Sullivan Honors Alaskan of the Week: Solomon Atkinson

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spoke yesterday on the Senate floor in recognition of Solomon “Sol” Atkinson, of Metlakatla, an extraordinary Alaskan who served as one of the first ever U.S. Navy SEALs. Atkinson was recognized as part of Senator Sullivan’s series, “Alaskan of the Week.”

The following is the statement submitted to the Congressional Record:


Mr. President, every week I have been coming down to the floor of the Senate to talk about a special Alaskan, someone in my State who, through their hard work and community service, whether to their neighbors or to their country, makes Alaska a better place for all of us. We call these people the Alaskans of the Week. Learning about these individuals and sharing their stories with my Senate colleagues, Alaskans, and Americans who watch what we do here or who are in the gallery, is probably one of the best parts of my week every week.

Like most of my colleagues, I will soon be going home for the Fourth of July. We will celebrate this very special holiday with our families and our communities. Some of us will go to barbecues or march in parades or attend other community gatherings. Some of us will gather in spots across our State and watch fireworks. Personally, I will be with my family catching king salmon at my family's ancestral fish camp up on the Yukon River, one of my favorite places in the entire world.

Regardless of where we are, all of us will certainly feel a swell of pride for our country. We will remember the hard-fought battles that brought us independence, and we will remember those who have served and sacrificed to keep our country the land of the free and the home of the brave. They are the heroes among us, and Alaska is chock-full of these heroes.

Today I want to recognize one of them, a very special hero who is our Alaskan of the Week--Solomon Atkinson, who spent nearly his entire adult life serving our country with honor and dignity and now serves his community in Alaska tirelessly.

Let me tell you a little bit about Sol and his illustrious career in the military. Sol was born in 1930 to Harris and Elizabeth Atkinson in Metlakatla, AK.

Metlakatla is on Annette Island on the Inside Passage, where so many Americans take cruises to see the glaciers and the whales. It is home to the only federally recognized Indian reservation in our State.

Sol could have continued to live in Metlakatla, where he was a commercial fisherman as a young man, but, like so many patriotic Alaskans, he chose to leave his home and join the military. Sol joined the U.S. Navy, and for 22 years--from 1951 to 1973--he had by anybody's standards a remarkable patriotic military career.

In 1953, Sol volunteered for the Navy's legendary Underwater Demolition Team and was deployed to the Pacific, including Korea. Some history buffs will know and recall that the Underwater Demolition Team, the UDT, was the precursor to the present-day Navy SEALS--frogmen, as they liked to call themselves. In fact, Sol was on the very first Navy SEAL team created by President Kennedy in 1962, and I have a copy of the SEAL Team One plank owners certificate, commissioned on January 1, 1962, with Sol's name proudly displayed.

So Sol became a Navy SEAL--the first Navy SEAL, literally. He became a SEAL team training instructor, training new Navy SEAL recruits. He was affectionately referred to as “the Mean Machine” by the Navy SEALs. He also had the honor of training 48 astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Jim Lovell, just to name a few, in underwater weightlessness simulations. His prized possession is a framed plaque bearing the signature of all those astronauts, all those American heroes whom he trained.

Sol completed three combat tours in Vietnam. By the time he retired from the military, he had earned numerous awards and medals for personal valor, including the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. But what is truly remarkable about Sol is that after he retired from the Navy, he moved back home to Metlakatla and continued to serve his country and serve his community. He served on the Indian Community Council, on the school board, and as mayor of Metlakatla. He has also been very involved in veterans affairs and was the president of the first veterans organization on the island and was instrumental in starting that organization. He has spent years reaching out to his fellow veterans to make sure they receive the benefits, honor, and dignity they earned.

Jeff Moran, the superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Metlakatla, said this about Sol:

“I could go on and on regarding the wonderful things that Sol has done for his community. We would not be here today without his leadership and knowledge [and commitment].”

I, too, can go on about Sol. Many Alaskans can go on about Sol and all the things he has done. But I also want to mention, particularly on the eve of the Fourth of July, that he is part of a long tradition in my State of Alaskan Natives who have served in the military, who have served our country even during darker times in our history when many Alaskan Natives were discriminated against and denied basic rights.

On the eve of the Fourth of July, we celebrate America's independence but also in particular those who have fought for that independence over the last 200 years. As I mentioned, one proud element of my great State is that we have more veterans per capita than any State in the country, and Alaska Native veterans serve at higher rates in the U.S. military than any other ethnic group in the country--something I like to refer to as a special kind of patriotism because they have been doing this for decades, like Sol--even at times, as I mentioned, when the country hasn't always treated that group of patriotic Americans with the respect and dignity they deserve. Sol personifies this special patriotism.

The SEALs who served with him wrote this about him in a tribute.

Sol's story will continue to be told by the men he trained, by the officers who relied on him, by the Frogmen who all respect him. An officer, a gentleman, an athlete, a friend, Sol Atkinson is all of these, but of all of these traits, he is first a Frogman.

We can see the pride the Navy SEALs have for Sol, a plank owner for the entire organization.

In conclusion, I will add that he is a patriotic Alaskan through and through, and I thank him for all he has done for Alaska, for our veterans, and for America.

Sol, congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week. Happy Fourth of July to you, to Alaska, and to all the men and women in our military and the citizens of our great Nation.

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