Obama Disapproves of Funding for WW2 Alaska Native Unit Pensions
edited: Saturday, September 26, 2009
By John Fredrik
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Saturday, September 26, 2009
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President Obama disapproves of funding for WW2 Native Alaska Unit that defended Alaska, and fought the Japanese.
For five years over 6,000 Native men and women were the eyes, ears, and primary defensive force that guarded 580,000 square miles of the United States Territory known as Alaska. At the time Alaska was home to the only source of platinum in the western hemisphere, and a vital link in the lend-lease supply line. The Alaska Territorial Guard was an all volunteer unit that received no pay for their service to the United States, and carried on with their duties until 1947, two years after the end of WW2. Only gaining recognition as Veterans in 2000, the Army has recently declared that service in the ATG does not count toward calculating retirement pay, and has substantially reduced the benefit to 26 elderly Veterans. President Obama agrees.
"I wanted to fight the Japanese"
With the specter of war looming on the horizon, all Alaska National Guard Units were reassigned to Washington State in August of 1941. Without any military reserves, or any form of Home Guard, Alaska was defenseless. In the early months of 1942 a Japanese Reconnaissance Unit was filmed making detailed surveys of Alaska's coastline. The Japanese even made landings to question the local population. These intelligence gathering trips would lead to the raid on Dutch Harbor, and the invasion and occupation of the Aleutian Islands of Adak, Attu, and Kiska.
Army Major Marvin Martston had drafted a plan for the defense of Alaska by local citizens, and after the raid on Dutch harbor was assigned as the Military Aide to Governor Gruening. Gruening, Martston and Captain Carl Schribner put Martson's plan into effect and began a recruiting drive among the Native population to form the Alaska Territorial Guard. Alaskan Natives were selected for the unit due to their unique skills that allowed them to live and operated in some of the most hostile terrain on the face of the Earth.
Eventually over 6,000 Native Men and Women would volunteer for the Territorial Guard, roughly 5% of the population of Alaska at the time. There would be no pay, little in the way of supplies and almost no outside support for their mission. But they still volunteered. In an interview 65 years after WW2 ended, Harold Bahr was asked what motivated him to volunteer for such hazardous duty with no compensation. "I was fired up. I wanted to fight the Japanese" he would answer. He was 11 when he volunteered.
The ATG was charged with defending the tiny town of Platnium, which was home to the only supply of platinum in the Western Hemisphere, and the town of Nome which served as the last US airfield used by Russian Lend Lease pilots ferrying aircraft to the Soviet Union. The ATG was also responsible for the defense of the entire coast of Alaska.
The Guardsmen engaged in combat with the enemy, scouted, fought fires, rescued a downed airman, and even shot down Japanese balloons that were carrying bombs or radios. For the five years they were mobilized they were a nearly self contained force protecting the people and the land of Alaska.
In 2000, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens would sponsor a bill that would compel the Secretary of Defense to recognize the Veterans Status of those that served in the Alaska Territorial Guard, and issue them Honorable Discharges. President Bush signed the bill into law in August of 2000.
With Veterans status, the members of the ATG could receive long overdue benefits, as long as the Veteran knew about the law, and completed the paperwork. It would not be until 2003, when retired Colonel Robert Goodman accepted a temporary position with the Alaska Department of Military and Veteran Affairs that a sincere effort was made to seek out the former members of the ATG and assist them in the paperwork so they could receive the benefits they had earned 55 years earlier. When funding ran out for the project, Goodman began funding it out of his own pocket and 3 years later formed the non-profit Alaska Territorial Guard Organization to continue finding and assisting former members in securing their rightful benefits. To date he has helped about 150 Veterans secure their Honorable Discharges.
The Army would wait until 2004 before they agreed to issues Discharges to the former Members of the ATG. In March of 2008, 50 former members of the ATG received their Honorable Discharges in a ceremony in Hooper Bay, Alaska.
Honor Denied: The 26
In January 2009, the US Army announced that they would no longer allow time spent serving in the ATG to apply when computing retirement pay for those that continued serving in the Armed Forces after the ATG was disbanded. This change slashed the retirement pay for 26 Veterans by up to $557 a month, and suspends the applications for 37 more Veterans.
The Army's new interpretation of the law states that time spent in the ATG was "State Service" and not eligible for consideration in the computation of military retirement. During WW2 Alaska was a Federal Territory, it would not be granted Statehood until 1959.
In April of 2009, Alaska State Lawmakers approved a stopgap measure to continue the benefits due to the 26 Veterans. The roughly $10,000 a month in lost pay for the 26 Veterans will be picked up by the State of Alaska until February 2010.
The Obama Administration Speaks
On September 25, 2009, the Obama Administration sent a strongly worded message to Congress concerning the military spending bill. One of the issues that the Obama Administration disapproves of is granting money for the pensions of the 26 former Guardsmen.
Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich's statement regarding President Obama's decision was: "We are talking about 26 brave, elderly Alaskan Natives who served honorably for this country during WW2. I, frankly, find it puzzling how the (Obama) Administration could object to giving these men the recognition they deserve. The Federal Government deserted these men at the end of the war, and I hope that Congress and my colleagues in the Senate won't let it happen again."
Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski stated: "Sixty-two years after the Territorial Guard was disbanded, the Obama Administration minimizes the contribution of this gallant unit to America's success in WW2 by calling its service 'state service.'"
Time will tell if these brave men will be recognized for their service to this country, or if they will join the very long line of forgotten and thrown away heroes.