QUICK WORK BY CITIZENS AFTER OFFICIAL CEREMONY CANCELED
As many as 200 Alaskans gathered around the flagpole at the Delaney Park Strip on Monday to take part in a hastily organized Memorial Day observance, after the annual Municipality of Anchorage event was unceremoniously canceled late last week by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
Bernadette Wilson, a local business owner and activist, was the force of nature that brought all the elements together. The diminutive, lifelong Alaskan, niece of Gov. Walter J. Hickel, told attendees that they could expect a bobble or two in the proceedings, and that the big-name politicians were not in attendance. Today, it was just the people saying thank you to their heroes and telling living veterans that they, too, will never be forgotten, pandemic or no pandemic.
“This is not a state event. This is not a municipal event. … To be honest with you, I kind of thought they might show up today and attempt to tell us we couldn’t be here,” Wilson said.
“This is a ‘We the People’ event,” Wilson said, speaking into a low-powered sound system, without a stage or large speakers to amplify her message.
Talk show radio host Eddie Burke came up with the idea last Thursday to have an alternative “People’s Memorial Day” event, but it was really Wilson who took the idea and ran with it on Saturday and Sunday.
“This event was planned 48 hours ago by a few patriots who felt a great responsibility to keep our promise to never forget,” said Wilson, who has never missed a Memorial Day visit to her grandfather’s gravesite at Fort Richardson — until this year, when JBER canceled the public participation.
“We are missing some the things we have all come to know and love and associate with Memorial Day,” she said.
There would be no 21-gun salute. No military jet flyover. No presentation of colors.
“I cannot even tell you I have all the protocols down 100 percent,” Wilson said. “But what I can tell you, and I really and truly believe, is that hundreds of thousands of solders are smiling down on us from heaven above, stretching from Arlington to Fort Richardson National Cemetery. So while there may be a couple of hundred of us here, every single one of those souls is with us right now. Whether it’s your grandfather, your dad, your sister or your best friend, they are very much with us today.”
Wilson said that at some point in each person’s life they have the call to duty to defend the nation’s freedoms. “Today, as those freedoms hang so delicately in the balance, you answered the call and fulfilled your promise to never forget. This Memorial Day — especially — will be a day we never forget.
Wilson said that she had no grand dignitaries to introduce, and the crowd warmly received that news with applause.
“The mayor will not be joining us,” she said, and then had to stop for a moment to wait for the applause to die down.
“We can find certain excitement in the reminder that indeed it is not government that has solved our problems, it is everyday average Americans that became heroes,” she continued.
“So despite what the municipality of Anchorage has not sponsored, today ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people,’ we remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Wilson said.
“We’re bringing a message loud and clear to our veterans: We will never ever — with or without government — in the good times or in the times we have the virus, we will never ever forget you.” – Bernadette Wilson
Vocalist John Teamer sang the National Anthem and the Alaska Flag Song, as well as the official songs of the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, and Lt. Gen. Craig Campbell, Air National Guard, Alaska National Guard (ret.), gave appropriate, not lengthy keynote remarks. A bugler played “Taps.”
Then several wreaths were solemnly presented for fallen members of each of the branches of service. The wreaths, too, were quickly assembled over the weekend by a volunteer.
Among those attending were former Lt. Gov. Loren (and Carolyn) Leman, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, and former Mayor Dan Sullivan, but none had speaking roles.
Legislators in attendance included Reps. Chris Tuck, Lance Pruitt, Gabrielle Ledoux, Laddie Shaw, Mel Gillis, Sharon Jackson, and Sen. Josh Revak and Bill Wielechowski. Only one Anchorage Assembly member attended: Jamie Allard of Eagle River. They, too, did not have speaking roles at the “People’s Memorial Day” observance.
Want more? Watch Must Read Alaska’s drone video coverage of the event here: