Critics called the United States' decision to purchase
Alaska from Russia “Seward's folly,” naming the perceived
blunder after the champion of the deal, Secretary of State
William H. Seward.
The 1867 Alaska Treaty of Cession
was signed with Russia March 30, 1867, the U.S. Senate
ratified the treaty April 9, and President Andrew Johnson
signed the treaty May 28, agreeing on the purchase price of
$7.2 million – or little more than $125 million in today's
Seward had dozens of co-conspirators in
realizing his “folly” in the form of U.S. Soldiers and Coast
Guardsmen – then members of the Revenue Cutter Service –
Oct. 18, 1867, the day Alaska was transferred from Russia to
the United States in a ceremony at the former Russian
capital for Alaska, Sitka.
Soldiers of U.S. Army
Alaska and the Alaska Army National Guard returned to Sitka
and joined forces once again with Coast Guardsmen of Coast
Guard Air Station Sitka to mark 150 years of the signing
during the culmination of Alaska Days on Oct. 18, 2017.
October 18, 2017 - The 17th Coast Guard District and U.S. Army Alaska color guards
participate in the reenactment of the transfer of
Alaska from Russia to the United States at Castle Hill, Sitka,
Alaska. Revenue Cutter Lincoln of the United States Revenue Cutter
Service, the predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard, delivered the
first U.S. officials for the Oct. 18, 1867, transfer ceremony. (U.S.
Army National Guard photo by Sgt. David Bedard)
The military had a pivotarole from the beginning of
Alaska's entry in the Union as a territory. The Revenue
Cutter Lincoln delivered federal officials to tour Alaska,
and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Lovell Rousseau would play a crucial
role during the transfer ceremony.
“Eighteen-sixty-seven was a monumental year for the United
States when we secured Alaska from the Russians,” said Brig.
Gen. Joseph Streff, Alaska National Guard assistant adjutant
general, Army. “And 150 years of history has been
The military effort to ring in the
sesquicentennial was spearheaded by U.S. Army Alaska's 9th
Army Band, which played several community concerts during
the week and visited local schools to share their love of
“The people here are so welcoming to us,” said
Col. Mark Colbrook, U.S. Army Alaska deputy commander,
sustainment. “The ability to be able to participate in
events like this really build strong bonds between the Army
and the local community.”
The Alaska Army National
Guard took the opportunity to transport an armored humvee
and a tracked Small Unit Support Vehicle from Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson to Sitka by way of an Alaska Air
National Guard C-17 Globemaster III to validate rapidly
deploying and setting up a command post at Sitka's Army
National Guard armory. Soldiers of A Company, 1st Battalion,
297th Infantry Regiment, visited Mt. Edgecumbe High School
to show off the vehicles and share opportunities afforded by
joining the National Guard.
“The Alaska Army National
Guard is in Sitka to commemorate Alaska Days, but the second
thing is we would like to support the community, show our
presence, and provide opportunities for future applicants to
join our forces,” Streff said.
Streff said the
National Guard invested in Sitka's Army National Guard
armory as part of the Guard's Rural Initiative.
designated Sitka as one of the facilities we want to retain
within our organization, and as such we have a recruiting
initiative within the community and in the high schools,”
Streff said. “Sitka has a long history of supporting the
National Guard, and we're looking forward to growing the
force down here and returning it to its past strength.”
The Coast Guard celebrated 40 years of stationing at
Sitka Oct. 17, 2017. The service would also renew Sitka's
status as a Coast Guard city, acknowledging the town's
special relationship with the Coast Guard.
a lot for us to be here, and it means a lot to us to be able
to celebrate the renewal of the Coast Guard city,” said
Capt. Chip Lewin, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air
Station Sitka. “That's due because of the welcoming nature
of this town and its people to our Coast Guard family.”
The day commemorating the transfer began with a service
honoring veterans laid to rest at the Sitka National
Cemetery. Wreaths were laid by Army and Coast Guard
officials at grave sites, the USARAK Honor Guard fired
salute volleys, and a 9th Army Band bugler played taps.
Both services came together during a parade through the
town. The U.S. Army Alaska Color Guard took point, followed
by the 9th Army Band, the two National Guard vehicles, the
Coast Guard Color Guard and a formation representing Coast
Guard Air Station Sitka.
Service members handed out
candy to children lining the streets. The locals gawked and
cheered at the rarified sight of so many troops in uniform
At the culminating event of the week,
service members and locals reenacted the transfer ceremony
of Alaska from Russia to the United States.
USARAK and Coast Guard color guards took center stage at the
top of Castle Hill. The Russian flag was lowered, and the
U.S. flag was raised in its place.
portraying Army Maj. Gen. Lovell Rousseau, walked out to
greet Ron Conklin, portraying Russian Commissioner Alexi
Pestchouroff. Conklin handed Sweeney documents signifying
everyone present was now standing on U.S. soil.
USARAK Honor Guard fired a salute volley at the reading of
every state and their admission to the Union. On calling the
49th state, reenactors portraying members of the U.S. Army's
9th Infantry Regiment let loose with blank fire from their
Lewin placed the day's activities in
“We do consider ourselves an integral
part of Alaskan history,” the captain said. “So we're very
proud to represent the Coast Guard and a long line of heroes
who have gone before us, and to try and represent them this
Streff said he was glad to return to the place
he grew up in the late 70s and early 80s.
to come home,” he said. “It's neat to see the changes in the
city. It's also great to work with the Coast Guard. The
Alaska Army National Guard and the Coast Guard have great
team work throughout Alaska.”
After 150 years of Americans enjoying the natural
and cultural resources of Alaska, after 15 decades of providing a
strategic platform for projecting military power all over the world,
Seward's folly is looking more like a coda to the statesman's
By U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. David Bedard
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