Sunday, May 25, 2008
May 25 PA Arts Sunday - Memorial Day Edition
One of the most powerful places in Alaska is the Alaska Veterans Memorial near the Parks Highway, at mile 147.2. Each year, on Memorial Day, hundreds of Alaska Veterans and others drive up from Southcentral Alaska or down from the Fairbanks area, to pay tribute to our fallen warriors, our wounded warriors, and to all of those who have served our country in one branch of the armed services or another.
The main features of the memorial are a central, open-air pavilion, various bronze plaques, mounted either on concrete walls, or upon the faces of large rocks, and one of the most impressive stone carvings in our state.
The memorial site, located on a small hill above the highway, looks out over a view of Denali, that allows a glimpse of Denali's south buttress, in a nook between Pease Peak and Mt. Dan Beard.
Canadian sculptor George Pratt's granite work, The Scouts, is a jagged granite icon, placed in the middle of the lower entrance area to the pavilion. Its rugged simplicity evokes the visual art of Rockwell Kent, but also eerily, in the squint and concentration on the Scout's face, shows a hardness - matching the granite itself - one doesn't find in Rockwell Kent's work.
The plaques pay homage to servicemen or Veterans who fell in an untimely way, somewhere in Alaska. One of the access roads is named after the late war hero, James Leroy Bondsteel, who was killed in a bizarre car accident on the old Knik River bridge in April 1987, on the Glenn Highway, back before it was a four-lane road.
Bondsteel, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor while serving as a Green Beret in the Vietnam War, came to Alaska to be a social worker. Interestingly, Bondsteel, or Buddha, as his friends called him for his self-deprecating humor and wisdom, felt his valor that won him the Medal of Honor wasn't his most heroic episode in combat. And he felt that his work with soldiers and their families, and with Veterans and their families at Wasilla's Vet Center - which he started - and at the Veteran's Administration in Anchorage, was the most important thing he did in his life.
I remember, at James Bondsteel's memorial service, held at Ft. Richardson, how some in the audience bridled when an Army chaplain summed up Buddha's life by merely reading his citation for the Congressional Medal of Honor he so richly deserved, but failed to characterize James's life's purpose.
Bondsteel despised the growth of neo-con thinking, the growth of political influence of those who profit from wars, and their influence over our political processes. He predicted, as early a 1984, the breakups of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the possibility of wars in the Persian Gulf involving us, over the control of oil.
I remember as he prepared a couple of Veterans for upcoming disability reviews by the Veterans Administration. He advised the men that, most likely, their review would result in diminution or elimination of the veterans' disabilities. Yes, the VA's history of messing with our Veterans' compensation isn't just a recent event.
Here's my memorial to our fallen warriors, Shards II, played in honor of one of our fallen Iraq War soldiers, late last summer, in Haines. We dedicated this performance to Sgt. 1st Class Daniel E. Scheibner, 40, of Muskegon, Michigan.