An Excerpt from the Autobiography of Francis M. Perry.
My Wartime Aleutian Island Assignment, 1943.
After a one year assignment (June 1942 to June 1943) in which I was a U. S. Engineer Department Field Clerk with a Corps of Engineers Company building a small army base at Gulkana, Dry Creek, Alaska, I received another Draft Board deferment from direct military service and received an assignment to work as the Personnel Field Clerk for civilian workers at Fort Glenn, Umnak Island, in the Aleutians.
Tuesday, July 13, 1943, Arrival at Fort Glenn, Umnak Island, Alaska.
Sunday night, July 11, in Anchorage, I had received my awaited call from the U. S. Engineer Office to report at 10:30 PM at Elmendorf field with my baggage for air transportation to Umnak in the Aleutians. It was 9:00 PM when I got the call so I hurriedly got all my baggage together and called a taxi. Part of my original baggage was already in storage at the U. S. Engineer Office to await my return from Umnak. I still had trouble getting my box of clothing into the little taxi. I had the driver stop at the post office so I could mail two packages back to my family in Nashville, Tennessee. (In my haste I forgot to put stamps on the packages.) Then I had the taxi stop at a gun repair shop where I had left my 22 caliber rifle to be repaired. Finally, I was on the way to the airfield.
I arrived at the departure dock in Elmendorf Field just in time to be weighed in. The enlisted man conducting the weigh-in almost balked when he saw my baggage but he finally decided that there was room for all of it. Next I was informed that the plane would leave at 3:00 AM. I had nothing to do but sit in the departure area and wait.
About 3:00 AM a group of soldiers filed in. They too were going to Umnak. Besides myself there were two other civilian passengers on the flight. One was a cold storage installation technician going to Attu Island. (Attu Island in the far eastern Aleutians had just been recaptured from the Japanese by U. S. forces, and a base was being built for them to occupy the island.) The other civilian passenger was a Mr. Baldwin, a rather elderly project engineer for the U. S. Engineer Department. Mr. Baldwin designed bases in the Aleutians from his office in Anchorage. He was enroute to inspect his project at Umnak as well as projects on other islands. He had not yet visited his project sites. In all there were 8 soldiers and 3 civilian passengers in the plane. The plane had a crew of four consisting of a 1st Lt. pilot, a 2nd Lt. co-pilot, and two enlisted technicians to handle cargo and passengers.
Just after 3:00 AM we went out on the runway and loaded into the plane. The plane was an Army C-47 passenger/cargo version of the popular civilian Douglas DC-3 airliner. Metal seats for passengers align the sidewalls of the cabin and cargo is lashed to the floor down the middle of the cabin between the seats. The seats became quite hard during the 1,000 mile trip from Anchorage to Umnak.
The crew of the plane didn't come out until 4:00 AM. I guess the early loading of passengers and cargo is the only way to get an on-time departure. Our departure was 4:00 AM, and we took off almost immediately after the crew arrived.
The weather did not look too good for flying in my opinion when we first took off. There was a fine rain falling and a very low ceiling. The windows behind the passenger seats were low so that one had to bend over to look out the window. It was quite cold in the cabin and I wished I had worn a heavier jacket.
We flew under the ceiling at about 500 feet altitude south down the Kenai Peninsula. Then we turned west across Cook Inlet and proceeded to the north side of the Alaska Peninsula. We flew at low altitude at all times. The terrain we were flying over was flat and dotted with hundreds of lakes. Soon we sighted an unusually large lake, a veritable inland sea, which the chart identified as Lake Ilimana. Beside the lake the country here is flat and almost treeless. I was told that the wind blows almost continually and a cold rain or mist falls much of the time. A few Indians are said to live on the shore of Lake Iliamna, but only in summer. I was also told that the Army has an emergency airbase in this area. However, we bypassed this base and did not see it.
Just past Lake Iliamna the mist closed in and the ceiling dropped to zero. We could see a huge wall of mist ahead. Evidently the pilot was in radio contact with airfields in the vicinity and he was instructed to turn off the route and land at the airfield at Naknek, Alaska, which was open. We climbed a little and flew blind to Nanek, right at the head of Bristol Bay on the Bering Sea. We must have been guided by a radio beam for we lowered through the "soup" and came out right at the end of the Naknek runway. As we approached the field we could see the wing tips but beyond that we saw nothing but a wall of mist in all directions. At about 200 feet we broke through under the ceiling and the runway lay directly in front of us.
As we stepped out of the plane in Naknek we shivered from the cold blast of wind and mist which hit us. We went right into shivering spells and had to seek a shelter with a stove and hot coffee to warm us up.
The pilot told us we might be there indefinately, but that we should be ready to go at a moments notice when the weather at Umnak should be announced as favorable. The enlisted men ran off to the enlisted mess hall for coffee while we civilians accompanied the pilots to their "casual" house. The house was one of the CAA (Civil Aeronautics Authority) houses built at the Naknek CAA airfield during the decade of the 1930s. It was furnished very nicely, like a home in the States.
At Naknek there had been a U. S. Engineer construction project like the one I had worked at in Gulkana (Dry Creek), only much larger. The CAA airfield runways and houses were almost identical to those at our Gulkana project. This project was much nearer the war zone in the Aleutians and one could see this immediately upon landing there. Everything was camoflaged. A long line of P-40 fighter planes was on the runway along with some bombers.
We sat around the living room of the pilot's quarters until breakfast time July 12, when we were served a fine breakfast. There were several pilots there waiting for the weather to lighten up. The pilots were very young fellows from various parts of the U. S. I recognized one Tennesean by his drawl.
The Air Corps Commanding Officer at Naknek was a Major about 45 years of age, an Alaskan. He had run an air serV1ce north of Nome in Eskimo land before the war. He was a very experienced bush flyer and knew the Alaskan country along the Bering Sea very well. He was a short man, very mild mannered and mild spoken. Yet he spoke very much as an authority on the arctic and arctic flying. I'm sorry I did not learn his name. He told several amusing anecdotes about bush flying.
After breakfast, I went to sleep in my chair. But about 10:30 AM the pilot decided that the weather down the line was good enough. So we loaded back on the plane and took off. The ceiling at Naknek had dropped to only about 100 feet so we flew very low under the ceiling. At first we flew over Alaska Peninsula terrain much like the treeless terrain we saw yesterday. Although the land was flat directly under us, there were towering mountains in the near distance. We moved out over the Bering Sea to make sure we didn't get too near the mountains rising above us. We could see white caps on the water below us.
About 30 minutes from Naknek the fog had lowered right down to the water. so the pilot began to climb to get above it.
I have been told that a land fog will dissipate when the wind blows over the land. Sea fogs in the Aleutians often do not dissipate with wind for they continually form new fog as the wind blows. The fog we were in was not dissipating even though the wind was blowing strongly.
We climbed through thick stuff for several thousand feet until we finally broke through into bright sunshine. The fleecy cloud floor over which we then flew loQked almost smooth enough to walk on. It was much colder above the clouds and we would have been cold had not the crew turned on a heater which blew warm air out of vents in the ceiling of the cabin.
As we flew parallel with the coast of the Alaska peninsula over the Bering sea, we began to see peaks of mountains rising up out of the clouds to the south of us. First there were a few jagged lookin peaks, probably part of old Aniachak, an extinct volcano. The mountains were all covered with snow and glaciers. After a bit we saw a perfectly formed cone shaped volcano peak sticking up far above the clouds. Every two or three minutes as we passed, the mountain belched forth a dense black cloud of smoke that ascended a little above the peak until it was dissipated by the wind. This mountain had not a particle of snow on its slopes even though all the other nearby mountains were covered with snow. Apparently the slopes of this mountain were so warm that falling snow melted on the ground. I consulted a map and decided that this peak was Pavlof Volcano, 8,900 feet in altitude.
After a little while we came to another perfectly formed conical volcano even taller than Pavlof. Much snow was clinging to the slopes of this mountain. It too was belching forth smoke though not as densely as Pavlof. All around were the peaks of other extinct volcanos. I decided that this mountain must be Shishaldin volcano, 9,387 feet in altitude. If I am right in my reading of the map, we are now flying over the first big island of the Aleutian chain, Unimak Island, for Mt. Shishaldin is located on Unimak Island.
I must have been right about our location for shortly after we saw Mt. Shishaldin the pilot began letting us down through the fog. After descending for what seemed like forever we came out under the fog just above the water of the Bering Sea. We flew the rest of the trip at low altitude just over the water. In fact we were so close to the water that I could imagine I was in a boat. South of us the Aleutian Islands gazed bleakly at us through the mist. They looked just as I had seen them in pictures, very hilly with no trees at all. The mist hid the mountains down to very near their bases.
After about four hours of flying from Naknek we turned south over the strait between Unimak and Umnak Islands, preparing to land on the eastern end of Umnak Island. Soon we were directly above Fort Glenn which looked very large with buildings scattered all over hillsides for miles. We bumped along the runway about three times before the pilot was able to hold the plane down. After we were safely down, the pilot began a long taxi ride up a road at the end of the runway. We actually climbed a hill in the airplane, on the ground. Soon we stopped in front of an air depot building.
Inside the depot building we called the U. S. Engineer Department office by telephone and the office sent a truck to pick us up.
The Fort really surprises me. It is huge. It accomodates thousands of troops. It has been under construction for about 15 months. I find there are about 120 civilian employees here, most of them skilled construction specialists, housed in their own barracks separate from the military barracks. Quonset Huts, Yakutat Huts, and large K. D. (Knock Down) Huts are used for living quarters. There are a number of Mess Halls, two theatres, a bowling alley, and a number of recreation halls. The fort is still under construction. I noticed several airplane hangars still under construction. We civilians have our own Quonset Hut quarters, our own shower houses, and our own Mess Hall. Part of the Mess Hall has been turned into a recreation hall with ping pong tables and a radio receiver.
The U. S. Engineer Office is large compared with my previous experience with the U.S.E.D, with 10 or 12 men just doing clerical work. I have learned that I am to take charge of the Personnel Section. The office is arranged very nicely and I am really glad to find things fixed up on my arrival.
I am to share an office with a man named J. P. Paulson, a writer from Minneapolis/St. Paul, who writes daily reports to the Anchorage Engineering office about the progress and general happenings among the civilian workers at the Umnak Project. This was a job I used to do at the Gulkana Project I had just left. Mr. Paulson, an older man, met me at the airport arrival room and immediately began to tell me about the office politics, whom I could trust and whom I should steer clear of. He made sure I saw a "dog-eared" torn page from a book which he carried folded in his wallet. It was his listing in a book called "Famous Young Men of America!" I thought it an unusual way to be greeted on a new job.
I found upon going to work that I was not only in charge of the Personnel Section, I was the Personnel Section. I was soon very busy keeping time and payroll records for 100 or more civilian workers. I no longer took time to write a daily diary. So hereafter I have written mostly about the unusual adventures I had in spare time exploring the Island.
July 28, 1943, Fort Glenn, Umnak Island, Aleutians.
Two days ago, Sunday, July 26, three of us, Leroy Hershey, Horace Davis, and myself, seeing most unusually clear weather, decided to climb Mt. Tulik. It is a 4,100 ft. peak rising from sea level only 6 or 7 miles from the Fort. This mountain dominates our end of Umnak Island. We had to work that day but at four PM the weather still looked good. So we borrowed a truck and loaded our sleeping bags (just in case) and left about 4:00 PM.
The first part of our journey was by truck across open country, but we were stopped by impassable terrain only two miles out. Then we struck out on foot across the grassland. Of course, it is summer and grass is green with myriads of wild flowers coloring the landscape. Each of us had his bed roll tied to his back. I had my 22 caliber rifle with me and each of us had some candy bars for food.
The day was the warmest of the year. The sun shone so brightly that the temperature rose to 56 degrees F. Soon we began to sweat profusely for we were gradually climbing towards the Mt. Tulik base. For five miles we hiked over pretty grassland. The only difficult walking was through the deep gulleys cut by the small streams. These streams were only three or four feet
wide but they lay at the bottom of gulleys, or canyons, as much as a hundred feet deep. The sides of these gulleys were grassy but steep, too steep to let a motor vehicle cross them.
All around us were all kinds of wild flowers and birds. Leroy was interested in picking up specimens of every different flower he could find. He discovered several varieties he had never seen before. In the distance across the grassland we could see a large brown splotch on the landscape. Leroy said it was a herd of caribou. I didn't see how he could tell what the brown splotch was from such a distance. But as we drew near, sure enough, it was a herd of caribou (or reindeer), about 200 in number. I believe the herd is a part of the reindeer herd the U. S. Government brought to the island some years ago to be used in the economy of the Aleut natives of the island. (We learned later that the Aleut natives of Umnak Island had been been evacuated from the island in 1942 to escape a possible Japanese invasion. They were sent to Southeastern Alaska and were not allowed to return to Umnak until the war was over.)
As we drew near the herd, the reindeer sensed our approach and began milling about, running first away from us and then toward us. We approached within 200 yards of the herd and stopped to look at them. They all stopped too, to look at us. Every head in herd was turned toward us as though they we were as much of a curiosity as they. Some reindeer in the herd were brown and shaggy, some white, and some pinto colored. Several of the big bucks had magnificent antlers. These bucks stood around the sides of the herd as if guarding it. There were many cows and a few large calves. There were no small calves.
We moved on toward a bluff rising between us and the mountain itself. We had first to ascend the bluff to get to a plateau from which the base of Tulik rises.
Tulik has an abrupt steep face on the south side which we decided not to try to climb. However, the slope on the north side is much smoother and less steep. The north slope was reachable from the plateau toward which we were climbing. Climbing to the plateau at first looked like an impossible job without mountain climbing equipment. We decided that one of the canyons looked promising for reaching the plateau. At first the sides of the canyon were grassy and easy to climb. As we reached the top of the canyon and the mountain slope itself, we came to a 20 or 30 foot space which was much steeper than the rest. This steep slope was covered with loose rocks which had slid from the top of the bluff. It looked as if a slight little disturbance might start the rocks to continue their roll down the canyon wall.
We cautiously started across the rock fall. Leroy had on hob nail boots and crossed easily. Then I started across. I stopped about 1/3 of the way across to survey my route. As I put my foot down to move again it began to slip down the canyon. At first I tried to brake the slide with my feet. But instead I picked up speed. After sliding about 10 feet I went over about an 8 foot straight drop. I landed on my feet on some larger rocks and kept sliding. I was still on my feet but soon I fell down on my face and tried to stop the slide with my outstretched arms and grasping hands. About 15 feet further I came to a stop. I was unhurt except for a few scratches on my legs, arms, and hands. My clothes were ripped in several places. I picked myself up and gingerly made my way across the rest of the slide area. At the last Leroy helped me over the worst part. My rifle had been slung on my body when I fell and it was pretty well scratched up. I learned to have a healthy respect for the bluffs of that mountain.
We reached the first plateau without further trouble and began to walk upward to a higher plateau to the west. It was our purpose to climb as high as we could up towards the plateaus and then turn toward the mountain itself. There were still several canyons between us and the mountain and we wanted to cross them where they were narrow at their upper ends. As we got higher, the canyons were filled with packed snow and we had no trouble crossing them. Soon the snow on the north side of the mountain covered large fields. The snow was melting and I could could hear streams of water running under the snow.
We had gotten quite thirsty so we drank from a stream. The cold water was refreshing. After hiking about seven or eight miles from where we left our truck, we arrived at the base of the peak, about 1,000 feet altitude, at 8:00 PM. The sun was still high but it was later than we had anticipated. The climb up the last 3,000 feet to the top was steep but did not appear to be dangerous, a continuous, rather smooth slope. Leroy estimated that it would take us 45 minutes to an hour to reach the top. So we set out, leaving our bedrolls at the base in the middle of a snow field where they would be clearly visible.
The slope was very steep and covered with volcanic cinders. At times the slope approached 45 degrees and it seemed that you slid back one step for every two steps you took. There were many large porous volcanic rock among the cinders that seemed to be more firmly attached to the mountain than the cinders. So we used these rocks to keep our footing. At first I climbed as much as 100 yards without stopping. Then I had to stop to rest. I went another 100 feet and stopped to rest again. After that I climbed in 50 foot segments stopping to rest after each segment. I forged a little ahead of the others. Horace Davis was finding the going pretty tough and couldn't go as fast. Leroy Hershey was having no trouble with the climb but stayed back to help Horace, if necessary. (You see, Horace had a club foot. Despite his handicap he dreamed of climbing Mt. Tulik. I learned that Leroy had brought Horace along on this climb to give him an experience he wanted greatly and had never had a chance to do.)
I think the sight of me ahead was all that kept Horace from giving up. After climbing for almost 2 hours I still did not see the summit ahead. I was so tired I was almost ready to give up. I stepped around a big boulder that was blocking my view and saw the summit ahead. Then came the reward of all the work. I actually began to run. Here I was right on top of Mt. Tulik.
To the east I could see Fort Glenn easily and could see a bank of fog beginning to roll in from the sea to obscure the Fort. But the fog bank was only about 100 feret high and the weather above that was beautiful. It was 10:00 PM and and the sun was just beginning to set. To the southwest I could see the rest of Umnak Island where Mt. Vsevidof rose up to an altitude of 7,000 or 8,000 feet. It was covered with snow. (Mt. Tulik had no snow except the snow fields in the shadow of the sun on the north side.) Inanundak Bay was clearly visible on the Bering sea side of the island. To the south I could see far into the Pacific Ocean, and to the north I could see far into the Bering Sea. It was one day in a million, I am told, to have such good weather over the Aleutians. Down the Aleutian chain the Islands of the Four Mountains were clearly visible. These are four conically shaped volcanos rising right up out of the Bering Sea. To the northeast we could see Unalaska Island and Mt. Maskushin just above the town of Dutch Harbor.
To the north we could look right down into the old crater of the old Mt. Tulik. You see, Mt. Tulik, at one time had been an enormous volcano. It blew its top in what must have been one of the greatest explosions ever upon the face of the earth. Our Mt. Tulik was just one high point left on the crater rim after the explosion. The crater of the old mountain is about 12 miles across.
The old mountain drops off into the crater with a vertical drop of about 2,000 feet. Seven or eight miles to the east end of the crater we could see a creek or a river draining out of the crater through a break in the rim. This break in the rim along the river is the only easy way into the crater itself. The river is called "Crater River." Within the crater I could see a large lake and a smaller lake. Also I could see several small mountains rising up within the crater. Two were of perfectly conical shape and steam was floating up continuously from them. On my next hike, I would like to go into the
When we arrived at the top of the mountain, we were surprised to find two soldiers there. They had climbed Tulik from the other side from us and were afraid to start back down in the coming darkness. One of the soldiers was in his shirtsleeves. He had gotten hot on the climb and thought he would not need it until his descent. So he had left it beside the trail they had taken. A cold wind was beginning to blow and the soldier's teeth began to chatter. We invited the soldiers to descend with us and we offered to let them use parts of our sleeping bags to keep warm. It was clear that we would have to bivouac a few hours along the way until daylight arrived again.
We stayed on the summit only about ten minutes. The soldiers descended with us. It took only about 30 minutes for us to reach our bedrolls. By then it was getting quite dark. I had two sections to my sleeping bag so I loaned one section to the soldiers. We also loaned our jackets to the soldiers after we got into our sleeping bags. Thus we all endured the night trying to sleep on the pile of cinders that made up the ground. We were thirsty so we walked over to the snow bank to try to get water. During the daylight we had been able to dig a little hole in the snow and the hole would fill up with delicious water. But now we found the snow frozen and no water would fill the hole. We had to wait until the next day to get a drink of water.
We arose in daylight about 4:00 AM and found the two soldiers gone. They had left our jackets and the sleeping bag we had loaned them. We immediately resumed our hike back to the truck and reached it about 7:00 AM. I was so tired that I sank exhausted into the truck seat. Back at camp I took a shower and reported for work at the office. But I think poor Horace was laid up for a couple of days. We almost put out more physical energy than we had available.
August 14, 1943, Fort Glenn, Umnak Island, Aleutians.
There have been several nice days during the month I've been here but the average day is a day when the fog is clinging to the ground and visibility is about 100 yards. Of course, a nice day here would hardly be considered a nice day anywhere else. However, we have had two nice days that would be called nice anywhere. One was the day we climbed Tulik. The other is today!
The moon is shining brightly tonight and the dark outline of Mount Tulik and the crater stands out boldly. The air is very cool but not unpleasant. The moon shining on the shimmering waters in Umnak Pass and on the Pacific is as pretty a sight as can be seen anywhere.
The day was warm. The temperature probably rose to about 60 degrees. Usually it hangs at 40 or 50 degrees. We are very near the waters of the Pacific and the Bering Sea, so our temperature here is determined very much by the temperature of the air over these bodies of water. It hardly ever gets above 60 degrees. But on the other hand, for the same reason it hardly ever gets very cold in winter, about 15 degrees above zero.
Since I have been here, I have heard firsthand from several of the men the story of what took place here when the Japanese attacked Dutch Harbor, only 80 to 100 miles from us.
The Japanese flew directly over the camp here at Fort Glenn. There were few installations here at that time and the Japanese apparently had no knowledge of there being anything here. Some of the anti-aircraft batteries here opened up on the Japs, but most of the men present at the time, thought the Japs hardly knew they were being fired upon. One or two fighter planes stationed here went up and had a tussel with the Japs. One of our planes was knocked down and one Japanese plane was knocked down. The confusion was so great that some of the Japanese planes fired on each other. Evidently the American P-40 planes were very similar to the Japanese planes. A Japanese plane got on the tail of one of our P-40s. The P-40 couldn't shake him off. So the P-40 dived straight for the island and once over the island, the land anti-aircraft batteries drove the Japanese plane away.
Some of the civilians at Fort Glenn were frightened. Some started to pack their blanket rolls and head for the hills. Other started to furiously dig fox holes. The island is dotted with fox holes now. One doesn't dare to walk across to field in the dark. He might step in a fox hole and break a leg.
Umnak Island is actually inhabited by many foxes so I guess that is where they got the term fox hole. The foxes are very tame. I have seen many of them. Most were red foxes and were very pretty.
Once we took a trip to the north shore of the island to the shore of the Bering Sea. We crossed the largest and only river on the island. It is called Crater River and drains the huge Tulik crater. This river bed is the only known entrance to the crater. We walked up the river to a huge waterfall. The fall was very beautiful, about 80 or 90 feet high. I hope to enter the crater sometimes, but the weather was bad when we were there.
We once made a trip along the south, the Pacific, shore of the island. We went as far as Kettle Cape, a huge rocky cape, very picturesque. We walked along the shore of the Pacific and watched the huge breakers roll in. Once we even got our feet wet from an unusually big roller. All along the show there are huge pieces of drift wood. I am interested very much in knowing where the wood comes from. Very likely it comes from Japan or China along with the Japanese current. Drift wood on the Bering Sea side comes from Alaska or Russia. Albert Fraleigh and I plan to get samples borings from this drift wood and try to find where it originated. The rivers of Alaska and Russia draining into the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean probably send all the drift wood on the north shore of our island. Most of the ring structures of the trees of Alaska and Russia have been charted. Thus with samples of the ring structures of the drift wood on Umnak Island, much can be learned of the ocean currents and possibly the weather of the district.
Sept. 5, 1943, Fort Glenn, Umnak Island. Aleutians.
After two month's stay on Umnak, I am prepared to say that the weather here isn't one-half as bad as I had been told. We have had quite a few days that the sun has shone through the clouds at us. On the other hand. we have had quite a bit of fog. We haven't had much actual rain during the past month. We have had a couple of gales. When a gale comes, it usually lasts 12 hours or more. It blows steadily at 50 mph and some of the gusts are 80 or 90 mph. The buildings do plenty of shaking in winds of that kind but most of them are well tied down by being half buried in the ground.
In August I went on another mountain climbing expedition, my second time to climb Mount Tulik. I think I must be the only man on the island to have climbed Tulik twice. This time we took the entire afternoon off to make the trip. The weather was almost as good this time as it was the first time I climbed Tulik in July. We had a very large party, about 6. We got the use of
a 1/2 ton four-wheel drive weapon's carrier to take us to the foot of the mountain. We rode southwest on the road to the auxiliary air field in the center of the island. At the field. we turned directly towards the crater and drove across country. The land was slowly rising at first, soon rising steeply. The grass doesn't grow very well on this side of the island because there isn't much soil. There is only coarse volcanic cinders. Some of it was loose and very hard to pull through. We had to tack, or runs sideways and back, to get up some of the steep places. We were able to drive right to the very rim the crater at about 1,500 feet altitude.
The view into the crater was awe inspiring. It was almost straight down for 1000 feet to the bottom of the crater. It must have been almost eight miles wide and 12 miles long, rectangularly shaped. Several small cones rose inside the crater. Some of these were steaming. Old flows of lava were laying just where they had solidified where they erupted cooled. They almost looked as though they were still flowing. The crater was filled with gorgeous colors. The perpendicular sides showed many brilliant colored layers. I took a whole roll of color film there and later on the sides of Mount Tulik.
From the a edge of the crater we turned to Tulik. Mount Tulik is really part of the rim of the crater but set back rather far from the edge. We had only a about a mile to walk to reach the base. There we were surprised to find a jeep parked. The terrain was hard to walk over. It is certainly marvelous that the jeep could go that far. This time upon the mountainside I climbed for only one hour in order to reach the top. I must have been in better condition than I had been the first time. One of the boys climbed the mountain in 35 minutes with hardly a rest period. He was Carl Pothier. Vern Hershey did almost as well. Hilton Bridges and Albert Fraleigh also reached the summit before I did. Arthur Wiley was behind me. He finally made this summit after we had been there an hour.
We came upon a couple of soldiers at the top who had had a hard time climbing up. We took him back to camp with us.
We took many scenic pictures and some group pictures at the top. So now I have pictorial evidence of having climbed the mountain.
We descended quickly and got back to the truck in 30 minutes. Three of the fellows thought it would be closer and quicker to descend on the opposite side from that which we had ascended, and to walk back to camp. I knew that was not a good idea because I had done that very thing once before. We headed back to the vehicle and reached camp about 7 :30 PM. The walkers got back about midnight.
On the 30th of August we were allowed the use of an army boat for a deep sea fishing trip. The boat was a 40 ft. open tender type with a powerful gasoline engine inboard.
We took the entire afternoon off and hoped to have a good long trip. When we started the fog was thick and we had been told by telephone that we could go out, but not far from shore on account of the fog. Miraculously, the fog lifted just as we reached the departure dock and the sun came out strong and warm. We were in top spirits.
We had a hard time lowering our equipment from the dock down into the boat. You see, the tide was out, and the water was 30 or 40 feet below the top of the dock. We lowered a box of lunch for the party, and a drum of gasoline aboard, just in case we needed it. Then we were off. There were six civilians in the party and two enlisted men in the crew of the boat. Our object was to cross Umnak Pass and fish in some of the little bays along the shores of Unalaska Island. "No-Name Bay" was our immediate destination.
It was an hour's run across the pass, about 12 miles. The boat being so small was kicked around quite a lot by the waves and I wondered if I would get seasick. But no, I had not one bit of trouble in that respect.
Unalaska Island is just about like our island and "No-Name Bay" is a nice little bay, well protected from the heavy seas. There was a little cabin at the head of the bay, evidently belonging to a sheep herder or an Aleut native. It seemed to be deserted.
I was fishing with a good deep sea rod and reel. The water was about 40 feet deep at the place we were fishing. We let the boat drift across the bay and caught many fish which were laying right on the bottom of the sea. The fish were sole or small halibut.
One of the soldiers went ashore with his rifle to do a little hunting. We could go right up to the beach in the boat because the water was fairly deep even close to the beach. We ran the bow of the boat right onto the sand so the soldier could jump right out on dry land.
Later this soldier came back aboard with several big salmon he had shot in a little freshwater stream.
We went around to another bay then. We had fished their hardly any time until something big struck my line and took line, sinker, and hook, and left me holding only the rod. Later another fellow also lost his line. Some were fishing with hand lines.
One of the soldiers began to haul in frantically on his hand line. Once it looked as though he were going to be pulled overboard. When we saw his arms being pulled so hard we knew he had a big one. He finally got it to the surface near the boat. Two fellows tried to gaff it and both missed. The soldier pulled the fish on aboard with the hand the line. It was a halibut which weighed out at 75 pounds. It was the biggest fish I had ever seen, and the biggest most amateurs could hope to catch.
We fished for a couple of hours until dark and then started for home. When we started back across the pass the water was a little more rough for the wind was blowing harder. We were tossing around quite a bit. Far away and faintly we could see the lights on the dock at Umnak, our destination. Before we went one-third of the way across the wind increased and the sea began to run very high. Waves began to splash completely over us. We were rolling and tossing very much. I had on my typhoon suit and was well protected from the spray and water. The further we went the worst the waves got. Several times the bow of the boat went off the tall end of a wave almost out into space. Then the boat would come down with a loud wham and we would quiver from stem to stem. Some of the waves slapped so hard against us it sounded like a cannon had fired. Slowly we made headway and finally got in to the dock. We were none the worse for the ordeal. It had taken us two hours to re-cross the pass and sometimes we had wondered if we were going to make it at all.
In November 1943 my draft board in far away Washington, D.C. notified me by mail that I would no longer be deferred from military service to perform work in Alaska. I had a week or two before my classification would actually be changed. What should I do? I could notify my draft board that my address had changed to a location in Alaska. Then they would arrange to draft me into military service from Alaska. This would give me time to make a deal with a Corps of Engineers unit in Alaska and possibly be assigned to that unit. On the other hand, I had not seen my folks at home (they now lived in Nashville, Tennessee) for almost two years. I wanted a visit home. So I decided to apply for transportation back to the States so I could visit my folks in Nashville. Then I could give my location as Nashville and be drafted into military service from Nashville. That was my choice. I notified my draft board of my intentions.
I immediately applied for transportation back to Seattle. The Military air service would deliver me to Seattle, Washington. Once there, I would be on my own to get to Nashville by rail. I was replaced in my job by an Army Non-Commissioned Officer. Then I packed my bags in order to wait for air transportation back to Anchorage. That took a wait of several days for my travel was lower priority than that of military people on active duty. Each day I would go to work in my office with my bags ready to depart on a moment’s notice. Reaching Anchorage in late November (it was quite cold and snowy there), I was assigned to a bunk in a barracks near Elmendorf Airfield, again to await my turn to travel to Seattle as a low priority traveler. This waiting time was nearly two weeks, during which time I did my best to amuse myself by reading, going to movies, and friendly talk with fellow travelers.
My eventual flight to Seattle in early December was an adventure in itself. Again it was in a C-47 passenger/cargo plane. We departed Anchorage with all the seats full and a full load of cargo tied down in the wide aisle between the seats. We were scheduled for two stops on the way to Seattle, one at Annette Airfield on the mainland at the northern end of the Inland Passage, and a second stop at an airfield near Ketchikan, Alaska. Each airfield was reported to have extremely long (10,000 foot) runways. At Annette Airfield we landed and took on two or three more passengers and their baggage was piled atop the already crowed cargo space. These new passengers had no seats! So they stood up! Once in the air they found places to sit on the cargo! At the Ketchikan Airfield, we landed and took on a couple more passengers and their baggage! By anyone’s standards we were far overloaded. The reason the pilot allowed this overloading, I am told, is the magnificent carrying capacity of the C-47 airplane and the availability of the extra long runways at the airfields enroute. I remember that the pilot asked the standing passengers to walk to the front end of the aircraft on take off. After take off they could try to make themselves comfortable wherever they wished. The last hop from Ketchikan to Seattle, the pilot took the C-47 to 15,000 foot altitude to assure safety above the 14,000 foot mountains on the way. The Pilots took oxygen for that hop while the passengers were checked to see if anyone got sick from lack of oxygen. Over Seattle, the weather was poor so the plane maintained 15,000 feet altitude until it was directly over Seattle, then spiraled directly down over the airport. My ears stopped up and didn’t return to normal for about a week. When the Pilot came into the passenger compartment after the flight, he called on the passengers to sing “God Bless America!”
It was almost 40 years later before I got to Alaska again. And then my wife and I enjoyed life there for several years.
An excerpt from the Autobiography of Francis M. Perry, born 1921.