Thank you, Dillingham. General Katkus, Representative Edgmon, community leaders all, people of Dillingham: It's an honor to be with you on this Memorial Day, a day when we remember, and day when we recognize the sacrifices made by many for us, across the years of our country.
What a proud day for Alaska. It's an historic day. Today we honor some who have not been given their due across time -- members of the Alaska Territorial Guard, and their family members who are attending.
I want to personally thank all Guard members for your service and congratulate you on your discharge. I think it's important that you hear from your governor personally: I say thank you on behalf of all Alaskans.
Twelve years ago, the Alaska Territorial Guard received official U.S. veteran status under U.S. law. This long overdue act memorializes and formally recognizes your contribution to preserving the freedom we enjoy today.
Your history is Alaska's history. Your service began in 1942. It was arguably the lowest point of the war. Our homeland was under attack by the Japanese Empire. German U-boats had sunk almost 500 ships off the North American coast in the Atlantic.
Our enemies were emboldened because they had suffered no real losses; nobody was there to stand up. And yet, in 1942, you, the Alaska Territorial Guard, became a force to be reckoned with.
Aleuts, Athabascans, Haidas, Inupiaqs, Tlingits, Tsmshians, Yupiks and many others.
The Territorial Guard had more than 6,000 volunteers of all ages, from 100 Alaska communities. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, working together to support a common goal: To protect Alaska, which is America's strategic epicenter.
These Alaska-tough men, women and teens left a memorable mark that we will always honor.
The Territorial Guard protected the lone source of platinum in the Western Hemisphere. What would have happened had you just stayed home?
You secured essential terrain around the lend-lease route between the U.S. and Soviet Union, so we could exchange supplies among allies. Protecting that Pacific route was imperative. How many lives would have been lost if you had not been there to do that?
You placed survival storage containers along strategic transportation routes. Without your support, how many soldiers would have perished in harsh conditions?
Consider what was at stake: If our nation's enemies at the time took Alaska,
they would be within three hours bombing distance of Bremerton, Washington, and moving on to the other 48 states.
The consequence of not having the Alaska Territorial Guard during this time in America's history is unthinkable.
You didn't stay home. You didn't sit it out. You didn't take the easy route. You stood up, you defended, and you put your lives on the line.
A few years ago, we made a commitment to get all living Territorial Guard members official discharges from the U.S. Army.
It was another cause worth fighting for. And I'm proud to say the State of Alaska has kept its word. Thank you to all of you who took part in this project. You worked with village corporations, State Troopers, and the Postal Service, all to identify all surviving members. You worked one-on-one with Territorial Guard veterans on needed paperwork. You worked with Army headquarters to answer questions and accelerate paperwork processing.
Since October, 2011, I am told we have validated the Alaska Territorial Guard list, confirming over 6,400 Alaskans who served in the Guard.
Each person's rank has been validated and we've published a new authoritative list, which you can find online at the State web site.
So today, we honor not only those here who served, but families whose parents and grandparents served.
It was never about recognition or medals. It was never about personal glory. It wasn't even about pay -- and we know there wasn't any for our Territorial Guard members.
It was self-sacrifice. It was service. These patriots, they stand tall in history, never to be forgotten. Always to be honored.
On behalf of all Alaskans, we are deeply thankful for all of our military service members, past and present.
And today we want to especially recognize Alaska Territorial Guard's service to this land and to our country. God bless you and thank you.