Across Alaska and across our great nation, we gathered on Friday to recognize those who have served our country in the U.S military. Wreathes were laid, stories and memories shared, Harleys rumbled, and brothers and sisters in service reunited and remembered. Veterans Day is a sacred day in Alaska. We have more veterans per capita than any other state in the country, a fact that I let my fellow senators know on a regular basis. It’s one of the many great things about our state.
Something else I say often: Because of American democracy and the veterans we celebrated on Friday, our country and the U.S. military have done more to liberate men and women across the globe from tyranny and oppression — hundreds of millions of people — than any other force in human history.
This fact is always on my mind when, most mornings when I’m in Washington, D.C., I run along the National Mall, where I stop at the monuments dedicated to those who have fought our wars and for freedom across the globe. No physical structure can adequately portray the sacrifice and the heroism demonstrated by millions of Americans on those battlefields. But we can honor those Americans through these memorials and by remembering their cause for which they fought.
Recently, I was part of two ceremonies dedicating two new national monuments on the Mall honoring our veterans: one memorializing those we lost during the Korean War and the other honoring our Native American and Alaska Native veterans.
On July 27, along with thousands of Americans, fellow members of Congress, Biden administration officials and top officials from the Republic of Korea, I attended the dedication of the Wall of Remembrance that was added to the Korean War Memorial.
Thanks to the generosity of the people of South Korea, who funded most of the costs of the $22 million Wall of Remembrance, the names of 36,573 Americans who were killed in action during the Korean War are now engraved here. Importantly, intermixed with the names of the Americans are the more than 7,200 KATUSA soldiers — the Korean Army personnel who served alongside American forces. Now, in addition to the 19 large statues — soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and grunts — on patrol, with a cold, wet wind whipping their ponchos, their faces full of fear but also pride and determination, nobility in action — these names are etched into marble and held in our nation’s memory forever as American and Korean brothers who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom.
Following the ceremony, I was able to pass through the Senate a resolution to thank the Korean people for their generosity. Because of this new Wall of Remembrance, all Americans, and in particular those who lost friends or family members during the Korean War, have a sacred place to visit the names of their heroic loved ones.
On Friday, Veterans Day, I was also honored to attend, along with dozens of Alaska Native veterans, the formal dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial on the Mall, for which I was also honored to be a member of the Congressional Committee charged with garnering support for this powerful and well-deserved memorial.
This monument is about honoring what I call a special patriotism. It’s a term I use a lot in Alaska when talking about our Alaska Native veteran community.
Alaska Natives and Native Americans across our country serve at higher rates in the U.S. military than any other ethnic group. That’s impressive in and of itself. But think about the context during which Native Americans and Alaska Native people served.
For decade after decade, really for centuries, the U.S. government did not always treat our First Peoples with the respect and equality they deserved.
Given this history — it would have been normal, rational even, that when asked to serve in the military and fight and die for America — the reaction of Native Americans over the decades might have been, “No thanks.”
But that wasn’t their reaction. To the contrary, it was the opposite. In Alaska, when called, Alaska Natives all across the state served with humility, with dignity and with honor, and of course with heroism.
They have done so generation after generation. As we know, Alaska was the only territory in the Union to be invaded during World War II, and thousands of Alaska Natives volunteered to protect their homeland. All across the state, they bravely answered the call to participate in Alaska’s Territorial Guard. Warriors. Code Talkers. They were as old as 80 and as young as 12.
Alaska Native women even enrolled before anyone realized that women weren’t allowed to enroll. In fact, the best sharpshooter in Alaska’s Territorial Guard was a woman: Laura Beltz Wright of Haycock.
They continued this special patriotism in the Cold War, the Korean War, Vietnam and in the Middle East.
Today, in every community across Alaska, you will find proud Alaska Native veterans, many of them still serving our country by working tirelessly to make sure their fellow veterans get the help and support they need and deserve.
Not enough of our fellow Americans know about this special patriotism and tremendous record of service because so many of our Alaska Natives come from a culture of humility. So, the National Native American Veterans Memorial is a fitting tribute to their service and sacrifice where Americans from across our great country can gather, reflect and pay tribute to the sacrifices that have been made to keep our country free by Alaska Natives and Native Americans throughout our nation’s history.
To them, and to all veterans in Alaska, thank you for your service and for your sacrifice. It will never be forgotten. Semper Fi.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, first elected in 2014, is Alaska’s junior U.S. senator.
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