Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald paid tribute Wednesday to those who served in the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II.
McDonald addressed seven surviving members of the largely Native citizens militia during a ceremony in the northwest Alaska town of Kotzebue.
Representatives of the event say the veterans attending the ceremony came from Kotzebue and three Alaska Native villages.
He presented them with Department of Veterans Affairs “challenge coins.” McDonald said the coins are a military tradition to present to soldiers for deeds well done.
“This is my way of recognizing every one of the ATG members, thanking them for their service to our country,” he said.
Alaska was still 17 years away from statehood when the 6,400-member militia was formed in 1942 to defend the vast territory from the threat of Japanese invasion.
The unit was activated after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and points along Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. The volunteer militia members, nicknamed Uncle Sam’s Men and Eskimo Scouts, stepped in to watch over the 586,000-square-mile territory, which was vulnerable to further attack with the Alaska National Guard already pressed into federal service.