When word spread that Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's Kashim Club would be demolished in February 2014, local veterans took action to make sure two wood carvings would be preserved.
The artwork, replicas of totem poles, had stood in front of the Kashim Club since it was built in 1959. AMVETS Post 2 acquired the carvings when the club was torn down in February.
"We just didn't think it was a good idea to put them in a trash pile," said veteran Richard Lawrence. "So we thought we'd bring them here and make a plan to do something with them."
The plan consists of restoring the artwork and erecting the pieces in front of the post as a memorial to Alaska's military, but tracing the history of the monumental wood carvings has proven to be a challenge. No one seems to know who carved them and what they represent.
Lawrence says it's a mystery. He and Elliott James -- the two veterans who make up what's now known as the Totem Pole Committee -- believe one carving is a replica of a totem pole from Saxman Island in Southeast Alaska, after having a Tlingit carver examine the piece.
They call the second piece folk art, since it features insignia that appears to resemble JBER's past. The pole includes a carving of a polar bear and an eagle sits at the top.
AMVETS reached out to JBER historian Douglas Beckstead to see what he could dig up.
"Unfortunately, we just don't have any records on it -- nothing was kept on them," Beckstead said. "I've gone through everything we have in our office, and we have probably the best collection of military records in the state."
Eleanor Hadden, curator at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, says the poles are not true totem poles, which would originate from Southeast Alaska. She doubts that the pieces are Alaska Native art, but says they still tell a story.
"It could be the story of Elmendorf, it could be the story of the base," Hadden said. "I don't know the story so to look at it, I can't tell you what the story is."
Beckstead believes one of the pieces was made at the wood shop on base and doesn't have any connection to Alaska Native culture -- but he's happy that someone is working to preserve this piece of Alaska's military past.
"When I heard they were going to demolish the Kashim Club, that was my fear," Beckstead said. "I knew these were out there, and I was hoping this would be the one element saved."
Lawrence says anyone with information on the history of the carvings can contact AMVETS Post 2 at 561-8387.