Indian Country Today

All across Indian Country, communities are honoring the men and women in uniform who died at war with the laying of wreaths, prayers, patriotic readings, and military bands.

The only known Aleut/Unangax̂ soldier killed in action during World War II is getting long overdue recognition and the promise of a gravestone.

US Army Private George Fox was killed on Anzio Beach in Italy in November 1943.

On May 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs approved the order for his gravestone.

Cultural Heritage Specialist Michael Livingston, of the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association, in a prepared statement, said “Private Fox’s grave has been unmarked for over 70 years, and his name is missing from World War II killed in action memorials in Alaska.

“Private George Fox was born in Unga Village in 1920, raised in Unalaska, joined the US Army in January 1941 -- 11 months before Pearl Harbor. He served with the military police and was killed in action June 1, 1944 in Ardea, Italy.

“His sacrifice may have been forgotten had it not been for Gertrude Svarny who grew up with him, who attended his funeral, and who has placed a small U.S. Flag on his unmarked grave for over 72 years,” said Livingston.

The Unangax̂ people of Alaska suffered grievously during World War II.

Japanese forces bombed the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and U.S. Army Fort Mears on Amaknak Island in the Aleutian chain on June 3-4, 1942.

Japan occupied the village of Attu and took Aleut/Unangax̂ people there prisoner. Of the 40 sent to prison camps in Japan, only 15 returned.

On other islands, the military evacuated Aleut/Unangax̂ people from their homes for their own “protection,”(non-Natives were not evacuated).

The villagers were sent to internment camps in Southeast Alaska. The 881 evacuees were put in abandoned buildings, some of which lacked running water and heat. Malnourished, the elderly and the young died by the dozens. In some camps, as many as 10 percent of all interned died.

Unangan Funter Bay WWII. Pribilovian (from the Pribilof Islands) Unangan aboard the USAT Delarof. Image titled “nara_80_g_12163”: National Archives and Records Administration, NARA-80-G-12163.

Speaking of the Unangax̂/Aleut’s history, Livingston emailed, “Only the Aleutian Islands were bombed, invaded, and occupied by Japanese soldiers.

“Only Attuans from Attu Island were taken prisoner of war to Japan where many died.

“Only the Unangax̂/Aleut people were forcibly relocated from their villages by the US military who dumped them in abandoned canneries where there were high rates of attrition, a move that some identify as an ethnic cleansing.

“Only Aleuts from the Pribilof Islands were forced to hunt fur seals for their pelts for the benefit of the US government.

“Only the Unangax̂/Aleut villages were bombed and set on fire by the US military who occupied any remaining homes in other villages, desecrated the churches, stole the icons, and used the burial crosses for firewood.

“The historic trauma of these tragic events - often made by powerful military leaders who held open White supremacy views, continues into the 21st Century. Despite these brutal events from Wold War II, the Unangax̂/Aleut people continue forward in an optimistic manner.

"The word "Alaska" itself is an Unangax̂/Aleut word," continued Livingston.

"The handsome Alaska flag was designed by an elementary student - Benny Benson - whose mother Tatiana was born in Unangax̂/Aleut territory.

"Much of the $7.2 milion used to purhase Alaska came from the backs of Pribilof Aleuts, enslaved to hunt fur seals, a slavery that illegally continued into the 1980s.

"One of the first Alaska Native women medical doctors - Dr. Barbara Riley - is a direct descendant of the last Chief of Attu Village who tragically did not survive being a prisoner of war in Japan" he said.

"Unangax̂/Aleut are CEOs, Presidents, community leaders, medical doctors, lawyers - positive contributing members of communities throughout the United States. One of the strongest characteristics of the Unangax̂/Aleut people is patience, persistence, and perseverance," wrote Livingston.

In 1988, Congress passed a law making public law restitution to the Unangax̂/Aleuts. The 450 survivors were paid $12,000 each. A $6.4 million trust fund was created for communities and churches.

On its website, the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association states, “Although the injustices that Unangax faced during their internment were addressed in 1988 through formal federal reparations, the legacy of World War II has been one of cultural loss and change for which reparations cannot make amends. The memory of those years still brings sadness to many Unangax.”