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A star is born: The history behind Anchorage’s holiday star on the side of the mountain

The ‘Army Star’ began in 1958 and continues to shine down on Anchorage
Published: Dec. 1, 2020 at 4:27 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For over 60 years, beginning the day after Thanksgiving, a giant holiday star, pinned to the flank of Mount Gordon Lyon in Arctic Valley, shines down on Anchorage for a stretch of nearly four months.

“It’s a lot sharper this year, because of the LED output,” TSgt. Mark Sasot with the 773D Electrical Shop, Civil Engineer Squadron on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson said. “I was honored, obviously it’s kind of unique and you can’t find this on other bases.”

Since Elmendorf Air Force Base merged with the Army’s Fort Richardson to form JBER in 2010, the Air Force took over the maintenance of the star.

“The maintenance part of it is obviously the 300 lights,” Sasot said. “Some of the sockets, some of them freeze up and we have to replace some of those, LED’s go bad and some of the wires go bad as well.”

The star was created in 1958 by Army Commander Capt. Douglas Evert atop the Nike Site Summit.

“He wanted a star that could be seen from Anchorage for Christmas,” Director of Friends at Nike Site Summit Greg Durocher said. “And so they put up a 15-foot star on top of the gatehouse, got some volunteers and from down here it was just a pinpoint of light.”

In 1960, it was moved to the side of the mountain in Arctic Valley.

“It expanded from 15 feet to 117 feet which is a pretty good size,” Durocher said. “That’s how big it was when I was there.”

Durocher served as an MP in the Army and patrolled the grounds at Nike Site Summit from 1974 to 1976. It was his turn to flip the switch on the star each day.

“If we forgot, some friendly people from Anchorage would call the base commander or whoever was on duty and we’d get the word, please turn on the star,” Durocher said.

The Nike Site Summit operated from 1959 to 1979 but the star lived on. In 1989 it was expanded to its current size of 300 feet, the equivalent to the length of a football field. Having an object that large on the side of a mountain comes with risks.

“Last year we had an avalanche take out the bottom corner,” Sasot said. “We also had a breaker issue so the star was off for a few days.”

Members of the 773D Civil Engineer Squadron make the trek to turn on the Army Star each year
Members of the 773D Civil Engineer Squadron make the trek to turn on the Army Star each year(773D CES)

It’s no easy trek to get to the mountain.

Members of the 773D Civil Engineer Squadron make the trek to turn on the Army Star each year
Members of the 773D Civil Engineer Squadron make the trek to turn on the Army Star each year(773D CES)

“It’s at roughly 45 degrees so your pretty much up there with one leg straight and the other one bent,” Sasot said. “It’s very rough, it’s steep and slippery.”

The star is tuned for one day on Sept. 11, then is turned on again for the holidays starting the day after Thanksgiving. It stays on, shining down on Anchorage for nearly four months, waiting for the final musher to cross the burled arch finish line in Nome.

The star’s 300 light bulbs were replaced with LED light this year. Last year the star’s five tips only had LED.

“I’m honored, not just for JBER but the city of Anchorage to see that every time the star is lit,” Sasot said.

“It’s really a good feeling,” Durocher said. “It’s been a landmark for so long that I think It would be politically unpopular to take it down.”

The star even has its own Facebook page.

It continues to shine as a gift from the military to Anchorage, each and every year.

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