Hoonah totem pole honors Alaskan veterans

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A two-year project honoring Alaskan veterans is finally complete.

A few hundred people sat for five hours in the rain to witness the raising of a totem pole in honor of the men and women of community service.

There are a lot of veterans in Hoonah. At least 10 percent of the population served in the military – one of the highest per capita numbers in the country. Even before Alaska became a state, many Alaskan natives mobilized to fight for the United States.

Local artist Gordon Greenwald designed and sculpted the totem pole.

“All of you, men and women who have stepped forward, we have tried to honor you as best we can with our hands and our tools,” he said.

He is not a veteran himself, but he wanted to pay tribute to those who served.

“Gunalchésh,” Greenwald said. “May our hands do you justice. Thank you.”

The base of the pole honors the fallen soldier. On the way up there are sculptures of Operation Desert Storm combat boots, a Vietnam-era M16 rifle, and a WWII helmet.

Towards the middle are carved identity plaques representing each branch of the service, including the Alaska Territorial Guard, and a Tlingit warrior clad in armor.

“And at the top are the eagle and the raven,” Greenwald said. “Now you notice the eagle and the raven are turned back to back slightly. It’s not the coldness, but all of you army veterans know, “I’m supporting you, mate. “

Veteran commanders have come from Sitka, Juneau and Kake to join those from Hoonah. William “Ozzie” Sheakley was the master of ceremonies.

“I’m the commanding officer of the Juneau Vets so they asked me to host here because I’ve been doing it for a while,” said Sheakley. “The sculptors finished last summer, but we weren’t ready to ride it because of the COVID. We wanted to set it up when everything was almost clear.

When there was a lunch break from the ceremony, Sheakley met Hoonah Veterans Commander James Lindoff Jr.

“We were in Wasilla in ’98,” Lindoff said. “They have a wall. I said to my cousin – he is deceased – but I said to him: ‘We will take ours. We will have ours. What we are.

Lindoff was in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968.

The project is a collaboration between the city of Hoonah, the Huna Heritage Foundation, the Hoonah Veterans Committee and representatives of the Hoonah clan.

The land was donated by Korean War veteran Stanley “Steamie” Thompson, who died in April. His wife Judy Thompson spoke on his behalf.

“Steamie was born and raised in Hoonah and he was very proud to be Hoonah,” she said. “He was very proud of his heritage. He was very proud of his family and he was very proud to be a veteran and that is why he wanted to dedicate this land to the Huna Heritage Foundation.

Huna Heritage Foundation Executive Director Amelia Wilson said the totem pole is just the first piece of what will ultimately be the Huna Veterans Memorial Park.

“There will be a memorial wall honoring the Hoonah veterans who have passed away and who will be behind the totem pole,” Wilson said. “Then there will be concrete work in the form of a Tin’aa, which is like a copper shield and there will be brass inlays, then we will have native plants that will be used for landscaping. around so as to enclose the space in a natural way.

Wilson added that it felt good to be able to come together for something positive, as the rare occasions they were able to reunite recently were for funerals or the death of loved ones.

“I think in our community and in most other communities as well, if you haven’t served yourself, someone in your family or your social network has served,” Wilson said. “So it’s really something that can unite us and it really showed at the event.”

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