A Southeast island is honoring Alaska's veterans' service and sacrifice through a traditional, hand-carved totem pole. 

Veterans, friends and family members gathered on Prince of Wales Island for a three-day celebration which involved a seafood and deer meat feast, traditional song and dance and the raising of a 37-foot totem pole to honoring the state's veterans. 

(Photo credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel)

“This is how we as Tlingit and Haida people acknowledge an event or person by raising a totem pole in their honor,” said Klawock elder Aaron Isaacs, a former Alaska Army National Guardsman and U.S. Army 82nd Airborne paratrooper, who contemplated and planned for decades about the best way to honor Alaska veterans as monuments were being constructed across the United States. “[This] is what we are doing – honoring all veterans.”

Isaacs and local carver, Jon Rowan, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran worked together to draft a design depicting all military branches. 

“The eagle and raven are a representation of us watching each other’s back,” explained Rowan, who also pointed out that the totem is meant to symbolize a mortuary pole where remains were historically preserved inside a small wooden box in the totem. “Behind the POW-MIA flag we have a bent wood box. That is for our missing brothers and sisters – a place of honor.” 

(Photo credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel)

Hundreds of community members, veterans and Guardsmen carried the pole nearly a mile to its new home. Veterans shouted out "OOH-RAH" as they hoisted up the totem pole using ropes to get it perfectly placed. 

“I feel like my heart is just ready to explode,” said Isaacs reflecting on the pole's development: fund raising; securing a donated red cedar wood that now stands nestled among the greenery of the Tongass National Forest in front of the shoreline of the Klawock Inlet.

(Photo credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel)

“Remember the sacrifices that each and every veteran and service member make for our freedom and that it isn’t free,” said Rowan, hoping people will take away the same feeling as they see the pole and think about what it represents. “We don’t demand it; we just hope that they remember that.” 

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