Anchorage, AK – Alaska Congressman Don Young recently wrote Secretary of Veteran Affairs Robert McDonald to highlight the deteriorating condition of numerous Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG) grave markers and the need for change within Department policy to appropriately recognize these soldiers with permanent VA-provided headstones.
“[Last year] you graciously paid tribute to two fallen members of the ATG in the small whaling community of Point Hope,” wrote Congressman Don Young. “While you were in the Point Hope cemetery, you may have noticed that all the graves are marked with wooden crosses. As you walked further back in the cemetery, you may have noticed how decades of hard weather has destroyed many of these wooden makers.”
Although the VA currently provides permanent grave markers – made of marble, granite and other materials – to the families of Veterans who passed away after November 1990, the policy extends only to Veterans with unmarked graveswho died prior to 1990.
“Many families of ATG members who died prior to 1990 have submitted applications for permanent headstones, but have been denied because they indicated that the graves are ‘currently marked’ with these wooden markers,” Congressman Young wrote. “However, since the Civil War, wooden markers have not been considered adequate permanent markers for the graves of Veterans.”
Congressman Young, who has long championed efforts to recognize and honor members of the Alaska Territorial Guard – a force of predominately Alaska Native soldiers who volunteered to protect Alaska’s coastline from foreign incursion during World War II – urged the VA Secretary to do right by members of the ATG and reconsider its policy.
“I urge you to update this policy to recognize the impermanence and inadequate nature of these current wooden markers, and to ensure those who willingly stepped forward to defend the United States are appropriately recognized with true, permanent VA-provided headstones,” wrote Congressman Young.
In addition, Congressman Young requested a specific exception to the headstone application for members of the ATG who were never issued a Social Security Number:
“This is a small number of Veterans, who likely died within several years of the war, but they are still due the proper respect as all of those who serve our great nation,” Congressman Young wrote. “Please make an exception to this requirement for ATG members who lived in remote parts of Alaska and died before they were issued a Social Security Number.”
In 2000, Congressman Young joined Senators Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski to pass legislation that granted Alaska Territorial Guard members official status as U.S. Veterans.