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Pride surrounds Alaska vets

By Joe Vigil 9:07 PM May 8, 2014

More than 4,000 miles, two days of travel and 70 years in the making. Alaska’s World War II veterans finally got to see what many say the country should have built for them a half-century ago — a memorial honoring their services and sacrifices.

People at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., proved to Alaska vets that the greatest generation is not the forgotten generation.

Pride once again surrounded Alaska vets. People swarmed around them like bees to honey.

No group was left behind Thursday, including those who served and have since died in the Alaska Territorial Guard.

They remembered guard member John Norbert Sr. from Nome and honored John Bennett Sr., who was too ill to take the trip.

The Territorial Guard protected Alaska’s coast from a Japanese invasion. However, the government wouldn’t pay them and even denied them veteran’s rights like health care until 2000. David Leavitt Sr. and Wesley Aiken are the last two remaining Territorial Guard members from Barrow.

We are free, but the memorial is also a reminder of loss. More than 290,000 U.S. service members died in combat.

Wasilla World War II vet Eldon Gallear lost most of his crew when his ship was torpedoed and sunk near Cuba in 1944. He was plucked from a life raft in shark-infested waters.

“I have a lot of mixed emotions, I’ll tell you that,” Gallear said.

Gallear has lost sleep over the sacrifice of the 9,000 other Merchant Marines he says were taken at war.

“Them guys, most of them were kids like me. But they were man enough to go down with them,” he said.

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