During the early part of WWII, the Army assigned AK National Guard soldiers, the newly-federalized 297th Infantry, out of the Territory and to the States. The reasoning was that Alaska was too vast and too undeveloped to spend resources to defend. That is, until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and Admiral Yamamoto started sending naval vessels to the Aleutian Islands, a mere 750 miles from Japan. They bombed Dutch Harbor on June 7, 1942, killing 100 Americans. Japan seized the islands of Adak and Kiska in the summer of 1942 and held them for almost a year, before organized U.S. forces attacked and took them back. This is the first time we had experienced enemy occupation since the War of 1812. May it be the last.
There is more to the story. Or, should I say, there are more than 6,600 stories that haven't been written in our American History textbooks. They are stories that are dying along with their tellers, at the sadly rapid rate that our WWII veterans are passing away. When Alaska was under attack, Governor Ernest Gruening organized a militia. The [alaskool.org] Alaska Territorial Guard was in the business of building our infrastructure and protecting our land against foreign enemies from 1942 to 1947. But business was not good for them. Meaning, they received no pay. It was a volunteer army. Gruening stated that during recruiting trips, many white men asked how much they would earn. Not one Native person asked. Maybe because they had more invested in this land, the land of their ancestors. White settlers could always go back to their families, if Alaska couldn't be defended. Where would these Native citizens go?
In the famous words of Country Joe McDonald, these men: "put down their books and picked up a gun." Former Governor Tony Knowles granted high school diplomas to those who left school to serve. A nice gesture, but what does a retired senior living in the Bush need with a piece of paper? These men deserved compensation. The problem was that they were not recognized as U.S. military members, because Alaska was a territory until 1959. In 2000, Senator Ted Stevens introduced legislation that changed the law and officially recognized their enlistment as federal service, allowing them to receive VA benefits. Some soldiers, who went on to join the U.S. Military, could now add their WWII service to their official service records. Retro-dated honorable discharges began to be awarded in 2004. There are many out there who have not yet received theirs. There are many in the remote villages who might not even know about the status changes, including the latest update.
The Army has now decided that there is no law that makes provision for the retirement benefits that these 26 veterans (and hopefully more to come) are receiving. The checks were terminated on February 1, in the middle of one of our coldest winters in recent history. Governor Sarah Palin wrote a [gov.state.ak.us] letter to Barack Obama and other Powers that Be on behalf of these men. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich are introducing legislation, hoping to clarify that these veterans are eligible for retirement benefits. In the short-term, the Army has released a one-time emergency payment, the equivalent of two months' worth of benefits. That will hopefully help them get through the coldest part of the winter.
However, I don't think these men should receive compensation because "they're old; it's cold; fuel is expensive" or for any other humanitarian or moral reason. They neither need, nor want, our pity. They gave their service to our nation in a way that nobody else could, at that time and in those environments. If you want to find just an iota of an example of how proudly they served, try this experiment:
Google "alaska territorial guard" under the "News" link at the top. When it brings up dates, click on "1990s". On page 2, you'll begin to see many "Anchorage Daily News : OBITUARIES" links. Click on page 3 and keep clicking.
Without paying the $2.95, you can get a general idea of how honored these people were to have served the United States of America, not knowing what the outcome would be, and not asking for one cent in return. It is often one of the first things their families mention about them.