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
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.