Volunteers working at Bethel’s Alaska Territorial Guard Memorial Park are one step closer to completion. On Friday afternoon, local organizers and state military leadership dedicated the recently completed ‘Wall of Honor.’
The wall lists the names of 1-thousand, 435 members of the Territorial Guard who served from 31 Yukon Kuskokwim Delta villages. Buck Bukowski is a member of the ATG Park Committee and says the recognition is overdue.
“They were unpaid, all they got a rifle they had to turn back in when they were done, and no recognition until just a few years ago when most of them were already dead,” said Bukowski.
The Alaska Territorial Guard was formed in 1942 in response to the attack in Hawaii and occupation of some Aleutian islands. Members supplied all of their own gear and food, with no pay. Over 6,000 largely Alaska Natives members served the country until the ATG disbanded in 1947.
Major General Thomas Katkus is Commissioner of Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Adjutant General in charge of the Guard in Alaska. He says today’s military stands on the shoulders of those who came before.
“Those guys were here in a threatened environment, you look at the technology in those days before cell phones, before internet before the ability to communicate as quickly and rapidly as we do today. They stood there with an unknown threat coming and banded together, and basically were prepared to defend their communities,” said Katkus.
Organizers say there is work to be done on a 2-thousand foot walking trail on the tundra, plus more landscaping and potentially a gazebo to cover a picnic area. A tall bronze statue of a guard remember in a parka watches over the wall and veterans cemetery. The park includes large garden boxes and flags for each community.
Committee Co-chair Dave Trantham says the group is trying to get an old artillery gun for the site. He told a story about how the guard tricked Japanese spy planes.
“They cut driftwood and stuck it in the mud to represent an artillery pieces. I want to ask one question if may. Did the Japanese invade this part of the county? Uh uh,” said Trantham.
The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs contributed 140-thosuand dollars for the project, while local companies and organizations donated many thousands more in materials and work. General Katkus says Bethel’s park stands out in the state.
“They capitalize with the good ideas, they get the community behind a very small amount of resourcing and together come up with a project that that is greater as a whole than the sum of the resources sent out here. It’s just incredible what they’ve been able to do with it,” said Katkus.
The Alaska Territorial Guard Park is located on Tower Road near the airport. Organizers say it’s scheduled to be done in time for Pearl Harbor Day.