Willis K. Walunga
Born April 21, 1924, in Gambell, Alaska, Willis was the son of the late John and Dorothy Walunga.
He died peacefully in his home surrounded by his loved ones on October 18, 2017. He is survived by his wife Nancy Walunga after 70 years of marriage, and by their children June Walunga, Allen Walunga, David Walunga, Lucy Apatiki, Roy Walunga, Wendy Walunga, Franklin Walunga, Brenda Herbert, Janice Walunga and Dorothy Walunga and by their grandchildren Mark Baker, Deborah Walunga, Nancy and Willis C. Walunga, Amber Bywater, Marilyn Koozaata, James, Nolan, John and Calvin Walunga, Charlotte, Jeremiah and Morgan Jr. Apatiki, Justin Walunga, Dawny James, Vaughan, Jonathon, Michael and Daniel Walunga, Melanie Johnson, Nicole and Ashley Fenno, Irene Walunga, Colton and Denali Herbert, Julia and Renee Walunga, Dusty Iworrigan, Alex, Gabriel and Adam Walunga, Marco Walunga, Courtney Reyes, Hannah Walunga and Teo Sanchez, including their spouses, and 28 great grandchildren.
Willis was a brother to the late Mildred Irrigoo, the late Lucy Booshu, the late Elizabeth Weigand, the late Franklin Walunga, the late Dinah Iknokinok, the late Marvin Walunga and Katherine Anderson.
Willis’ military career started in 1942 and lasted nearly 36 active and successful years. He was promoted to Sergeant General Major in December 17, 1978 until retirement in April 21, 1984, placing him as highest rank held in Alaska Active National Guard/National Guard.
His involvement included World War II Alaska Territorial Guard at age 16 and he was drafted during World War II serving in the Active component of United States Army. His positions included Master Sergeant Company A, 1st Scout Battalion Alaska National Guard and Alaska State Militia. Willis’ highest military decoration is the Navy Gold Wings awarded by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Air Arm in Washington DC, making him recognized nationally and in Hollywood media by celebrated parade for his involvement during Soviet tension and through saving Navy Airmen crew. Other decorations awarded to Willis are World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, Army Achievement Medal, Alaska Distinguished Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, State of Alaska National Guard Service Medal, United States Alaska National Territorial Guard Medal.
Willis was an experienced hunter, trapper and boat crew member. He was a well-established, successful provider, leading by stellar example. He was groundbreaking owner of three-wheel ATV, television, telephone and trackster in Sivuqaq.
Willis’ positions included original, newly formed of Native Village of Gambell IRA and City Common Councils, Norton Sound Health Corporation Board member, Behavior Health Counselor, Bilingual-Bicultural Program Material Developer at John Apangalook Memorial High School. He was Bilingual Teacher, participated in founding of the Kawerak Inc. giving vision and leadership; Willis and Nancy were private business owners in Sivuqaq.
He was a sought-after Smithsonian Institute Historian, participated with the Bering Strait Regional Corporation during ANCSA, Senior Advisor to the IRA Council of Native Village of Gambell, selected for the Freedom Peace Tour after the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain was lifted to Leningrad and Moscow and one of the people to be selected for the Friendship Flight to Providenya, Russia in 1988.
Willis was recognized expert by Bering Strait School District, Gambell Local AEC School Board Member, City and IRA Council Member, Co-author in several St. Lawrence Island books, literature and Yupik dictionary, and was presented 2013 American Book Award. Willis helped edit the Yupik translated version of New Testament Bible, he provided decades of archived material, preserving and compiling Yupik historical data, and translated many of them. Willis earned his degree in Applied Science to prove and encourage youth that gaining knowledge has no age limit. He was an elder advisor, mentor, atuq singer and dancer, faithful Gambell Presbyterian Church member and was the eldest living resident of Sivuqaq.
Willis was humble, and a solid, quiet, generous, strong, and honorable man with unconditional love for his children and grandchildren, and was passionate in living life. He engaged in governing and was a voice for the people. Of many, his greatest joys included camping, hunting, Yupik singing, kept himself well-informed on current affairs, avid boxing fan, enjoyed latest electronic devices, and he loved nature, wildlife and the wonders of God’s creations. He faithfully gave to the Wounded Warriors’ Foundation.
We love you Dad, in awe and profound respect. Justice has no bounds or any amount of words to encompass who you were. Your time with us in the flesh may be over but your spirit [and love] will be with us forever. We will meet again in the Kingdom of Heaven, Apa. We all love you so deeply and will not be forgotten – Ayapeghyuk on behalf of Kepelgum avaqutii.