Inside the Gates: Alaska Veterans Museum tells visitors about state’s military history

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 3:02 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Caleb and Emily Fowler visited Anchorage for the first time while on their honeymoon from Virginia. One of their stops was a visit to the Alaska Veterans Museum.

“My great-granddad was a fighter pilot in World War II,” Fowler said. “I love to support the military.”

The Fowlers are among the more than 1,700 visitors the museum has had since it first opened its doors in the 4th Avenue Market Place back in 2011. It contains artifacts and displays related to the state’s military history.

“We literally start in 1865, all the way to the present time,” said Alaska Veterans Museum Executive Director Bob Sherrill. “This is an evolving museum. We change things; we’ve changed eight of our areas in the past year.”

One of the more popular items is the “Nightgown.” It’s made from a parachute of an American pilot, 1st Lt. Donald Gaard, shot down by Soviet troops over Czechoslovakia in March 1945.

“It has two bullet holes in it where he was shot at as he was coming down,” Sherrill said. “He kept that for her.”

Sherrill said Ronelva Peacock, Gaard’s widow, still lives in Anchorage.

Another major display focuses on the fighting in the Aleutian Islands. The Japanese occupation of Attu was the only land battle in World War II that took place on U.S. soil. The Japanese had also seized the nearby Kiska Island.

There’s a lot to see at the museum, and it’s not easy to fit it all in.

“The challenge is with 1,400 square feet, we need about 3,000-4,000 (square feet),” said Sherrill. “We need $4,000-$5,000 coming in to our museum a month.”

Sherrill said the museum only takes in about half that amount. Grants help, but the museum is looking for other revenue sources,= so it can continue telling part of Alaska’s history.

The Alaska Veterans Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

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