National Guard seeks cold war soldiers for documentary

Posted: Friday, July 01, 2005

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Army National Guard is looking for Cold War soldiers to share their experiences about those years spent protecting Alaska's Western border from the former Soviet Union.

The project's goal is to create a permanent document of Guard's national significance in defending Alaska, particularly from the perspective of Alaska Natives based at remote outposts in Gambell, Savoonga, Wales, Point Hope and Little Diomede Island at the time, officials said Thursday.

The ultimate goal is to produce a 50-minute video featuring Cold War veterans, old photos and film clips and perhaps printed pamphlets that could be distributed to museums, Native organizations, even tour groups.

"We as a society are in the process of writing the history of the Cold War, coming to grips with the Cold War. There's nothing, or very little about the Cold War about the Alaska Guard's involvement," said Jerry Walton, a Guard cultural resource manager who is coordinating the project.

"These people were living here and protecting our coast line and in many ways they were national heroes," he said. "Their job was to be the eyes and ears for the Department of Defense."

The project, actively launched this week, is funded by a $70,000 DOD legacy grant.

Walton also is reaching out to Alaska tribal leaders for help. Last week he met with the Orutsararmiut Native Council - Bethel's tribal government, which agreed to spread the word.

So far, Walton has encountered six possibilities, but still needs to persuade five to be interviewed. The only certain participant is Dusty Finley of Walla Walla, Wash., who was en route to Alaska on Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Finley was an Army adviser to the Guard during the Cold War years and is bringing a boxful of artifacts, such as old films, to Walton.

Walton plans to conduct interviews over the next two years and expects to hear stories about old-timers dealing with Soviet political defectors and incursions during the 1946-1989 span of the post-World War II rivalry between the United States and the former Soviet Union. He also hopes to corroborate stories about Native hunters shooting at Soviet submarines to protect their walrus skin boats from aggressive approaches.

"What really did happen out there in the dark of the arctic night? That's what we're researching," Walton said. "There are stories here to be told."

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