There’s a story behind every totem pole and the person who carved it.


George Bennett Sr. wanted the pole outside the National Guard Armory to represent all of Alaska. He said that was a tall order for such a diverse state but found a way to incorporate the Inupiaq people in the bowhead whale, and the clans of southeast in the raven and eagle.


“You’ve got a mask representing the Yupik people,” Bennett pointed out. “Caribou represents the interior, Athabascan nation.”


For the Vietnam veteran from Sitka, the totem also tells a deeper tale of his struggle with post traumatic stress disorder and how he overcame it.


“I had to find a way to relax and I thought carving was a wonderful way because you can do it on your own terms and it gets you back in touch with your own culture,” Bennett said. “That’s what I needed to do.”


He designed the pole and his son, James Bennett, was the lead carver for the project.


This year Bennett was the keynote speaker for the Veterans Day ceremony inside the armory on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. He gave advice to anyone with a loved one who has served.


“You have a veteran come home, help them, interact with them, ask them, ‘How are you doing?’ That’s all they need to hear. Don’t ask about their war stories. Ask them how they’re doing.”


He said the toughest part for him when he got back was trying to figure out where he belonged in society. Now, he said, Veterans Day his a reminder everyone needs to pull together to help those dealing with depression.


“It took many years to gain back my pride; it took 30 years. Today, I’m a proud veteran. I didn’t do it by myself. It took many other veterans to get me to where I’m at,” Bennett said.


He added that speaking at events like the Veterans Day service keep him going. “These are the kinds of moments, veterans like myself, we can continue to walk with our heads up high.”


He hopes his story inspires others to know they’re not alone.


KTVA 11’s Heather Hintze can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.


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