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Two Generations Of Unangax Reflect On WWII Evacuation And Internment

Berett Wilber/KUCB

June 3 and 4 mark big days in Unalaska’s history. Just ask Harriet Hope.

“It’s just such a part of history that nobody knows," she said. "It hasn’t been taught in schools. People say, 'I've never heard of that,' and yet they’ve heard of the Japanese internment.”

Hope is talking about the bombing and subsequent evacuation of Dutch Harbor during World War II. She was just a child when the Japanese Navy attacked

Now in her 80s, she shares her experience in her own words.

HOPE: We knew the strike was coming, but we didn't know when or where or anything. We had to live under the blackout rules and run to the dugouts down by the creek.

The day of the bombing, I do remember. My mother had a dream about something up in the sky dropping bombs. She had some kind of insight into it through her tea leaves — and sure enough, it happened. On the morning of the first bombing, we heard the planes coming towards us from along the beach and they were firing shots. My brother just grabbed me, and I remember him just slamming my head up against the wall. I was thinking about that. 'Why did he do that to me?' He was hovering over me until the planes left.

Once they took us down to the internment camps, we were there for four years. Of course, we were forced to leave with barely more than the clothes on our back, which led us to believe we’d only be gone a short time. They never would tell us where we were going, and [we] never knew from day to day when we would get any information on when we could go home.

First, they dropped us off at Wrangell Institute, which was a Native boarding school, and they separated all the villages to different areas in southeast [Alaska]. Every one of them was a burned-out abandoned cannery, and they just dropped us off there. We were just left to fend for ourselves. It was like going to another planet. We had no plumbing, no electricity, no grocery store. We had none of the elements that would be normal today. We had eye infections. We had measles. We had a horrible flu that came through. The whole village would be sick.

We found out that the United States had a prisoner of war camp about 20 miles from us, and they had everything. They had electricity and running water. They had food. They had everything they needed, and that just started my anger all over again.

So many of our people have gone to heaven, but they’ve taken that anger with them. I was just hoping that someone would see this and never let it happen to another group of people. It should just be mentioned. I wouldn’t want to see it blown up or anything, but it should be casually [mentioned] as kids learn other history, like slavery and things like that. I just would like people to know there is a lot of deep history here and World War II was part of that.

Sandra Moller's family also survived the bombing and internment to return home to Unalaska.

Credit Courtesy of Sandra Moller
Sandra Moller's parents were evacuated from Unalaska. She's pictured here with Harriet Hope and Kathy Grimnes, both evacuees and friends of her late mother's.

MOLLER: I didn’t get much stories from my family. It was something they didn’t talk about.

I do remember my gram when she would babysit us. She would point up at one of the hills and say, ‘Watch out! Over the hills! The Japanese are going to come get you, if you don’t behave!’ So that was always something that would be very scary. I’m thinking now that it’s probably something that really impacted her a lot. She didn’t talk much about it either, but I always thought that was something she relived.

I think it’s really taught me to be kind to people and to try to hear them. I think that’s what my parents and family did. They had to figure out how to best survive. I think the military had to say, ‘How are we going to survive in the Aleutians?’ I mean, there were a lot of casualties and illnesses when they came here. They weren’t used to it. Same with the internment. So I think it teaches me that you’re going to be facing all these different obstacles, but you’ve got to be resilient and figure out a way to solve it.

KUCB: Do you find that talking about it is helpful to you?

MOLLER: Oh, yeah. I haven’t talked about it ever.

KUCB: This is one of the first times you’ve talked about it with someone?

MOLLER: Oh, yeah. First time.

MOLLER: I think part of this internment, while it was a very important part of our history, I think it’s a blip compared to the ten or more thousand years here. So for me, I want to try to help people recognize that this is a very special place, we should take care of it, and also understand how your ancestors walked these very hills. It’s kind of chilling for me to be out berry picking, knowing my grandma was there. And just think about her grandmother there. You know, we’ve been here a long time. To me, it’s a defining point in our history. I think there’s some bad in it, but there’s always good in it. Let’s really celebrate that we survived it. It’s something that happened. You can’t go back and change that, so let’s learn about it and protect it.

Zoë Sobel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2019. She returned to KUCB after a year living in Nepal and Malaysia as a Luce Scholar. She then returned to KUCB as a ProPublica reporter August of 2020 through August of 2021.
Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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