Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Aleutian Islands: WWII

One of my primary interests in the Aleutian Islands area was its role in World War II. The gist of the story is that after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese strategy was to occupy Midway Island in the South Pacific and the Aleutian Islands in the north, anchoring both ends of a naval defense line that would keep the US from retaliating against the Japanese empire and especially its homelands.

The failure to capture Midway is a famous part of the WWII story, but many folks have never heard of the Aleutian campaign and few could tell you that several of the Aleutian Islands were actually invaded and held by the Japanese for several years. The rest of the story includes the building of the AlCan Highway (and subsequent development of the rest of Alaska), aerial bombardment of Dutch Harbor, horrific living and flying conditions for US Army personnel, and a climactic counter-invasion of Attu Island.

I was quite keen to land on Attu and walk the area, especially the primary landing beach. A dense cloud cover provided an ominous feeling, and though the beach may not look like much, it speaks volumes about the battle to those like me who have studied it.

Nature has pretty well reclaimed the area and most everything that was there, but numerous rusted artifacts can still be seen. Besides the truck chassis seen here, one can find gun emplacements, washed up Japanese mini-subs, fueling rigs and even portions of the harbor complex. The nearly 70-year old wreckage of a Japanese ship spoke volumes about the epic encounter.

I don't know how much the "birders" got out of the day, but it was certainly a highlight for me!

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