100-year-old Alaska Territorial Guard veteran finally gets an honorable discharge

Mike Dunham

Two months shy of his 101st birthday, Henry Neligan of Ketchikan will finally receive his honorable discharge. Born in Craig on May 6, 1912, Neligan is the oldest living Alaska Territorial Guard veteran -- and likely the oldest living member of any branch of the U.S. military -- to formally receive his discharge.

Neligan served in the ATG, a volunteer home guard formed in 1942 to protect Alaska during World War II. They served with little equipment, like surplus rifles from World War I, no pay and, until recently, no federal recognition for their military service. By the time it was disbanded in 1947, 6,400 mostly Native Alaskans had served in the force.

Not until 2000 did the late Sen. Ted Stevens muscle through legislation that allowed ATG members to receive veterans benefits and apply for U.S. Army honorable discharges.

Neligan, a Tlingit, grew up in Klawock and, aside from a brief stint at a dairy in Sumas, Wash., spent most of his life there before moving to Ketchikan in 1963. He didn't get -- and didn't need -- a driver's license until he turned 70. He worked as a fisherman and boat builder and also played trumpet in a local swing band.

Interviewed by the Ketchikan Indian Community organization last year, he attributed his long life to never drinking or smoking, a diet of simple foods -- rice and fish with lemon meringue pie -- and the fact that his father lived to be 104.

He is reported to maintain an active life, chatting with tourists he meets on the bus, checking out audio books from the local library, and taking lunch every day at the Ketchikan Indian Community Meals and Wheels Center.

Along with Neligan, who was assigned to the Craig ATG unit, four other WWII era guard members will receive their honorable discharges at ceremonies in Ketchikan on Tuesday: Victor Klose, John Reese and Williard Reese, all of the Ketchikan ATG unit, and Ralph Devenny of the Wrangell ATG unit.

The men's honorable discharge certificates and Alaska Territorial Guard Service medals will be presented by Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Katkus, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, and Verdie Bown, director of the Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs.

Bowen said the department is still trying to locate all living members of the guard "to ensure our nation honors every serving member of the ATG ... keeping alive the memory of all who served."

For more information regarding the ATG or to apply for discharge, contact the Office of Veterans Affairs at 907-334-0874 or toll free at 888-428-3682.

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.