EAGLE RIVER (KTUU) - The Alaskan peak named in honor of America's Gold Star Families is for the most part the same today as it was yesterday: Still beautiful, and still serving as a touchstone for those who've lost loved ones in combat.
Something different, however, has appeared at the peak's summit, in addition to the iron cross honoring America's Marines.
"I was in complete shock, because I've been up there so many times," said Ret. 1st Sgt. Kirk Alkire of discovering the cross of the Semper Fi. "Whoever had put it up there had put it in there in between my visits."
As if that wasn't enough, Alkire - who led the way in getting the peak named after the Gold Star families - was surprised to make another discovery shortly before the Independence Day holiday: Stars, made of steel, painted gold and scattered across the summits of Gold Star Peak and Mt. POW/MIA.
"As soon as we got to the summit," Alkire said, "We quickly realized that something amazing had happened. Somebody - I have yet to find out who, and I'm looking for the individual or people that did this - but somebody placed 21 steel-plate stars that are painted gold."
Twenty-one signifies the highest possible honors that can be rendered to somebody who's fallen; think of the 21-gun salute, for example. Those stars weren't the only ones found, though.
"Mt. POW/MIA is where we found four additional stars," Alkire said, "so a total of 25 stars are up on the mountain."
After almost a week of pondering, Alkire has his ideas about what the 25 stars might mean. He said, though, that for his own curiosity, he wants to know who put them there.
"And for nothing more than to shake their hand and thank them for what they've done," Alkire said. "What they've done is absolutely from the heart, and so meaningful.
"This mountain," he continued, "as I've said many times before, will absolutely be a place people come to heal. And it's very touching; an incredible tribute."
Along with helping name the peak that anyone with the gusto and fortitude to climb can summit, Alkire founded a non-profit around Gold Star Peak, in large part because of the experiences he witnessed when Gold Star family members and veterans reached the summit. Some even said that their own healing processes started the day they got to the top.
"It's an amazing place," Alkire said. "And it's absolutely obvious that people are going up there to honor and remember."
Learn more about Gold Star Peak, Inc., the monument of a mountain after which the non-profit was named and the mission behind it by heading here.