Many of those who came to Alaska during the World War II liked what they saw and decided to set down roots in the Last Frontier. Among them was a true Alaskan hero who created one of Anchorage’s premier recreational facilities, organized the Territorial Guard and built the first subdivision in the town once known as Ship Creek.
During the 1930s, Marvin “Muktuk” Marston found himself mining copper and gold from the bush country of Northern Ontario and Quebec. But when World War II broke out, he raced to Washington, D.C., to propose a radical idea.
Marston, who’d also spent time in Nome, proposed a plan to safeguard the nation’s remaining aircraft in underground storage facilities. The Pentagon turned down his creative proposal but did see the value of his knowledge of northern terrain and weather conditions.
In March 1941, it offered him a major’s commission and sent him to Anchorage to be a morale officer for the new Elmendorf Air Force base. One of his first missions was to create a winter recreational area. Marston rounded up a crew of dedicated outdoorsmen, scouted the area surrounding the Anchorage bowl and settled on an open slope valley high in the Chugach Mountains behind town for a ski development. He and the U.S. Army erected the first rope tows at what’s now known as Alpenglow Arctic Valley ski area.
Then while flying to military posts on a morale-boosting tour with comedian Joe. E. Brown, Marston noticed that Western Alaska lacked defenses against an enemy invasion. But his idea to build a Native guerrilla army to guard the coast didn’t muster much support until the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor in 1942. Gov. Ernest Gruening, who’d already established citizen militias, recognized Marston as a kindred spirit and enlisted his help to organize the Alaska Territorial Guard.
Marston, who beat a village chief in a whale blubber-eating contest, earned an Eskimo name, “Muktuk,” while traveling to villages recruiting for the new guard. He also earned the respect of Alaska’s first people. In a few months, he organized 111 units and personally supplied many of them with rifles and ammunition by driving to their remote locations by dog team.
After the war ended, Marston remained in Alaska and spent the rest of his life helping to build a better civilian life in Anchorage. In 1952, he and Ken Kadow built the community’s first subdivision, Turnagain by Sea, with a water system and paved streets to serve 150 homes. He also served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1955 and strongly advocated for Native rights.
Upon the death of this Alaskan hero in 1980, at the age of 90, Gov. William A. Egan called him “a human dynamo who dared to disturb the status quo.”
By Laurel Bill