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Respected Elder And Former Alaskan Territorial Guard Lived Life Of Laughter

United States Army

Last month Kwethluk lost an elder - a man who had done everything, from guarding his community against wartime attack, to later teaching youngsters everything: from how to fish and hunt, to how to enjoy life.  

The first thing that comes to mind when people hear Kwethluk resident Sam Jackson Sr.'s name? Infectious laughter.

“He was known as a person that always laughs,” said Alice, one of his 10 children.

Another daughter, Elizabeth, always knew when he was catching a fish. “He would start giggling when he’s fishing, giggling away. So we would know by that that he’s going to catch a fish.”

Jokes and laughter aside, Jackson Sr. had a serious past. He joined the Alaska Territorial Guard as a teenager, defending the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta after the Japanese invaded Alaska. The Aleutian Islands were occupied by the Japanese, so an enterprising major, nicknamed Muktuk Marston, traveled around rural western Alaska by dog sled and boat recruiting thousands of unpaid Indigenous militia men and women to defend their homeland.

As a volunteer, Jackson Sr. helped villages go dark when unknown aircraft flew by. He would help cover the windows to ensure no light could be spotted from above.

Credit Margie Crow

After his army career, he worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs School system as a janitor, and later as the head maintenance man. When the system changed hands to become the Lower Kuskokwim School District, he stayed on in his role. He also took other jobs as a carpenter. Bev Hoffman remembers him working on her family home when she was a child, telling her to not enter the construction site. When she did anyway and fell through the ceiling, the most he could do was gently chide her.

His daughter Margie agreed that he wasn’t one for scolding: “My mom was the disciplinary parent, and my dad was the fun parent.”

Jackson Sr. passed away on Nov. 10, just one month before his 97th birthday. Margie said that he was strong to the end. “I’m proud that to his dying day he was still capable of cutting wood and packing water. He loved to take a steam. He didn’t miss a week, even the Saturday before he died,” she said.

His family held a socially distant funeral in Kwethluk on Nov. 13. Some of his many children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even great-great grandchildren celebrated his life with singing in English and Yugtun.