Tag Archives: WWII

Photo by Robert Capa; Omaha Beach D-Day

1944

U.S. Army Rangers, Weymouth, England, just days prior to D-Day

Battleship Cove

Fall River, Mass

The Big Ships: USS Joseph P. Kennedy JR; USS Lionfish; USS Massachusetts

We spent some time out at Battleship Cove on our off-hockey day. There are eight surviving U.S. battleships that had served in WWII. One member of the Frozen Foursome had been to seven of them. We set out to find the last one on the list: the USS Massachusetts.

On the deck of the USS Massachusetts

There is a lot to see out at the Maritime Museum at Battleship Cove: Cobra and Iroquois helicopters, a pair of PT Boats, a WWII landing craft and a DUKW Boat, just to name a few things. The main draw though is the big ships: the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy JR, the submarine USS Lionfish, and the “Big Mamie”, the battleship USS Massachusetts.

The bell of “Big Mamie”

The USS Massachusetts was commissioned in May of 1942, and quickly headed out to take part in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. Afterwards, she was transferred to the Pacific Fleet, taking part in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands Campaign, the Philippines Campaign, and the Battle of Okinawa. After WWII, the ship was transferred to the reserve fleet in 1947, and finally stricken from Naval Records in June of 1962.

The USS Massachusetts has been a museum ship at Battleship Cove since August of 1965. She was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and became a National Historic Landmark in January 1986.


“Night Hunter”

Oil on masonite, by Fred Machetanz; circa 1970

Fred Machetanz first came to Alaska in 1935, spending two years in Unalakleet. He left for New York, only to request service with the U.S. Navy in the Aleutians, returning to Alaska in 1942.

“Spring Fever”; 1987

After WWII, Machetanz returned to Unalakleet in 1946. Eventually, he settled in the farming community of Palmer, where he died at the age of 94, in 2002.


Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Late October, 1941

On the Hunt for The Bear

The USRC Bear in the ice; Location and date unknown

For over two decades, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard have been looking for the final resting place of the Revenue Cutter Bear. One of the most storied ships in USCG history, the Bear was launched in 1874, and would see service for the next nine decades.

The historic vessel entered Coast Guard service as a revenue cutter in 1885, spending much of its time working the 20,000 mile Alaska coastline. The Bear was a rescue ship and medical ship; served as transportation for governors, teachers, construction material, mail and reindeer; hunted for poachers, smugglers and illegal traders; and she served as census taker and floating courthouse during her time in Alaskan waters.

The Bear’s masthead

She assisted the 1906 relief efforts after the San Francisco earthquake, as well as assisting Robert Byrd on his Second and Third Antarctic Expeditions. In 1930, the Bear starred in the film version of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf. In 1939, she joined the US Navy on the United States Antarctic Service Expedition. When the United States entered WWII, the Bear returned to Arctic waters joining the Northeast Atlantic Greenland Patrol.

With her service in WWII, the Bear became the oldest Navy ship to be deployed outside the Continental United States. She was also one of the last ships originally equipped with sails to serve in a theater of war. The Bear was one of a select few Navy ships to have served in the Spanish-American War, as well as both World Wars.

The Bear’s final moments, with the Irving Birch looking on

In 1963, while being towed from Nova Scotia to Philadelphia, one of her masts collapsed in a storm, and the venerable Bear went down to the sea bottom.

In 2019, researchers from NOAA caught a break. Two targets were discovered, and one showed major promise. After two years of comparing photos of the wreck at the bottom of the ocean, and photos of the Bear in dry dock and at port, researchers have stated that they are “reasonably certain” that the wreckage is the Bear.

The wreck on the left, with the Bear in dry dock, circa 1924, on the right; Photo credit: NOAA


The Original: “Blue Canoe”

The MV Chilkat at dock in Ketchikan, Alaska

In 1948, what would become the Alaska Marine Highway System, started out as a ferry service between Haines and Juneau with a surplus WWII landing craft, which was dubbed The Chilkoot. Demand quickly outpaced what the 14 vehicle Chilkoot could provide, so the territorial government commissioned the building of a dedicated ferry at the cost of $300,000.

The MV Chilkat came on line in 1957, as the first ferry in the new Alaska Marine Highway System. Painted blue and gold, the ferries soon took on the nickname Alaska’s “blue canoes”.

The Chilkat was “the Queen of the Fleet”, and traveled the Lynn Canal daily, between Haines, Skagway and Juneau. Later, it would ply the waters between Ketchikan and Annette Island. The Chilkat carried 59 passengers and 15 vehicles, and was a workhorse in Southeast Alaska until 1988.

The decommissioned Chilkat in Fanny Bay, British Columbia, circa 2012

The Chilkat became a scallop tender in 1988, when the State sold her.

The Chilkat breaking loose from her moorings; Photo credit: KTOO

High winds hit Anacortes, Washington on January 13, where the Chilkat was docked. She broke loose from her moorings in gusts of 50 knots, shifted awkwardly, and sank within minutes. Three boats broke free during the storm, but only the 99 foot former ferry sank.

Since the Chilkat had been taken out of service, she had no fuel or oil in her system. The owner of the boatyard says the Chilkat will be eventually be raised from the sea bed.



Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument

The Milwaukee Road

Chicago – Milwaukee – Saint Paul

1847 – 1986

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I had not heard the term Milwaukee Road in years.  I came across a plaque honoring the rail line when I was looking around Union Station in Chicago.

The railroad started in 1847 as the Milwaukee & Waukesha.  At the time, rail was needed between Milwaukee and the Mississippi River.  Changes came and went, the railroad went into receivership in 1859 and was purchased by another railroad and then combined with still another.  Out of the chaos emerged the Milwaukee and St Paul.  In 1874, the line absorbed the Chicago and Pacific Railroad Company.  The name changed once again to the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul: The Milwaukee Road.

The passenger train was the Hiawatha.  My grandmother told me stories of riding the Hiawatha from St. Paul to Chicago.  It must have been quite the ride for the details flowed smoothly.

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Hiawatha’s “Beavertail”

By the mid 1930’s the Hiawatha added the famed “Beaver Tail” cars.  The streamlined observation cars were a hit, and earned their nickname from the rail car’s shape.

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Milwaukee Road plaque: Union Station, Chicago

Expansion would begin with the Olympian Hiawatha, which ran out to Puget Sound; the Midwest Hiawatha, which ran between Chicago & Omaha; and the Southwest Limited: Chicago-Milwaukee-Kansas City.

There was a burst of ridership after WWII, and the railroad came out of the bankruptcy caused by the Great Depression.  Unfortunately, like much of the railroad industry, hard times returned again.  Between 1971-1974, Milwaukee Road lost $100 million.  After downsizing, selling of track and assets, Milwaukee Road was finally bought by two competitors: Soo Line and C&NW.  By 1986, the Milwaukee Road was on the route to memories.

Today, much of the abandoned Milwaukee Road is now Rails to Trails.