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It isn’t known how many Ketchikan or Southeast Alaskans have made the supreme sacrifice on behalf of the United States.
But some did.
These are the people who we honor this weekend, and specifically on Monday, which is Memorial Day. They died in service to this country — in battle or as a result of wounds received in battle. Those whose names we know include:
• Ensign Irvin Thompson of Ketchikan, who is believed to be the first Alaskan to lose his life in World War II. He graduated from Ketchikan High School in 1935 and died aboard the battleship Oklahoma when it turned over and sank Dec. 7, 1941 in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
• Malta Steppe of Ketchikan entered WWII before the United States. He had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940 as a fighter pilot. At one time a plaque placed at Ketchikan High School commemorated his sacrifice, which might have been before Thompson’s. The date of his death isn’t available, but old-timers believed he survived the Battle of Britain and eventually joined the American Eagles Squadron in Britain before he was shot down. Steppe’s father worked as a U.S. Customs agent in Ketchikan and his mother at Tongass Trading Co.
• The Ketchikan VFW post is named for Ragnar Myking of Ketchikan, who died fighting during the Normandy invasion of WWII.
• Archie VanWinkle of Ketchikan won the nation’s highest military award — the Congressional Medal of Honor — in the Korean War. He survived the war, but had been badly wounded and died years later.
• Ketchikan also lost Arthur Whitney in war. He died during a 1967 firefight in the Vietnam War. He was only 20 years old.
• David Douthit of Soldotna died in the Gulf War. Douthit, the son of Harvey and Nita Douthit, grew up in Ketchikan. Douthit’s father was employed at Ketchikan Pulp Co.
Unfortunately, this likely isn’t a comprehensive list. Information is not readily available on Ketchikan-related losses in wars preceding WWII. There might be names that belong on this list from more recent wars. It is hoped that isn’t the case.
But it’s important to realize that when war involves this nation, the sacrifice is great, and it’s made by young Alaskans, too. It’s made by our families, our neighbors, our classmates. It’s made by the community.
That’s why the community honors these men Monday.