PUBLISHED: 4:12 PM on Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Territorial guardsmen discharged
Eight members who served during WWII era honored in Nulato
CAMP DENALI - Sixty-one years ago, more than 6,600 Alaskans volunteered to serve in the Alaska Territorial Guard and on June 13 eight of those members were officially recognized in Nulato, Alaska.

Henry B. Agnes, Stanislaus P. Ambrose, Berchmans Esmailka, Gerald F. Esmailka, Crispin P. Esmailka, Victor P. George, Eddie Hildebrand and Frederick W. Sommer are eight of the original 60 members of the Alaska Territorial Guard who enlisted in April 1942 from Nulato and recognized on June 13.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Walton.
  Brig. Gen. Thomas Katkus, assistant adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, shares a laugh as he hands Gerald Esmailka his official discharge paperwork from the Alaska Territorial Guard.
"I'm privileged to be in the presence of great men," said Brig. Gen. Thomas Katkus, assistant adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard. "It's my honor to stand here today with these brave men who volunteered to defend Alaska in our greatest time of need."

Katkus shook the hand of each Alaska Territorial Guard member and officially recognized them with their official discharge paperwork, Alaska Territorial Guard medal and Alaska Territorial Guard patch (except for Sommer who is currently in the hospital and will receive his official discharge in Fairbanks).

"We owe a great deal of appreciation to these heroes, who without hesitation rose to the challenge and served our great state in occupied Alaska during World War II," said Maj. Gen Craig E. Campbell, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard. "They're an inspiration and example to all of us."

The Alaska Territorial Guard was a component of the U.S. Army organized in 1942 by Alaska Territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening in response to attacks by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

Fearing the Japanese would invade Alaska, Gruening dispatched Maj. Marvin "Muktuk" Marston and Maj. Carl Scheibner to recruit and train volunteers to defend Alaska if the Japanese ever invaded.

Ranging in age from 11 to 80 years old, these brave men and women faithfully guarded their assigned territory, with no pay and little equipment, until the Alaska Territorial Guard was disbanded in 1947.

At the time, Alaska was twelve years away from officially becoming a state, so any time served was not counted as military service.

In 2000, Sen. Ted Stevens introduced legislation that changed law and officially recognized the members of the Alaska Territorial Guard for their service. Since that time, all volunteers who served in the Alaska Territorial Guard earned credit for their time as active federal service members and are now eligible for benefits from the Veterans Administration.

Jerry Beale, state veterans affairs administrator, estimates that 5,000 Alaska Territorial Guard members still need to submit paperwork for their service, and they or their family members can do so by filling out an application on the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs website.