Military News

Friday, March 13, 2015

Territorial Guard defense of Alaska recalls American Revolution

by David Bedard
JBER Public Affairs


3/13/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Breed's Hill. June 17, 1775.  Peter Brown, a private in the colonial militia, clutched his muzzleloader close while he surveyed Boston Harbor for enemy activity. Having helped repel two waves of British soldiers, Brown was running critically low on ammunition and didn't think he would survive another assault.

Now reinforced by Royal Marines, British forces would smash through the American-dug redoubt and push out any Colonial threat to British-occupied Boston.

Though beaten, the Americans inflicted twice as many casualties as they had sustained.

In a letter to his mother, Brown recalled how afraid he was during what would become known as the Battle of Bunker Hill. Still, the Westford, Massachusetts native wrote of his determination to continue the fight for his homeland.

"... If we should be call'd again to action I hope to have courage and strength to act my part valiently in defence of our Liberties and Country," Brown's letter related through creative spelling and grammar.

Nearly 170 years later, 12-year-old Sam Herman heard about the Alaska Territorial Guard during an enrollment drive to recruit Alaska Natives in the effort to abate Imperial Japanese operations in the territory.

Like Brown, Herman was compelled to volunteer to protect his home.

Like Brown, the Yupik boy knew he would potentially fight a military force far more powerful than what could be mustered by the villages. Still, the Native wanted to fight.

Herman's nephew, Army National Guard Lt. Col. Wayne Don, 103rd Civil Support Team commander, remembers how Herman - who passed away in January - led a life of service that was a lifelong example for the officer.

"Into his later years, he spent a lot of time ministering to the sick and the woebegone at the hospital," Don said. "He felt especially called to minister to families who fell on really hard times. It reflects on his character as a Soldier and his desire to serve."

The colonel said, for years, he didn't know any of his relatives had served in the ATG until the self-described World War II buff was reading "Men of the Tundra: Eskimos at War," a book written by ATG architect Army Air Corps Maj. Marvin "Muktuk" Marston.

At the back of the book, Don found the rolls for all of communities Marston had canvassed. When he thumbed to his home village of Mekoryuk, Nunivak Island, he was surprised by what he found.

"As I got to the end of the book, and I started looking specifically at Nunivak Island, I saw my grandfather [and] some of the old men in the community who never uttered a word about having wartime service," Don recalled. "I had always considered myself a first-generation military person in my family."

The Guard officer discovered both of his grandfathers served with the ATG, as did just about every one of his uncles.

"Everybody volunteered, even men into their 60s and 70s who didn't miss the opportunity to serve, because it was the right thing to do and their country and community needed them," Don explained. "They all - to a man - answered the call."

Don said Herman had to lie about his age to enroll as a member of the ATG.

Though too young to vote or drink, the young recruit could wield a rifle.

"If you were able, if you could carry a weapon, if you could carry your own weight, then that was the criteria," he said. "[Herman] was drawn to service. I'm sure, at some point, somebody challenged him about his age, but he was successfully able to argue that."
Don said Mekoryuk Natives were recruited to patrol the east side of Nunivak Island looking for any Japanese activity.

Though the ATG was disbanded in 1947, Herman would continue his service with the Alaska Army National Guard as an infantry scout beginning in 1953, even before Alaska's statehood.

Herman moved to Bethel, and then to Anchorage where he worked for the Alaska Railroad.

Following the devastating 1964 earthquake, Herman was activated as part of the state's response.

Though he wasn't fighting the British or reporting Imperial Japanese activity, Herman again answered the call to serve his community.

Don said this commitment to community is a common thread between the colonial militias, the ATG and today's National Guard.

"The Alaska Territorial Guard and the modern-day National Guard both have very similar roots," Don said. "The modern-day National Guard - as we know it - started out as a militia during the Revolution, and has carried on for years.

"These are examples of the type of organization where someone recognized that the most committed Soldiers and the most committed volunteers are people who live in the area," he continued. "History has shown us that this type of Soldier is your best eyes and ears. They're very committed to a cause that involves their families and their communities."

Don continues the tradition of serving his local community with the 103rd CST, a small unit charged with augmenting local and regional terrorism response capabilities in events known or suspected to involve weapons of mass destruction.

Don's service didn't go unnoticed by his uncle.

"He always told me he was proud of me, and he always told me how it was important to serve," he said. "He very much appreciated people who continued to serve, and he had a very special place in his heart for Soldiers, even into advanced age."

Ensconced on Don's desk is a small statuette of an ATG scout, keeping vigil with his Springfield rifle.

The figure evokes the Minuteman seen in National Guard insignia. It evokes the long tradition of citizens serving their communities in a military capacity.
Before the Declaration of Independence, Brown served Massachusetts when he stood up to a professional European army.

Today, Don serves Alaska and the United States by keeping 103rd CST ever ready to respond to WMD.

More than seven decades ago, Herman served Nunivak Island by carrying a rifle that was almost too heavy for him. For Don, Herman's example is one he will never forget.

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