Ketchikan becoming marine center

On the Waterfront

Posted: Friday, September 03, 2004

The ferry office is moving to Ketchikan. That is the place where the finest marine maintenance facility in the state is located and where plans are underway for a major expansion. Our ferry boats as well as other commercial and private vessels use this port. When the LaConte ran aground just out of Sitka a few months ago, she was taken to Ketchikan to be repaired at the large dry dock.

Through the efforts of our congressional delegation, one of the NOAA vessels with a crew of more than 100 is going to be based permanently at Ketchikan. This will be the first time, since these ships are usually kept in Seattle when they aren't spending the summers in Alaskan waters. So Ketchikan will be taking on the character of a true marine center.

I say hooray for that, because Ketchikan has had its hard knocks in the loss of many forestry-related jobs. Many of our sister towns in Southeast Alaska have suffered also, including Wrangell, Sitka and Haines.

None of these fine and historic communities have the sustaining presence of the state capital, which we enjoy here in Juneau. But when we ask for their help, they never begrudge their full and unconditional support.

We send delegations of Juneau citizens to Ketchikan, Craig, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Haines and Skagway in time of need and ask to give us their votes to keep the capital at Juneau. They have never said no.

We should always treat the needs of our true friends and neighbors with a respectful voice.

A poem rings in my head as I write these words.

Rudyard Kipling was a marvelous prose writer. His finest book was "Kim," written at the beginning of the 20th century. The opening lines were memorable.

"He sat, in defiance of municipal orders astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher, The Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah that 'fire-breathing dragon' hold the Punjab, for the great green-bronze piece is always the first of the conqueror's loot."

Kipling also wrote poems about the British soldier in the days of Empire in the 19th century. It was Pax Britanica all over the world from the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 to the start of the First World War in 1914.

But often in peacetime, the British soldier was slighted and maligned.

In Kipling's poem "Tommy," he is refused service at a pub, "we serve no red coats here" and given a poor seat at the theater.

It was only Tommy this and Tommy that and Tommy how's your soul before the fighting.

When war started it was a different matter.

"Its thin red line of heroes when the drums begin to roll,

The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,

And its thin red line of heroes when the drums begin to roll."

To paraphrase Kipling, when the drums begin to roll, the voters of Ketchikan and all the other friends and neighbors of Southeast Alaska are heroes for Juneau.

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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