by Murriah Ebersole
The Alaska State Office of Veterans Affairs (OVA) continues its efforts to locate and recognize the members of the Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG). The ATG assembled in 1942 as a response to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent occupation of Alaska by Japan during World War II. ATG members received military training, were taught how to identify enemy ships and aircraft, and were instrumental to Allied war efforts in the region.
Roughly 6,400 unpaid volunteers, ranging from ages 12 to 80, served in over 100 communities across the state until disbandment in 1947. More commonly referred to as the “Eskimo Scouts,” this massive, rural, grassroots undertaking catalyzed many Alaska Native Tribes and non-native Alaskans throughout the territory into a single joint-force for the first time in history.
In 2000, all ATG members were granted U.S. veteran status. For some time, OVA has implemented efforts to locate ATG members (or their surviving relatives), assist them in obtaining their service records, and help them apply for benefits that they may be eligible to receive through the VA.
However, the task has been very challenging due to the lack of written records in rural areas from that period in history. Efforts to identify members of the ATG were further delayed when COVID-19 impacted OVA’s operations and access to federal records.
The OVA Task Force has already identified and successfully obtained service records for nearly half of all known ATG members. Since resuming efforts, it has located the remaining records for ATG members in the Akiak, Akiachak, Bethel, Douglas, Galena, Glacier Highway, Golovin, Hoonah, and Ketchikan units.
The remaining ATG members from Kotzebue, an area unique for its exceptionally high number of women recruits, are expected to be identified and submitted to the Department of the Army for certification of service within the next week.
“The Task Force is committed to finding and assisting all ATG Veterans including their families and dependents in recovering military records,” said Verdie Bowen, Director of Office of Veterans Affairs. “It is very important to correct the oversight of the past, and I feel that every Veteran who served in the military should have their records in the National Archives for future generations to come.”
The Task Force is requesting surviving members or family of the ATG to please contact 907-334-0874 or toll free at 888-248-3682.
“We would be honored to provide ATG members or their surviving family members with their records,” said Bowen.
A list of known members ATG members is at veterans.alaska.gov/ATG, and Alaskans are encouraged to review it if there is a question whether their family member served with the ATG or if their service is accounted for.
Murriah Ebersole writes from the Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs.