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Veterans and community members in Dillingham reflect on what it means to serve

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Izzy Ross/KDLG
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Veterans, students and community members gathered in the Dillingham High School gym to celebrate Veterans Day on Thursday.

 

One at a time, veterans filed into the Dillingham High School gym to drumbeats and applause from a crowd of students and community members standing in the bleachers.

“Sometimes it’s sort of... difficult for us to remember that there are still countries in this world where children are not free to go to school, where women are not free to vote, where people are not free to have an opinion that’s different from their government," said Mayor Alice Ruby, who spoke during the ceremony. "And the main reason that we live in a place where that’s possible is because of the men and the women that have been willing to defend those freedoms.”

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The color guard retires the flags. Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.

 

Students in one class recorded letters of thanks for the veterans. Their words echoed throughout the gym.

“We see you as someone who raised us from our first day on Earth, took care of us during our time of need and helped us celebrate our life events,” one student read. “We are truly grateful for your presence in our lives.”

Georgette Baumgartner is from Igiugig and served in the Army. Now, she works for the Dillingham School District.

“Heartfelt. It was amazing,” she said after the ceremony. “This was amazing, that we were able to come together and the public be invited. It’s great to have support.”

For her, Veterans Day holds a space for the experiences of those who serve.

“The experience," she said. "It’s the freedom, the sacrifice."

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Veterans stand during the armed forces salute. Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.

 

Another Army veteran, Pete Kapotak, was in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. Now he works at the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation.

“I just think of the people I served with, you know, and all the friends I got to know, and some that have passed on," he said. "It’s just something — it’s all different for each of us, so I just think of the people I served with.”

Veterans Day is a time to reflect on the service of the people in the armed forces. For some veterans, this period of reflection can be complicated.

Cody Kapotak is Yup’ik from Dillingham and Portage Creek. He served in the Marine Corps, training in California for about a year before he was stationed in Hawai’i.

“Growing up, I never really thought I would join the military,” he said. “ I took ROTC in high school just to get out of PE, cause I was not so physical back then. But I did some physical things there.”

Even then, he didn’t plan to join the armed forces.

“I did it when I failed some classes, lost some funding for school, joined on a whim, and two weeks later I was going to boot camp,” he said.

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Cody Kapotak and Pete Kapotak during Dillingham's Veterans Day ceremony. Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.

Kapotak served in Afghanistan twice in back-to-back deployments. He was in the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines Infantry Unit, where he worked in communication maintenance management.

“For me, it’s a little bit of a conflicted pride kind of thing. Because I don’t really regret the time I served — it helped me grow and mature, taught me some discipline, I like to say it kicked the lazy out of me,” he said. “School was not as hard anymore. But I learned some of the not-so-pleasant parts of history with, you know, the U.S. and everything, and then just the military. But I still appreciate the freedoms we get.”

At the end of the ceremony, the color guard retrieved the national and unit flags and veterans filed out one by one. They then shared food and stories with each other, friends and family.

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Community members watch the ceremony. Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.

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A student performs in a Dillingham class letter reading for Veterans Day. Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.

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Members of the color guard watch from behind the scenes. Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.

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Dillingham students perform at the ceremony. Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.

 

 

Contact the author at izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.