“In 1981, as the New Year welcomed longer days, Paul Simon Bekoalok joined the Alaska Army National Guard. He was fulfilling a promise made to a local recruiter, who met him on a routine trip to Shaktoolik. This promise would become a lifetime of service to his country, as Paul ultimately served twenty-eight years with the AANG, including multiple tours in Kuwait and Iraq. He was honorably discharged in 2009 after injuries suffered overseas, but Paul still has his uniform and his favorite pair of sand-colored boots.
“After 9/11, he became the first sergeant in Nome and was previously the only AANG member stationed in Shaktoolik, affectionately referring to himself as the “Lone Guardsman.” He still has a photo of himself walking a flag down his village street, taken during a Fourth of July parade in the early 90s. His community has always supported him. They hosted a potluck in his honor when he was deployed to Iraq and sent Christmas cards to his base.
“When I visited Shaktoolik to chat with Paul and learn about his story, he spoke about his appreciation for all that KNOM does for Western Alaska. He believes that he has been very fortunate in life. He wishes this same fortune onto others and, in a touching gesture, presented the cross he wore during his service overseas to me.
“He said he wanted it to live at KNOM now, and for the station to continue living out a message of kindness and compassion in our community. Paul Simon Bekoalok was clear to say he has no regrets.”— volunteer fellow JoJo Phillips
Image at top: Paul Bekoalok, proudly holding a photo of himself bearing the flag during a 1990s-era Fourth of July parade in Shaktoolik. Photo: JoJo Phillips, KNOM.