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A person ought not have to wait until he is 100 years old to hear “thank you” from a grateful nation — but whether it comes at 100, 94, 90, 85, or 82, the thank-you ought to be said.
This week, it was said to five Ketchikan men who served in the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II as unpaid volunteers, “providing service to our nation, defending the territory, or providing information, of serving this nation at great risk to themselves,” as Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, described their service Tuesday. He spoke at a ceremony honoring them at long last.
When they were discharged and the Territorial Guard disbanded in 1947, their service was not recognized as military service: Although they were called upon to defend the United States, Alaska wasn’t a state.
“They didn’t even get a handshake,” Katkus said. “They basically got told, ‘The war is over, go home.’”
In 2000, thanks to the efforts of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, they were recognized as veterans and allowed to apply for honorable discharge.
On Tuesday, the five honored in Ketchikan received Alaska Territorial Guard Service Medals and Alaska Honor Coins; all now have, at long last, been honorably discharged.
The nation knows it should not have taken 66 years to properly thank these men.
It is one of the United States’ fine qualities, to squarely face its inadequacies and try to remedy them as best we can. Tuesday’s ceremony was a good example of such an effort:?No brushing the offense under the rug, but facing it squarely and trying to make it right.
Thank you, Henry Neligan, Willard Reese, John Reese, Victor Klose and Ralph Devenney. We appreciate the grace with which you accepted our country’s belated thanks on Tuesday.
We were lucky to have you during the war, and grateful to have you now.