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Alaska Isn't All Aleutians

by T/5 Edward L. McNulty

"The scenery over there is just like it is here!"

This line is the caption of a cartoon drawn by a member of the Adakian (Adak's Army newspaper) staff, which portrayed an old-timer in the Aleutians showing a newcomer around the island.

The Aleutians are all the same.  They all have ghostly volcanoes, black lava soil and rock, boggy tundra that resembles a weed patch in any back yard, plenty of rocks, plenty of rain, wind, sleet, hail, snow, fog, and monotony. . . The Aleutians could very easily have been the inspiration for the Gershwin "Porgy and Bess" melody, "I got plenty of nuthin.' "

There are times though in the Aleutians, brief and separated as they may be, when each spot along this two-thousand mile stretch of volcanic islands has an almost ethereal fascination.  Trappers, tourists, and soldiers who have not become too cynical because of their prolonged stay in the islands, will tell you that on those rare summer days when the sun shines, the tundra blossoms forth into a garden of wild flowers, the shimmering stream flowing down the hillsides lose their appearance of coldness and become warm and friendly, and the beautiful snow-capped peaks of the volcanoes stand out clear and sharp in the vanishing fog.  Just now, of course, those GI's who have spent the past year or two guarding this "Northern Highway to Victory" can hardly be expected to carry home with them any such picture of the Aleutians.  But in years to come, when time softens the rough edges of their perspective, memory will no doubt present a revised panorama, just as in the case of one soldier who said, after being away from the islands for more than a year, "The most beautiful sunset I ever witnessed occurred one evening in 1943 over Captain's Bay at Dutch Harbor."

Soldiers, eligible for discharge under the Army's point system, are drifting into the Intransit Company at Ft. Richardson almost daily, now that the wheels of demobilization are running at top speed.  The trip from the Aleutians to the mainland has been probably the most enjoyable journey these men will ever make for regardless of how anxious they are to get home. . . they were just as anxious to get out of the Aleutians.

Many of them have served for two years or more on those desolate "rocks" which divide the North Pacific from the Bering Sea.  They have seen none of the Alaskan grandeur that has been written about by countless authors and photographed in black and white, and color, by thousands of camera-minded nature lovers . . . residents and tourists.

In order to prevent these men from returning home to condemn Alaska by what they have seen in the Aleutians, Lt. Col. William E. Austill, Alaskan Department Chaplain, and William J. McGinnis, Assistant Red Cross Field Director for Recreation, are utilizing the short periods in which these men must await transportation to afford them an opportunity to visit a typical Alaskan Community -- to see and photograph Alaskan scenes.

Trips are made almost daily to the town of Palmer, Alaska, and the surrounding farm district in the Matanuska valley.  Here the soldiers are surprised to find people living a life very similar to that of the farmers in many parts of the United States.  They find chicken farms, dairy farms, and vegetable farms.  Their eyes pop at the sight of cabbages weighing up to fifty pounds; turnips, the size of a man's head; and tons of delicious, solid, Arctic Bliss potatoes.  There are rows of golden wheat shocks drying in the valley fields before a backdrop of gorgeous snow-covered mountains which change colors with the setting sun as the snow reflects purples, blues, pinks, greens, and almost all colors of the spectrum.

There are conifers lining the road that winds it way through the mountain-sides between Anchorage and Palmer; and now, at the Fall of the year, millions of poplars stand among these evergreens, their leaves rich in the full beauty of Autumn hues.  Mining camps and prospector's cabins can be seen high on the slopes.  Snowbound streams are running blue-white beneath small bridges along the Palmer Richardson highway, and ice cakes float beneath the longest bridge in Alaska, which spans the Knik arm of Cook Inlet a few miles outside of Palmer.  A glacier can be observed in the distance, and before the journey is complete, a lucky group may get their first close-up of a black bear or moose, both of which are plentiful in the valley.

The Northern lights are beginning to make appearance in the sky as the days are quickly growing shorter, and the return journey of these soldiers in the early evening is filled with excited discussion about Alaska's vast potentialities and rugged beauty.  Their attitude toward Alaska has often become an exact opposite of their feeling toward the Aleutians.  They will now make the journey homeward with a more friendly feeling toward the land of the North as a result of the good work of the Alaskan Department Chaplains and Red Cross Workers.


Source: McNulty, T/5 Edward L., "Alaska Isn't All Aleutians." Alaska Life: The Territorial Magazine.  Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Life Publishing Co., December, 1945.





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