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Examiner
  • Frank Haight: Tales from the Alaskan backcountry

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  • When it comes to real-life adventures, 75-year-old Gary Gunkel has experienced hundreds of them. You can read about his exploits in his autobiography, “Courage and Conviction: An Alaska State Trooper’s Journey Through a Life of Principled Law Enforcement.” His 351-page book, illustrated with numerous photographs, is more than an autobiography, he says. “It’s a biography of my family.” Had not his wife, Ann, and their three children pushed him to share his adventures in Alaskan law enforcement, as well as his exploits as a bush pilot, commercial fisherman, dog-sled racer and outdoorsman, Gary might never have penned his book. With no writing experience, Gary says he used trial and error in writing over four years. “I probably rewrote every sentence five to six times.” Describing himself as an avid, lifelong outdoorsman, Gary enjoys hunting, fishing, cutting firewood and racing teams of Irish setter sled dogs with his wife all over the western United States. It was their love of dog-sled racing that lured the Gunkels to Alaska in 1963, and it was in Alaska that the Washington state native launched his law enforcement career. “I wanted to go to Alaska so I could race and show those guys up there what speed was, but they showed me what speed was,” he says with a chuckle. “We raced (professionally) for a couple of years up there; in the winter, that was all we did.” After retiring from racing sled dogs to spend more time with family, he attended the Anchorage Police Academy and became a police officer. What was it about police work that appealed to him? “Things were fast; things were quick; things were very dangerous,” he said. Ann recalls the day Gary phoned her about being on a stakeout at a liquor store. The Anchorage business was in an area plagued with robberies. While listening to the television news, Ann heard that an unidentified policeman had been shot to death at that store. “At our house, we had a drive-through driveway, and the minute I heard (the news), I heard a car speed up and go out (the driveway), so I knew (Gary) was safe,” Ann says. Gary was en route to the liquor store after hearing about the shooting on the police radio. “Someone else had taken (Gary’s) place doing that stakeout,” she said. Wanting to remain in law enforcement, but desiring to living and work in the Alaskan backcountry, Gary left the Anchorage Police Department, became a state trooper in 1968 and was assigned to an outpost at Glennallen. “There, I was responsible for 600 miles of highways, five or six towns and lots of Indian villages,” he says. Some of these remote villages were accessible by air only. Glennallen was a nice place to live; however, because of a shortage of troopers, “work is never done and time off is very rare,”Gary said. What does a state trooper do when he’s surrounded by 24 members of a hostile motorcycle gang, with the nearest backup 200 miles away? The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Gary escaped unscathed by using his method of law enforcement: sounding tougher than the bad guys. “They had never had anybody stand up to them before, and that’s the reason I got away with it,” he says, noting “Christ was looking from above; he’s saved my tail more than once.” If readers take away anything from his book, he says, it’s this: “I want them to know about the miracles that Christ did for me and my family as we were making a difference where we lived.” What Gary learned from his first encounter with the Brothers, a motorcycle gang started by two Hells Angels from California, helped him in his second run-in with the gang on a crowded highway just outside Anchorage. This time he pulled over 17 Brothers, because one of them riding shotgun in a three-wheeler had a double-barrel, sawed-off shotgun in his possession. Gary informed the gun-toting man that he wanted to check his weapon; the gunman, in turn, became agitated and shoved him. “You don’t push a police officer; that’s assault and battery,” he warns, “and you are under arrest.” Fearing for his safety as the angry cyclists spread out along the highway and tried to surround him, Gary raised his pistol into the air and yelled, “I am afraid for my life,” as he backed out further onto the busy two-lane highway, making it impossible for the gang to surround him without getting hit by the bumper-to-bumper Labor Day traffic. Says Gary: “I have often wondered what all those people (driving by) thought of the guy walking around in full uniform with his gun drawn. We got out of that; again, it was Christ watching out for me.” Saying he was “tired of fighting drunks,” Gary retired as an Alaskan State Trooper in 1979 so he could live his life outdoors. He later became chief of police in Seldovia, a small, wide-open Alaskan town, as well as sheriff of Asotin County, Wash. The Gunkels moved to Independence last July to be near their family. “Courage and Conviction,” published in 2011, can purchased from amazon.com or ordered from Gary: anngarygunkel@gmail.com. The book sells for $15.
    Page 2 of 2 - Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.
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