This week, we’re sharing stories from the Battle of Attu and the greater Aleutian campaign of World War II.
The conflict ended in the 1940s, but its legacy is still very much alive — both for the veterans who served and the Unangax̂ people who were forced to leave during the fighting.
Even now, many vets have never spoken to an evacuee, and vice versa.
To commemorate what happened 75 years ago, KUCB invited people on both sides to sit down and reflect together.
Today, we hear from Martin Aure and U.S. Army veteran Paul Schaughency. Aure was sent to Seattle after the bombing of Dutch Harbor, and Schaughency spent parts of WWII on Adak.
A note to listeners and readers: A person in this story uses an offensive word for Japanese people.
AURE: I was 4.5 when they bombed Dutch Harbor. We were here when they bombed it.
SCHAUGHENCY: Wow. You remember that?
AURE: I remember it. And I remember planes going over, the place is rocking, and guns are going off. My brother ran outside — the older brother — and came back in and told mom. “Mommy, I can see an airplane go over. I could see the man in it.”
SCHAUGHENCY: Could he tell it was Japanese?
AURE: He said it was a Jap. My mother was notified to get one suitcase packed and she had 25-35 minutes to be onboard the ship that was in the harbor. The ship turned out to be a troop transport, the President Fillmore. We got on board her, and we ended up in Seattle. We were the lucky ones.
SCHAUGHENCY: Yeah, I’ve heard since I’ve been here … This 75th commemoration event is for the veterans and the evacuees. You were technically an evacuee, but you went to Seattle.
AURE: Yeah, they sent us to Seattle. The troop transport — that’s where she was going, so that’s where she took us. Luckily, we had relatives in Kent, Washington, which is just south of Seattle a bit. So we went to Kent for a year or so.
SCHAUGHENCY: You really hit it kind of lucky …
AURE: Very lucky. Eventually, my father who was still up here — he got a hold of one of my uncles down there. An old Norwegian. Told him to find a house for us. So my uncle found us a house by Green Lake in Seattle, and my father paid him back for it when he finally came down.
SCHAUGHENCY: I got in the Army late, and I got up in January of 1944 to Adak. My wife — she’s an Aleutian veteran. I lost nothing by signing on for a year. The regulations said you can’t take your dependants with you unless you have a year of service or more. Well, bingo! I signed. I got a year, so I could get my dependent. So my wife of seven days —the rest was an absentee two years — I got her up and we lived in a Quonset hut on Adak. It was prepared for dependents. It had a kitchen, a bathroom, and two bedrooms.
AURE: That was a big Quonset hut.
SCHAUGHENCY: Yeah, it was a regular one. They were nice and tight and insulated and so forth. We had a year here. People say, “Seventy-three years! What do you credit for the longevity of your marriage?” I’ve been thinking about it. That year [on Adak] was the first year. She couldn’t pick up the phone and say, “Mother, do you know what he said to me today?” We had to work it out, and we did.
AURE: I fished out of Adak.
SCHAUGHENCY: You did?
AURE: Yeah, king crab. Out of Adak.
SCHAUGHENCY: That reminds me of a story. We had these guys go out — not only hunting crab at the right time, but geese. They’d shoot the geese, and we’d have something nice to eat. Different than Army food.
Well, we hadn’t had any Alaskan department inspections. Then we did have it. The guys had been out hunting geese, and we had Captain Buck Slaughter from Virgina.
AURE: Is that a real name now? [laughs]
AURE: Kind of like Daniel Boone. [laughs]
SCHAUGHENCY: No, no. It’s Buck Slaughter. And so the inspector goes to the mess hall and opens up the refrigerator, and there are these geese all hanging there. He says, “Captain, don’t you know it’s against the regulations of the Alaskan department to be hunting out here?” Well, Buck Slaughter — fast thinking — says, “Well, sir colonel, we’ve got these williwaws out here. These geese were flying by and that williwaw hit them and bashed them up against the mess hall, and my good mess sergeant grabbed them, had some of his men dress them, and put them in the refrigerator.”
That colonel shook his head, slowly closed the door, and I’m sure he said that anyone who comes up with a story that fast deserves not to be gigged for it. That was the last time we heard about the geese in the refrigerator.
AURE: Those were imperial geese. They come from Japan, so you were shooting Japanese geese. [laughs]
SCHAUGHENCY: Oh, good for us! [laughs]
AURE: I’ve shot a bunch of them and took them home. We dressed them, put them in the blast freezer, and took them home. And I couldn’t give them away. They were so dry. Had a fishy taste.
We’ve got some very common interests, you know. Now that we’re talking about the war and so on. I’ve had a lot of things in life that I really treasure, you might say, and I’m sure you have too, Paul. This is one of them here — right now, talking with you.
KUCB coverage of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Attu is supported in part by a grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this coverage does not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.