World War II in Arctic Alaska

January - March, 2008
World War II in Arctic Alaska

The World War II in Arctic Alaska exhibit was separated into three different rooms. These rooms are three different perspectives of Alaska during WW II. One of the rooms is dedicated to the men who served in the military, another is the construction of the ALCAN Highway and the last is the Aleut room. Each room has an important message and outlook on the war and Alaska's role.


The Military

Sergeant Richard T. Meador

Sergeant Richard T. Meador, of Saint Jo, Texas, fought in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska with the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. His Army Air Force specialties were Engineering Basic, Construction Machinery Operator, Airplane Mechanic Gunner, Aerial Engineer, Flight Maintenance and Gunner. He operated heavy construction machines such as road grader, bulldozer, road roller, scraper, and rock crusher used in construction and maintenance work on roads, airports and bases. Sergeant Meador left the U.S. Army Air Force November 30, 1945. He was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, Victory Medal, American Theatre Service Medal and the Asiatic Pacific Service Metal.
The photos on exhibit are photos of Sergeant Meador and his friends. Two friends are identified as Claude and Red. The photos were taken or collected by Sergeant Meador while stationed in the Aleutian Islands.

During World War II, he met and married Inez Wellman of Oregon. The couple lived in and raised their daughters, Leslee and Tami in Heppner, Oregon until Sergeant Meador’s death in 1974.
Leisure Time
Men were stationed throughout Alaska, however most bases were located on the Aleutian Islands. In their precious little leisure time the soldiers enjoyed time playing indoor games and outdoor sports including beach combing for artifacts.
Alaska Territorial Guard coat
Soldier's Coffins

Left: Alaska Territorial Guard coat that was used in the Aleutian Islands.

Right: Dick Meador mourned and wanted to acknowledge the loss of his colleagues through this photo.

War took its tole on communities, both local and afar and many lives were lost: both Alaska Natives and U.S. soldiers. The soldiers who died on the Aleutian Islands in the midst of battle were given a final tribute and burial where they fell.


Alaska Canadian (ALCAN) Highway
10,607 U.S. soldiers built a road 1,522 miles long in 8 months
(March 4, 1942 to October 25, 1942.)
3,695 of these soldiers were Black men (35%). This was the first time any government agency integrated black and white men.
The highest point along the highway is at Summit Lake, elevation 4250 feet.
Shoulder Sleeve Insignia, Northewest Service Command
Shoulder Sleeve Insignia, Northwest Service Command Photo by Amy Heritage Museum October 21, 2007

Reese & Olson Construction Company hauling in fill for the Muskwa Bridge. About 350,000 cubic yards were filled in on each side of the river. 150 feet wide at bottom and 50 feet high for nearly 1800 feet, then it tapers off.
Reese & Olson Construction Company
The construction of the 1,522 mile long road from Dawson Creek, British Colombia, to Fairbanks, Alaska through rugged, unmapped wilderness was heralded as a near impossible engineering feat. Many likened it to the building of the Panama Canal. There was much praise for soldiers who pushed it through in just eight months and twelve days. However, Black battalions were seldom mentioned in publicity releases, despite the fact that they numbered 3,695 in troop strength of 10,670 (35%.)

According to the testimony of their commanders, these men did an exceptional job under duress. Ill housed, often living in tents with insufficient clothing and monotonous food, they worked 20 hour days through a punishing winter. Temperatures hovered at 40-below-zero for weeks at a time. A new record low of -79 was established. The majority of these troops were from the South; yet, they persevered. On the highway's completion, many were decorated for their efforts and then sent off to active duty in Europe and the South Pacific. The veterans of the Army's Black Corps of Engineers were members of the 93rd, 95th, 97th and 388th units.

ALCAN information from: http://www.visi.com/~alcan/alcanhome.htm


The Aleut people live and subsist in one of the harshest and most beautiful parts of the world. They need to have the best clothing, dwellings, transportation and food to survive. And still in the long winter days they manage to play and recreate. The Aleut People and their:

Aleut Values
- The way of our beginning are our Ancestors
- Respect and be aware of the Creator in all living things
- Know your family tree relations and people’s History
- Live with and Respect the Land Sea and All Nature
- Always learn and Maintain a Balance
- Our Language defines who we are and lets us Communicate with one another

Aleuts Endured

Aleut

- First Encounter; by Russian explorers on September 5, 1741, on Bird Island.
- Submission; made to hunt Sea Otters for the Russian fur traders.
- Disease; within a fifty year span from the mid 1700's on, over 80% of the estimated Aleut population of 25,000 at that time died.
- Japanese Evasion on U.S. soil; which captured Kiska, Attu and bombed Unalaska.
- Internment Camps; Aleut people evacuated from their towns during World War II.

- Nuclear Bomb Tests; on Amchitka Island.
- Cold War; being close to Russia, the U.S. Military built the "Dew Line" to protect the United States.

Japanese bombing Dutch Harbor on June 4, 1942
Japanese bombing of Dutch Harbor, 4 June 1942...
Historical Photo - Public Domain: Naval Historical Center
Department of the United States Navy

Aleuts Mastered

Intestine Parka

-The Aleuts knew enough about human anatomy to mummify their deceased.
- Rain Gear; extracted, dried, and sewed water proof garments from the intestines of marine mammals.
- Sea Travel; baidarkas, transportation created from wood and sea mammal skins, of which produced seaworthy vessels to travel in the Aleutians.
- Cutting Tools; the Aleuts chipped obsidian to make cutting tools for work and art crafting.
- Fish Catching; Aleuts crafted a halibut hook from wood and bone with which the barb turned in on itself.
- Tide Prediction; the Aleuts had a 50% recovery on whale hunts, because they had the ability to predict the tide and current changes with accuracy.
- Hat; designed a visor hat from steamed bent wood.
- Baskets; the Aleut women made finely woven baskets from carefully shredded stalks of beach rye.

-Aleut story The Cruise of the Corwin, by John Muir

Our Present Day

Present day, one third of Aleut people reside in the Aleutians, one third reside in Anchorage and the other third are scattered throughout the lower 48 states.

Commercial fishing is the main industry in the Aleutians, and Dutch Harbor/Unalaska in the largest city in the Aleutians. Even though Dutch Harbor/Unalaska is the largest city, the Aleut population are fairly close in numbers in Unalaska, King Cove, Sand Point and St. Paul. These are the four large Aleut settlements in the Aleut Region.

Text information from The Aleut Corporation http://www.alaska.net/~aleut/Culture.html

King Cove Dancers
From one of the five last remaining Eastern Aleut villages still in existence today, the King Cove dancers embody the spirit and heritage of a people. The group was founded in 1994 to help share the Eastern Aleut culture around the world. With rhythmic drums and traditional dress, this young group takes audiences on a wild, exotic trip to one of the most remote, untouched regions on earth. Among their most popular dances, the salmon dance, is an homage to Aleutia—the sockeye salmon Aleut families have centered their lives around since the Second Ice Age.

Location: 3rd floor galleries

Curators:
Roben Jack Larrison
and Jensen Arctic Museum volunteers, Jerrie Lee Parpart


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This page was modified April 7, 2008 kmj.