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NEWS | June 30, 2022

AK State Office of Veterans Affairs to honor Army Guardsmen for 1955 rescue

By 1st Lt. Balinda O'Neal Office of Veterans Affairs

On June 22, 1955, two Russian MiG 15’s from Siberia shot down a U.S. Navy plane flying a routine maritime patrol over the Bering Sea. It crash-landed on an ice shelf prompting fourteen Guardsmen from the First Scout Battalion to mount a rescue mission saving everyone on board.

On July 9, 2022, more than 67 years later, the Alaska State Office of Veterans Affairs will present medals to one veteran and 14 family representatives of the Alaska Army National Guard’s First Scouts.

The 2:15 p.m. ceremony will take place at the high school gym in Gambell, a St. Lawrence Island village located south of the Bering Strait and approximately eight miles from where the Lockheed P2V-5 Neptune crashed.

“In 1955 each member received a Letter of Appreciation for their actions,” said Verdie Bowen, director of the Office of Veterans Affairs, who explained that at the time there were no medals in the U.S. or National Guard inventory that could be awarded for their heroism.

The Guardsmen, Siberian Yupik Eskimos, responded to the crash site in umiaks, open boats with wooden frames and covered by bearded seal or walrus hides.

The Alaska Heroism Medal citation states that the First Scouts mobilized and rescued the 11-member crew who received critical burns and gunshot and shrapnel wounds. The two MiG 15’s that shot down the Navy patrol plane, 40 miles off of Siberia and 200 miles west of Nome, remained overhead during the extraction. 

“The community reached out requesting commendation that more accurately recognized the valor of these brave men,” said Bowen, stating that part of the Office of Veterans Affairs mission is to help veterans obtain earned military awards.

“No matter how long it takes, we are dedicated to honoring those that served with valor,” said Bowen.  

During the Cold War, the 297th Infantry Scout Battalions operated from small villages in Northern and Western Alaska, constantly observing the Bering Sea coastline and often providing significant intelligence information.

What: Ceremony honoring First Scouts rescue crew
When:  Saturday, July 9, 2:15 p.m.
Where: John Apangalook Memorial High School gymnasium
Note:    Media interested in attending the ceremony should contact the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs public affairs office via email at mvapublicaffairs@alaska.gov or 907-428-6031. Please leave a voice message with name of news organization and reporter.
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