Sitka welcomes 11th Airborne Division for Alaska Day celebrations

Celebrating Alaska Day in Sitka with the 11th Airborne Division
Published: Nov. 1, 2023 at 6:04 PM AKDT
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SITKA, Alaska (KTUU) - Music from the 11th Airborne Division Band filled the streets of downtown Sitka on Alaska Day. A crowd gathered on the sidewalks, cheering and waving at the band, in celebration of the anniversary of the United States’ 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia.

“This town started the history. We want to continue the history,” Alaska Day military liaison Joan Berge said. “We do everything to keep this history here in Alaska.”

Community members alongside members of the armed forces, gathered together at the Baranof Castle State Historic Site to watch the reenactment of the Russian flag being lowered, in remembrance of the the official transfer of the former Territory of Alaska from Russia to the United States. Earlier in 1867, the U.S. bought Alaska for around 2 cents per acre.

Berge describes Sitka as the birthplace of the state of Alaska.

“The reason why we do [the reenactment] is to celebrate the fact that we purchased this beautiful country and we had the help of the military, we had the help of everyone that was around to make this place a beautiful place for the United States,” Berge said.

Berge added the military was essential in getting the state settled, a viewpoint echoed by military personnel with the 11th Airborne Division.

“The relationship with the community has always been sort of a feature of the U.S. Army’s presence here,” Col. Thomas Burke said. “The help that we have given to the building of roads, of bridges, of causeways, of pipelines, of defending the Aleutian Chain and assisting in the coastal defense during the Second World War.”

Berge also noted that the band has played a significant role in Sitka — since centennial celebrations in 1967, the band has visited the city both for entertainment and to help get the younger generation involved.

“The kids especially love to follow the band around and they’re so excited when they go to the schools and play with the schools,” Berge said. “When they see the military come in on the planes, they get excited, because a lot of them will go over just to meet the military.”

Sgt. Kaila Moonan, a flutist with the band, said she looks forward to her time with the youth.

“I think my favorite part is being able to make those connections with young, aspiring musicians and students, getting to perform with them and sit alongside them and really create those great memories that they will hopefully have of the Army going forward,” Moonan said.