Kirsten Olson provides another interesting piece of Alaskan history. This time, inspiration came to Kirsten while working on a collection of items deposited at UAMN via a repository agreement with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2012, USFWS transferred 93 items collected from Attu Island to the museum and Kirsten spent several months cataloging, researching, and curating these items. She painstakingly constructed customized archival boxes for each piece, from pieces of shrapnel to gas masks, toothbrushes to Japanese paper dolls. She discovered the human stories behind these rusted and damaged items, and developed a small exhibit, which is on display at the UAF Rasmuson Library 4th Floor until August 2014. ~~AJL
Guest blogger, Kirsten Olson here again, this time to honor our men in arms. May 17th marks Armed Forces Day, so to recognize this day and our soldiers, I’d like to take a moment to shed some light on a pivotal, and an often-overlooked WWII battle, the Battle of Attu.
On June 7, 1942, with a force of 1,140 infantrymen, the Japanese attacked and captured the farthest west Aleutian island, Attu. This invasion, as well as a simultaneous assault on Kiska and the attack on Midway a few days earlier, marked the peak of the Japanese invasion of the United States through Alaska.
The Japanese held control of Attu until May 11th, 1943 when members of the US 17th, 32nd Infantry Regiment, and a unit of Castner’s Cutthroats began the reoccupation of Attu Island. It was a gruesome fight with not only the Japanese, but also the harsh weather conditions that are so typical of the Aleutian chain.
On May 29th, after weeks of fighting the enemy and the harsh weather conditions, the Japanese had broken the US troop line and fought for a steady thirty hours. A strange turn of events took place after the initial fury of fire. One final banzai charge sealed the ill fate of the Japanese, and the US had regained control of Attu. The thundering of grenades faded and more than 1,000 Japanese lay dead. The total Japanese loss was 2,500 men, 29 were captured alive. Of the 15,000 US troops that landed, 550 were dead, 1,500 wounded, and 1,200 were victim to Attu’s climate.
Today, Attu is a National Historic Landmark, with remnants from both the Japanese and US occupation. The village that was once home to the islanders was destroyed during the war and never reestablished. The LORAN station, which aided in navigating the Pacific Northwest both during and after the war, was established in 1946 but was shut down in 2010. All that stands on the island are memorials for the fallen soldiers. We are forever grateful for the service of our men and women in arms, and their fight to protect our country and our freedoms. Thank you.