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65 Years in the Making: Bethel's 'Minutemen' Memorialized

Published On: Sep 20 2013 11:45:00 AM AKDT

Reporter Samantha Angaiak, Photojournalist Kenneth Knutson (ktuu-tv)


Volunteers in the city of Bethel are making sure the people who defended the territory of Alaska (before it became a state) after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941 are remembered.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars along with the city of Bethel and other local groups have been working together to complete a memorial park in honor of those who served in the Alaska Territorial Guard.

More than 6,000 people were a part of the ATG and about 1,000 of them came from the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, including 30 women.

The sun may rise in the East, but the Eskimo Scouts kept their eyes focused to the West.

Stanley "Tundy" Rodgers, an ATG Park volunteer with the VFW says it's important to credit the people who worked to make sure the territory was protected.

"If I were young and some of the guys were 12-years-old, volunteered to watch the coast so we would not be invaded, recognition for somebody that's not here anymore, even for the family name means something," Rodgers said.

The Alaska Territorial Guard, a military reserve force component of the United States Army was organized in 1942, during World War II.

Craig Rogers, a volunteer for the ATG Park says it's emotional hearing the stories of those who volunteered to serve without being paid talk about their experiences.

"I get a little bit misty myself when I talk to some of these people and hear some of their experiences and you kind of have to pry it out of them," Rogers said.

The ATG operated until 1947 and more than 1,000 volunteers left 31 communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region to protect the territory's coastlines.

"They were basically minute men type units, they were organized, they were issued a firearm, and ammunition," Rogers said.

More than 60 years later, VFW members, the City of Bethel and other local groups have come together to make sure that their bravery is remembered forever.

"Anchorage has theirs; Juneau has theirs; they have it in Kotzebue. How come you guys don't have yours," Rodgers said. "I mean 65 years for credit due long time ago and now they get it? I'm very glad it's happened."

The ATG memorial park is located next the veterans' cemetery and the statue of an Eskimo scout faces 270 degrees west, watching over those who served.

The park is still under construction, but there are 31 plant boxes -- one for every community that had ATG members.

"It's a way that we can honor them by planting something, by harvesting something," Rogers said. "It's a celebration of their lives."

The work isn't done yet and volunteers say there will be gun emplacements, plaques and a memorial wall that will list the names of everyone who made it their mission to protect Alaska.

Volunteers say they hope the project will be completed by December 2014.

"I can see the end; I can picture it." Rodgers said. "I close my eyes, I can see the completed site."