sgt. John Byron Trotter grew up in Texas playing football and dreaming about joining the military, his father said. When he was 18, he enlisted. When he was 21, he watched a plane slam into the Pentagon and helped pull bodies from the rubble. When he was 25, he died in Iraq, gunned down while coming to the aid of fellow soldiers in distress.

“He was exceptional,” Clayton Trotter said. “He was also just like so many other young men.”

America has no shortage of heroes, he said. He sees that everywhere.

On Memorial Day, he sat near the podium, under the tent reserved for families of the fallen, holding a framed portrait of his son. Flags whipped in the cold breeze. After 13 years, Trotter said, the feeling of grief and loss hasn’t changed.

“Time just keeps going on, but it is right that we should seek to remember,” he said. “That’s what this day is all about.”

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

Facebook comments