In early December, a peak in the Chugach Range between Eagle River and Palmer overlooking the Knik River moved one step closer to receiving the name, Gold Star Peak with official approval by the Board of Alaska Geographic Names, Alaska Historical Commission; part of the Department of Natural Resources.
The peak will be named to honor and salute families of soldiers who have died during military service.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) currently manages the land, but the State of Alaska has selected it, and now that the proposed new name been cleared at the state level, the proposal will go to a vote in Washington, D.C.
Eagle River’s Kirk Alkire, a retired U.S. Army First Sgt. who headed up the naming project, says he is confident the federal government will approve the proposal and that the name will be made official during the next scheduled U.S. Board of Geographic Names in February 2018.
“We had tremendous support for naming the peak,” he says. “Signatures on a petition I circulated came from all 50 states, four countries, and one U.S. territory. We had solid backing by many Alaska individuals and organizations, including the military.”
Nine-year-old Shane Leathers, a fourth grader who lives in Anchorage, was among several individuals testifying at the December 6 hearing. Shane’s father, Matthew Leathers, a Navy SEAL, went missing February 19, 2013 on a military dive off the coast of Hawaii. Shane said: “It would be nice if there was something for me to think of my dad. He was important to me…it would be nice if there was a mountain named Gold Star Peak.”
Alkire says two plaques will made: one to be placed at the Matsu Visitors Center Veteran’s Hall of Honor off the Glenn Highway, where Gold Star Peak is very visible; and the other atop the mountain at a site that will include a flag.
The 4,142-foot peak lies south of the Knik River; west of Twin Peaks and is part of a mountain complex named POW/MIA that honors Soldiers who were either prisoners of war or missing in action (in past and future conflicts).
“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 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.”
To follow the Gold Star Peak project on Facebook, go to: https://www.facebook.com/GoldStarPeakAlaska/
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and ECHO News team member and freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired Birchwood ABC school teacher. To reach Frank, email: firstname.lastname@example.org