Veterans Day is next Friday (11-11-16), but is one day sufficient to honor those in service? The Sitka Veterans Association thinks not. The group wants to construct a permanent memorial in the downtown area where cruise passengers disembark. At the last Sitka Assembly meeting (10-25-16), the Veterans presented their vision for the space. While the Sitka Assembly liked the concept, they wanted to get more public input on the design.
Sitka was always destined to be a service town. Because of it’s location – on the oceanside of an island – the city held a prominent place in the Pacific Theater during WWII. It was home to the Navy’s first air station in Alaska and if you island hop, you can still see remnants of old gun mounts and military barracks. It’s in memory of those men and women that the Sitka Veterans Association wants to construct a memorial outside Harrigan Centennial Hall.
Vietnam Veteran George Bennett Sr. told the Assembly, “The Veterans in this community deserve something, not only to memorialize them, but also to remember what they have done: those that are not with us and those that are living. And have a place for them to go. And to realize that 4th of July parades and Veteran Day parades are not enough.”
Bennett Sr. was joined by Jaime Ackley, secretary for the Sitka Veterans Association. Together, they shared their vision for a memorial that was prominently located, accessible, and educational. Ackley said, “One of the aspects that we are wanting to do is a remembrance walk where people, as they come into town or locals here, can purchase bricks in honor of family members that have served – whatever branch it was and whatever time.”
Local architect Monique Anderson drew up an initial design, which places the memorial on the concrete space outside Harrigan Centennial Hall facing the Causeways. It includes a portable stage with removable seating, a flag court, remembrance area, and what the designer calls “history nooks,” detailing Veterans involvement in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. The Assembly liked the idea, but had more than a few follow-up questions. Here’s Kevin Knox, Steven Eisenbeisz, and Bob Potrzuski.
Kevin Knox: What does this resolution do for moving this project forward?
Steven Eisenbeisz: What is your plan for maintaining it now and into the future?
Bob Potrzuski: I guess I would certainly like to know how you plan to fund it, if that’s an answer that you have?
Jamie Ackley: Yes.
The Sitka Veterans Association intends to pay for the memorial with grant money, attainable once a site is chosen. And to Knox’s question, the resolution asked solely for the Assembly’s support with the concept. Potrzuski pointed out there was no language specifying the memorial be located at Harrigan Centennial Hall. “It just says municipal property,” Potrzuski said. See the resolution draft here: res-2016-22
That turned out to be a selling point for the Veterans’ case. The Assembly seemed comfortable approving the resolution without a site because that way, there would be a thorough public vetting process.
While the Port and Harbors Commission has endorsed the idea too, the Parks and Recreation Committee has concerns. They wonder how the memorial would integrate with the boat ramp and the Seawalk and how the city would maintain the site in the future, with the Veterans Association’s help. That could all cost money and time.
Bennett said that was a good question, but that ultimately the Veterans Association was invested in this project for the long haul. He told the Assembly, “We don’t intend to create something and leave it there. That’s not our style. We’re Veterans and we know what our responsibility is. “In persons to be heard, veteran Ben Miyasato backed that point up. He said, “I myself will happily volunteer anytime that is needed to ensure anytime to make sure that this is kept up. Having served my country and deployed overseas, I know the difficulty of those who have served and answered the call.”
Miyasato estimated there were 1100 to 1200 veterans currently living in Sitka. The Assembly passed the resolution unanimously and thanked the Association for their work.
Matthew Hunter: I think you’ll find Sitka is very supportive of this project and we just need to talk about the site location. Thank you.
Steven Eisenbeisz: I know it is quite a bit of work you have done. Tonight’s meeting, if nothing else, has indicated the mountain of work you still have to do to get this process rolling.
The Veterans Association plans to present their design concept to the Assembly at a future meeting, though likely not for another year.