REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR: Dec.
December 07, 2010
One of those was Navy Ensign Irvin Thompson, 24, of Ketchikan. He was lost in the sinking of the battleship Oklahoma, Alaska's first serviceman casualty of World War II. In his honor, flags would fly at half-mast throughout Alaska Dec. 21, by proclamation of Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening.
USS Arizona Pearl Harbor
Attack, 7 December 1941 - The forward superstructure and Number
Two 14"/45 triple gun turret of the sunken USS Arizona (BB-39),
afire after the Japanese raid, 7 December 1941. The foremast
is leaning as a result of the collapse of the hull structure
below its front leg, following the explosion of the ship's forward
In Ketchikan, in shock like the rest of the nation, there were whispered rumors of Japanese cannery workers and bookkeepers having hidden short wave radios. In fact, a more specific rumor said that a spy at Waterfall Cannery had been evacuated by an enemy submarine under cover of night. There was a rumor of enemy submarines off Prince of Wales Island - a rumor that soon after earned some credibility when remote areas in British Columbia and the Oregon coast were lobbed with incendiary bombs launched from enemy subs.
The distant Hawaiian Islands and the rest of the world, accessible to Ketchikan only by steamship or Clipper flights, had seemed remote to the little town - until that day. Until Dec. 7, 1941, one of the looming local problems was finding a way to move the garbage dump from the unsightly, overflowing shoreline just south of the Coast Guard base to a new location at what is now called Wolfe Point. Suddenly Ketchikan found itself a not-so-distant part of the world in which garbage dumps were the least of the problems.
View of "Battleship
Row" during or immediately after the Japanese raid.
Along with all American Pacific Coast cities, Ketchikan went into immediate preparedness and blackout because city lights backlighted ships far out to sea, putting them in danger of enemy submarine attack. Ketchikan had the Coast Guard Base to protect from the threat. Stores and homes put up required blackout shades and curtains and some built double-entry blackout doorways for use at night. Quickly recruited watchmen patrolled the city at night, making sure no light was showing. At the urging of the Ketchikan Volunteer Fire Department, owners of flat-roofed businesses hauled barrels of sand to rooftops to be used in the events of incendiary bombs.
Chuck Cloudy was a 17-year-old
high school senior that December. He and his date came out of
a Sunday matinee at the Revilla Theater that Dec. 7 and saw men
lined up in front of the Miners & Merchants Bank (the NBA/Wells
Fargo building), waiting to enlist. Soon after young Cloudy became
an air raid warden in his Harding Street neighborhood. He recalled
that young men not yet of military age were recruited along with
others for firearms practice at the town's rifle range, in the
same place as today, with weapons that had not been out of their
cosmoline packing since the end of World War I.
View looking up "Battleship
Row" on 7 December 1941, after the Japanese attack.
Air raid drills became common that late winter and spring of 1942. Everybody took first aid lessons. The elementary and high school students at Main School, then the only school other than White Cliff, were led to the safety of the shaft of the Schoenbar mine in Bear Valley during evacuation exercises. Trails were hacked into the woods to be used in the event of larger evacuation needs and residents were urged to store caches of non-perishables there.
Just six months later, during
the first week of June, Japanese forces attacked Alaska's Dutch Harbor - Alaska's back door - and preparedness was at fever pitch. Alaska
realized that the war was "the real thing." For the
first and only time in history - until the 9-11 terrorist attacks
- America was attacked on American soil! The Aleutian Islands
of Attu and Kiska were invaded and occupied.
Panorama view of Pearl
Harbor, during the Japanese raid, anti-aircraft shell bursts
overhead. Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941 - The photograph looks southwesterly
from the hills behind the harbor. Large column of smoke in lower
right center is from the burning USS Arizona (BB-39). Smoke somewhat
further to the left is from the destroyers Shaw (DD-373), Cassin
(DD-372) and Downes (DD-375), in drydocks at the Pearl Harbor
The Ketchikan Selective Service Board held regular meetings. From the Chilkoot Barracks at Haines - Alaska's only Army facility at the outbreak of war - a columnist calling himself "The Jawboned Corporal" wrote about Ketchikan's Cliff Phillips as captain of the basketball team and Ragnar Myking as guard. Myking, later killed in the war, would be honored by having Ketchikan's new post-war Veterans of Foreign Wars post named in his honor. Many of Ketchikan's young men would serve in the Aleutian campaign, a theater of war that was blocked from press coverage immediately after the Japanese attacks on Dutch Harbor and the invasion and occupation of two of the Aleutian Islands, Kiska and Attu. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the news blackout in the fear that the realization of the enemy's presence on Alaska soil would panic the entire nation.
There were other emergency orders shortly after the shock and tragedy of Pearl Harbor. One was that Alaska Natives, Aleuts from the remote and treeless islands of the Aleutians, were evacuated to temporary "camps" at locations along the Southeastern Panhandle before they could be returned to their villages. Some were housed in a the old CCC barracks at Ward Lake for a year. They did not fare well in the rain forest climate and conditions. Today that removal and confinement seems barbaric; it did not seem so at the time.
Capsized Hull of USS
Oklahoma Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941
Today those events seem far in the past, part of the remote past. A baby born that year of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor would be 69 years old today. But any of us who remember that Day of Infamy remember it with crystal clarity! As international affairs evolve today, we can only say, always "Remember Pearl Harbor.
Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has ordered state flags to be lowered to half-staff on Tuesday, December 7, 2010, in remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day and to honor Americans who fought in World War II.
“There are certain moments in history that will never be forgotten. For Americans, this is one of them,” Governor Parnell said in a prepared statement. “We lower our flag in honor of those who sacrificed, and we raise our sights, knowing we are stewards of the freedoms secured by the generations who came before us. Pearl Harbor Day reminds us of so much, not the least of which is what we can accomplish as a people when we commit to a higher cause.”
On December 7, all U.S. flags at federal, state and public facilities nationwide will be flown at half-staff, in commemoration of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Flags will be returned to full-staff Wednesday, December 8.
This story was first published in SitNews December 06, 2002
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Not to be reprinted in any form without the written permission of June Allen.