Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

The Forgotten Battle of World War II: Remembering the Aleutian Campaign
Townhall.com ^ | November 6, 2009 | Dr Paul Kengor

Posted on 11/07/2009 5:41:24 AM PST by Kaslin

Every Veterans Day presents an opportunity to commemorate those who served in some faraway place long ago, many of whom paid that ultimate sacrifice. World War II offers its share of remembrances: Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941; Normandy, June 6, 1944; the Battle of the Bulge, December 16, 1944; to name a few.

Sadly, however, one series of battles continues to be ignored. On June 3, 1942, the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, located at the Aleutian Islands, west of the Alaskan peninsula. Three days later, they landed on the islands of Kiska and Attu, culminating in the only battles of the war fought in North America. Many of the men there went through hell.

Remarkably, the battle is barely known.

One person who has not forgotten is renowned World War II historian, Donald Goldstein. Goldstein, a retired University of Pittsburgh professor, authored one of the only books on the campaign, called the “Williwaw War,” named for the freezing, high-velocity winds flowing from Siberia and the Bering Sea, which made service in the Aleutians a constant misery.

"It was strategically very important who controlled those islands," says Goldstein. The Americans stationed there "kept the Japanese from the West Coast and from invading the U.S. mainland.... From a strategic point of view, you can't underestimate the situation there. Look at a map! The Aleutians aren't very far from Seattle."

In the Aleutians, American troops battled not only the Japanese, but debilitating weather and boredom. To combat the fierce and unpredictable williwaws, soldiers leaned forward as they walked, before falling on their faces as the winds abruptly ended. They battled blinding, waste-deep snow, dense fog, sleet that felt like a sandblaster.

To escape the climate, troops spent hours inside. The boredom was so bad that some drank anything they could find. There were stories of casualties from "torpedo juice." Morale was awful.

"War is boredom mixed with moments of stark terror," says Goldstein. "You sit and wait. And then all at once it comes."

And when it came to the Aleutians, it came with ferocity. Shortly after bombing Dutch Harbor, the Japanese took Attu and Kiska. Thirteen months later, in August 1943, American forces sought to drive them out. Kiska was easy, since Japanese forces had bailed out two weeks earlier. Attu, however, was another story.

Attu was taken back only after a horrible fight. Japan fought to the last man. Facing defeat, 500 Japanese soldiers committed suicide with their own grenades. Whereas Dutch Harbor witnessed fewer than 100 casualties, U.S. burial patrols at Attu counted 2,351 Japanese bodies. Total U.S. casualties were 3,829—549 killed. Some believe it was the bloodiest battle of World War II.

And yet, few Americans have heard of the battle. Notes Goldstein: "Even [at the time] there was hardly any press coverage. If you ask most people today where Attu is they have no idea.... It's forgotten."

Do the veterans of this campaign feel neglected?

"Oh, yes," says Goldstein. "They're bitter. These guys never got the credit they deserve."

Many of the unrecognized survivors suffered premature deaths once they got home. One was Andrew Boggs Covert, a tall, lanky fellow who had worked at Pullman Standard in Butler, Pennsylvania prior to the war. Boggs found himself drafted into the Marines Corps as a 30-year-old with seven children. His surviving son, Jim, recalls riding to Pittsburgh to say goodbye to his father in 1942.

It was not a permanent goodbye, as Andrew survived the brutal combat. “He told me about some of the hand-to-hand stuff,” says his son today. “It was traumatic. But he was matter of fact: ‘Do it, take care of it, serve your country, get over it.’”

Still, getting over it was not that easy. Andrew died in October 1966 at age 54. A survivor who outlived Andrew was Leonard Levandoski of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a member of the 11th Fighter Squadron, who spent two grueling years at Attu.

A few years back, while writing for a newspaper, I tried to track down Leonard on a tip from the Department of Veterans Affairs: “This guy is perfect for you to interview,” said the press person. “Every year he writes letters-to-the-editor trying to get people to remember what happened. He’ll be thrilled to get your call.”

When I called, Leonard’s wife, Geraldine, answered. “Who is this?” she said slowly. When I gave my name and purpose, Geraldine began to cry. “Leonard just passed away,” she told me. “He waited years for someone to call.”

Many of those veterans have now passed away. The years have slowly faded, with no one calling about the Aleutians. It is about time we remember.


TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 11/07/2009 5:41:25 AM PST by Kaslin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Kaslin

Thanks for posting.

My Dad served on the USS Arthur Middleton. While at Amchitka, it hit a rock and knocked a hole in it. Everyone had to abandon ship. My Dad stayed at Dutch Harbor for approximately 6 months.
He spoke few words about that experience. In fact, he told me he couldnt recall anything after abandoning his ship.

After being towed to Washington state, months later the Middleton was repaired and my Dad rejoined his crew & served at Tarawa & Kwajalein.

He’s one of America’s greatest generation.


2 posted on 11/07/2009 5:46:38 AM PST by texanyankee
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Kaslin
Great post.

I was stationed out at Shemya AFB, second to the last Aluetian Island on the chain.

Toured Attu with the base commander, and our chaplain. (We flew over courtesy of the Coast Guard.) Amazing sights and stories were shared as we crawled across the tundra on track snow machine.

It was amazing to see.

3 posted on 11/07/2009 5:47:52 AM PST by Northern Yankee (Freedom Needs A Soldier)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Kaslin

I don’t know that much about the Aleutian War but every time I watch ‘Deadliest Catch’ I think of it.


4 posted on 11/07/2009 5:53:47 AM PST by Vinnie (You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Jihads You)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Kaslin
Total U.S. casualties were 3,829—549 killed. Some believe it was the bloodiest battle of World War II.

Huh? Over 13 months?

5 posted on 11/07/2009 5:57:29 AM PST by 2banana (My common ground with terrorists - they want to die for islam and we want to kill them)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Kaslin

Thanks. My Dad was a platoon Sgt. in the 201st Infantry and spent most of the war in the Aleutians.


6 posted on 11/07/2009 6:04:45 AM PST by Jaxter (Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2banana
Huh? Over 13 months?

The "13 months" refers to how long the Japanese had control of the Island of Attu after landing there. The actual battle to reclaim Attu lasted about twenty days.

7 posted on 11/07/2009 6:22:26 AM PST by Charles Martel ("Endeavor to persevere...")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Charles Martel

IIRC, the 7th Infantry Division were the main US force in the Aleutians. After the archipelago was secured, they went on to fight at Kwajelin and then participated in the liberation of the Philippines.


8 posted on 11/07/2009 6:31:00 AM PST by Ax (Carpe Vinum.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Kaslin
Attu was taken back only after a horrible fight. Japan fought to the last man. Facing defeat, 500 Japanese soldiers committed suicide with their own grenades.

Because surrender was so disgraceful, Japanese military doctrine did not include a concept of defense or strategic withdrawal.

As a result, when confronted with defeat, we see all over the Pacific theater, mass suicides rather than the men individually waiting for allies to approach and attempting to "take one with them".

Many certainly did feign surrender only to produce a weapon when close to allied troops. Many fought to their last bullet and then charged with fixed bayonet. Others chaotically massed in suicidal Banzai charges but then we see large numbers of others who unafraid of death could have continued resisting and extracting further allied losses but they didn't choosing instead to kill themselves.

Faced with being overrun, they didn't know what to do. Each man or small unit commander deciding for himself how best to escape the disgrace of surrender or being captured wounded.

9 posted on 11/07/2009 6:45:17 AM PST by fso301
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Kaslin; 1stbn27; 2111USMC; 2nd Bn, 11th Mar; 68 grunt; A.A. Cunningham; ASOC; AirForceBrat23; ...

CLICK THE PIC

10 posted on 11/07/2009 6:46:05 AM PST by freema (MarineNiece,Daughter,Wife,Friend,Sister,Friend,Aunt,Friend,Mother,Friend,Cousin, FRiend)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2banana

The casualties, per soldier involved, were some of the highest in all of WW2. That you did not know that proves it was one of The FORGOTTEN Battle of WW2.


11 posted on 11/07/2009 7:01:12 AM PST by LeonardFMason
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Vinnie

There was a massive Banzai charge on Attu that succeeded in breaking thru to a campsite where a squadron of USAAF pilots were sleeping. Almost the entire squadron got wiped out. Flying was extremely hazardous up there as you might imagine. Far more operational accidents than combat losses. Planes just failed to come back.


12 posted on 11/07/2009 7:08:34 AM PST by Tallguy ("The sh- t's chess, it ain't checkers!" -- Alonzo (Denzel Washington) in "Training Day")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Ax

I think that the 7th ID was fresh from desert warfare training when they were committed to the Aleutians. They were slated for North Africa and were not equipped for arctic warfare.

On Attu they couldn’t even get up the ridges where the Japanese were entrenched because the draws & valleys were so marshy from snowmelt. They disassembled jeeps & hauled them up by hand, reassembled them & used them to power tow-ropes to drag supplies up to the summits. Incredible ingenuity under fire.

The Army didn’t do everything wrong. They at least had the foresight to recruit Inuits, Trappers & Fishermen who had knowledge of the terrain into “Scout Units”. These guys imparted valuable survival skills to the troops & help them adapt.


13 posted on 11/07/2009 7:13:31 AM PST by Tallguy ("The sh- t's chess, it ain't checkers!" -- Alonzo (Denzel Washington) in "Training Day")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: Tallguy
The Army didn’t do everything wrong.

Sending the men up there without proper clothing was criminal. They should have rounded up senior generals from the Pentagon and dropped them off up there in their summer uniforms until they figured out the problem.

14 posted on 11/07/2009 8:33:13 AM PST by PAR35
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: Tallguy

I went to a military technical school in Texas in 1960. We had mixed classes: five sailors and five airmen per class. The sailors’ received their orders by name from BUPERS; we airmen were given an allotment of five overseas posts, and class ranking decided who went where. Quite a few of our naval brethren ended up in the Aleutians, on the island of Adak. USAF personnel that went from our school to Alaska ended up at Elmendorf AFB. Other USAF schools supplied operators that ended up at St. Lawrence Island or Shemya AFB.


15 posted on 11/07/2009 9:07:45 AM PST by Ax (Carpe Vinum.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: 2banana
Still, a helluva price to pay for an island the Japanese took as a diversion.

"It was strategically very important who controlled those islands," says Goldstein. The Americans stationed there "kept the Japanese from the West Coast and from invading the U.S. mainland.... From a strategic point of view, you can't underestimate the situation there. Look at a map! The Aleutians aren't very far from Seattle."

Hate to disagree with the historian, but who on earth would conclude you can take the US mainland from Attu???!?!?!?!?

16 posted on 11/07/2009 9:56:46 AM PST by TimSkalaBim
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: freema

Good article. It was not a easy duty post by any means with the weather being as it was.


17 posted on 11/07/2009 11:15:39 AM PST by Marine_Uncle (Honor must be earned....)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: Marine_Uncle

As an Alaskan of over 30 years, who has lived on the coast of Alaska, I can tell you that Aleutian weather is incredibly brutal. Even where I live the winter storms coming out of the Aleutians, well, its like living in a constant hurricane (a very cold one). Hardly a breather between storms.

We have a cute saying here about the Aleutians, the weather is so bad there that the air strips have to use a logging chain for a windsock! A joke and an exaggeration, I’m sure, but not far off from the truth.


18 posted on 11/07/2009 1:37:52 PM PST by sasportas
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: TimSkalaBim

I don’t think the article meant taking the mainland of Alaska from Attu. Obviously not, Attu is a looong ways from the mainland of Alaska...at least a thousand miles away, maybe more, I’d have to look at a map.

I think it meant Attu was to be the first stepping stone of taking the Aleutian chain, once the Aleutian chain was taken, they were to be the base for taking the mainland.


19 posted on 11/07/2009 1:43:48 PM PST by sasportas
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: Northern Yankee

My mom’s brother was stationed up there. I had just thot it was an outpost/ to guard the borders. Did not even know there was a battle there! I will send this to my cousin/ his son. He was a doctor/ even then, I think.


20 posted on 11/07/2009 1:45:48 PM PST by bboop (Tar and feathers -- good back then, good now)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Tallguy
There was a massive Banzai charge on Attu that succeeded in breaking thru to a campsite where a squadron of USAAF pilots were sleeping.

Never heard that one before in regards to Attu. There wouldn't have been any pilots there anyway, since construction of a runway didn't begin until the island was secure. There was, however, such an occurrence on Iwo Jima.

21 posted on 11/07/2009 3:11:46 PM PST by AlaskaErik (I served and protected my country for 31 years. Democrats spent that time trying to destroy it.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: sasportas

I can appreciate the weather you folks have to endure. Been in howling -40 conditions at the top of mountains earlier on in life. Perhaps that windsock becomes heavy as a chain at times!
Stay warm.


22 posted on 11/07/2009 5:08:54 PM PST by Marine_Uncle (Honor must be earned....)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

To: sasportas

Even if the Japanese had taken the entire Aleutian Chain & gotten ashore in Alaska, I doubt that they could have accomplished anything. There were few roads suitable for moving inland or down the coast. Part of the campaign to defend Alaska involved a joint US-Canadian highway construction project that would allow defenders to move up supplies & men.

I think that the Japanese move into the western Aleutians was mostly defensive. They were well aware that the US was planning to sage long-range bombing raids against Japan from these islands. As it turned out the B29 raids came from China, then Guam & Tinian. There wasn’t any need to fight the elements in Alaska. We’d already lost so many aircraft up there.


23 posted on 11/07/2009 7:38:45 PM PST by Tallguy ("The sh- t's chess, it ain't checkers!" -- Alonzo (Denzel Washington) in "Training Day")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: Kaslin
I ran into a Seabee who was in the Aleutians during the war.

I shook his hand, and thanked him for his service. He was still a spry old gentleman. :-)

24 posted on 11/07/2009 9:00:02 PM PST by an amused spectator (The money vampires fear garlands of lead & brass)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson