This Memorial Day Weekend, Ketchikan and southern Southeast Alaska will remember their own who joined the armed services and made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the United States.
The list of officers and enlisted men who will be in our thoughts died in battle, or as a result of injuries received in a wartime fight. They 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.
• Private First Class Arthur Whitney, who graduated from Kayhi in 1965 and worked at Ketchikan Pulp Co. until departing to Vietnam, was Ketchikan’s first Vietnam casualty. He died during a 1967 firefight in Vietnam at the age of 20. In all, he and his family lived in Ketchikan about 10 years. He is buried in Elko, Nevada, where his family moved to after leaving Ketchikan.
• Corporal William “Bill” Arthur Thompson, who was born in Ketchikan in 1949 and graduated from Ketchikan High School in 1967, enlisted in the U.S. Army and requested assignment in Vietnam, where he arrived on Jan. 18, 1968. He died on July 12, 1968 in Pleiku Province, South Vietnam. He is buried in Bayview Cemetery.
Others from southern Southeast who died in Vietnam include Norman Franklin Ridley of Metlakatla, Charles Edward Brown of Thorne Bay, Clinton Arthur Cook of Hydaburg, David Dee Brown Jr. of Wrangell and Donald Harry Kito of Petersburg.
• 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.
The list has been expanded this year as information became accessible in regard to Ketchikan’s and the surrounding area’s wartime losses.
War is tragic. It inevitably takes loved ones, neighbors, classmates — patriots all — and the community suffers along with their families.
The community also thinks of them on Memorial Day, realizing how great their sacrifice.
It honors these men this weekend, specifically on Monday, Memorial Day.