MAT-SU -- On Saturday a group of cadets in Colony High School Army Jr. ROTC participated in an annual climb up Mount POW/MIA, a 4,314-foot summit in the Chugach Range. Mount POW/MIA was named by 61-year-old John Morrisey, a Vietnam veteran from New York State. Morrisey said it took him three decades and four trips to Alaska to secure Mount POW/MIA as the official name for the mountain.
"It started out as an adventure, then it became a quest -- and then it became an obsession," Morrisey said from his home in Patterson, N.Y., last week. "... I guess I'm real thick-headed, I don't know, but I wanted it."
Morrisey encountered some resistance -- even some veterans wouldn't support him at first -- and he came to a sort of brick wall that only deft political maneuvering could vault. But he also earned the praise of an Alaska governor and forged a lasting friendship with 84-year-old Leo Kaye, a local veteran who served stateside during World War II.
Morrisey's "quest" brings to mind questions, particularly in Alaska where there are thousands of unnamed mountains. Include other geographic touchstones such as glaciers, cliffs, saddles, colliers, lakes or stream forks, and there are, quite literally, millions of unnamed places out there.
If a place is unnamed will any name do? Can we just go about naming places willy-nilly, some might ask. Do Alaskans have a better chance of getting a name to stick by virtue of living near so many unnamed places, and, if you own a property do you get "naming rights"? Do you have to plant a flag?
In Alaska, the nine-member Alaska Historical Commission is charged with deciding whether the state will recognize the name of a mountain, a pond or a grassy knoll as an official place name. The other 49 states also have boards or commissions to decide such things. There is also a federal board, called the United States Board on Geographic Names.