Tag Archives: WWII

Jay Hammond Day


Former Alaskan Governor Jay Hammond in front of a section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

July 21 is Jay Hammond Day in Alaska. Hammond, a popular figure in Alaska, served as governor between 1974 – 1982.

Hammond, born in Troy, NY, was a Marine fighter pilot in WWII, flying for the Black Sheep Squadron in China. He moved to Alaska after the war, and continued his flying as a bush pilot. Hammond entered state politics in 1959.

Governor Hammond died at his homestead on Lake Clark in 2005. Alaska could use the Bush Rat Governor right about now.


Land Rover’s Pink Panther


Land Rover’s “Pink Panther”; Photo credit: Atlantic British

In 1968, Britain’s Ministry of Defense ordered 72 Series IIa 109’s from Land Rover. They were destined for the SAS, Britain’s elite commando unit, for use in the deserts of the Persian Gulf region.

The SAS had been using Land Rover 88’s, but they proved to be a bit small for the task. The 109’s were refurbished for the desert terrain. Fuel capacity was increased to 100 gallons, reservoirs for spare water and oil were added. The chassis and suspension were both upgraded to handle heavy artillery. Sand tires were installed and the spare tire mount was taken off the hood, and built onto the front of the vehicle. A bead breaker, for changing tires, was even added to one wing. The ’68 Land Rover also came with a sun compass, which had become standard equipment, after North Africa’s Long Range Desert Group in WWII.


The sparse Pink Panther interior; Photo credit: Atlantic British

But the unique feature of the SAS Land Rover was the color scheme. It was painted a mauve-pink. The experiences of the Long Range Desert Group showed that the pink color was remarkably good camouflage in the desert, especially at dawn and dusk.

For armament, the Pink Panther carried a machine gun on the left side of the hood, smoke canisters and grenades, anti-tank weaponry and rifles. The vehicle when fully loaded, weighed 3 tons.


Pink Panther; Photo credit: Dunsfold Collection

The Series Pink Panther served the SAS from 1968 to 1984, when a modified Land Rover Defender 110 took over. Of the original 72 Pink Panthers, only 20 are known to still be around, with most in private collections. The Dunsfold Collection owns the one above. It has become one of the most sought after Land Rovers ever built.


Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944


Photograph by Robert Capa


USS Batfish


USS Batfish back on the water

Due to the flooding of the Arkansas River, the USS Batfish has taken once again to the water. The WWII era submarine has been landlocked since 1973 at the Muskogee War Memorial Park in Oklahoma. The flooding this year is the worst on the Arkansas since 1943, when the Batfish first entered WWII.


The normally landlocked USS Batfish

The last time the Arkansas flooded enough to float the Batfish was 1986, when the sub almost broke a line and floated away downstream. The moorings of the landlocked submarine have been strengthened since the ’86 flood, still concerns remained. When the Batfish first started to rise with the water, she was listing considerably. Firemen then filled the sub’s ballast to right the sub.


USS Batfish in service

The USS Batfish has a distinguished history. During its two years of service in WWII, the USS Batfish fired 71 torpedoes, sinking 15 ships total, officially credited with 9 Japanese ships sunk. During its sixth war patrol in the South China Sea, the Batfish and her crew sank three Japanese submarines over a 76 hour period. The Batfish received six battle stars for her WWII service.


USS Batfish back in San Francisco

For six years after WWII, the Batfish was used as a training submarine. She then went back to active duty, serving 5 years in the Korean War, spending much of her time in Caribbean waters. After Korea, she saw another decade of training exercise, before being decommissioned for a final time in November of 1969.


Therefore choose life…


Attu Island; Photo credit: CBS News

60 Minutes, the news program on CBS, did a great story on Attu Island this past Sunday.


Screen shot of 60 Minutes Attu story

I’m not sure which surprised me more: The fact that I even caught the story as I travel about the Niagara area, or the fact that broadcast television did a story on Attu at all.


Anti-aircraft gun on Attu today

The episode, on an all but forgotten battle of WWII ,at a far corner of the globe, is well worth the 20 minutes to watch. Sorry, no spoilers.


The Panama Hotel

Seattle, Washington


The Panama Hotel, early 20th century

The Panama Hotel, located in Seattle’s International District, opened for business in August of 1910. The five story, brick building was designed by Sabro Ozasa, Seattle’s first architect of Japanese heritage. The building was to house Japanese laborers from the area, but also catered to fisherman heading to, or coming back from Alaska. The International District was known as the city’s “nihonmachi” – Japan Town, or translated literally: Japan Street.

The Panama Hotel provided a full-service traditional Japanese-style sento, or public bath house in the basement. In 1910, most private homes in the area did not have their own baths, so the sento provided a neighborhood service.

There was a separate bath for men, and one for women and children. The bath house is still intact in the hotel, and it is the only surviving bath house of its kind in the U.S. today.

Takashi Hori was the owner of the hotel in December of 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were rounded up on the west coast and placed in internment camps. Many local residents approached Hori to store their belongings in the basement of his hotel, because they were allowed to bring only minimal processions. Hori was also eventually sent to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho in 1942. He returned to run the Panama Hotel after the war ended in 1945, having an acquaintance watch over the hotel during his incarceration.


The Panama Hotel today

With the Panama Hotel just blocks from King Street Station, I decided it was the perfect time to stay at this historic hotel during my time in Seattle.


The Panama Hotel stairway

The first impression of the Panama’s interior is the dramatic stairway to the office, which is on the third floor. This hotel really is a trip back in time, and there is no elevator.


A room in the Panama

The rooms are basic, and reflect the times they were made for. Spartan as they may be, I found them comfortable, clean and they met, even exceeded, my expectations. Each room comes with a sink, but guests share the bathrooms and showers. I did not have any issue with that, and I found no morning competition for the shower.


The “refrigerator” armoire

As a contractor, I loved the building details, as much as the history. The trim, bannisters and railings were all clear, beautifully grained wood. The lighting in the hallways was designed to use natural light as much as possible, and it was fascinating to see that change over the course of the day, although the electric lights were hardly needed until sunset.

Several rooms had armoires that were built out of refrigerator crates back in the 1930’s. The workmanship was quite impressive.


Panama hallway


The Panama Hotel Tea House

Originally, the ground floor of the hotel had a dentist, a tailor, a laundry, a bookstore, a billiards room, and a sushi restaurant. Today, the lower floor is home to the Panama Hotel’s Tea Room. A complementary continental breakfast is served here for guests of the hotel. The tea selection is extensive, and the squash bread phenomenal. It’s a great place to hang out at the end of the day after exploring Seattle’s downtown.

The Tea House has a great collection of historic photos from the area displayed on the exposed brick walls of the two main rooms. The Panama Hotel is both a working hotel, and a living museum.


A window into our past

When Takashi Hori returned to the Panama in 1945, the hotel’s basement was holding over 50 steamer trunks from the displaced Japanese-Americans. Many trunks and other belongings remain in the basement today. Hori made several attempts to find the owners, but most were never located. The owners had simply vanished. A window in the floor of the tea house gives visitors a glimpse of the private belongings left behind.


Personal belongings stored in the Panama due to Executive Order 9066

The Panama Hotel offers a unique opportunity to explore Seattle’s past. It’s a wonderful hotel. Don’t stay here if you need Five Star accommodations. It’s comfortable, but 1934 comfortable. Unfortunately, the front entrance is enough to deter anyone who needs an elevator. It’s a living time capsule, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. The current owner, is the hotel’s third. That in itself, is remarkable.

Tours of the bath house are available upon request. I highly recommend joining one.

The Panama Hotel is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.


USS Abner Read


USS Abner Read

The U.S. destroyer, Abner Read, struck a Japanese mine off the coast of Kiska Island on the 18 August 1943 during the Battle of Kiska. The explosion tore off the ship’s stern. There were over 300 men on board the Abner Read that day, many were in their bunks in the stern when the mine blew at approximately 1:50am. 71 sailors died, but 20 were hauled out of the frigid Bering Sea waters.


The Abner Read after the explosion off the coast of Kiska

The crew was able to keep the destroyer afloat. The ship was shored up as best they could, the main compartment was kept water tight, and a homemade rudder was attached. Two U.S. Navy ships then towed the Abner Read to port.


The Abner Read in floating dry dock

Within months, the Abner Read had its stern repaired, and the destroyer rejoined the war.

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In July of this year, a research team funded by NOAA, discovered the Abner Read’s stern off the coast of Kiska Island. It’s general location has been known, and the team of scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the University of Delaware used multi beam sonar to locate the wreckage. They then sent a remote operated submersible down to the stern, which was in 290 feet of water.


Photo credit: NOAA

The stern section measures 75 feet long and 18 feet high, and is now covered in marine life.


Gun on Abner Read stern section; Photo credit: NOAA

Daryl Weathers was a 19 year old seaman on the Abner Read. He is the last known survivor from the destroyer on that August day in 1943. Weathers is 94 now, and lives in Seal Beach, California. When told that the stern section had been found, Weathers expressed surprise saying, “That’s the end of the world up there.”

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For its wartime service, the Abner Read received four battle stars from the Pacific Theater. In November of 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese launched a kamikaze attack. A Japanese dive bomber (VAL) made it through the anti aircraft fire, although it had been hit. The bomber was able to drop one of its bombs down the destroyer’s smokestack, blowing up the engine room. The VAL then crashed across the main deck, setting it in flames. The Abner Read sank within hours.


The Abner Read is struck by a kamikaze attack in November 1944


Battle of Kiska

Operation Cottage:
15 August 1943
75 Years Ago


Kiska Island on the Aleutian Chain

The Japanese had occupied Kiska Island on Alaska’s Aleutian Chain since June of ’42. After the brutal Battle of Attu, Allied forces expected the same type of defense of Kiska from the Japanese.


Japanese Type A mini submarines on Kiska Island

Leading up to the invasion, the U.S. Air Force bombarded the Japanese positions on Kiska. In June of ’43, 407 bombing sorties were sent to the remote island, and even more in July. Japanese troop level was at just over 5100 men. Resupply of the island had become by submarine only.


Japanese tunnel to the beach

In August, bombing sorties increased even more. On August 4 alone, 135 sorties dropped 304,000 pounds of explosives on Kiska.* No Japanese troops were sighted by the bomber pilots, but that was not unusual, since the Japanese went underground during the raids.


Allied troops landing on Kiska Island

7300 combat troops landed at the main beach head. They were greeted by six dogs wagging their tails. One of the dogs was “Explosion”, the pup that was with the Navy weather station crew that was on Kiska when the Japanese invaded the island the previous June. In all, 34,426 Allied troops were a part of the invasion, which included 5300 Canadians.

As troops moved across the foggy island, occasionally a bomb or booby trap was set off, but no enemy soldiers were to be seen. Still, shots were fired into the fog by the jumpy soldiers.

The Japanese were no longer on the island. Realizing they could not defend Kiska after losing Attu, they had evacuated the island two weeks before the invasion.

92 Allied troops were killed, and 221 wounded. Most came when the destroyer Abner Read struck a Japanese mine causing 118 casualties. 4 Canadians and 17 Americans were killed on Kiska, and 50 were wounded, many by friendly fire in the fog. 130 men suffered from trenchfoot, of which only one was a Canadian due to their proper footwear.


Guns of Kiska

The Americans would not learn how or when the Japanese evacuated the island until after the war ended.


The Japanese Type A midget sub on Kiska today

Today, Kiska is part of the Aleutian Islands Wilderness, and the Japanese occupation site a National Historic Landmark.


The Navy Weather station crew on Kiska prior to invasion. Explosion is front and center.

*The Thousand Mile War

Photos courtesy of The Alaska State Library


Fort Raymond

Seward, Alaska


Fort Raymond, circa 1941

Fort Raymond was activated on 1 July 1941, with the purpose of protecting the rail terminus and the ice-free port of Seward, leading up to WWII. The fort was named after Captain Charles W. Raymond, a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Captain Raymond had been sent to Alaska in 1869, to determine the precise location of Fort Yukon. When he confirmed that Fort Yukon was indeed within the Territory of Alaska, Raymond evicted the famed Hudson Bay Company from the region.


Fort Raymond historical marker

At its peak, Fort Raymond housed over 170 officers and 3200 enlisted men. In 1940, the civilian population of Seward was only 949.

On 25 March 1942, a Japanese submarine was spotted in Resurrection Bay, only 2000 yards from the Army dock. By June of that year, Japanese troops had taken the islands of Kiska and Attu in the Aleutian Chain, and Dutch Harbor had been bombed.

But by the fall of 1943, the Japanese had been forced out of the Aleutians, and the threat to Alaska had decreased substantially. In November of 1944, the fort went into caretaking status.

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In 1946, the hospital at Fort Seward was renovated into a sanatorium for Alaska native children with tuberculosis. The sanatorium was open for 12 years.

The 1964 Good Friday Earthquake wiped out much of the town of Seward, including what remained of Fort Raymond. Several buildings from the fort can still be seen in Seward, however. Many quonset huts are scattered about the town, that came from Fort Raymond. The NCO building had been built out of local logs. That building is also still in use; it is the bottom half of the local American Legion post.

Today, the Seward Military Resort is located on the land that Fort Raymond once stood on.


Ted Williams on PBS

PBS is airing an incredible documentary through their American Masters series called Ted Williams: “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived”, and it is extremely well done.


Ted Williams in 1947

Ted Williams was a fascinating, yet complicated individual. Widely accepted as the greatest hitter that baseball has ever seen, Williams had a swing that was pure artistry. He also had a temper that both riled and endeared fans and sports writers alike.
He was the last man to hit over .400 during a MLB season, which Williams did in 1941. He also refused to tip his cap when on the field, even after hitting a home run. His final at bat at Fenway Park was a home run, yet his cap never left his head. In private, Williams raised millions of dollars for treatment and research for children with cancer.


Ted Williams in Korea

His baseball career was interrupted twice by war. Williams spent three years in The U.S. Navy in WWII, and another year of service in Korea in 1953. He flew 39 ground attack combat missions as a Marine pilot over Korea. Many, as John Glenn’s wingman.

The American Masters documentary pulls no punches as it delves into “The Kid’s” life. Williams was a complicated man, but as the film states, “Williams was real. Ted lived his life with his emotions on his sleeve”. The documentary is well worth the time, even if you have little interest in baseball.