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News | Nov. 26, 2014

Site Summit star to light up Anchorage nights once again

By Chris McCann JBER Public Affairs

Those new to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson or the Anchorage area may be surprised by the appearance of a new star Friday evening.

It's nothing that would surprise an astronomer, though; it's been around for almost 60 years.

The star on the side of Mount Gordon Lyon is lit every year in conjunction with Anchorage's City of Lights celebration; this year's is Friday at 5 p.m.

It remains lit until the last musher from the Iditarod crosses the finish line, usually sometime in mid to late March.

Despite its longevity, its size, location and purpose have changed a little over the years.

During the Cold War, the mountaintop was home to an Army Air Defense Command Nike Hercules missile battery - one of three which defended the Anchorage bowl during the Cold War. The battery was active from 1959 until 1979.

In 1958, as troops built the installation, Army Capt. Douglas Evert, then the commander of B Battery, 4th Missile Battalion, 43rd Artillery, had a 15-foot wide star built on top of the gatehouse at Site Summit.

As festive as the star looked to those at the battery, from Anchorage, it appeared to be just one bright light, with no real shape.

In 1960, Army Capt. Donald Jahns, the new commander, had the star redesigned and relocated to the side of the mountain - still about 4,000 feet up - and expanded to 117 feet in diameter.

In a 2009 article for the Chugiak-Eagle River Star, M. R. Stonebraker recalled being chosen for the star-building detail - and said the entire project only took a day.

Stonebraker was a specialist 4 in B Battery in November of 1960, he said.

"I thought it was rather strange because our base was supposed to be a secret base, and here we are, we're putting up a star that points right to it," he said.
He now lives in Loveland, Colorado, and said he never expected the results of his one-day detail to last so long.

"Imagine my surprise, that 50 years later, I find the star is still there," he said. "It's been replaced at least once, but is still being lit every year."

Since then, avalanches have occasionally wiped out the star - or at least portions of it. But each summer, work crews from JBER journey up to the top of the mountain to repair portions destroyed by wind and snow, and to replace each light bulb.

The star was reconstructed in 1989 and expanded to a whopping 300 feet in diameter - which means replacing all 350 60-watt light bulbs, often at precarious angles, in fog and high wind even in the summer.

It's a labor of love, and still, as was intended from the start, a gift to the people of Anchorage.

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