On June 22, 1955, two Russian MiG-15s from Siberia shot down a U.S. Navy P2V-5 Neptune plane flying a routine maritime patrol from Kodiak out over the Bering Sea. After it crashed in flames on St. Lawrence Island, 16 Alaska National Guardsmen from the First Scout Battalion mounted an immediate rescue mission, ultimately saving everyone on board.
On March 28, 2023, more than 67 years later, the Alaska National Guard and Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs presented the Alaska Heroism Medal, the state’s highest award for valor during peacetime, to one veteran and 15 family representatives of the Alaska Army National Guard’s First Scouts.
(Cpl. Bruce Boolowon, the only surviving member of the rescue team, attended the ceremony and received his medal from Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner of the DMVA).
The ceremony took place in front of a packed gymnasium of more than 250 community members at the John Apangalook Memorial High School in Gambell, Alaska, a St. Lawrence Island town located south of the Bering Strait and approximately eight miles from where the Navy plane crashed.
An Alaska Air National Guard HC-130J Combat King II and crew assigned to the 211th Rescue Squadron, 176th Wing, flew a delegation of 32 soldiers, airmen and civilians with the Alaska National Guard and DMVA from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to Gambell for the ceremony.
Following the ceremony, Boolowon said that he was appreciative for the recognition and proud of the First Scouts’ service. He retired from the Alaska Army National Guard as a sergeant first class having served as a motorman and infantryman he said.
During the ceremony, Saxe recounted the story of how the Alaska Scouts heard the crash, witnessed the Russian planes in the air and responded in their umiaks, open boats with wooden frames and covered by bearded seal or walrus hides. He said they had to make an immediate decision to cover miles of open water to get to the crash site to render aid, all the while the Russian MiGs remained circling overhead.
“Nobody in the chain of command, no higher-up, no general told them to go out and save those sailors,” Saxe said. “They saw it happen. They took charge, and they moved out.”
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