Tuesday, August 2, 2011

War In Alaska: The Pieces of the Puzzle Fit Together

   Puzzles sometimes fit together in unexpected places from unexpected sources. We just returned from a trip to our great-grandson's blessing in Provo, Utah, by way of our granddaughter's home near Preston, Idaho, Dorothy's sister's home in Minden, Nevada, and our granddaughter's basketball game in Healdsburg, California. Two thousand three hundred and thirty-eight miles. How does that fit together with Edna and Jim Stephens' Photo Box?

    I didn't think it did, but Edna Augustine's husband, Augie, (Dorothy's sister Edna, in Minden,  Nevada) kept talking to me about Shemya, one of the Aleutian Islands, where Augie spent time during his career in maintenance of U.S. government buildings on that island. Augie showed me a series of books about World War II in Alaska, the only state ever to be occupied by a foreign power.

Japan invaded, captured and held some of those Aleutian Islands and (I think) were preparing to attack the coast of Canada or the US.

The twelve men manning the weather station on Kiska
   The Japanese first bombed Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island, one of the Aleutian Islands, then landed an amphibious assault on Adak, a much smaller and further west island.

   On the 6th of June, 1942, the Japanese landed 500 Marines on Kiska, another of the Aleutian Islands. There were 12 men who were manning an American weather station. Ten were captured by the Japanese.

   On the 7th of June, 1942, the Japanese invaded Attu, another of the Aleutian Islands. Living there were 45 native Aleut Indians, some Blue Fox, and two Americans, Charles Jones and his wife Etta. Etta and the Aleut's were captured, taken to Japan,  and Mr. Jones lost his life.

"Me, with jeep,  Adak, World War II. Jimmy Stephens"
   Also in June, 1942 several places along the coast of North America were attacked by a Japanese submarine, even as far south as Astoria, Oregon.

   On these Aleutian islands  the Japanese had at least 5000 soldiers by November, 1942, displacing around 70 local people, but the invasion so worried the U.S. Government leaders, that they blacked out the news of the invasion to the "lower 48."

"Me on Adak, 1944"
   I had never heard of this invasion until Augie told me about it, and probably most Americans didn't, and don't, know that we were actually occupied by a foreign power. My parents never spoke of it, even though my Uncle Clayton was an "official aircraft spotter" during the war.

   It was not easy to dislodge the Japanese. At least 100 missions were flown against the islands.  While some of the Japanese were evacuated by ship, those on the island of Attu were left to defend themselves.  They finally ended up in a terribly bloody battle where there were 3829 American casualties, and more than 2351 Japanese dead. The U.S. command had earlier realized that they just couldn't take that island first, so they first captured Adak. It was during a raging storm, but after the capture on August 30, 1942, Adak became a U.S. Naval Station.

  There it was........  "Adak!" the word I couldn't figure out on the back of the picture of the "Dapper Guy" in an earlier post, which I will repeat for you. You'll see the front of the picture below on the left.

"Bill Hagan and I. Adak 44-46
   "but this apparent military photo below has writing on the back, so guess what it says: "Bill Hagan and I. ......(??word??) 44-46" That didn't help much."

   That was  the word! James Stephens was stationed on Adak, an island in the Aleutian chain, but I couldn't figure out the word until I had some history. 

Thanks Augie.

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