About 12 hours after Bradley Lopez arrived in Alaska, he was in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.
The U.S. Navy veteran got some sleep after his plane landed from Houston at 1 a.m. and then went to the cemetery to honor fallen service members before Memorial Day. Lopez will be working in Anchorage through August installing home security systems.
On Sunday afternoon, Lopez knelt to peel grass from the edges of the veterans’ headstones and to wipe away the dirt. He doesn’t know anyone in Alaska, but said he had a bond with the veterans who rested beneath his feet.
Lopez joined the Navy in 2017 but was medically discharged a little over a year later after seriously injuring his knee during training. In front of the military, he said he was aimless. “I was very much like these kids who had no real purpose before entering. They just wake up, work, eat, do the dishes, repeat themselves over and over again,” he said.
Lopez said his time in the Navy and the strong friendships he made with others in the military gave him a deep respect for those killed in action.
“When you give life to the worship service, it’s like you’re always there, you’re trained, and it’s your brothers and sisters,” he said. “So when you think of those who are still around, your pals, it’s just like, ‘Just come home safe. ‘And so to come and be able to honor it by acknowledging it and helping to clean a little – it’s kind of a little thing, a little thing that I can do. “
Shortly after Lopez arrived on Sunday, dozens of volunteers came to hang flags near the grave markers. He joined the effort.
Nearby, Cap. Karen Padgett of the Lake Hood Civil Air Patrol handed out flags to members of her squadron. It’s the second year the group has joined a local VFW post to pay their respects over Memorial Day weekend.
Earlier on Sunday, groups of teenage boy scouts placed white crosses adorned with red poppies near the headstones.
Padgett, who works with teenagers on the Civil Air Patrol’s cadet program, said the hands-on work was a memorable way for teenagers to honor the deceased.
“I think this is something tangible that I can do and I am also gathering some other people from the squadron to show with us our appreciation for the people who gave their lives so that we can be free,” said you. “And to help teenagers understand that it’s not just hot dogs and picnics and a day off for their parents, but that vacation has deep, important meaning.”