Today marks the beginning of a new story line about Alaska and World War II. GP Cox writes a blog called pacificparatrooper, a tribute to the 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific during World War II. That story line has come to the point where Alaska is being invaded in June of 1942.
GP and I were discussing the possibility of promoting each other’s blogs with two very different viewpoints of the same time period. GP will be writing about the invasion of Alaska and other war news. My blog, based on 7 ½ years of letters written by my grandfather to his sons who were scattered around the world, will present the viewpoint of an ordinary family, trying to live in ordinary life, during the same time frame.
Tomorrow, I’ll begin a week of letters written in May 1942 but I’ll take this time to set the stage. In January, 1942 my Uncle Dan, number two son, was drafted and at this point is in North Carolina for training. In June of 1942, my father, Lad, son number one, was drafted and sent to The Ordnance Training Center at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. My Uncle Ced, son number three, has been in Alaska since June 1940. He is working at the Woodley Airfield as an airplane mechanic and is living with a family friend, Rusty Heurlin, who became one of Alaska’s most famous landscape and wildlife artists.
My Uncle Ced told me the following story as I was interviewing and recording reminiscences from his early life.
“About 1940 – 41, things were getting red-hot. Major Marston was up there in charge of the Alaskan defense command. He was based in Anchorage. Rusty made friends with him – he made friends with everyone he talked to. He met the governor of Alaska major Marston. Rusty came home one night and he said,’ know what they’re going to do? Maj. Marston says that the governor wants to go around the whole perimeter of Alaska and try to develop a reasonable defense system for Alaska. I guess it was major Marston’s idea. Maj. Marston said,’ none of us know anything about Alaska, the Eskimos, the Indians. We would go around and meet these native people. They know the land and if any problems develop with the days coming, we’d be lost. We wouldn’t know what to do.’ He says,’ We want to get in Alaska defense going with native people’. Gruening says, ‘Well, you know what? I don’t know any. I’m the governor of this territory and I’d like to go around with you and meet these people that I’m supposed to be Governor of. So Rusty sat and listened to all this talk and he said , ‘ You wouldn’t want to take me along, would you? I’ve had this in the back of my mind for years, that I would like to do a series of pictures on the discovery of Alaska. ‘OK, come on along,’ they said.’”
Major Marvin R. “Mukluk” Marston ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Territorial_Guard ) helped organize the Alaska Territorial Guard and probably made contacts on this tour of Alaska. Rusty made hundreds of sketches and eventually turned them into sets of murals. Ced’s memories continue:
“At this point he decided that he would teach art so he got a job teaching art at the University. He did that for quite a while. After he got these pictures done, the University said to him ”Why don’t we set up a building for you and fix it with the huge rotating platform and you could put these 18 pictures all the way around the building.” They talked it over and they got the Poet Laureate of Alaska to narrate the story. He did a beautiful job and that’s up there. If you ever get to Alaska, you should see it in Fairbanks. Alaska is different than any other state. They have a huge boat there that they have on display, probably like the boats they used up there. This one building is all Rusty’s pictures. They also have a Museum and other historic stuff.”
To follow the War and the invasion of Alaska, go to https://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com. GP Cox does very thorough research on each post. As you follow the posts, you will learn what actually happened – a piece of our history that was overshadowed by what was happening elsewhere.
For the rest of the week, I’ll be posting letters written by my Grandfather to Ced in Alaska and Dan in North Carolina, as well as Lad’s induction into the Army.
The story line of Alaska in the War will continue during the week of Feb. 23-27, but you are certainly welcome to read my other story lines from 1940, 1941 and 1944.