1942 was a long time ago. It was the year both my parents were born. It was the year the Alaska Territorial Reserve was born in response to the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. It was the year 6,368 First Alaskans, became a group of soldiers known as “The Eskimo Scouts.” Men and Women served as the first line of defense protecting 5,200 miles of Territorial coastline.
In 1947, the group was disbanded. They were given no veterans’ benefits or recognition for their remarkable service. Several of them pushed for Statehood years later and even attended the Constitutional Convention. But most went back to their mostly subsistence lives.
In 2000, Senator Ted Stevens passed a bill awarding veterans’ status to the ATR. Records had not been kept, and it was very difficult to find the survivors. It took four years before the first group of ATG applicants, 23 solders, was able to receive discharge certificates. Over the years, through the efforts of Bob Goodman, a retired Air Force Colonel, and Alaska State Senator Charlie Huggins, about 150 Alaskans were given honorable discharges and benefits.
Because of a “glitch” in the system, the Department of Defense pulled the funding for the remaining 26 Alaskan veterans. Senators Murkowski and Begich were quick to secure reinstatement, but it is not yet law. As a result, these veterans, now in their late 80’s and early 90’s, have not received any payments for several months. The Alaska Senate Finance Committee introduced SB 89: “An Act relating to retirement benefits for members of the Alaska Territorial Guard; and providing for an effective date.”
It was a unanimous vote of support. The fiscal note was $10,437 a month for up to eight months, about $550 a month per veteran. The final draft was transmitted to Governor Palin on April 8, 2009.
On April 9, 2009 the governor put out a press release after signing a proclamation declaring the day as Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day. The governor then ordered POW/MIA flags to be flown in honor and memory of American men and women who have placed themselves in harm’s way and faced the horrors of combat. “The price paid by POW/MIA soldiers in defense of liberty is worthy of our highest gratitude and most solemn remembrance,” Governor Palin said. “On this day and always, they are in our thoughts and prayers. We will never forget them or their service.”
She signed the proclamation, but not the new law that would provide needed funds to the remaining members of the Alaska Territorial Guard.
On April 14, 2009, the Alaska State Legislature dedicated a committee room in the State Capitol to honor the service of the members of the ATG. Sarah Palin attended Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s reception in Anchorage that morning then traveled to Juneau. Several of the surviving members of the “Eskimo Scouts” were there as well as remaining family members.
Sarah Palin showed up. She may have even had some punch. However, the governor did not sign SB 89. The emergency funds from the Army had paid their last payment in March. The April payments won’t be distributed until after the bill is signed.
The governor then got on a plane to Indiana to attend an anti-choice fundraiser.
The veterans went home.
As an Alaskan, I am humbled by the service of these stoic servicemen and by the memory of the men and women who stood with them. I watched several in a 4th of July parade once. I was touched by their service, and their silence for so many years. They were fighting to defend our home, our waters, and our lives.
It is shameful they are waiting for funds. They waited more than 50 years for acknowledgment of sacrifice. They shouldn’t wait a day longer for the traveling, base-pandering Governor with a slow pen, who, this week, once again, put her political ambition ahead of real Alaskans-heroic veterans-with real needs.
As of today, we have a chance to thank .4% of the original heroes.
Tomorrow, it could be less.