Story and Photos Contributed by Kirk Alkire
Ed Note: This was written by Kirk July 8, 2018. Since that time, he has climbed Gold Star Peak many more times, and taken many, many more Gold Stars to the top.
Gold Star Peak, Alaska continues to draw people to the summit to not only remember and honor the fallen, but to heal.
I have climbed Gold Star Peak and the nearby Mount POW/MIA 16 times this year. Each journey to the summit has brought a new sense of energy, emotion, and healing to not only me, but to those that make the arduous climb to reach the 4,148’ summit.
For me, every time I journey to the summit, the memory of the Soldiers, their families, and friends that I have lost in battle as well as those that have lost the fight at home to the hidden scars of war, are in my thoughts. I think of all of them, every single time I venture up there.
On 5 June 2018, I took a group of active duty Paratroopers and a few of their spouses to the summit. When we reached the summit, I was thrilled to discover an Iron Cross monument that someone had just recently installed. When I initially saw the cross, a local TV reporter who was doing a story on our climb happened to capture my reaction. I was quickly hit with an overwhelming sense of sorrow for the fallen, their families, and those involved in the Blue on Blue attack. After reading the inscription on the plaque, I realized the cross was packed full of meaning and had been somewhat anonymously built and installed, anonymous because the name “Gyrate 73” was listed at the bottom of the inscription.
As soon as I returned home, I scoured the Internet not only attempting to find out who Gyrate 73 was, but to also learn more about the events surrounding that very tragic day. I quickly realized that Gyrate 73 was the call sign of the lead pilot of two A-10s that were involved in the attack. The identity of the Gyrate 73 was redacted because the investigation into the tragedy found that the pilot(s) involved were not at fault and were following the instructions (attack guidance) from the Airmen on the ground in the fight. Even though the pilots were at the controls of the A-10s that killed 10 U.S. Marines and injured four others, it was not their fault.
My heart completely sank. I felt compelled to make contact with Gyrate 73 to simply tell him I am here if he wants to talk or even summit the mountain together some day.
Regardless, it was obvious that he was carrying an implausible amount of pain, guilt, and grief and had been for more than 15 years. For the next 36 hours, my mind raced thinking about the fallen, their families, as well as the Airmen and pilot(s) involved. Does Gyrate 73 live here in Alaska? How did he learn about Gold Star Peak? How did he get the materials and the cross up there? Those were just a few questions that came to mind. Most importantly to me was that I wanted to be sure he was in a good place. As the one who was responsible for naming the mountain, I felt a sense of responsibility for his actions.
A few short days later and completely out of the blue, I received an email from Gyrate 73.
I was so very relieved that he reached out to me; we got together just a few hours later and sat down over a beer. He told me he had met me back in February 2018 shortly after I had returned from DC after attending the hearing and official vote on the naming of Gold Star Peak. He wanted to talk to me then, but it was a busy evening and the opportunity just didn’t present itself. Instead, he just shook my hand and said thank you. Four months later, he saw the news story and my reaction to discovering the cross on the summit and knew that he had to reach out to me. The very next day, we went up the mountain together for a powerful climb filled with learning about all he’s been going through, 15 years of silence and an extremely heavy rucksack full of grief, guilt, and sorrow.
Gyrate 73 and I have climbed the mountain a couple times since then and have shared a few meals where each time we get together, we talk more about our experiences.
We have talked about some of our darkest and most troubling times dealing with our own hidden scars of war. It feels really good to be connected and able to talk freely without judgment or lack of understanding.
His email was the beginning of what will no doubt be a great friendship that is bonded together by our own personal experiences from combat, as well as our love for not only Gold Star Peak, but the love for the great outdoors and everything it continues to give back to both of us. What we both know and completely agree on is these mountains absolutely do heal.