Moving Mountains for Gold Star Families: The naming of Gold Star Peak
Eagle River’s Kirk Alkire, now retired after 23 years of service with the U.S. Army, has embarked upon a new mission: naming a nearby mountain Gold Star Peak to honor families of Soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Alkire served in the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division from Fort Richardson, which lost 53 paratroopers during its 15-month deployment to Iraq during the 2007 “Surge.” Four of those 53 heroes were assigned to the unit in which Alkire was First Sergeant.
He retired in 2008, with much of that time served at U.S. Army Fort Richardson—now part of JBER. Following a long military tradition of honoring the fallen, he believes that paying tribute to their families is also vitally important.
“Our nation recognizes that no one has given more for the nation than the families of the fallen,” he says. “Honoring them by naming this peak is a small token of our appreciation for each of their sacrifices.”
The 4,142-foot peak he and supporters wish to name lies south of the Knik River; west of Twin Peaks and on state land. While it is part of a mountain complex named POW/MIA that honors Soldiers who were a prisoner of war or missing in action (in past and future conflicts), Alkire says Gold Star is far enough west and rises sufficiently from the surrounding terrain to be recognized as a peak unto itself.
Alkire mentions that each day the Glenn Highway serves more than 50,000 commuters, visitors, and commercial traffic and that crossing the Palmer Flats on the way to Anchorage lends itself to a perfect view of the mountain.
“This is not simply a regional or state issue,” he says. “The Glenn Highway is part of an interstate highway system linked to the lower 48 states. Visitors from across the nation will have the opportunity to learn about this peak, see it and understand why it was so named.”
Alkire began the formal process of naming Gold Star Peak in May 2017.
Thinking it was on federal land, he sent his proposal the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. The board quickly responded that his proposed Gold Star Peak lies on state land and not in their jurisdiction; with the caveat that if Alaska approved the application, they certainly would.
The federal board forwarded his proposal to the Board of Alaska Geographic Names, Alaska Historical Commission, which is within the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. He is expecting a board decision next year after its annual meeting. Since then he has been gathering further support from individuals and several organizations, including Eklutna, Inc.
“Alaska has at least 300 Gold Star families registered—from Vietnam to present—and I am sure there are more,” Alkire says. “Part of the project has been to determine how many Gold Star families actually live in the state.”
Alkire adds that he has already been awarded a grant to cover costs associated with procuring plaques: one to be placed at the Matsu Visitors Center Veteran’s Hall of Honor, where Gold Star Peak is very visible, and the other atop the mountain at a site that will include a flag.
He hasn’t yet decided on a design for the plaques and is considering opening that aspect of the project to the public, perhaps in the form of a contest.
“As we learned from Benny Benson long ago when he designed Alaska’s flag, school children can be very creative with this kind of thing,” he says. “Perhaps even a Gold Star child might come up with a poignant design.”
Mount POW/MIA (4,314 feet) —to the east of Alkire’s proposed Gold Star Peak — was named in 2007 through the tenacious efforts of John Morrissey, a Vietnam veteran from New York.
Traditionally, the flag atop POW/MIA has been replaced annually by the Palmer Colony Army JROTC program during Memorial weekend in May. But over the past two years, Alkire and fellow Veterans have climbed up to replace the flags, which are generously donated by Lowes Home Improvement Center in Anchorage.
A primitive trail to the mountain begins at Mile 5 on the Eklutna Road, just between the Mile 5 marker and a speed limit sign. Another landmark is power pole 85. Parking along Eklutna Road is extremely limited, so most hikers park at a small pull off about Mile 4-3/4, and walk along the road to the trail that begins after climbing a steep bank. The trail eventually leads hikers above the tree line and into a brushy but cleared gully. After breaking out of the brush at about 2,800 feet, the trail follows a steep pass to hiker’s right, or east, to access the mountain’s summit ridge. (Caution: In winter this pass can produce significant avalanches.)
Kirk Alkire currently resides in Eagle River with his wife Angie, and they have a grown son, Matt.
Ed. Note: The ECHO News will feature updates to this project as more information becomes available.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired Birchwood ABC school teacher. To reach Frank, email: email@example.com