FAIRBANKS — Members of the Alaska Native Veterans Association unveiled a statue honoring the Alaska Territorial Guard on Wednesday.
The 5-foot, 6-inch tall statue is in storage behind the Big Dipper Ice Arena, but in the spring it will be officially installed at Veterans Memorial Park, a block away from City Hall.
“This means quite a bit,” said Harry Fields, a board member of the association. “It’s culmination of a lot of hard work, dedication and prayer.”
The veterans association approached lawmakers several years ago seeking funding for the Fairbanks statue and seven other identical territorial guard statues that will be displayed around the state. Rep. Scott Kawasaki took the lead in securing what turned into $100,200 in state aid for the project.
Board members said they hope the statue will remind more Alaskans about the territorial guard, also known as the Eskimo Scouts, a group of about 6,500 Alaska Natives who guarded Alaska’s lengthy west coast from the Japanese during World War II.
“Years go by, memories fade and other things happen,” said Benno Cleveland, the veterans association’s president. “A lot of people don’t realize the ties Natives have to the military protecting this nation.”
The other statues will be displayed in Anchorage, Bethel, Juneau, Kotzebue, Nenana, Nome and Point Barrow. The veterans association is selling smaller versions of the statue for about $200 each.
Guardsmen ranged in age from as young as 12 to as old as 80 and volunteered to serve. An estimated 300 members of the territorial guard are still alive today.
“Hopefully younger people will have an idea of what their elders have done,” said Dana Nachtrieb, the board’s treasurer. “It’s an inspiring story.”