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Veterans of Foreign Wars spotlights local veteran on Memorial Day

Each year on Memorial Day, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Auxiliary Post 10041 spotlights one veteran, usually at the request of the family. On Monday, May 29, about 50 people gathered at Bethel's Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

Earl Polk Jr. was at the center of this year’s Memorial Day ceremony. He was an Army veteran who died August 15, 2013 after spending decades in Bethel.

One of his four sons, Earl Polk III, said that he was known throughout the region as the “The X-Ray Man,” because he worked as an x-ray tech.

Polk III doesn’t know much about his father’s service, but knows that he was a World War II veteran. He was African-American, Mohawk, and Cherokee, and settled right in when he got to Bethel.

He started a boxing club and a judo club. He was also very active with the VFW Post in Bethel and served as the VFW Chaplain.

Officially, Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May and it honors the women and men who died while serving in the U.S. military. Although Polk Jr. didn’t die in service, he was revered in the community.

After the ceremony, people headed to the VFW for a hot meal. One-by-one, between bites, they shared their thoughts.
“It's a day to honor those who have fallen for us to maintain our freedoms and serve the country. It’s fantastic,” VFW Post Manager Jim Wyckoff said.

“Memorial Day is to remember that for those veterans who have served and who have passed on, but also remember those are the ancestors here in our community and near and far today,” said Air Force veteran Ray Watson.

Greg Wood, who is a veteran, said that this day reminds him of how much people rely on each other.

“It's a time to remember the ones who have served, you know. And I think it's also a time to be aware that the quality of our lives depends on one another. And that's something that at least these days, something else is happening these days where there's so much contest between this and that group and that sort of thing. And it's not a good road,” Wood said.  

For Buck Bukowski, this day has always been a family affair.

“Since I was a little kid growing up, my father would make us all get dressed up and go to the memorial day service at a local cemetery, and they always honored the fallen veterans. And I know a lot of people went there for their family, you know, mom or grandma or something," said Bukowski.

Bukowski, who is a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, said that this day is and has always been about honoring fallen soldiers. People who died during or after wars.

“To me it was honoring those before me that that made my country free,” Bukowski said.

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.