Army Pvt. George Fox is the only known Unangax̂ soldier killed in action in World War II and any war since. He’s also been buried in an unmarked grave in Unalaska for over 70 years.
Now, nearly a decade of work will culminate in a Memorial Day 2022 ceremony to recognize and honor him.
Michael Livingston is the cultural heritage specialist for the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and one of the people who has made Fox’s long-awaited commemoration happen.
“The procession will start in the parking lot of the Russian Orthodox Church and proceed down Bayview Drive to Memorial Park, where there will be some speeches,” Livingston said. “The gravestone will be placed at Pvt. George Fox’s gravesite next to his mother, Emma Fox.”
Fox was born in 1920 on Unga Island, the largest of the Shumagin islands, about 250 miles northeast of Unalaska. Census data shows that he and his mother moved to Unalaska by 1929, and he joined the military when he was about 21 years old, according to Livingston.
Fox was killed fighting in Ardea, Italy, in 1944. About five years later, his body was returned to Unalaska. After a small procession, he was buried next to his mother in an unmarked grave, Livingston said.
It took a lot of work to confirm that Fox was buried in Unalaska, Livingston said. That was just the start of the battle in getting Fox a proper gravestone.
“Request after request was ignored,” he said. “I’d fill out all the paperwork and send it in and expect a response. I’d wait weeks and months, and nothing would happen.”
Livingston said he provided over a dozen pages of evidence that Fox was an active U.S. Army soldier, but his appeals continually met resistance. That’s until he contacted Sen. Dan Sullivan.
“Sen. Sullivan’s office made it very clear that Pvt. George Fox was serving, he was killed in action and that the gravestone needed to be ordered,” he said.
The gravestone was finally ordered this summer, largely in thanks to Sullivan, Livingston said.
He said it was a huge relief to finally see the photos of the marker and know that it was awaiting placement at the Russian Orthodox Church in Unalaska.
“It was also a big relief to actually get the date pinned down,” Livingston said. “Memorial Day 2022 is an excellent date to honor Pvt. George Fox because that’s a national holiday.”
Livingston is glad to see progress being made for Fox, but he sees a big difference in how others — who are not people of color — are sometimes recognized with greater honor and more immediate attention.
“When you compare some of what occurred during World War II, or shortly after World War II, people who were white were highly honored,” Livingston said. “Their gravestones were ordered very quickly after their passing, even if their passing was not honorable, even if … people weren’t killed in action, which is one of the highest honors in the United States military.”
It’s also an honor in Unangax̂ culture to die in battle, according to Livingston.
“Back before Europeans arrived in the Aleutians in 1741, people who died in battle were elevated,” he said. “Songs were written about them so they wouldn’t be forgotten.”
For Livingston, this gravestone represents a fight for racial and social justice.
The marker is solid granite and nearly 4 feet in height. It includes Fox’s name, his date of birth, his honors — including a Purple Heart and his recognition as an “Unangax̂ warrior” — and at the bottom is a special engraving of Fox’s own words.
“We found a letter that he wrote from Anzio beach to his father in Unga,” Livingston said. “We were able to have engraved three words from that letter, and those words are ‘wish all love.’”
Private Fox’s ceremony is scheduled for Memorial Day 2022 and is hosted by the Unga Tribal Council, Ounalashka Corporation, the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and the Aleut Corporation.
While the list of dignitaries for the event is growing, Livingston said it includes Unangax̂ Elder Gertrude Svarny, Sen. Dan Sullivan, members of the Unga Tribal Council and the Qawalangin Tribe, as well as Ounalashka Corporation shareholders.
Livingston said they are hoping to include a military color guard, a marching band as well as a 21-gun salute to honor Fox.