WASILLA — Hundreds gathered at the Veterans Memorial Wall of Honor Monday to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars post 9365 marched from the Wasilla Post Office to the Aurora Cemetery to lay flowers at the graves of fallen soldiers and honor their service. Memorial Day was officially recognized in 1971. It had been named Decoration Day as an effort to honor the fallen soldiers after the Civil War.

“We’re here to respect the fallen and our combat brothers and sisters. We’re here in their remembrance and honor. That’s really what brings us here today. It’s always an emotional day for some more than others depending on who you’ve lost in battle,” said Damien Tserlentakis. “Having friends that I’ve lost in battle for me, it hits home. My father served in Vietnam. I grew up in a military home, so for me it’s not just a day that we should be here to celebrate, it’s an honor to be able to celebrate.”

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Tserlentakis served in the Army from 2007 to 2017 and attended the Memorial Day service on his motorcycle with a group of riders. The Veterans Memorial Wall of Honor was opened on Veterans Day last fall during a cold, icy and rainy ceremony. Just more than 100 people braved the weather to stand for the ceremony last fall, but on a gorgeous day in early summer, nearly 400 people crowded the pavement around the Veterans Memorial Wall of Honor to remember fallen soldiers together.

“To give back to the veterans, we owe it to them and this is just one step and I think it’s a good step and it’s just not one community doing this. It’s taken five different veterans organizations, it’s taken governments working together and cities and the Borough,” said Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle. “It’s something we can all be proud of.”

While construction is not yet complete, the Veterans Memorial Wall of Honor has provided easier access for those who would like to remember the fallen heroes any day, not just on Memorial Day.

“I see people here every day and we’ve never had that before,” Cottle said.

Proclamations from President Donald Trump, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Sen. Dan Sullivan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Mat-Su Borough Mayor Vern Halter, Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries and Cottle were read to honor veterans.

“These fallen heroes represent the character of our nation, a nation with a long history of patriotism and honor. A nation that has fought many battles to keep our country free from threats of terror,” Halter said. “On this Memorial Day we, as a country, come together to stand up and say, Thank you. We remember you.”

VFW Commander J.R. Hackett led each ceremony. An Honor Guard of Mark Jacobi who served in the Coast Guard, Ken Clark who served in the Army, Matt Larson who served in the Coast Guard, Jimmy Griffith whose father served in World War II, David Grathwohl, Hannah Murkin who served as a Senior Airman in the Air Force, David W. Webster who served in the Air Force and the son of a World War II veteran Patrick B Smith gave 21-gun salutes at both the cemetery and the Veterans Memorial Wall of Honor.

“It’s just dear to our hearts. It’s what our country’s all about, and my hope is that people don’t forget what these people sacrificed so we could stand here and enjoy a beautiful day like this. It’s a tradition that needs to be carried on,” Smith said.

Randi Bernier and Hank Hartman played taps for both ceremonies as well.

“In my opinion, there is no place more supportive of our service men and women than Alaska. I like to say that we live in the most patriotic state in the country. I’ve seen this support for our military from all corners of Alaska, from the large urban areas to small villages. And as a Marine myself, my family and I have been the recipients of this support,” Margaret Sharpe read from Sullivan’s proclamation.

While the Veterans Memorial Wall of Honor is providing an opportunity for more people to congregate on holidays that honor veterans, more upgrades are pending. Two additional phases will construct a covered pavilion, more wall space and plaques for each branch of the armed services.

“The citizens of Wasilla and the Mat-Su will never forget the valor of the women and men who defend freedom, justice and peace every day,” Cottle said.

Contact Frontiersman reporter Tim Rockey at tim.rockey@frontiersman.com.

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