On May 30, 1943, a frenzied Banzai charge by Japanese troops was repulsed by U.S. and Canadian troops to end a battle begun 19 days earlier. It was to be the second bloodiest struggle in the Pacific Theater during World War II. It had the distinction of being the only battle with a foreign army to take place on American soil since the War of 1812. The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Attu has been observed this month, including reunions of Attu survivors and veterans who took part in the engagement. A national historic landmark has been created on Attu; a Peace Monument was erected by Japanese citizens to commemorate the place where some 2,900 soldiers, 2,100 of them Japanese, died.
From June 3 to 7, 1942, Japanese forces attacked Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, bombing Dutch Harbor on the island of Unalaska and invading the islands of Attu and Kiska. Attu’s radio operator, Charles Foster Jones, died during the invasion and his wife Etta, the island’s schoolteacher, taken prisoner. The Aleut (Unangan) residents of Attu were taken to Japan for the duration of the war. Of the 40 captives, 16 (40%) died from disease and starvation.
Seventy-six years ago Americans learned that United States forces had been attacked that Sunday morning by Japan. Aircraft from the Japanese carrier fleet flew over the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, dropping bombs and torpedoes on ships peacefully tied up at Pearl Harbor. Eight battleships and several other vessels were either sunk or heavily damaged. More than 2,400 military personnel and many civilians lost their lives in the attack. Timed to hit at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, the attack caught many of the sailors still asleep or relaxing in their quarters. The action came as diplomatic negotiations between our two countries were ongoing.
Before we go back in time, let’s look at this situation as if it were happening today: Say you came to Alaska a short time ago, have a good job, your cabin not far from Nome is comfortable, there’s plenty of heating oil in the tank and your pantry is well stocked. But your spouse is still at home Outside. Days are getting very short and freeze-up is here. Cabin fever is setting in and you want your spouse to join you. The solution is simple. You pull out your cell phone and give instructions to catch a plane on which you have purchased a ticket online. You will be reunited in a few days and spend the winter snuggled up with your beloved in comfort. At the dawn of the Twentieth Century that could not happen.
A few days before this column was written, news broke that North Korea had developed a nuclear warhead that could be attached to its long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. Those missiles could reach Alaska. That was followed by angry exchanges from both President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who threatened to use the deadly weapon. Worry over a potential nuclear conflict is reflected around the world. Most likely before this appears in print, there will be a peaceful outcome.