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Alton Vet Earns National Honor

A 94-year-old Alton native was recognized Saturday in Washington, D.C. as recipient of the National Juneteenth Military Honors Award.

Elbert T. Link, a World War II veteran and participant in the Alcan Highway Initiative, was named the 2010 recipient of the National Juneteenth Military Honors Award before family, friends and dignitaries.

Congressman Danny K. Davis and members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) held a forum Saturday in the Rayburn House Office Building recognizing Juneteenth Independence Day. 

Saturday was Juneteenth Independence Day, the date when slavery ended in America.  For more than 135 years, Juneteenth Independence Day celebrations have been held to honor African American freedom as inspiration and encouragement for future generations.

A humble Link, now a resident of Washington, accepted the award Saturday as family, friends and congressional leaders looked on.

Born May 3, 1916, in Alton, Link served in the United States Army in the 93rd Engineer Regiment for four years and 10 days and was honorably discharged after having reached the rank of corporal. 

Link recalled one of his amazing and most memorable assignments was building the Alaska Highway, formerly known as the ALCAN Highway, during WWII, 1942-1943.

His regiment was one of the first to arrive in Scagway, Alaska, Link said.

A major feat, the 1,523 mile-long Alaska Highway was constructed by the United States Army engineers in only eight months and 12 days in a time span from March to November. 

Link explained the highway was built during the war to provide an overland military supply to Alaska.

Prior to the Alcan Highway Initiative, African American units did not work under white supervision, according to historical records. When it was foreseen that the highway would not be built in time if more troops were not available, Congress allowed three colored regiments – the 93rd, 95th and 97th - to work alongside the non-colored units.

Due in part to the hard work and dedication to these men, African Americans were integrated into all military units in 1947.

Link is one of many soldiers who played a role in this historic endeavor.

After serving in the United States Army, the Alton native was employed at the Senate Barber Shop located at the Capitol where he worked from 1962 until 1980 cutting the hair of many senators including Senators Robert Kennedy and Strom Thurmond Sr.

Link also cut Vice President Joe Biden’s hair when he was a senator.

Currently Link serves as a deacon at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Washington.