Greg Getz (left) at the Elks’ Veterans Dinner. PHOTO BY DAN FOX

Veterans honored by local groups

By DAN FOX
EDITOR

Whether it comes in the form of a plate of cookies, a sit-down dinner at the Elks or quilts made to honor those who’ve served, Skagway veterans have recently been on the receiving end of some heartfelt gratitude for their service to the country.

In early September, a group of local quilters fashioned 61 quilts for an equal number of veterans in the community. According to Anita Lafont, one of the quilters, the project had been in the works for a few years. A number of people were involved in making the quilts, including Diane Swisher, Linda Calver, Jauna Doland, Beegee Perry, Allyson Nannini, Chris Baldwin, Lori Burnham, Lafont and Jean Worley.

More recently, veterans received recognition from the local Elks Lodge #431 and Eagles F.O.E. Aerie #25. Ken Mayo, Eagles manager, said that the Eagles Women’s Auxiliary bake a plate of thirty cookies for every veteran in town each Veterans Day.

On Nov. 11, the Elks hosted its annual Veterans Dinner, a sit-down affair featuring a live band to go along with the meal.

“The Elks on a whole do as much as we can to support our veterans,” said Elks Lodge #431 Exalted Ruler Natalie Healy. “Just to let them know that we are here for them, it’s just an appreciation, it’s a thank-you.”

Healy added that the advantage of having such a small community like Skagway is the ability to host such an event for all the veterans in town.

“Who else do you hold in higher regard in your community than your veterans?” said Dan Henry, chairman of the Veterans Dinner. “Without them, what do we have?”

Henry said that veterans, no matter what their deployment, have no idea what is in store for them when they sign up, but they all agree by signing on the dotted line to serve their country regardless.

“When you go in, you have no idea,” Henry said. “You are exactly the same as everyone else, whether you’re on a naval ship, whether you’re in a helicopter, whether you’re on foot, whether you’re in a tank…it doesn’t matter.

“You could be stateside in an office somewhere – boom, war breaks out in North Korea, you’re going.”

The Veterans Dinner is one example of the outreach done by the Elks, Healy said. Anyone in need is free to reach out to the Elks for assistance, be it financial, medical or something else.

At a state and national level, the Elks have several programs aimed at supporting veterans. Grants are available to individual lodges for projects serving veterans and active-duty military members. The organization has an adopt-a-vet program, which offers help and companionship to older veterans, and the Alaska State Elks Association supports service dogs to help veterans cope with PTSD.

Skagway resident Andrew Cremata, a district deputy for the Elks Grand Lodge, said service members often come out of active duty and have very little in the way of necessities and belongings.

“Think of things like cleaning supplies, and how much they cost in a place like Alaska,” Cremata said. Because of difficulties like that, PTSD and other challenges of acclimating to a civilian lifestyle, Cremata said there are large quantities of homeless veterans in Alaska and the United States.

“And so these programs that are available from Grand Lodge, they make it possible to boost these people up, give them a chance in life when maybe they don’t have an adequate support system like we have in Skagway,” Cremata said.

At a national level, among other charitable endeavors the Fraternal Order of Eagles as a Memorial Foundation, which supports children of service members who’ve died while serving the country.

The fund is aimed at providing medical and educational benefits to these children.