Home Editorials Alaska’s Veterans and Pioneer Homes are Here to Stay

Alaska’s Veterans and Pioneer Homes are Here to Stay

Photo by Wonderlane, Creative Commons Licensing.

This goes out to those lawmakers who had the audacity to propose closure of the Veterans and Pioneer Homes of Palmer and Juneau this summer in a budget cut move.

It’s not going to happen, get it?

This was wrong on so many levels right from the get go. What were you guys thinking? Because all it succeeded in doing was tick off a slew of veterans and their families with one stupid notion.

I’m one of them.

I first found out about after an article by Zaz Hollander appeared the Alaska Dispatch News last week. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I still had a hard time thinking of what kind of person or persons would even suggest it. Yet, it came up again in an opinion piece by Dermot Cole, also of the ADN, which basically said, no they couldn’t close the homes. What was going on?

A game of political football had broken out. The most vulnerable people of our community — seniors and aging veterans — became the ball. A despicable move that was wrong in so many ways. The uproar it caused rallied many in support of the veterans and seniors that called this place home. So much so that the offending lawmakers retracted their move, basically saying: “Whoops! Sorry. We didn’t mean it. Our bad.

One word? Bulls***!

The governor was falsely accused by some to be involved. He wasn’t and he has openly opposed this bad idea and pledged his support for these homes.

I believe him. Why? His father — a World War II veteran of some renown — was a resident of the Palmer home for a number of years before passing away in 2011. He was the last of Castner’s Cutthroats, the unofficial name given to the 1st Alaskan Combat Intelligence Platton; a tough fighting force of Americans and Native Alaskans who fought the Japanese in the Aleutian campaign. I met him many years ago.

Gov. Walker thanked the state senate for their Sense of the Senate, supporting the Pioneer Homes and bringing the issue to an end. He added: “I will continue to do everything within my power to assure no Pioneer Home will be closed while I am Governor.”

You know what? I trust him to keep his word.

Still, the notion of shutting these homes down and moving their residents out to other homes galled me. It should never have been brought up in the first place.

This is personal. I am a veteran of the U.S. Army — retired after 21-plus years of service, an Iraq War veteran of OIF II from ’04-’05. That could be me someday, a resident of a place like this. These lawmakers messed with my family.

Big mistake. A very big mistake.

When I got word through social media, i.e. Facebook, that a rally was planned at the Palmer Veterans Home at 1:00 pm on the 15th of April, I was determined to attend it. Besides, it was my 56th birthday and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it by standing up for my fellow GIs and telling those who pushed this idiotic idea, “Not on my watch. Not ever.”

Would you believe close to 150 people showed up? It was amazing and heartwarming to see veterans of all the services showing up at the head of the Palmer Veterans and Pioneer Home driveway on that sunny April day.

Some of the Combat Bikers Association rode in on their Harleys to make a very loud statement of support. And, boy, were they ever loud. Even some of the residents wheeled themselves in walkers and wheel chairs out to join us on the sidewalk as a camera team from Channel 2 KTUU News filmed it all. The ADN covered it as well. Along with myself covering it for Alaska Commons in this column.

It should be noted that Governor Bill Walker (I-Alaska) and First Lady Donna Walker stopped in at the Veterans and Pioneer Home in Palmer that same day to assure the residents that this was their home and no one was going to force them out.

He stated he could not make the rally because he had to be in Anchorage to meet up with Vice President Mike Pence, according to an article published by the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman April 15th by Matt Hickman.

I find that a good and heartening thing that our governor took the time set the record straight for these proud veterans and seniors of this home. I found out about this as I was writing this piece.

There were some short speeches made. The Mayor of Palmer, Edna DeVires, issued a proclamation saying the home would never be allowed on the chopping block and the residents that called the place home would never be allowed to be uprooted, ever.

Other speeches were by members of the Palmer City Council and one by Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Jim Sykes, which echoed the mayor’s sentiments.

The rest were made made by veterans and residents of the home behind us in thanks for those who showed up to stand with them.

This was democracy in action. This was the American will making their case known. This was American veterans from WWII to Afghanistan telling politicians and state lawmakers in one voice: “NO! You will not mess with our kind — ever.”

I believe those lawmakers in question got the message, loud and clear. Just in case there were ever any doubts: The Veterans and Pioneer Homes of Alaska are here to stay.