Heartfelt: Senator Dan Sullivan’s tribute to Alaska Native veterans


Sen. Dan Sullivan uses time on the Senate floor to honor the “Alaskan of the Week.” This week, he made these remarks, which are now part of the Congressional Record:


Mr. President, as you know, I have been coming to the Senate floor pretty much every week for month after month to highlight someone in my State whom we call the Alaskan of the Week. It is someone who does something important, either for their community or the State or the country, and oftentimes they don’t get a lot of recognition. The purpose of this is to say: Look at what these people are doing for Alaska, for America, for their community.

My State is known for many things: its physical beauty, incredible hunting and fishing, adventuresome spirit, size—you don’t want me going there. I have difficult conversations with my colleagues from Texas on occasion about the different sizes of our respective States, but I will not go into detail here. These are all things we have in Alaskan space, but the thing that really makes us a great place to live is our people—strong, resilient, kind people all across our State who look out for each other, often in harsh weather conditions. We are a patriotic State. I know everybody here claims that, and that is great. We all are. Nowhere is the spirit of sacrifice and patriotism more apparent than in our veterans across the State.

In Alaska, in Missouri—the Presiding Officer’s State—we are all celebrating that, and we are going to celebrate that this weekend, going home for Veterans Day. In Alaska, we like to talk about our veterans. We also like to talk about the fact that we have more veterans per capita than any other State in the country. So it is a very patriotic place—full of service. In every city, village, and every community across Alaska, you will find proud veterans, many of them working tirelessly together to make sure they get the help and support that our veterans need.

A lot of times that happens with the older vets—Vietnam-era vets. They come to make sure the new vets get the help they need. To all of them: I salute your service and your sacrifice. Thank you so much for all you have done and continue to do for our country. Happy Veterans Day to all of Alaska’s veterans.

I can’t wait to get home to celebrate in Fairbanks and Anchorage this weekend. It is not just Veterans Day that is approaching in Alaska. This month we are also celebrating Alaska Native Heritage Month, where there is much to celebrate. Almost 20 percent of the population of our great State is Alaska Natives. This is a group of people who, generation after generation, have what I call a special patriotism. What do I mean by that? Well, Alaska Natives serve at higher rates in the military—just like the lower 48. Native Americans have higher rates in the military than any other ethnic group in the country. This has been going on for generations—World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Iraq, and Afghanistan. When you think about it, it is special.

Let’s face it. In the forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies, even sometimes, unfortunately, today, the Federal Government has not always treated Alaska Natives well. Yet, generation after generation, they go off to the front to fight for this country. It is truly a special kind of patriotism and a unique tribute to the Alaska Native heritage we are supporting and celebrating this month. I thought it was fitting today to name as our Alaskan of the Week—to make it a collective tribute for all Alaska Natives who have served their country in the military, and it is thousands, to make them collectively the Alaskans of the Week as we look to celebrate Veterans Day.

Mr. President, here is a little bit of history. I know you know this, but a lot of Americans don’t. During World War II, Alaska was the only State in the Union to be invaded and occupied by the Japanese, so we had big military battles in the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska to throw off the invaders of our American territory. Thousands of Alaska Natives volunteered to protect their homeland and to defend their country overseas. Across the State, whether they were in the Alaska Territorial Guard, warriors overseas, code talkers who served with the Marines and others—they were as old as 80 and as young as 12.

This is a great story. It shows the warrior ethic. Alaska Native women, after the outbreak of World War II, originally enrolled in the Alaska Territorial Guard before they realized that women weren’t allowed to enroll. In fact, the best sharpshooter in Alaska’s Territorial Guard was a woman named Laura Beltz Wright of Haycock, AK.

Here is how the late, great Jerome Trigg—an Alaska Native and a marine—put it in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam war, when he was testifying in front of the U.S. Congress on a very important piece of legislation called the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

He was the president of the Arctic Native Brotherhood and, as I mentioned, a proud Marine. In front of a bunch of Senators, he stated as follows:

We have showed our patriotism as proudly as any Americans on earth. We have answered the call of duty with pride in serving [our country]. – Jerome Trigg

We answered the call in [World War] II 100 percent. Every man in every village—old and young—volunteered with the Alaska National Guard. Remember, this was in 1968 that he was testifying. Then he said: I have never heard of an Alaska Native burning the draft card or burning our nation’s flag. We are patriots. That service, as I mentioned, didn’t end after World War II. Alaska Natives have served in every conflict—the Korean war and in droves during the Vietnam war.

I was honored to be in Southeast Alaska this past summer in a Native village called Hoonah. It is a beautiful place. There was a documentary I saw recently. It documented the classes in 1968 and 1969 in that small Native village in a film called ‘‘Hunting and Wartime.’’ It was about how almost every single male high school student in Hoonah—every one—went to go fight in Vietnam.

That is incredible. It is special patriotism. Let me tell you a quick, more up-to-date story. We had the Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke—a combat vet, a Navy SEAL, a heroic man himself— come to Alaska this summer.

I asked him to meet with a bunch of Alaska Native veterans, particularly our Vietnam veterans, who had an issue that the Department of Interior has been working on for years. I wanted him to hear about it firsthand. It was a very touching meeting. Some in the room talked about what it was like to be in their villages—places they had never left—when they were 17 and 18 and 19. Then, a few days later, they were in a steamy jungle, thousands and thousands of miles away, in Vietnam.

Some talked about what it was like coming back and not feeling that they had the support of their country, others talked about the difficulty of readjusting to life back in Alaska after their service in Vietnam and some of the discrimination they received when they came back home, but even though they went through this hardship, even though they went through some of these very difficult times in the late sixties and early seventies, not one of them said they had made a mistake in serving their country.

They were proud, patriotic warriors, and to this day that is what they are. Secretary Zinke said, after he left that meeting, he began it as their Secretary of Interior, and he left as a brother in arms. I am so honored to be able to serve these great Alaskans and to celebrate them as our Alaskans of the Week, just like I know everybody in America is going to be proud to go home and celebrate with their veterans.

Once again, for our Alaska Native veterans, thank you for all you have done for our country, and thank you for being our Alaskans of the Week.