My father, Ed Walker, served in the Aleutians in WWII and was one of the last surviving members of Castner’s Cutthroats, an Army regiment of 65 men that lived off the land and conducted reconnaissance in the Aleutians during the war. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s father also served during WWII in the Alaska Territorial Guard. Alaska is fortunate to be home to the highest percentage of veterans in the nation.
As governor, when I meet Alaska military veterans returning home from the Last Frontier Honor Flight, it is always an incredible honor and an emotional experience.
Words fail to describe the beauty of watching our entire state help veterans participate in the Honor Flight program; where veterans who fought to protect our country — whether in WWII, Korea or Vietnam — are afforded a visit to war memorials in Washington, D.C., and then thanked as they return home at the airport with the hero’s welcome they so richly deserve.
Since 1867, when Russia turned over control of Alaska to the U.S. Navy, to the Alaska Territorial Guard which patrolled the western edge of the state by kayak during WWII, to our modern-day missile interceptors at Fort Greely; understanding the military’s role in Alaska is key to understanding both our history and our future as a strategic geo-political location.
Major components of that history can sometimes go unrecognized outside of Alaska. We must therefore continue to educate and commemorate events such as the forced evacuation and internment of Alaska Native communities during WWII, the prolonged occupation of the Aleutian Islands’ by Japan during WWII, the role African-American soldiers played in building the Alcan Highway, which helped lead to integration of the military, and the overall strategic importance Alaska has had on military history.
These often-overlooked chapters are some of the reasons I signed Administrative Order No. 293 last month in front of our veterans returning from their Honor Flight. The order establishes a task force to explore how to coordinate and support existing military history efforts statewide, to help enhance the preservation of Alaska’s military history and our state’s rich military legacy. Our citizens and visitors deserve no less.
Many Alaskans have contributed thousands of hours toward this effort already, including the Alaska Veteran’s Museum in downtown Anchorage, the Alaska Aviation Museum, the Prince William Sound Museum, the Military Museums at Unalaska and Yakutat and the new Alaska Military History Museum, to name but a few. This order simply creates a working group recognizing these prior and existing efforts and explores the potential to assist, coordinate, and perhaps expand these opportunities.
My goal is to bring together Alaskans that include veterans, veteran support organizations, educators, Alaska Native leaders, military historians, existing military/aviation museum staff or volunteers, and more. Anyone who feels they have something to offer is encouraged to apply.
Together, we will explore the unlimited potential to celebrate our veterans, Alaska’s rich military history, the critical role the military plays today, and the vital role it will play in Alaska’s future.
• Bill Walker is governor of Alaska.