The port of Dutch Harbor, on Amaknak Island in the Aleutian Chain – connected by a bridge to the much larger Unalaska Island — consistently ranks as the busiest fishing port in the United States of America. For the last 30 years, Unalaska’s economy has been based primarily on commercial fishing, seafood processing, fleet services and marine transportation. Annually, more than 1.7 billion pounds of frozen halibut, salmon and king crab is shipped to domestic and export markets in North America, Europe and Asia, making the Port of Dutch Harbor first in the nation in quantity of catch landed and first or second in the nation in the value of the catch for more than 20 years. Fans of the Discovery Channel may be familiar with the area, highlighted on the popular series “Deadliest Catch.” Naturally, sport fishing opportunities are plentiful. Dutch Harbor is also known for being the only place on American soil other than Pearl Harbor to be bombed by the Japanese. In June of 1942, two days of air attacks killed 43 American servicemen, but did very little long-term damage to the base. We had the opportunity to visit the informative Aleutian World War II National Historic Area Visitor Center, adjacent to the small airport on the island — for more details of the story see below.
At the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area Visitors Center we learned more about the so-called “Aleutian Campaign” of World War II (from 1942 to 1945). “The Aleutian Islands are the setting for a little known story of how America was forced into war to reclaim her own soil during World War II. As Japan expanded her empire across Asia and the Pacific in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the United States hastened to fortify the westernmost defenses of her territory, establishing naval bases and air stations in the Aleutian Islands [part of the Alaska Territory, bought from Russia on 30 March1867 in the so-called “Seward’s Folly” purchase]. Civilian and military crews poured in by the thousands to ready the nation for a war in the North Pacific.
“It came all too soon. In June of 1942, just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Unalaska, and seized the islands of Attu and Kista [the westernmost of the Aleutian Islands]. The Japanese troops numbered less than 10,000 men. Within little over a year the United States and her Canadian allies matched that number more than tenfold and defeated the Japanese.
“There were heavy losses on both sides. In the end, however, the weather emerged as the deadliest enemy. For the Alaska Natives in the Aleutians, the war changed their lives forever. Most of the Unangan (Aleut) were exiled thousands of miles from home in filthy disease-ridden camps; the Attuans were captured and transported to Japan. [The U.S. treatment of the Aleutians was similar to the internment of the Japanese during World War II – shameful acts that did not reflect the founding principles of America.] At the end of the war many Unangan found their homes and churches pillaged, their archaeological sites looted, their waters and lands contaminated, and whole islands appropriated as military reserves.
“Thus, [this] is a story of both noble and ignoble events; it is a tale of Americans at war thousands of miles from home and Americans in exile thousands of miles from home. This is the story of the ‘Aleutian Campaign.’” – exhibit signage at the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area Visitor Center
“At Dutch Harbor, the captured [Japanese] Zero [fighter airplane] – see photograph, below — was turned upright by crane, then crated for shipment south. She arrived at North Island, Naval Air Station San Diego on 12 August 1942. The fighter was placed in a balloon hangar, secreted behind a 12-foot high stockade and guarded day and night. Crews worked 24 hours a day, repairing the vertical stabilizer, rudder, wing tips, flaps and canopy. [On] 25 September , the Akutan Zero, the U.S. star now on her wings and fuselage, flied mock combat against the best aircraft in America. These tests affirmed that even the most advanced U.S. plane can not defeat the Zero in its own arena – the low-altitude, slow-speed, twisting dogfight. To survive such an attack, U.S. pilots must first flee – dive away in a near vertical descent, then roll hard right before the Zero can bring its cannon and machine guns to bear. Once disengaged, the battle must be pressed on at high speed — – in swooping attacks from high altitude. Only then can the Zero’s design faults, its inherent fragility, be exploited.’” – exhibit signage at the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area Visitor Center
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