Sullivan Honors Alaskan of the Week: Sharon Long

WASHINGTON, DC – On the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized Anchorage resident Sharon Long, a Gold Star Mother who spent more than a decade advocating for a proper burial at Arlington National Cemetery for her son, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Grant Fraser. As we head into the Memorial Day weekend, Sharon’s tenacity and fierce determination for her son, who sacrificed his life for our country in Iraq in 2005, gives us all much-needed inspiration and hope. Senator Sullivan recognized Sharon Long as part of his series, “Alaskan of the Week.”


Mr. SULLIVAN. Mr. President, it is Thursday, one of my favorite times of the week, because it is the time I get to come to the Senate floor and recognize an extraordinary Alaskan whom we refer to as the Alaskan of the Week.

Now, Memorial Day is fast approaching. It is certainly one of the most sacred days in our Nation throughout the year. For this week's Alaskan of the Week, Sharon Long, it is a day that is a particularly profound day.

Sharon Long is a Gold Star mother who lives in Anchorage, and she remembers her son, Grant Fraser, every day of the year. For her and her family and for so many people who knew Grant and who served with Grant, Memorial Day is a day when his memory is particularly honored. 

Before I get into Sharon Long's story, as well as the remarkable story of her son Grant, let me talk a little bit about what is going on in Alaska right now as we, in our country, continue to face the challenges of this pandemic.

We are doing pretty well in our State, medically, certainly. Things could, of course, change quickly. We remain vigilant as a State, but the number of people infected by the virus is very low. Businesses are starting to reopen. Life, by no means, is back to normal, and there is much that we are going to need to do to recover from this virus and pandemic, which has very, very negatively impacted so many parts of the great State of Alaska's economy--the energy sector, tourism sector, fishery sector. We will get through this stronger and more resilient, but it is a challenging time.

As you know, Memorial Day weekend commemorates many virtues in our Nation: service, selflessness, and, of course, sacrifice. But Memorial Day also commemorates and inspires hope. I know hope can be a bit hard to come by during these challenging times, but I don't think we have to go very far to see signs of hope.

In our great Nation and in my great State, hope is in the faces of those we love. In Alaska, it is in our mountains and our glaciers and our clear waters. It is also woven into the fabric of our country and the soul of our Nation. It is at the very heart of who we are, and it has been so throughout our history, often manifesting itself in the battles that have shaped our Nation over decades and over centuries that define so much of the American character and the people who fought those battles and died defending their Nation whom we commemorate this weekend. Hope is what Sharon Long and other Gold Star mothers throughout our State and Nation who have lost a child while defending America have to offer us.

So let me tell you about Sharon's story and about her son, Marine Corps LCpl Grant Fraser, who gave his life for this Nation. From Seattle, Sharon moved to our State to live with her aunt and uncle when she was just 16 years old. She graduated from West High School in Anchorage, studied political science at Alaska Methodist University, which is now Alaska Pacific University, and embraced the great State of Alaska with everything she had.

It was a heady and exciting time in Alaska. Prudhoe Bay Oil Field on the North Slope was just discovered--the biggest oilfield in North America. This is the late 1960s, early 1970s. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, one of the biggest land claims acts in U.S. history, was being debated and then passed right here on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Sharon said: Alaska was a wide open place that wanted the energy of my generation. She got to work. She worked at the Department of Natural Resources, an agency that I had the honor of being the former commissioner of. She worked for the Joint Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission for Alaska, inventorying the abundant world-class natural resources we have in our State.

Then she and a girlfriend traveled the world for a year and landed at the end of her tour in DC. She was young, broke, on a friend's couch, and she came here and asked for and got a job with former Alaska U.S. Senator Mike Gravel. Some might remember Senator Gravel here in the Senate. She worked on natural resource issues for him. 

Eventually, she made her way back home to Alaska and met her husband, an Air Force anesthesiologist, James Fraser, who made his way into private practice. Sharon helped run the office, and they had two wonderful children, Grant and Victoria. 

So who is Grant Fraser? Her son. He was popular at Service High School in Anchorage, where he graduated. He was an actor who loved the works of Homer and Shakespeare. He was a mountain biker, a skier, a pianist, a scuba diver, a rock climber, and a tennis player. He was lighthearted and mischievous, and according to his marine brothers, the only thing that could really rile him up was when they talked about his sister the way in which sometimes marines, unfortunately, have the habit of doing. He was a fiercely loyal brother. You could not joke about his sister Victoria, who, by the way, now is a professional soprano singer who has performed all over the world. 

So Sharon and her husband James assumed that Grant would become an athlete, maybe, or a scholar. He was a very, very smart young man. But shortly after 9/11, like so many patriotic young Americans across our Nation, he surprised his family and his friends when he announced he was joining the marines. 

“No, no, no, no,” Sharon told her son. ”That isn't the plan. You are going to school now.” 

He told his mom: ``Mom, this isn't my scholarly time of life. I am ready to serve and fight for my country, if need be.''

He knew he would thrive in the Marines, and he did. He planned on coming back home in Anchorage to work as a paramedic with the fire department. Grant and I briefly overlapped in the Marine Corps unit. We both served in Alaska, Echo Company, 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, which was later deployed to Iraq in 2005.

On August 3, 2005, in Anbar Province, Iraq, Grant was on a mission, Operation Quick Strike, to avenge the killing of his fellow marines that had happened just a few days earlier. He was riding in an AmTrac vehicle on an attack into the city, hit a massive improvised explosive device, and was 22 years old when he made the ultimate sacrifice for our Nation. 

Now, I love our military, but let's face it; sometimes it can be bureaucratic and boneheaded. It took 11 years and tenacious work on the part of Grant's amazing mother Sharon to finally get her son an appropriate burial across the street at Arlington. 

Just 2 days before the funeral, I was sitting next to Gen. Joe Dunford, the Marine Corps Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a dinner. I told General Dunford about Grant's heroism and about Sharon Long's heroic perseverance to get her son appropriately honored with a burial at Arlington.

On an overcast day, September 30, 2016, Grant Fraser was put to rest among his brothers and sisters, our Nation's heroes, whom we honor this weekend at Arlington National Cemetery. Family, friends, and especially U.S. marines from all across America came to that service to say goodbye to their friend. I was there, and when I got there, I was honored to see many marines. One, in particular, came to the funeral early and stayed till the very end. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dunford, attended in his dress blues out of respect for this young Marine Corps lance corporal.

He later told me that when he read about what happened with Grant, he couldn't sleep. He wanted to be at the funeral to honor Grant's sacrifice and that of his family, especially his mother Sharon. General Dunford stayed after most others had left to talk to Sharon Long, Grant's mother, and his Marine Corps brothers. “I don't live very far from here,” the General told Sharon. “I will be checking in on Grant from time to time.”

Now, I have been to a lot of funerals in my Marine Corps career, but this was the most moving funeral I have ever attended. It was not because of the presence of a four-star general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dunford, the most powerful U.S. military officer in America--in the world, really--and not because of the serendipitous presence of the Marine captain in charge of the Arlington burial honor guard, whose twin brother was one of the fallen marines whom Grant Fraser had been sent to avenge the day he was killed 11 years earlier.

It was so moving on that day because, on that day, rank didn't matter, and medals didn't matter. That day we were all just Americans grieving the loss of one of our own: mischievous, smart, Marine Corps LCpl Grant Fraser, an actor, an Alaskan, a brother, a son. It was so moving because of the dignity, grace, and beautiful determination exhibited by Sharon Long, who epitomizes the love, suffering, and quiet sacrifice of so many Gold Star mothers across our country, especially this weekend.

Sharon stays in touch with Grant's Marine Corps brothers. They call her on Mother's Day. They send her flowers, invite her to their weddings and to their kids' birthday parties. Two of them showed up at their family home when Sharon's daughter, Victoria, whom we already talked about, and her date were headed to prom. They needed to make sure Grant would have approved of Victoria's date. I am sure Victoria appreciated that.

Grant would have been in the same place in life as these young men are now. As one of them said to Sharon: I came back home from Iraq to live the life Grant couldn't.

Sharon is proud of all the men and women who have served, who served with Grant and continue to serve. She understands their calling. She understands their camaraderie. These incredible warriors in our Nation give her hope.

With men and women like these, Sharon said: ``How can you not be  proud of this country? How can you not be optimistic about this country?''

The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters have been lost in fighting for our great Nation, and on Memorial Day, they are in the hearts of all Americans. They are in the hearts of all Alaskans. They are in the hearts of all Gold Star families, and they are in the hearts of Sharon Long and her family.

Like Gold Star mothers all across the country and in our great State, Sharon was fiercely determined to advocate for her son. She sacrificed much but never gave up, and neither will we ever give up on them, on him, or their memory, which we commemorate this weekend.

Sharon Long's actions recalled the Memorial Day words of President Reagan in 1985 after placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a place that is not far from Grant Fraser's eternal resting place. As President Reagan said:

       If words cannot repay the debt we owe these men [and

     women], surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith

     with them and with the vision that led them to battle and

     final sacrifice.

       Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough:

     The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the

     freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their

     lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a

     cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we

     commemorate were willing to sacrifice so much, so too must

     we--in a less final, less heroic way--be willing to give of

     ourselves [for our Nation]. 

Thank you, Sharon Long, for your brave sacrifice, for your dignified determination, and for your hope, which gives us hope. As we head into another sacred Memorial Day weekend, thank you for being our Alaskan of the Week.