ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The military on Friday will honor more than a dozen deceased members of a largely Native Alaskan citizen’s militia that protected the US territory from the threat of a Japanese invasion during the second world War, causing the closure of their families for a service that went unpaid and unrecognized for decades.
Gov. Bill Walker and state veterans affairs officials will be present, his Army discharge papers to the relatives of the 16 members of the Alaska Territorial Guard, the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
Alaska was still 17 years away from when the 6,400-member of the militia, was founded in 1942, after the japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and points along Alaska, the aleutian islands.
Nicknamed Uncle Sam’s Men and Eskimo Scouts, the volunteer militia members stepped in to watch over the 586,000 square mile territory, which was vulnerable to further attacks with the National Guard pressed into federal service.
The militia disbanded with little fanfare in 1947, almost two years after the end of the war. But militia members were not formally recognized by the Army as military veterans until 2004.
Almost 2,600 discharge papers have been issued since then by the Army, who has collaborated with the Ministry of Veterans and Military Affairs to obtain the documents. Heritage Center officials of the plan to the Anchoring ceremony, an annual event if more paper will be issued.
Mercedes Angerman, deputy director of the national military agency, said obtaining the discharge papers is a long and sometimes challenging process.
Survivors may have different surnames than the Alaska Territorial Guard members. Sometimes families don’t realize their relative served in the unit or they don’t know the member’s date of birth, which is required.
“Sometimes it’s like catching the wind,” Angerman said.
She said that the goal is to ultimately obtain a discharge for each member. Once families receive the documents, they are eligible for a free grave for the militia members of the National Cemetery Administration.
Follow Rachel D’oro on https://twitter.com/rdoro .