Kenai salutes local veterans
The Kenai post of the American Legion saluted local veterans today at a ceremony at its space in Old Town Kenai.
The celebration was a chance to recognize some of the estimated thousands of veterans who live on the Kenai Peninsula today, some whose service dates as far back as World War II. But year round, the post is also a gathering place to make sure veterans are not without the material and social support they need.
“We don’t like people being isolated. If we can prevent isolation, provide socialization, then it’s a whole happier life for everybody,” said David Segura, commander of the American Legion Post 20.
Segura was born and raised in Kenai, as a member of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1984 under the Delayed Entry Program.
“I served in an F-14 Squadron, a VF-114, the Fighting Aardvarks,” he said. “We were deployed on the USS Enterprise Aircraft Carrier, went on three different deployments on the carrier.”
When he got out of the service, he moved back to Kenai. He’s been a member of the American Legion for 28 years and commander for two.
He said, nationally, the role of the century-old American Legion is to lobby Congress for veterans’ benefits.
“At our local level it’s more getting in the benefits, doing our buddy checks, making sure that if someone is having a hard time — whether it’s physically, mentally, financially — we’re keeping touch with them,” Segura said. “In Alaska, it’s really hard — especially in the wintertime, with depression setting in.”
He said one thing members of the legion do to combat depression and isolation is keep tabs on one another. He said it can be as simple as giving another member a call.
Joe Coup was one of the veterans at Friday’s ceremony. He’s been part of the legion for about a decade.
“I served from Sept., ’54 to Sept. ’58,” he said. “I served out on the Aleutians for a while, and then went to the Philippines and then Okinawa.”
He said Veterans Day is a nice chance to get together and catch up with other local vets.
“It brings a lot of comradeship back together,” he said. “It means a lot.”
Dave Thompson sat at a nearby table in the legion’s main hall, wearing a Vietnam Veteran hat.
“I look at it as a day of peace,” he said. “‘Cause all the veterans have brought the peace and freedoms that we have in our country.”
Thompson’s from Pennsylvania. He and his four brothers all served overseas.
He’s been in Alaska 40 years — which he owes partly to his time in military.
“On the way to Vietnam, when we stopped to refuel at Elmendorf [Air Force Base],” he said. “I always wanted to get back to Alaska.”
Thompson sat next to Bill Field — an 101-year-old veteran of World War II who joined the U.S. Army in 1944 and fought in the battles of Saipan and Okinawa. Back home, Field was a founding member of the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“He was also wounded in action,” Thompson said. “He’s a Purple Heart veteran. He’s going on 102. I mean, everybody just loves Bill, all across Alaska.”
The Kenai Peninsula has one of the largest populations of veterans in Alaska. That’s in the state with the highest rate of veterans per capita of any other.
Segura estimates there are around 270 members at the Kenai post. There are also posts in Seward, Homer and Ninilchik.
He said fewer young people are joining the legion today than before. He attributes that in part to the shift to a more virtual world.
“So it’s really hard to get the younger veterans into the American Legion and to get them to sign up,” he said. “It used to be a gathering place. Now it’s ‘Why do I?’ Well, it’s actually a place that you can come and get your assistance and get your VA. A lot of veterans don’t even know they have veterans’ benefits they can file for.”
He said that’s a big part of what the legion does — gets veterans signed up for benefits like health care and housing help.
But beyond that, he said anyone can show gratitude for the people in their lives who have served.
“Remember the veterans are out there,” he said. “If you know a veteran, thank them for their service. Get to know them, because they may be that one who needs help.”
Soldotna has a new Veterans Administration clinic, which opened this year. You can learn more about that clinic and the services it offers, here.