How I Got Embedded in Company F, 176th Regiment of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska, 1942/43.
By F. M. Perry.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl
Harbor on December 7, 1941, I was a 20 year old college engineering student
ready to enter my third year at college. I had temporarily dropped out of
college because of lack of funds, but had just landed a job as a Junior
Clerk-Typist (lowest entry rating) at the War Department in Washington, D.C.
Because of the U. S. entry into the war, I had every expectation of soon being
drafted into much more active military service than that of civilian
The first person I met in the Seattle Office was Mr. Weiss. I handed him my letter and told him I was reporting for duty. After reading the letter, Mr. Weiss told me that the Officer who had written the letter to me had been transferred elsewhere and that he had failed to notify anyone that I was coming! He referred me to Mr. Dodge who interviewed me and had me fill out an application for work in Anchorage, Alaska. Then he told me that I would have to wait for a reply. At this point Mr. Weiss took pity on me. Realizing that I was in a new city far from home and without income or a job, he offered to put me to work temporarily as a clerk-typist in the Mail and Records Division there in the Seattle office. I accepted but told him plainly that my goal was to find work in Alaska. I found a place to live in Seattle and began work for Mr. Weiss.
After about a month in Seattle without anything definite from my Alaska application, I was becoming dissatisfied. I felt that I had been misled to come to Seattle to get stuck again in a clerk-typist job with little or no assurance of ever getting to Alaska. By simply walking around among the offices and talking to fellow workers I learned that a training school was conducted for field clerks who had been hired to serve in Alaska. This school was about two weeks long after which the trained people were sent to projects in Alaska. After having been there a month, why hadn't I been told about these training classes? (Eventually I realized that I had not been purposely left out of the classes, but that everything was in such chaotic condition that many of the supervisory personnel did not know about the training classes.)
I decided on my own to absent myself part of each day from my regular work in the Mail and Records Section in order to sit in on these classes. I reasoned that if my own boss should fire me for going to the classes on my own, I would be no worse off than I already was. But how could I get into the training classes? I learned the hours and the place of the classes, so I just went to the first class and took a seat. I expected to be challenged but the instructor apparently didn't know any of us in the class. I partook of the entire two week training session with no complaint from anyone!
At the end of the training, of course, my intrusion into the class became known because I was not destined as were the others for a project in Alaska. However, there still was no complaint from anyone. So, when a new class with new members was formed the next week, I appeared again for training. My appearance for the second set of training sessions apparently got some behind the scenes action. I continued to be welcomed into the class and my boss in the Mail and Records Section came to me to discuss a job as a field clerk in Alaska. Before the second training session was over I was officially placed among the candidates to go to Alaska!
At that point, after so much chaos and lack of communication in the Seattle office concerning my case, I was not at all certain when or if I would actually go, but I became much more hopeful.
I continued to work in Mail and Records, waiting to hear more about the particulars of my future job in Alaska. One day in early June, 1942, Mr. Jenne, my supervisor, called me over to speak with him. He said very simply that my new job would be at the CAF-5 level and I would be departing by troop ship very shortly. I was stirred emotionally but apparently I didn't show any reaction. Mr. Jenne asked me what was the matter, didn't I realize he was offering me twice my present salary? I gave him a big grin for that. I had been ranked as a CAF-2 clerk-typist and now I was to be ranked a CAF-5 field clerk. The salary, with 25% extra for serving in Alaska, was truly double my previous salary.
On the day of my departure from Seattle I again started making daily notes in my diary.
Tuesday, June 16, 1942, enroute to Alaska.
Today is the day set for my departure to Alaska. I have determined to keep a diary during my stay in Alaska, so my effort starts. The day has been "profitably" spent in the Trainee Center at the U. S. Engineer Office and in shopping in downtown Seattle. I purchased high leather boots and some rain wear (parts of Alaska are rumored to be quite wet.) I am to report to the troopship S. S. William L. Thompson at the Seattle Port of Embarkation for a 10:00 PM departure. After saying goodby to the office force in the Mail and Records Section and receiving a few further instructions, I went home to Mr. Bunn's house to finish packing.
Mrs. Bunn took me to the ship tonight. At 10:00 PM I checked my baggage into my quarters which were designated DDSR. I eventually found out that DDSR meant the D-Deck Squad Room. Mr. Westerdahl of the U. S. Engineer Office was there to give me a few more instructions and the information that the ship would not actually leave until 6:00 AM the next morning. However, I went aboard to try to find my quarters in the DDSR.
I finally found it on the third deck down occupied by twelve Staff and First Sergeants and four civilians. The civilians were other field clerks going to various U. S. Engineer projects. I met Mr. Paul White destined for Tetlin. Alaska, and Mr. Potter and another man destined for Anchorage, Alaska.
We have no portholes in our quarters and very little light. I turned in and slept for a while. The ship. formerly a floating salmon cannery. has been converted to a combined cargo and troop transport. It is still being loaded with some trucks, armored cars, carryalls, Caterpillar tractors. field guns, and ammunition being tied down on the open deck. The ship carries one 6 inch gun on the bow, a 75 MM gun on the stern, and four 50 caliber antiaircraft machine guns.
Wednesday. June 17, 1942. enroute to Alaska aboard the S. S. William L. Thompson.
At approximately 8:00 AM the ship got underway, cleared the dock, and moved out into Puget Sound. When about 10 miles out into the Sound and around a point of land concealing the view back to Seattle. the ship began to go around in big circles. For the rest of the day we went around in circles. I finally found out that the purpose of these maneuvers was to "box the compass". At about 6:00 PM we straightened out and headed north up the Sound. When I went to bed in the DDSR that night we were proceeding north at about 10 knots. the normal speed of the ship.
Thursday, January 18, 1942, enroute to Alaska aboard the S. S. William L. Thompson.
On reaching the deck this morning I perceived that we were proceeding south. undoubtedly heading back to Seattle. Sure enough. at about noon we pulled back into Seattle and tied up at a pier near where we had started. It seems that a generator had "gone out" threatening ruin to the contents of the the ship's refrigeration unit. Since we are carrying about 500 troops. it is necessary that the generator providing electrical power to the refrigeration be in good order. Supposedly no one was allowed to leave the ship. No one knew how long the repairs would take. Late in the afternoon I learned definitely that the ship would not leave Seattle until the early hours of the next morning. And I found that we civilians could get off the ship with our passes, so Mr. White and I went into town to the U. S. Engineer office in the Textile Building. We returned to the ship about 10:00 PM.
On board I met Captain Scott T. Childress. commanding officer of F Company, 176th Regiment, who is to be my boss at our project in Alaska. Aboard the ship are all the troops and officers of the 176th Regiment. Corps of Engineers. along with all the construction tools and equipment .and material to erect several Army bases. The troops sleep on double decker bunks erected in the cargo holds. They cook their own meals on army field kitchen equipment erected on deck. The rest of us: commissioned Army officers, higher ranking Army sergeants, the Navy gun crew of officers and men, Army Transportation Service officers, mixed Navy and Merchant Marine crew, and civilian passengers are all quartered in staterooms and squad rooms throughout the ship. We eat in shifts in a dining room. The cooks and stewards, who serve everyone except the troops, are Filippino men. Our meals are very good, with breakfast at 7:30 AM, lunch at 11:30 AM, and supper at 4:30 PM. We have many hours of daylight after supper for it doesn't get dark until 10:00 PM.
Friday, June 19, 1942, enroute to Alaska aboard the S. S. William L. Thompson.
We were still tied up in Seattle this morning, finally getting away about 11:00 AM. At Port Angeles, Washington, a small boat came alongside and picked up our harbor pilot. The first portion of our voyage is to be via the inland passage of protected waterways behind the islands along the Pacific coast of Canada. The water was very smooth all day except for a short interval of rolling waves as we passed the straits to the open Pacific around the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula.
At about 8:00 PM we got a fine view of Mount Baker in the sunlight. We are among some beautiful islands. The weather is clear and very cool. Just after dark we saw the lights of a city which we assumed was Vancouver, British Columbia.
Saturday, June 20, 1942, enroute to Alaska aboard the S. S. William L. Thompson.
This morning the sky was overcast with low hanging clouds. We were in a narrow passage between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. During the day we passed several small towns whose main industries seemed to be fishing and/or lumbering. The islands are heavily wooded. At one town we saw a cemetery with several totem poles in it, indicating the presence of Indians in that town. The passage became very narrow at times, no doubt taking much skill on the part of the pilot to keep us in the channel. Some large mountains on Vancouver Island rise right up from the waters edge. These mountains are timbered all the way to the top and some had a little snow on top. Several of the passengers tried to estimate the heights of the mountains rising up beside the channel. I guessed they were about 2,000 feet while others guessed about 6,000 feet. The question was settled when we found out the chart listed them between 3,500 and 5,000 feet.
After supper tonight we came to the northern end of Vancouver Island and again we could see out into the Pacific Ocean. There is a slight swell coming in and the ship is rolling gently. About 10:00 PM the sun began to set in very beautiful colors. At 11:00 PM however it is not completely dark.
A small warship has appeared on our Port side. Some one said it is a sub-chaser. I suppose it is to act as an escort until we get through the open part of our route and get back in the inland passage again. Our ship is blacked out completely.
Sunday, June 21, 1942, enroute to Alaska aboard the S. S. William L. Thompson.
This morning we were back in the inland passage again. Mountains rose straight up out of the channel to estimated heights of 2,000 or 3,000 feet. Many had snow still clinging to them on their north slopes. For most of the day we were passing Princess Royal Island and Pitt Island on the port side with the mainland on the starboard side. At 10:45 AM we had church services on the main deck. The chaplain, a Major, gave a short talk marked by its non-conformity to any particular religion.
We had a life boat drill this afternoon. I had to first go to my room, the DDSR, and get my life jacket, and then go to my lifeboat. The troops, some 500 in number, do not have lifeboats but they have a large number of rafts tied to the sides of the ship ready to be cut away.
About 8:00 PM we passed a town on the Port side which we decided must be Prince Rupert. At this point there was quite a sizable gap between the islands on the port side and the open ocean could be seen. About 10:00 PM a warship similar to the one we had seen yesterday came in from the open sea and moved along our port side sending blinker code messages for quite a while. Then it cut across our bow and headed back out to sea.
The sunset tonight is very beautiful. When I went below at 11:30 PM it was still quite light outside. The day has been nice, a few clouds overhead, and quite cool. We expect to make Ketchikan, Alaska in the morning.
Monday, June 22. 1942, enroute to Alaska aboard the S. S. William L. Thompson.
When I awoke this morning we were just pulling out of Ketchikan, having arrived there about 4:30 AM. I hurried to the deck and got a glimpse of Ketchikan as we pulled out. It is supposed to be one of the larger towns in Alaska, but looked to be very small with only a few houses dotted here and there. From what I saw and have heard about Ketchikan I estimated its size at about 2,500 people.
All morning we were in a very narrow passage, almost like a river. The islands are now more numerous making more than one inland passage available. This afternoon the ship headed out from the extreme inner passage to another passage closer to the open ocean. At one point we could see out to sea and the ship began to roll gently in the swells.
Tonight it doesn't look as if there will be any darkness at all. We were all ordered below deck at 10:45 PM. We were just coming abreast of Baronof Island on the port side.
We had a news bulletin today that a Japanese submarine had shelled Vancouver Island from the Pacific side on Saturday night. No doubt we were in the inland passage behind Vancouver Island when the shelling took place. We are on the alert now. The Sergeants who occupy the DDSR with me are on guard on the deck tonight. A strict blackout is ordered but it seems strange to blackout in broad daylight.
We had another lifeboat drill this afternoon and it worked much more smoothly. I have been given the job of cutting the line from the lifeboat to the ship if the boats have to be manned.
We have passed very few boats today and the only town was Ketchikan. It seems that this country is very sparsely settled, typical of what I have heard about Alaska
Tuesday, June 23, 1942, enroute to Alaska, aboard the S. S. William L. Thompson.
This morning we were still in the inland poassage. The mountains, rising right up out of the water with some of last year's snow still clinging near the top, make magnificent scenery. This morning we carne in sight of several very high mountains with glaciated caps.
Just after lunch at about 1:00 PM we met another patrol boat just off a little island called Treasure Island. Our ship cut its engines and drifted up to the gunboat to pick up orders for how the ship should proceed for the rest of the journey. Evidently we were corning near to the end of the inside passage from whence we had to proceed through the open Gulf of Alaska. However, the little gunboat just told us to proceed to the mouth of Icy Straits and there another gunboat would give us our orders. We met the other gunboat at the appointed place. The gunboat carne alongside and and our orders were given orally over a megaphone. They were "to proceed coastwise and zigzag."
The guns on the ship were stripped for action and everyone aboard was put on the alert. We understand that Japanese submarines have been sighted off the coast of Canada. While the gunboat was communicating with the ship a trim pursuit plane equipped with pontoons zoomed overhead as if to give us a reassuring gesture. Then we put out to the open sea and began to zigzag as instructed.
As we were coming out of the straits, we got a glimpse of a huge glacier coming down off of a tall mountain almost to the water's edge. The mountain, we decided, must be Mount Crillon and the sea level glacier must be in Glacier Bay National Monument. Later when we were in the open sea we got a much better view of Mount Crillon and we could also make out Mount Fairweather and Mount Root. Several large glaciers came down the sides of the muntains, one of which ended with an abrupt drop into the sea. The mountains were very near as we were only 7 or 8 miles offshore. They rose up abruptly from the waters edge to heights of 12,000 to 15,000 feet. From early afternoon until 11:00 PM we could see these peaks so plainly we felt that we could almost touch them.
Two more times today planes were sighted. One, a Lockheed bomber, flew low above the ship as it passed. We passed one big freighter with a gunboat escort and then another freighter alone.
Again this afternoon we had a lifeboat drill. We are in extremely dangerous waters. Jap submarines have been known to have shelled Vancouver Island and the Oregon coast to the south of us. It is rumored that some ships have been sunk in the northern Pacific. The "gunners" and the "spotters" have been augmented with twelve more "spotters" to watch for planes and submarines. Six of the new spotters are to be stationed on the stern, and six on the bow. Everyone is required to carry his life belt at all times. I am going on duty as a spotter at midnight tonight. I will be on duty one hour and off duty 3 hours from now until we reach port about noon Thursday.
There is a slight swell and the ship is rolling gently. I don't expect it to get dark at all tonight. The sun will go down about midnight and stay just below the northern horizon giving a degree of daylight until it rises again about 4:00 AM.
Wednesday, June 24, 1942, enroute to Alaska, aboard the S. S. William L. Thompson.
We steamed all morning on a zigzag course through the open sea. Three ships were spotted ahead of us going in the same direction as we. They were faster than we and by afternoon were out of sight. We were about 20 or 30 miles off shore but the beautiful snow and glacier covered mountains were easily visible in the sunshine all day. It was quite a warm day. I stood five watches today. About 3:00 PM we came abreast of Kayak Island and shortly afterward we rounded Cape Saint Elias. Again today a Lockheed bomber flew over the ship and the gunner waved at us. We still kept a sharp watch for submarines and airplanes.
About 5:00 PM this afternoon we entered Prince William Sound just off Cordova, Alaska. The ship's speed was cut to half and we seem to be waiting for something, possibly a pilot to take us in to Valdez, Alaska, our destination. We should make Valdez by breakfast time tomorrow, I suppose. The submarine danger is over since we are in the limited waterways of Prince William Sound. The spotters have been withdrawn from their watches. However, since the Japs have invaded the Aleutian Islands, there is danger of an air attack even in Prince William Sound. So the anti-aircraft machine guns have been uncovered and loaded. Several seals have stuck their heads up around the ship tonight. It is to be another dark-less night and the daylight will remain for some time I suppose. We are ,almost at journey's end and everyone is quite glad.
Thursday, June 25, 1942, enroute to Alaska aboard the S. S. William L. Thompson.
This morning when I awoke we were tied up in Valdez. At first glance there didn't seem to be any town at all, just a sprinkling of houses here and there. The town is surrounded by tall snow covered mountains. A glacier comes down almost into the backyards. The mosquitos are out and we began to remember the warnings about Alaskan mosquitos. When it rains the mosquitos seem to go away, so I don't care if we have a lot of rain. We expected to leave by road to our ultimate destination, Gulkana, Alaska, this morning so I packed my bags ready to leave. But it was a false alarm. I learned that our commanding officer, Captain Childress, had decided to stay on board and wait until all the project supplies are unloaded from the ship. It may take a few days for that.
This afternoon several of us from the ship went on a hike, expecting to walk to the glacier behind the town of Valdez. We found it to be much further away than we at first estimated so we had to turn back when only about half way there.
Friday, June 26, 1942, Valdez, Alaska.
It has been a full day of unloading the ship. We remain quartered on the ship. I doubt that we will be ready to leave for Gulkana even by tomorrow. This morning it is raining so there is relief from mosquitos. I spent the morning writing letters and postcards. This afternoon I did my first real work by making a list of all the equipment on board that is being unloaded for our project at Gulkana. Tonight I went to the one and only Valdez picture show.
Prices are high here, especially for food. Clothing, however, is quite reasonable. There was another ship in the harbor this morning and the town was full of people all day.
Sunday, July 5, 1942, camped at Dry Creek, Alaska, on Project site.
(This is my first diary entry in nine days.) We are now getting Company F of the 176th Engineer Regiment situated so that work can begin on a base to house troops. First we will set up housing for the Engineer Company, then we will build a complete permanent base for a troop garrison. We are now camped in tents next to the Richardson Highway near a CAA airfield about nine miles south of the village of Gulkana. Captain Scott T. Childress is the Resident Engineer and Commanding Officer of Company F. First Lieutenant Moore, First Lieutenant Bostick, and Second Lieutenant Jackson serve under Captain Childress. One other officer, Captain Davis, a medical doctor is also with us. The work crews are all enlisted men with experienced Sergeants of the first three grades serving as foremen for various work crews. It happens that I am the only civilian on our project. Of necessity I must live and work with Company F personnel. I find friendly acceptance of this fact but I must accept a lot of teasing. For instance, the Mess Sergeant calls me the resident draft dodger.
Captain Davis, the medical doctor, and I are quartered in the same tent. We sleep on folding cots with down filled sleeping bags for bedding. We have mosquito netting hung around our cots to protect us from the mosquitos. We have mosquito head nets to protect us outdoors during the day. The mosquitos are really not so bad in the cleared camp area but are almost overwhelming in the bush. For the first few days we ate our meals outdoors, prepared on outdoor field cooking equipment, and served in our own mess kits. Now there is a dining tent with table and chairs set up for the officers with whom I dine. Incidentally, I pay the same for my meals, 70 cents per day, as do the officers. My housing is free.
We left Valdez July 1st. For the ride north on the Richardson Highway to the vicinity of Gulkana I rode in the back of a four ton truck and the ride was rather bumpy. The highway, of course, was unpaved and the dust caused us the most discomfort. After we came over the coastal mountains onto the dry plateau, the dust really boiled up. The camp was already set up when I got there, bedside the Richardson Highway at a place which would become known as Dry Creek.
I have an office set up in a tent with the Company clerk. I have put in three days of work and I hope to soon get things organized better. Some of the details of my work are rather hazy and there is no one here to tell me how or what to do. I will look for ways to be helpful to the Resident Engineer.
A truck supply line is being run continuously bringing supplies and building materials from the Port of Valdez to our camp at Dry Creek. It is a relatively slow process for the Company has only 7 or 8 trucks, mostly of the 2 1/2 ton, 10 wheel variety. There will probably be another month of hauling before all the material for our project is here.
Here near our camp site we already have a fine airport in the final stages of construction by a civilian firm. It is being built under the auspices of the Civil Aeronautic Authority. By the size of the runways and the fine buildings being constructed, I would expect a lot of air activity in the near future. There are no airplanes or airport personnel there as yet, however.
Nine miles north up the Richardson Highway on the Gulkana River lies the village of Gulkana where we receive and pick up our mail. Gulkana consists of several log buildings and a tent camp of a civilian construction contracting firm. One very big three story log building houses hotel, cafe, general store, candy counter. etc. It is known as the Gulkana Roadhouse. A huge copper nugget serves as a bench near the door of the roadhouse. Across the river are visible a few cabins, the Indian village of Gulkana.
Yesterday I hiked two or three miles to the east of our camp to the banks of the Copper River. I made the hike to the river without benefit of a trail. On the river bank I found the bare tent poles of an old Indian village and an old trail which I followed back to a point very near our camp. While at the river I took a much needed bath in the icy waters.
Today I went out with a group of soldiers to do some target shooting with Garand rifles. This was the first time I had ever fired a rifle more powerful than a 22 caliber.
We have a fine view to the east of camp of Mount Drum (12.000 feet) and Mount Sanford (16,000 feet). This view gives me constant inspiration and serves as an orientating landmark when the weather is good.
Monday. July 6. 1942. Dry Creek, Alaska.
About 4:00 AM rain began to fall and it continued all day until about 5:00 PM. The dust which was so terrible yesterday is slushy mud today. The road which a bulldozer had cut in to our camp is now a quagmire.
After supper tonight a soldier came in from the Richardson Highway and asked the use of a truck with a winch to pull his truck out of mud in which it had become stuck. Not having a truck available. Lieutenant Jackson. the officer in charge during the evening. decided to help by pulling his truck out with the Company armored half track vehicle. The half track vehicle weighs 9 tons. While maneuvering to get connected to the mired truck, the shoulder of the road gave way under the weight of the half track. Down it went on one side and the front wheel became buried beyond the hub in the soft bank by the road. With both front and rear drive and lowest gear, the half track was unable to budge. (Incidentally. the heavy halftrack appeared to be useless in negotiating the Alaskan terrain.) Another truck with a winch had to be brought over to pullout the mired vehicles.
Yesterday some of the soldiers went hunting with their army rifles. Their total haul from hunting was one owl and one grouse. I don't think these soldiers are very experienced in hunting.
Today I put in a full day at work in the Orderly tent which I occupy with the Company clerk. With a fire roaring in the little tent stove and a gasoline pressure lantern for light, we were very cozy even though it was cold and wet outside.
Often at night we can hear wolves howling. I can hear one just now. Another is answering. It doesn't sound a bit out of place or out of the ordinary.
Thursday, September 17, 1942, Dry Creek, Alaska.
It has been more than two months since I made my last diary entry. Very much has happened since July 6, 1942. We were living in tents then and just beginning on a winterized construction camp. Typically, after we had erected several of our KD (knockdown) Yakutat Huts which we are to live in, we had to move them because they were erected in the wrong places. Finally it was decided where the camp would be located. The location is very fine to my way of thinking. It is near Dry Creek (which is usually not dry) with a steep hill sloping down from the camp to the creek. (Although the land here is generally flat, creeks lie in deep ravines that the creeks have cut out over the years. Geologically, Alaska is relatively young and the sides of the stream valleys have not yet been worn down as they are in the eastern United States.) The steep bank of a few hundred feet will be an excellent place for a down-hill ski run this winter.
We now have all the Yakutat Huts built and have moved into them. These huts measure 16 feet by 16 feet. I am sharing one with Captain Davis, the medical officer. Each hut serves 2 commissioned officers or 8 enlisted men. The beds are all double decker bunks in order to conserve as much space as possible. I feel sorry for the enlisted men for the huts are not much room for eight people. The enlisted men's huts are heated with big pot-bellied stoves right in the middle of the hut. These stoves burn coal which is delivered in burlap bags by truck. The officer's huts are heated with diesel oil burning stoves set up in the middle of each hut. These huts are much more convenient than tents but are far from the furnished apartments that most of us lived in before the war.
Our mess hall, large enough to cook for and seat the entire Company, has been completed, the cooking ranges and the refrigerator have been installed and, most recently, pot-bellied stoves have been installed to heat the dining area. We have tables for all to eat on now and everything is becoming relatively convenient. A water well is being drilled next to the Mess Hall. The well driller, hired locally, is having difficulty with the well. He drilled about 170 feet deep, without hitting water, at which point he broke a piece of well casing and had to start over in a different spot. He is down to 170 feet again, but no one knows when he will hit water. He has been drilling for two months now.
When we get water we will dig trenches for the pipelines, burying them about 8 feet deep, to our bathhouses. It may be necessary to lay the pipes in wooden housings to keep them from freezing. I hope we can get water to the bath houses soon because we sure can use them. When it was warm we bathed in the creek. But now we have to bath from a small pan in our quarters. Some of the enlisted men have taken empty 55 gallon steel drums and cut them to form short bath tubs. They are very pleased with them.
Three warehouses have been completed and they have already been filled and refilled as construction has progressed. I am personally in charge of two of the warehouses and they were keeping so busy I had little time left to file reports to the U. S. Engineer Office in Anchorage. Captain Childress has now detailed Tech. Corporal Matthews to help me. Corporal Matthews is a fine fellow from south Texas.
The administration building is now finished. It is paneled inside with plywood which makes a very beautiful interior. It has two diesel oil stoves in it which is more than enough heat for the fall weather we are having. (No snow has fallen as yet.) The building has two rooms, the first of which both I and Captain Childress share as offices. A large room in the back houses drafting tables and a shop. At present Staff Sergeant Hodges and I are building a snowmobile there.
The construction camp is now finished except for a second mess hall and a second bath house. These originally planned additional buildings are not needed for the present staff so they are not being built.
Across the road to the west from the construction camp we are now completing the permanent troop garrison. Infantry troops, now living in tents, will soon take over this new base. The barracks buildings are Quonset Huts. They are all metal buildings, with a 16 feet by 36 feet floor plan, with oval shaped roofs. There are some larger Quonset huts to be used for hospital wards and clinics. They all have diesel oil stoves for heating. All of the Quonset huts are now completed.
The permanent garrison mess hall is almost finished and work is being done on bath houses, warehouses, cold storage building, and the electric power house. The machinery for the cold storage building has not arrived as yet. It has been decided that the sewage system will not be installed until next summer. Unlike many of the construction camp building which are setup without disturbing the ground, the permanent garrison buildings are all being erected on concrete foundation pads.
It has been discovered that the entire area on which the garrison is being built has frozen subsoil anywhere from two to six feet beneath it. This frozen subsoil is insulated from the warm summer sun by layers of moss, thick bushes and trees. Most of the trees are spruce and poplar with root systems limited to the top layers of soil because of the frozen ground beneath. Consequently the growth of the trees is stunted to about thirty feet. The logs are are too short to build houses. A few log houses in Gulkana are built with large logs retrieved from the river banks where the ground is not frozen.
The summer here was very pleasant with only a few hot days. About four weeks ago we began to have cooler weather and the fall began. The poplar trees were so crimson a week ago that the woods seemed to be on fire. The crimson leaves are gone now. The spruce evergreen trees never seem to change. We had our first frost about ten days ago. Then we had a cold snap one morning when the temperature reached 15 degrees F. But last night with the temperature just above freezing we had a hard rain. This morning the mud is knee deep and trucks have a hard time getting around at all.
I have been hunting with a borrowed rifle several times since we arrived at Dry Creek. But the only game I have gotten is one grouse. When we go hunting with small caliber 22 rifles we usually take along a heavy caliber army rifle for protection should we come upon any bears. We see plenty of bear and moose tracks on our short hunting excursions. Periodically a bear raids our garbage dump. Some of the men have seen him but no one has gotten a shot at him. We have seen lots of ducks in the air and on nearby lakes. We have not tried to shoot them, however, since we have only the 25 caliber army rifles or civilian type 22 caliber rifles.
About four weeks ago I was called in to the Anchorage U. S. Engineer office in order to meet the staff on the other end of my reports and to get .further instructions. Although Anchorage lay almost due west of Dry Creek, there was no road in that direction. (Construction was just starting on the Glenn Highway from a point on the Richardson Highway near Dry Creek to Palmer in the Matanuska Valley. By the next summer the Glenn Highway was sufficiently complete for four wheel drive trucks to use it.) And there was no regular air transportation out of our airfield which was still under construction. So I started my trip by hitching a ride on a truck northward on the Richardson Highway, first to Big Delta, then another truck further north to Fairbanks. In Fairbanks I checked in to a little hotel at Ladd Field (called Hotel deGink) and tried to get a ride on a military plane to Anchorage. But I was told that nothing was available. So I purchased a round trip ticket via Lavery Airlines to Anchorage. With the ticket I was ready to continue my trip, but bad weather set in and I found myself marooned in Fairbanks for three days.
Fairbanks is a very nice little town, very modern, nice hotels, restaurants, nice stores, picture shows, and a number of saloons. There are a number of residences on several streets closely surrounding the downtown streets. A slough from the Chena River runs right through downtown. Seaplanes land on the river and then taxi right in to the main part of town. But for three days of waiting it got monotonous. All I could do was walk around, spend money, and go to the picture show at night.
Finally the weather lifted and I was notified that my flight was ready. During the three day shut down because of the weather, Lavery Airlines had an unusually large number of passengers waiting. So I was taken aboard a small two engine Lockheed Electra (ten or twelve passengers) that Lavery borrowed from Pan American. We made the trip of about 350 miles in about one hour and fifty minutes. Our flight path took us along and over the Alaska Railroad most of the way, at about 4500 feet altitude through mountain passes where surrounding mountains were much higher than we were. We flew over the eastern edge of Mt. McKinley National Park with beautiful sights of the great Alaska Range.
The city of Anchorage is a little bigger than Fairbanks but not as compact a city. There are many young people living in Anchorage and working for the U. S. Government. In addition, nearby Fort Richardson has a large contingent of soldiers. Anchorage seemed to be a little more of a fun place than Fairbanks although Anchorage had only one picture show to Fairbank's two. The U. S. Engineer Office in Anchorage was big with a number of young ladies working there. These ladies of Fairbanks and Anchorage were the first women I had seen since leaving Seattle on the troop/cargo ship.
I left Anchorage aboard a Lavery Airlines Waco Cabin plane, just the pilot and I. We took off from a grass strip that ran parallel to and only a few blocks from the main downtown street of Anchorage. Just prior to our take off we witnessed a near collision between a landing plane and another plane taking off. Once we got in the air it was fun threading our way up through the mountain passes with me in the co-pilot's seat right next to the pilot. It took us two hours and fifteen minutes to make the trip back to Fairbanks.
From Fairbanks I found another army truck on which I could ride to Big Delta. From there I as able to hitch a ride with a civilian truck back to our camp at Dry Creek.
Last night (September 16, 1942) an Army bomber made a forced landing on our CAA airfield (later to be known as the Glen Allen airport). The field was not open to receive traffic as heavy as bombers for the runways had not been hard surfaced. But the bomber dropped a flare over the field alerting some of our men who then drove several trucks to ther edge of the runway and outlined the runway with the truck headlights. The bomber then landed successfully. It had been on a mission bombing Japanese installations in the Aleutian Islands. There were a number of bullet holes in the plane. The fliers stayed all night with us and had dinner with us today. They said they bombed the Japs while they were lined up in their chow line for supper. They were a little concerned about their take off today because the runway was quite soft and muddy. But the take off was successful. This incident brought the war a little closer to us. It is the first time we have seen any air traffic directly from the war zone of Alaska's Aleutian Islands.
The weather is above freezing today, overcast with clouds, and the mud is terrible.
Monday, September 21. 1942. Dry Creek. Alaska.
The wind is blowing very hard from the south today and has been blowing for three days. Along with the wind there is rain and the roads are almost impassable from the mud. Then mud in the road is knee deep. We wear rubber boots or arctic overshoes and try to ignore the mud. Of course the floors of our houses are just black with mud. An soon as the mud freezes we will wash the floors, I guess.
I am busy banking up dirt and moss around the little house that Captain Davis and I occupy. Then floor has several large cracks in it. The dirt banked around the outer walls of the house should prevent cold air from coming up into the house through the cracks. In am also putting an extra layer of insulation around the interior walls of the house.
Word had goten out that the "roadhouse" at Copper Center had four 22 caliber rifles for sale. Last night I went down to Copper Center to purchase one of the rifles. When I got there, Pete. the proprietor, said that one man had already come in and bought all four of the rifles. I left, having bought only a pair of boot socks.
Copper Center is famous for the fact that the great pioneering pilot, Wiley Post, once landed and spent the night there. Later Wiley Post, with Will Rogers as his passenger, landed in Copper Center again just before departing for Point Barrow. They crashed just short of Point Barrow and both great men lost their lives.
I have not received mail in several days and the U. S. Engineer troops have not received mail for several weeks. I suppose the weather is too bad for air mail to get through. I suppose the weather is too bad for air mail to get through.
The project is advancing very well and the Infantry troops will soon be moving into their garrison.
Early November, 1942, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Early in November I had an opportunity to visit Fairbanks with everal officers and enlisted men. Most of us, about six in number, rode in an open command car while others rode in the cab of an army 1 1/2 ton truck. Most of the soldiers were going in order to purchase Christmas presents for the company. I was going in order to enquire in Fairbanks concerning the possibility of me entering the army there. I really did not expect to be granted another deferment from the draft.
We left Dry Creek one morning at 4:00 AM with the thermometer at -5 degrees F. and headed north on the gravel Richardson Highway. It was the first sub-zero temperature we had experienced and it did not add any pleasure to the ride in the open car. We were wrapped up until only our noses stuck out, but we still had to stop periodically and get the blood circulating again in our bodies. There were was about eight inches of snow on the ground and the whole landscape was solid white. The weather had been clear and still for a couple of weeks and hoarfrost had formed on everything. It was very beautiful but soon the glare began to wear on our eyes.
We reached Big Delta in time for lunch at the army camp there. We were very happy to greet several soldiers and a civilian, Francis Kenny, who had been on the ship with is on the trip from Seattle to Alaska. Mr. Kenny was doing a similar job for the U. S. Engineer Dept. in Big Delta that I was doing in Dry Creek. After lunch we went on and reached Fairbanks in time for supper.
The Richardson Highway was in excellent frozen condition, hard with no dust. The only problems we met were "glaciers" across the road in rather hazardous places in the mountains. These so-called "glaciers" were ice build up places on the road due to warm ground water running out of the radside banks onto the road. Of course the water froze hard when it reached the open road making ice build up to heights of three or four feet above the original road surface. The only way to get past these ice "glaciers" across the road was to drive over them. They were very, very slippery and usually sloped toward the side of the road. They usually occurred where the road was carved out of the mountainsides and where almost vertical cliffs dropped off beside the road. On one occasion we all got out of the vehicle and walked across the "glacier" because we feared we might slide sideways with the vehicle off the cliff. Only the driver was in the vehicle and he was ready to" jump to safety should the vehicle start over the cliff. We got past all the "glaciers" safely on the way to Fairbanks and return a few days later.
(Later in the winter the Richardson Highway between Gulkana and Big Delta was closed due to the "glaciers" across the road. However, it was still possible to drive a vehicle from Dry Creek to Fairbanks by using a new section of of the Alaska Highway just pushed through during the summer of 1942. The new Alaska Highway was primitive in many respects but the freezing temperatures made it possible for truck traffic to use it during the winter of 1942/43. The map below shows how the sections of the Alaska Highway interlocked with the original Richardson Highway.)
For a place for me to stay in Fairbanks Captain Childress suggested that I get a bed at the Bachelor Officers Quarters at Ladd Field, near where he was staying. The vehicle dropped me off there for the night. Inside there was no one to welcome me but there were many empty cots available so I slept on one. The next morning an enlisted man asked me, a civilian, why I was occupying a cot in the BOQ. I explained to him that I was living and traveling with the 176th Engineer Regiment and that my commanding officer had suggested I stay at the BOQ. The enlisted man had a dubious look on his face but he said he would check it out with his commanding officer. I slept there again the second night with no one questioning me. But the next morning the same enlisted man sought me out to tell me that I was not authorized to use quarters there. He seemed reluctant to tell me this but it was clear he wanted me to leave as soon as possible. I told him I could not leave until I had another place to stay but that I would leave as soon as possible. This satisfied him for the moment. (Actually, I recall staying there for at least one more night before we departed to go back to Dry Greek.)
Fairbanks is a modern little city. However, I had little or nothing to do after I had done my rounds of the souvenir shops, so the second and third days I was bored. At Ladd Field, however, there was much activity. As many as thirty bombers a day were coming in from the U. S. and being turned over to Russian crews to ferry them to Russia. In addition there were fifty or more bombers on the ground awaiting maintenance and repair. (We learned later that this was the time when the campaign to expel the Japanese from the Aleutian Islands was at its height.) There were almost as many Russian soldiers on the field as there were Americans. There were almost as many Russian women soldiers as men. Some of the women, as well as men, were pilots. Then young Russian boy soldiers I saw eating in the enlisted men's mess seemed well behaved and courteous. The only difference in looks between Russian and U. S. soldiers were the uniforms and and the different way the Russians held their cigarettes. The Russians held them between their thumb and forefinger as though they were very unaccustomed to smoking.
The native Fairbanks people were all decked out in their fur parkas and muk-luks. Occasionally a dog team mushed down main street. Auto traffic had to be careful not to collide with the dog teams. I saw many new Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Fords and Chevrolets, but the greater part of the traffic were military vehicles. The most prevalent vehicle was the "peep" (later called the "jeep".)
We made the trip back to Dry Creek in one day but we had a narrow escape on a mountain cliff. We slowed down to creep across ,one of the "glaciers" which I described above. The ice sloped toward the edge of the cliff and a hundred foot drop off. When we were in the middle of the glacier the vehicle began to slide sideways toward the cliff. The road nowhere was wide enough for two cars to pass so we didn't have far to slide and still be safe. Our wheels caught on the rough shoulder near the cliff and the vehicle slowly crept back to the middle of the road. Our hearts were in our mouths and we vowed we would never again try to use this part of the Richardson Highway in winter unless, perhaps, we had a sled dog team.
Again when we were only a few miles from Dry Creek we tried to take a curve too fast and the vehicle slid into the ditch. It took a couple of hours in sub-zero temperatures to work the vehicle back onto the road. When we got back to camp we put up that open vehicle, a command car, for the rest of the winter. However, we learned later that trucking lines still operated over that section of highway, or over the alternate route all winter. Road crews were sent to the places where "glaciers" were most troublesome and they literally built gravel roads over the "glaciers.")
Saturday, December 26, 1942, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Since I last wrote, the entire infantry garrison has been housed. The temperature has gone down steadily. Our first snow was about October 15. By the end of October the temperature was averaging about +10 degrees F. The temperature continued to go down until it was averaging -10 degrees F. by the end of November. The snow has come in small increments of an inch or two at a time until it is now about 18 inches deep.
With the coming of the snow, snowshoes and skiis have been issued to those who want them. (Most of the men of Company F are from Southern Louisiana and the adjacent part of Texas near the city of Corpus Christi. Many have never seen such cold weather.) It is difficult to walk through the woods on snowshoes but not nearly so difficult as trying to walk without them. Some of us are learning. Someone ran a bulldozer down the ravine hill toward the creek in back of our camp and created a couple of short downhill ski runs. Almost all the men have tried skiing. Some have sprained ankles. But some have done remarkably well, introducing themselves to a new sport. I haven't done too bad myself, having once had a little introduction to skiing when my parents lived in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
When the lakes first froze over and before the snow got very deep, some of us got in some ice skating. I purchased a fine pair of figure skates by mail from Sears, Roebuck Co. I have learned to use them moderately well.
Thanksgiving was a gala occasion marked by a fine dinner of turkey and all the fixins. The only other occasion to compare with it was Christmas, yesterday. We had another fine dinner. Christmas eve we had a party using local talent to provide the entertainment. I played a piece on my piano accordian. (I had brought a piano accordian with me among my baggage to Alaska. I was just beginning to practice to learn to play it. I figured I might learn to play it during spare time in Alaska.)
Early in December a USO unit visited our base at Dry Creek to entertain the troops. There were two ladies and three men in the unit and they were very good entertainers. One of them ladies asked me to accompany her with my accordian while she performed her dance routine. I wanted to take part but I couldn't play her music which was unfamiliar to me, and she couldn't dance to the music I knew. I'm sorry to say that she finally performed to music played on a portable phonograph.
A two-week cold spell occurred in mid-December and is just now moderating on December 26. The daily temperatures averaged about -40 degrees F and once touched -60 degrees F. At Copper Center, about 15 miles south of us, at one time the temperature reached -75 degrees F.
Friday. February 5, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Yesterday. February 4. 1942, at approximately 2:30 or 3:00 PM , there was a total eclipse of the sun by the moon. We did not expect the eclipse for nothing had been forecast about it in any publication to which we have access nor was anything said about it on the radio. So it was quite surprising when it began to get dark. Then sun was very low on the horizon and the sky was hazy with scattered clouds. The eclipse lasted about ten minutes and was clearly visible at all stages because of the thick haze over the sun.
Today for the first time this winter the wind is blowing very hard. The sky is clear and the temperature is -20 degrees F. The wind makes the temperature seem much lower and not conducive to outdoor activities. The wind is drifting the snow and closing all roads and trails. Even the little path to my hut is obliterated by the drifting snow.
We have had two intensely cold spells thus far this winter. The first was in mid-December which I wrote about at that time. The second was in January. It lasted for about two weeks, ending about a week ago. During these cold spells the sky was crystal clear and the temperature averaged about -40 or -45 degrees F. When clouds come the temperature rises and then even -25 degrees F seems quite mild. We have grown accustomed to all but the most severe cold spells. We enjoy the ski slopes even when the temperature is as low as -20 degrees. However, at about -25 degrees we have difficulty keeping our feet warm in the tight ski boots and we come in until the temperature moderates. On one occasion around January 1. 1943, we could hardly believe it when the temperature rose to +32 degrees F. It felt almost stifling. There is almost three feet of snow on the ground. I have continued my skiing practice all winter until a few days ago when I fell and twisted my knee.
An important day was the day in early January we acquired a movie machine for the base. We now see the latest movies three times a week. The movies are shown in the Infantry mess hall about 3/4 of a mile from the Engineer Camp. So we walk to the movies quite often. On one trip to the movies during an intense cold spell I found that my ear lobes, protruding below the ear flaps of my cap. had become frost bitten. It was not serious, but I had swollen ear lobes for a few days.
Yesterday we had a visitor to the base, Mr. Ed Levin, a giant of a man weighing about 260 pounds. For the past 13 years he had been accompanying the so-called Glacier Priest, Father Hubbard in explorations of remote sections of Alaska. He showed us movies and slides of Father Hubbard's adventures which are educational features of 20th Century Fox Studios.
Monday, February 15, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
I have made several little excursions on snowshoes. One afternoon I snowshoed to the Copper River, 1 1/2 miles away from camp, and walked about a mile up the river on the west side. The river was frozen over solidly with ice about three feet thick. But I did not venture out on the ice. I didn't know it at the time of my excursion, but soldiers were practicing the firing of mortar shells from the cliffs beside the river onto the river ice below. I walked dangerously near to where the shells were falling before I became aware. Suddenly some shells exploded on the ice about 200 yards from me. I fired my 22 rifle to let the soldiers know I was there, But, apparently, they didn't hear the shot for shells continued to come towards my vicinity. I quickly back tracked out of danger.
I had some difficulty snowshoeing back up the 200 to 300 foot bluff to get away from the river and back to camp. I finally found that if I tied both the toe and heel of my boot down tight to the snowshoes I could use them for climbing by herring-bone up the slope as if they were skiis. The slope is so steep that is difficult to climb even on foot in summer.
Yesterday Cpl. Bourg, Sgt. Barrett and myself went for an all day snowshoe trip. Our purpose was to get more practice on snowshoes and to explore the farther east side of the Copper River which was inaccessible before the river froze over. We left about 8:30 AM with the thermometer at about -12 degrees F. We took a lunch packed in a small haversack, our 22 caliber rifles, and this time we took ski poles to help us with climbing. (We assume that the bears were in hibernation so we did not take along a high powered rifle.)
We dressed warmly with two layers of clothing under our light wind proof parkas. We wore one pair of very heavy wool socks on our feet and inserted them into half rubber, half leather shoe paks. On our hands we wore knit gloves under a canvas service mitten. Our clothing was just right on the trail until we stopped for a length of time. Then our feet and hands began to get cold. Had the weather been any colder we would have worn soft leather or canvas mukluks rather than the half rubber shoe paks. (Rubber foot gear is generally unacceptable in temperatures below -10 degrees.) We would have also worn a warm pair of mittens under a large fur mitten to keep our hands warm. There was no wind during our excursion. Had there been wind. we would have had to wear even heavier clothing with a decidedly wind proof layer.
We carried two snapshot cameras and an 8 mm movie camera on our excursion to the river. When we got to the river bottom we tried to use the movie camera but it was frozen and the mechanism would not work. Although it was about -12 degrees at camp when we left, it was about -25 degrees on the river ice. The snapshot cameras worked well. however and we got some good pictures.
We had a great time sliding. falling, and scrambling down the bluff to the river, but it told us that we would have difficulty getting back up the bluff later. We walked directly across the river which was about 1/4 mile wide at that point. Then we hurried up the east bank of the river toward the Wrangell Range of mountains about 40 miles to the east of the river. The bluff on that side of the river was less steep. We hiked for a considerable distance until we gained the plateau to the east of the river. We had to break our own trail. It ran across several frozen marshes and through stands of spruce and birch trees. The snow was about three feet deep. Some of it was hard packed where previous wind had drifted it. But in areas among the trees where the wind did not reach the snow was very soft and dry and our snowshoes sank down into the snow for twelve inches or more. It was difficult to snowshoe breaking trail in soft snow.
We built a small fire by which we ate our lunch. Then we backtracked to the river bank and walked south along the river quite a distance and explored the ice on the river. The river ice was at least three feet thick. There were a few holes in the ice and one could see the water rushing through the bottom of the holes three to five feet below. Before the Richardson Highway (from Fairbanks to Valdez) came into great use, the river was used as a truck highway in mid winter. Temperatures sometimes as low as -70 degrees F. froze the river thick enough to make heavy truck and tractor traffic feasible.
We returned to camp via the tent frames of the old indian village on the west bank which we had discovered the summer before. The little summer village had probably been occupied by Indians some ten years before. Only a few old rusty iron cans were laying around among the old tent poles.
Due to the lack of snow on the bluff (the wind had blown the bluff clean at that point) we were able to take our snowshoes off and walk up the bluff in our boots. We returned to camp about 4:30 PM. We saw no wild game on the hike except a few squirrels and snowshoe rabbits. We crossed a several days old trail of a moose and found evidence of his grazing on the bare tops of bushes along his trail. It is the first evidence of moose I have seen since the first snow fell in October.
A marked difference can be seen between the length of the daylight hours now on February 15 and the length of daylight hours we had in December. In December we had only about four hours of sun and it was always very low on the horizon. Now the sun rises about 8:30 AM and sets about 4:30 PM. The sun gets high enough above the horizon now to give us a little heat. However the temperature is still dependent upon the degree of cloudiness or hazyness of the sky. When there are heavy low clouds the temperature rises to about +10 degrees. When the clouds are thin and high the temperature ranges from 0 degrees to -10 degrees. If the sky is only slightly hazy the temperature drops to -25 or -30 degrees. When the sky gets crystal clear during the months of December, January, or February the temperature drops to -50. -60. -70, or even -75 degrees F depending on the number of days the sky stays clear. We have had three spells of this extreme cold this winter, one in December, one in January, and one in February. Each extreme cold spell lasted almost two weeks.
Fortunately the wind hardly ever is felt here during times of extreme cold. The wind can be felt at times in open places such as on the river ice. Here in the interior of Alaska the extreme cold comes down right out of the stratosphere. The cold air falls and the valleys and river bottom areas are often 10 to 20 degrees colder than the ridges. The extreme cold comes only in the clearest weather when there is no wind.
In a few more weeks we should see signs of spring. March is said to be a month of snow and some wind but not extreme cold weather. The ice breakup on the river usually comes in mid-April after most of the snow has melted. May will probably be a month of mud and bog. June will bring clear, dry, and warm weather and many mosquitos.
This part of Alaska (the Copper River valley) is more friendly than many people think. Nowhere is it a place of eternal ice and snow. There are glaciers covering the high mountains and some of the glaciers flow down into the valleys where the melting ice exists with wild flowers and trees.
Even in the extreme northern part of Alaska there are three warm summer months with temperatures rising to +70, +80, and sometimes higher. In the southeastern and southcentral sections of Alaska the summers are somewhat longer and suitable for farming. Temperatures are above freezing from May until October. In coastal areas the extreme cold temperatures do not occur and outdoor activities are possible much of the year. In summer the roads are gravel surfaced and quite dusty in dry weather. In winter the roads are better being frozen into hard surfaces. Inland the snow never gets very deep because the climate is essentially very dry. It might appear to be a desert were it not for the frozen layer of soil just beneath the top layer which holds moisture and makes the top soil rich and moist. The long sunny days of summer cause plants to grow profusely.
In my opinion the Kenai Peninsula (From Homer in the south to Anchorage in rhe north) and to Palmer in the Matanuska Valley, and then over to Gulkana, Copper Center, and Chitina in the Copper River Valley, to the coastal towns of Valdez and Cordova are ideal places to live in Alaska. Even in this small area there are different climates. Whereas the Copper River Valley has extremely cold winters, the coastal towns such as Valdez have very mild winters with both rain and snow during any winter month. The snow can get as deep as 12 feet. The country around Big Delta and Fairbanks (northern part of the Richardson Highway) is very much like that around Gulkana and Dry Creek with warm summers. Only in the extreme north (Point Barrow) and along the Bering Sea coast (Nome) is the climate more extreme. There the winter begins in early September and doesn't end until late Mayor early June. The extreme cold lasts longer in this area but at no time is it more severe than at Gulkana and Dry Creek in the Copper River Valley.
The southeastern panhandle of Alaska is a veritable paradise being warmed by ocean waters which never freeze over. The climate is mild all year long with snow falling only on the higher mountain slopes. There are immense forests and a great lumbering industry. Here are located most of the towns and most of the population of Alaska: Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell, and, over the border in Canada, Skagway in Yukon Territory. It is interesting to note that the temperature in Juneau, the capital of Alaska, never gets lower than the temperature in Washington, DC, the capital of the U. S.
Alaska's biggest industry is salmon fishing. Alaska collects each year from its salmon industry three times as much as the purchase price of the territory from Russia. Other industries are mining, farming, trapping, fur farming, and lumbering. The mining industry, especially, is likely to expand greatly in the near future as a result of the opening of the new Alaska Highway. This highway is under construction now and vhicles have already made their way to Alaska from the U. S. There is enough coal in Alaska to supply Alaska's own needs and possibly to export. There are iron, copper, gold, and other metals available for large scale mining. And the water power potential in Alaska is boundless. Behind all these possibilities lies the rugged beauty of Alaska with its magnificent mountains, its crystal lakes, great forests, and its invigorating atmosphere of cool clear air.
Mosquitos are pests that bother you when you go into the wild bush, boggy tundra and marshes. But in most cleared inhabited areas the mosquitos are a minor nuisance. The mosquitos are not known to carry diseases of any kind.
All the water in the springs, creeks, lakes and rivers are clear and good to drink. Small game abounds almost everywhere and large game is plentiful away from the beaten tracks.
Friday, February 19, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Tonight there was a partial eclipse of the moon by the shadow of the earth. The edge of the earth's surface was visible on the full moon for several hours.
For several days we have had quite balmy weather. The temperature rose to +36 F and remained around freezing for several days. The snow has become wet and soggy but there is no indication of it melting as yet except on south facing hillsides where it is struck by the direct rays of the sun. The night temperatures are below freezing and cause a hard frozen crust to form on the surface of the snow. The wind has been blowing from the south. When the wind stops blowing the temperature will undoubtedly drp again.
The warmer temperatures we have had for the past few days is a great contrast to the sub-zero temperatures we have had for months now, making us feel like summer has arrived. I sleep with the windows and door of my Yakutat Hut open and with the oil turned very low on my heating stove. The enlisted men in their huts allow the coal fired stoves to go out overnight else it will get stifling ,hot in the small huts.
During the winter trucks have been able to use the new Alaska Highway extension from the Richardson Highway to Anchorage. The new road (known later as the Glenn Highway) starts at a point on the Richardson Highway just a couple of miles from our camp at Dry Creek. In the recent past several trucks a day have come through from Anchorage with supplies for us at Dry Creek. Several times we have received shipments of ice cream which were carried in cardboard boxes in the back of open trucks. We enjoyed sitting by the stove and gorging ourselves on ice cream which we had not tasted for many months.
There have been several fires on the base this winter. In November the Company F maintenance shop and garage burned destroying two trucks. A few days ago the Post Motor repair shop burned together with one truck, three peeps, and many tools. The value of the items burned may exceed $100,000. Also recently the Post Exchange warehouse burned with $25,000 worth of supplies destroyed. The fires seem to have gotten started due to oil soaked floors which became highly flammable due to oil spills from the heating stoves. Several of the enlisted men's huts have come dangerously near burning. Each hut is now equipped with an antifreeze type fire extinguisher.
Thursday, February 23, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Last Sunday afternoon Pvt. Dunwoody and I skiied down to the Copper River. The wind was blowing but we didn't know how hard until we got to the exposed bluff over the river. We had skiied down the packed snowshoe trail from the camp to the bluff. The temperature was about at the freezing point and the snow was beginning to melt in exposed places. All the snow was blown off the trail down the bluff to the river. The wind was blowing steadily at an estimated 50 miles an hour. Occasionally we lost our footing on the bluff and were blown down.
I had waxed my skiis before starting with wet snow wax thinking this would be suitable to the snow conditions. However, the snow stuck to the bottom of my skiis and I had to stop frequently and scrape wax and snow off with my knife. (Thinking about it later after more experience with skiing I have concluded that the wet snow wax was not necessary for the snow was colder than I thought.)
The purpose of our trip to the river was to skate on the river ice. So we carried our ice skates in a back pack. When we reached the river we found it cleared of snow by the wind. The skating was very much fun. With our backs to the wind we were blown skimming down the river. However when we turned and tried to skate back into the wind we found this no easy matter. We only made a couple of runs like that because the return journey into the wind was too hard.
We put our skiis back on and decided to return to camp by a different route. About a mile down wind from us we could see a lookout tower which had been built by the Infantry troops atop the bluff. We skiied on the ice letting the wind push us. This was possible because we had steel edges on our skiis and we could edge them to cut into the ice. Otherwise we would not have been able to control the skiis on the slick ice. We reached shore very quickly directly under the tower on the top of the bluff.
We knew there would be a packed trail from the tower back to camp. But there was no trail up the almost perpendicular bluff. We could not climb such a steep slope with our skiis on so we took them off. We ran one ski pole through the bindings of our skiis and pulled them along behind us as we climbed. With the other ski pole in one hand we used it to help us climb. The snow on this particular slope was deep and soft. We had to make a foothold in the snow for each step we took up the bluff. By using the ski pole in one hand and the footholds we were able to climb with a minimum of slipping. The bluff was about 200 feet high and took us about an hour to climb. We were exhausted when we reached the top and many times on the way up we wished we had not started the climb. Pvt. Dunwoody remarked that had we not had the strong wind at our back we probably would not have made it up the bluff. We did feel proud of ourselves when we reached the top.
We rested awhile and then climbed the ladder to the top of the observation tower. The tower, made of spruce logs, was shaking in the wind and we decided it was not really safe for us to be there. Th trail back to camp was well packed by the tower builders from the Infantry organization, so we reached camp quickly after that. We hurried to try to get back to camp for supper. We didn't. We had to wrangle the Mess Sergeant for a late supper.
Conclusion: Don't try to go across country on skiis with snow conditions typical of this part of Alaska without a packed trail. Snowshoes are the only feasible aids to breaking trail in wild country.
Today, February 27, 1943, the wind is still blowing a gale from the south. The thermometer is in the +40's and the snow is beginning to melt. We are maneuvering in slush for the first time since last October. I is not time for the spring breakup. This is said to be a freak warm spell that will be followed by more snow and colder weather.
The men of both the Corps of Engineers Company F and the Infantry Company at our base have been issued ammunition and anti-aircraft machine guns are being set up. There is no special alert but the. Commanding Officer here does not want to be taken off guard. The general opinion is that if the Japs are going to start anything, it will be this spring.
Wednesday, March 1, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Our warm spell has broken now because the wind has stopped blowing. However the days are growing long and the warm sun brings the thermometer from below zero in the morning to above freezing by mid-afternoon. As soon as the sun goes down about 6:15 PM the temperature drops very quickly. The snow on the surfaces of the ponds has melted down intoi hard ice and we are again able to skate on the ponds.
Everything is still frozen solidly but the temperature seldom goes below +10 degrees F. The days are becoming longer again. In a few days the spring equinox will be here. The sun will rise at 7:00 AM and set at 7:00 PM for we are on daylight savings war time.
My work is practically nil. I am just waiting to see if I will be drafted or get another deferment. Recommendation for my promotion to Principal Clerk has beenh sent to the area office at Anchorage. Captain Moore (recently promoted since Captain Childress left to go to school at Ft. Belvoir, Va.) is going to ask that I be deferred again. An additional housing job is going to be carried on here at Dry Creek and he deems my services necessary. However, it will all be up to my draft board in far away Washington, DC.
The soldiers in Company F of the Engineers are finally being granted some furloughs. Sgt. Barret left today. One man per month is allowed to go on furlough from the Engineers.
The Engineer Company F of the 176th Regiment with which I came to Alaska is now scattered far and wide. First a platoon went to Tanacross in November. Another platoon went to Northway. And a platoon went to Big Delta in January. That leaves only one platoon of the Company here at Dry Creek. A whole Company of Infantry are quartered here. Also a quartermaster truck Company is here. In addition there are detachments of Quartermaster, Ordnance, Air Corps, and Chemical Warfare here.
Evidently, in case of attack, we would depend almost entirely upon air protection that would be flown in as needed. We assume that the only attack possible would be by air. Our air field could accommodate all the protecting aircraft needed.
Tonight we have a magnificent display of Northern Lights.Frequently the northern horizon is lighted up with Northern Lights, but tonight the whole sky is lighted up even in the southern sky. They constantly change as one watches from big blurs of light to many shafts of light and then the shafts break up and float across the sky. Sometimes the shafts bend and look like a huge sheet unfolding or a flag waving in the wind. Sometimes the shafts seem to be fiery darts zooming through the sky leaving a trail of fire behind.
The past week I have been working on a camp show. Two girls from the U. S. O. (United Services Organization), Jo Andrews and Nancy Healy, came to camp to organize and take part in the show. The two girls are both dancers and had to have musical accompaniment for their acts. I accompanied Jo Andrews' dance on my accordian. Pvt. Berigi accompanied Nancy Healy's dance on the piano. (Where did the piano come from? It must have been brought in by truck without my knowledge.) I also accompanied Cpl. Bourg in some songs. Several skits were given in which the girls and some of the men took part. Some soldiers formed a hill billy band and~played. Two Mexican/Texas soldiers sang some Mexican songs. A soldier read "Dangerous Dan McGrew." We gave two performances and the men enjoyed the show, I think.
I have received a telegram notifying me that I will not be returned to the States for induction into military service at government expense. I still have a hope of returning on leave, perhaps at my own expense. My deferment from military service is over in April and I do not have much hope of being deferred again. I would be willing to go into the army in Alaska but I would like to to visit home once more before entering the army for an indefinite term.
Monday, March 22, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
After several weeks of relatively mild weather the temperature suddenly dropped last night to almost -20 degrees. It certainly does feel cold. Only a couple of months ago -20 degrees seemed warm. The ground is covered now with about one foot of new snow. The old snow had practically melted when the new snow fell.
Former Lieutenant Moore has now been promoted to Captain. Captain Childress is evidently on his way back to Alaska as his school at Fort Belvoir, Va. is over. Lieutenant Matera, a new lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, has arrived at the post. He is rooming with me. He seems to be a nice fellow. He is from Brooklyn, NY, but I have not held that against him.
Nothing has been heard as yet about the recommendation for my promotion to Principal Clerk. Neither have I heard from my draft board concerning my request for a new deferment to stay in my job.
Captain Moore drove in a peep down towards Valdez today to see what could be done towards opening the Richardson Highway at its southern terminus. It has been closed almost winter all due to massive amounts of snow in the mountain pass (Thompson Pass) just outside Valdez. Captain Moore could get only about 30 miles down the road and nowhere near the pass. A Snogo (snow blower truck) and a road grading machine are going down tomorrow to open as much of the road as they can.
Between our camp at Dry Creek and the village of Gulkana a huge "glacier" has completely covered the road and a small bridge. The men have been working to remove the "glacier" all winter but even dynamite does not get rid of it. It is ten or twelve feet high now. The only thing that could be done to keep the road open was to keep holes bored in the glacier so that the warm water from the spring might run through and not add more ice. The gravel road has been spread right over the "glacier". The road between Gulkana and Big Delta was closed early in November due to the same kind of spring fed "glaciers."
Thursday, April 1, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska. :
We have had our last extreme cold spell, I hope. Mid-March was pretty cold. The thermometer stood at 0 degrees to +10 degrees during daylight hours and dropped to -10 degrees to 0 degrees during the night. The days are getting long already with the sun setting at about 7:30 PM but the daylight lasting to about 8:30 PM. It will only be a matter of a month and a half until it is daylight all night.
The men of Company F Engineers had a practice alert about 10 days ago. They withdrew from camp with full field equipment and spent the night out in the snow with only shelter half tents and sleeping bags. The temperature dropped that night to about -20 degrees. But no one suffered any frostbite. In fact some of the men complained that they were too hot in their double down-filled s1eeping bags. It is true that after the extremes of the preceding winter, -20 degrees was not too uncomfortable any more. Of course, no wind was blowing or there may have been more complaints about the cold. Today another practice alert is taking place although it will lastonly through the afternoon and not overnight.
Lt. Mattera and I have fixed up our "apartment" some. We now have a chest of drawers. I built a table lamp with lamp shade. We have switched the furniture some and we now have the nicest hut on the post. All we lack are some curtains for the windows and we hope to have them soon.
Last Sunday I went out and fired at targets with a Springfield 03 rifle. It almost made me stone deaf. One ear is still ringing. I doin't intend to fire this rifle again unless I have cotten stuffed in my ears. I am happy to say that I am as good a marksman as any of the soldiers,' however.
Saturday, April 3, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Lowest temperature today + 4 degrees. Highest temperature today +24 degrees.
Monday, April 5, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Lowest temperature today + 5 degrees. Highest temperature today +30 degrees.
Tuesday, April 6, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Lowest temperature today + 8 ndegrees. Highest temperature today +33 degrees.
Wednesday, April 7, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Lowest temperature today +14 degrees. Highest temperature today +34 degrees.
Despite the fact that the official air temperature was near freezing all day, the sun shone very warmly and the snow exposed directly to the sunlight melted. The camp has turned into a "Venice". Instead of roads we have canals and muddy water is slushing everywhere. I am told that probably within the week the ice will go out on the Copper River. I hope to get pictures of it.
There is much betting going on around Alaska, some even here at the post, about when the ice will go out on the Tanana River near Fairbanks. Equipment has been set up on the ice to measure the exact minute the ice begins to move. Bets are being placed allover Alaska on when exactly that tome will be. The winner will get the contents of the Tanana Ice Pool which is being collected now from the bettors.
Thursday, April 8, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Lowest temperature today +17 degrees. Highest temperature today +41 degrees.
Friday, April 9, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Lowest temperature today +27 degrees. Highest temperature today +41 degrees.
Saturday, April 10, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Lowest temperature today +15 degrees. Highest temperature today +43 degrees.
Last night I saw a wonderful display of Northern Lights and tonight they have been even more breath taking. The colors waved across the sky like flames. Instead of appearing to rise from the north, they arose from the northeast and the northwest. The brightest and most beautiful appear directly overhead and they can even be seen in the southern sky. I attempted to take pictures of them but I am not very hopeful of success in having them show up on film.
Today, Cpl. Bourg and I borrowed the Peep and drove down to Copper Center to see Mr. Joy, the preacher/missionary. Mr. Joy is building a big log chapel. He had only a few layers of logs completed. Cpl. Bourg and I donned coveralls and helped him for a while in the afternoon. He and his wife invited us to supper and we had an interesting conversation after supper.
Mr. Joy and his wife have two children, Jimmy aged about 10, and Becky Jean aged about 4. They live in a very nice log cabin which Mr. Joy himself built. He has his own electric power plant. His heating furnace is located in a basement and the cabin is heated by hot air. It was quite cozy and warm he said, even when the temperature dropped to a low of -72 degrees last winter.
Mr. Joy, usually referred to as Reverend Joy, and his wife have been in Alaska for about 5 years, most of that time in Copper Center. He was educated at Moody Bible Institute but doesn't seem to be attached to any particular denomination now. He is going to build a baptistry in his chapel. He says he believes in baptism but he has never mentioned baptism in any of the sermons I have heard him deliver on Sunday at Post. (He was invited and has been regularly preaching to the soldiers at Dry Creek. He is well liked by the soldiers.)
I learned today that all the peaks in the Wrangell Mountain Range (the range dominates the east horizon at Dry Creek) have recently been scaled. There are three peaks in this range over 16,000 feet and a fourth of 12,000 feet. This is the only place in America, I am told, where four peaks of such height are located so closely together. Most of the peaks were scaled on skiis by Mr. Bradford Washburn and I am told that his wife went along with him on most of the climbs. Mr. Washburn recently took a group of soldiers to the top of Mount McKinley to test arctic clothing for the army.
Spring is here. The snow melts rapidly during the day and freezes again at night. The ice on the Copper River has notgone out yet but it is beginning to get slushy. Indians atCopper River are still crossing the river on the somewhatdangerous ice. In the morning the ice is hard and they cancross right near the village of Copper River. However when they go home across the river in late afternoon they seek out a place to cross where the ice has been least exposed to the sun.
Incidentally, the Copper River is a raging torrent of white water in the summer, yet the indians cross it in row boats daily. In the fall when chunks of slush ice float down stream the little boats can't help but collect accumulations of this ice when it strikes the side of the boat. If nothing is done about this accumulation of ice on the side of the boat, it will soon push the side down so that the boat begins to fill with water. To prevent this, the Indians turn the boat around in the middle of the raging river, sometimes more than once, to release the ice buildup on the side of the boat. It is a dangerous feat to cross the river at many times of the year. At about this time of year when the ice gets too treacherous to walk on and boats cannot be used, all crossing stops until the ice is gone. Some old timers at Copper Center are estimating that the ice will go out in about a week.
Tuesday, April 13, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Lowest temperature today +21 degrees. Highest temperature today +40 degrees.
Rain fell today for the first time in about seven months. After the rain it snowed about 1/2 inch.
Wednesday, April 14, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Lowest temperature today +31 degrees. Highest temperature today +50 degrees.
Thursday, April 15, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Lowest temperature today +23 degrees. Highest temperature today +43 degrees.
Sunday night, April 18, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Friday a group of soldiers and myself requested and were allowed to go on a skiing trip to Thompson Pass on the Richardson Highway. This pass is in the Chugach Mountains about 100 miles south of Dry Creek and about 20 miles north of Valdez on the coast. The altitude of the pass is about 3,000 feet (above timberline in these moutains) and we have heard there is much snow there. The Richardson Highway has just been opened to traffic through the pass.
An officer, Lt. Joseph, and six enlisted men, and myself piled into the back of a 2 1/2 ton army truck for the trip on Saturday about noon. We took with us skiis, bed rolls, and food for two days. For the first 20 miles of our trip the road was dry and dusty. When we passed Copper Center we riders in the back of the truck were covered with dust for it just swirls into the rear of these army trucks.
Soon after leaving Copper Center we began to get into the foothills of the Chugach mountains. The snow had not all melted here and the road was wet from melting snow and relieved us from the swirls of dust. As we drove through the mountains snow covered everything and gave us indescribably beautiful views of the landscape. There are no mountains in the world that excel these in sheer beauty. Most of the peaks are about 8,000 or 9,000 feet high.
The road, having just been opened by snowplows, is bounded on both sides by high snow banks and not enough road is cleared to allow vehicles to pass. When meeting an oncoming vehicle one of the vehicles has to back up until a space is found wide enough for the two to pass.
There are many, many icy "glaciers" formed on the road. These "glaciers" are formed by warm water (just above freezing springs which flow out of the banks as the road goes through cuts in the terrain. As the water flows onto the open road it freezes into solid ice which sometimes gets as much as ten feet high and hundreds of feet along the length of the road. These are most dangerous stretches of road because the ice is seldom flat and vehicles can easily slide off the side. It is practically impossible to clear this ice off the road. Even charges of exploding dynamite do little more than blow small holes in the ice. Ruts are cut along the top of the ice so that vehicles can keep their wheels in the ruts and thus keep from sliding off the road as they traverse the "glaciers". The "glaciers" do not dissappear until the warm weather of June has melted all the ice.
The sun was shining and the temperature was quite warm during the trip. As we gained altitude and drew closer to the pass the snow got deeper and deeper. When we arrived at the high point of Thompson Pass (about 3,000 feet altitiude) it was about 8:00 PM and the sun was still shining. The temperature was just below freezing. The average depth of snow in the pass was about six feet but there were snow drifts across the road with depths of over 50 feet. At these points the road had been cleared by successively passing a D-8 bulldozer over the snow until a cut was made down to the road surface. To passing vehicles these cuts were like driving between narrow walls of compact snow banks which were several times as high as the vehicle. I took several pictures of our vehicle while in the cut. There was just enough space in the cut to let our vehicle through.
We camped in a beautiful little valley near the pass with steep sloping mountains rising up all around us. We took precautions and camped at a place that seemed to us to be safe from avalanges should one occur during our stay in the pass. We pitched our camp in a naturally sheltered place which, incidentally, was right in the middle of what is a creek in summer. Not a tree or a bush rises above the snow anywhere we look. Much of the time clouds engulfed our camp.
We had picked up some firewood from below the timberland, so we made a campfire on top of the snow when we arrived. Gradually the fire heated the snow and dropped into a hole in the snow. The next morning the embers were in the bottom of a deep hole.
We had a gasoline fueled camp stove to cook on. We had brought enough grub for three meals. We had no time on Saturday evening except to pitch camp and get some supper. Two of the soldiers hollowed out a snow cave and moved into it for the night. The rest of us crawled into our sleeping bags right out on top of the snow and slept right out under the stars. Had there been much wind we would have all made snow caves in the road bank in which to sleep. These snow caves become quite warm. I do not like them because the humidity gets so high inside them. In fact, I was too warm even ouside on top of the snow in my down-filled two section sleeping bag. I had to shed the inner bag in order to sleep comfortably. The temperature, which was just below freezing, did not feel cold at all.
We awoke Sunday morning to find it snowing. Our sleeping bags had a light cover of snow. After breakfast the clouds cleared away and a warm sun came out. We skied for a couple of hours on a little slope near camp. The sun was bright enough to burn our faces a bright red. We wore dark ski goggles over our eyes to minimize the glare. After some practice on the little slope, we decided to climb up and ski down one of the minor peaks that rose up from the pass. We climbed it in about an hour and rested on top. A light breeze was blowing which felt good to us for we had gotten hot and tired during the climb. There were no perpendicular cliffs on the slopes of the peak but there were many bare rocks and boulders which we would have to zigzag among as we descended. The smooth slope was very steep and we knew that we could descend at terrific speed if we wanted.
Lt. Joseph started down first. I let him get out of sight over the brow of the slope and then started after him. Two soldiers were to come after me. About half way down I passed Lt. Joseph who was stopped. I was really getting some speed at this time and I shot past him without knowing why he had stopped. Almost immediately I realized that the slope was the steepest I had ever skied upon. Luckily I had no trouble with the steepness except my heart was in my mouth several times. I could have stopped but this never occurred to me. I was out for a fast ride. The next instance the steep slope was behind me and I was coasting to a stop on the level snow below. Soon Lt. Joseph came down beside me. The next man made the descent O. K. and the fourth man fell down once on the way down but was unhurt. That descent was one of the greatest thrills I have ever had on skis. There is great joy in traveling at a high rate of speed on your own two feet.
After we had made the descent of the mountain, we decided to climb part way back up and make another descent. We climbed up easily and sat down on a dome o bare moss covered rocks to rest. The sun was shining and only a few scattered clouds were in the sky. The wind was hardly stirring. A ptarmigan wearing its winter white feathers was perched on another rock nearby. We threw snowballs at it. While we were doing this we felt a fresh cool breeze on our cheeks. In about 10 seconds it was a wind, and in 10 more seconds it was a gale picking up particles of ice and beating them into us. Later we learned that such a wind, called a wilawaw, ocassionally strikes on the mountains right out of a clear sky. The wilawaw usually lasts only a few minutes but some have been known to last for hours.
All of us dived for cover behind the nearest boulders, crouching down behind them to shield ourselves from the wind. In no time at all the sky was overcast with scurrying clouds. The wind continued to whip up the icy snow. We had no idea how long the wind would continue so we waited for a slight lull and headed down the slope towards camp. From the mountain side we could see our bed rolls flapping in the wind in camp. We reached camp in the teeth of the gale.
Soon the gale died down to a steady cold wind and continued for an hour or more. We crouched around the camp fire, ate a little lunch, and prepared to depart in the truck for Dry Creek. We left about 3:30 PM, about the time we had planned to leave, but we had missed a couple of hours of good skiing. We loaded up the truck and started north on thw Richardson Highway. Before we had gone five miles the wind stopped and most of the clouds cleared away. The rest of the trip home to Dry Creek was uneventful.
May 1, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Well I guess spring is here. The temperature ranges from 55 or 60 degrees in the day to freezing at night. The snow has all melted. We have had about two weeks of mud and bog but the ground is finally drying out. The ice on rivers north of here, the Tanana and the Yukon, "went out" on April 28. But the ice on our river, the Copper, shows no sign of breaking yet.
The night o the 29th of April; all the men of the Engineer Company and myself left camp and bivouaced in the woods for the night. It was but one more of several maneuvers to keep them men in condition and from becoming soft. We left camp after supper. The men were carrying full field equipment except that a truck carried the bedrolls for them. We hiked a short distance from camp and took to the woods for the night. Bedrolls were dropped from the truck wherever the ground was relatively smooth. Bedrolls consist of sleeping bags wrapped in shelter halves. The shelter half was spread on the ground to protect the sleeping bag from any dampness.
It was not the first time that I found myself bivouacked in such a manner and for the soldiers it was old stuff. They had lived that way for weeks on maneuvers in Louisiana just before being deployed to Alaska.
We found that mosquitos were already alive, alarmingly big, and very hungry. However, a fresh wind blew up during the night and blew them away.
We have had no rain nor any sort of precipation for weeks. That is quite contrary to spring in the States. It shouldn't be very long now until the trees bud and flowers begin to bloom. There are all kinds of wild flowers here in summer.
May 17, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
We have been catapulted right into summer. The trees still do not have their leaves but the days have been just as sunny and warm for a week now as they were all last summer.
The ice on the Copper River went out on May 10th. None of us saw it happen. There are still chunks of floating ice from bank to bank on the river. When one walks up to the bank of the river it feels as if one is walking into a refrigerator. All the snow in the woods is melted but there is still two feet of ice along the banks of so-called Dry Creek. Dry Creek is actually a lively stream at present.
I have been duck hunting twice this month. Once I went by myself and shot a good sized mallard. I waded out into a little pond to retrieve the duck. There was still some floating ice on the pond. Some days later several of us went after ducks on a lake near Glen Allen. We found the larger lakes still frozen over. We didn't get any ducks on that trip.
Dry Creek, which runs almost right through camp, was never thought to have any fish in it. However, this spring I noticed some very large fish in one of the deeper pools. So I bought a rod and reel and some fly lures from the store in Copper Center and went after them. I got three fish the first day. After that I have caught many. Some of the soldiers, learning I had been trying to fish in Dry Creek, spread the word that I was "trying to get a Section 8 discharge" for insanity! However when they went down to the creek and looked, almost the entire camp began to go fishing. The fish are arctic greyling which come up from the larger r1vers 1nto the small creeks to spawn each spring. We had no clue concerning this henomenon until the fish arrived in the spring. One soldier went away with a catch of about 30 in two hours of fishing.
Tonight, one of the cooks from the kitchen staff, who had gone hunting earlier in them afternoon, came sneaking back into camp with word that he had shot a moose and needed help to retrieve the carcass. About 10 of us piled into (and onto) a peep and went down the highway toward the location of the moose. When we finally had to go into the woods only four could ride in the peep. The rest of us ran along behind. The dead moose was about four miles back into the woods by a dim trail. The peep was able to go only about two miles when stopped by a creek it could not ford. I had run along behind the peep without getting winded. We all walked the rest of the way.
We finally came to the moose, which was small as far as moose go, being a yearling weighing an estimated 600 or 700 pounds. Having no hunting knife, the soldiers gutted the moose and cut his head off with a pocket knife. He had been hit by two 22 caliber bullets from a distance of about 150 yards. One of the bullets struck the moose in the shoulder and disabled his leg bringing him down. The soldier ran up close to the moose and put a third bullet into his head which killed him. Most of us thought the soldier had been very lucky to bring the moose down and that it had been foolhardy to try to bring down a moose with a 22 caliber rifle.
The head of the moose was discarded. We tied the feet of the moose to a pole which four men (two on each end of the pole) then could carry the remaining 400 or 450 pounds. We took turns carrying on the two mile trip back to the peep. At the peep we tied the carcass over the hood. Then seven men got on the peep, one rode on the hood with the carcass and two of us hung onto the back.
I never ceased to marvel at the capacity and performance of the 1/4 ton Army Peep. We were in the woods with no road whatsoever. We went the two miles back through the woods like a tank, knocking over bushes and small trees, through muck and small ponds of water. The Army peep is the best vehicle of its kind I have ever seen.
Back at camp the soldiers skinned the moose and hung him up to drain all night. We expect to have moose steaks for a few days now.
June 1, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
Summer is here. The past two days have been hot. The sun shines until 10:00 PM and it is broad daylight all night.
About two weeks ago one of the men killed a small black bear. We were served bear steaks in the mess hall that evening. I thought I was eating pork at first. The bear meat was tender and good.
One of the men had sighted the bears when he sauntered off into the woods near camp. About one half mile from camp he came in sight of two grizzly bears. He was downwind from the bears and they did not detect his presence. He was carrying only a small 22 caliber rifle and did not dare attract attention to himself by firing the rifle. He turned and ran back to camp and picked up a bigger rifle and two friends, also with big rifles. All three men returned to the spot where the bears had been sighted. One of the bears was still there. All three men fired and the big grizzly bear was knocked down. The bear let out an awful bellow of pain and rage. The shots and the cry of the bear were heard clearly back in camp by myself and others. The men thought the bear was killed so they lowered their rifles. Just then the bear jumped up and scampered away. No more shots were fired and the men never again saw the bear.
Most of the post have moved away now. The infantry contingent has moved to Valdez. The Engineers with whom I work are being reorganized and will move also, probably to the Aleutians. I have been notified to report to the Anchorage office of the U. S. Engineer Department as soon as my work in Dry Creek is finished. Here in Dry Creek, the Engineers plan to move out within this month of June at which time I will go to Anchorage. I have learned that I will get a raise in salary when I get to Anchorage. .
We arrived in Dry Creek a year ago this month and we are bringing to a close a whole year of work. Many items on the construction list, such as sewage system, bomb site storage, ammunition storage, decontamination station, etc., have been deleted as they will not be needed by the rerduced garrison. These deletions have shortened the construction schedule.
Our camp is beginning to feel just like home. The area has been greatly improved. The soldier's quarters have been fashioned to suit the men who use them. Although we are "overseas" now, it will seem almost like going "overseas" again when the men have to abandon their homes of a year to get back on board ship and travel across the stormy seas to the Aleutian Islands. A complete new camp may be constructed in the Aleutians. The men can hope for no better climate in the Aleutians than they have had here at Dry Creek, warmer in winter, perhaps, but much more stormy and windy.
Although I will go from here to Anchorage, I don't expect to stay in Anchorage long until I am sent out on another project. Perhaps I will be sent to the Aleutians also.
Last week some of the men and I made a trip to Chitina. We bought some Indian moccasins and other souvenirs at the store there. On the way back to Dry Creek we stopped at some lakes to fish. We found a lake literally brimming with fish. We caught them as fast as we could throw our lures into the water. Next week I hope to get in more fishing at Moose Creek, near Glen Allen, where the fishing is rumored to be good.
Monday, June 14, 1943, Dry Creek, Alaska.
The Engineer Company is packing up now but no one knows exactly when the Company will be pulling out. The officers know where they will be going (Atka, in the Aleutian Islands) but the men have not been told. The men have deduced that they will be going somewhere in the Aleutians because they have been assured that they will not go back to the States (as they hoped). I am preparing my office records to take to Anchorage with me when I go there, probably within the next two weeks.
The weather has been very warm for the last two weeks. We had a mild thunderstorm with a few claps of distant thunder and at least one lightning streak. Such storms are very unusual in this area of Alaska. I am told that the Indians here are superstitious concerning the rare thunder and lightning that occurs.
We finally got over to Moose Creek to fish. The fish were jumping but few were biting the fly lures. Only five fish were caught by the group. .I caught one.
In the last several days I have been busy developing and printing the pictures that I have taken during the past winter. I have enough snapshots now to fill two albums. Today I took some color pictures with a borrowed Argus A2 camera. I'11 haveto send them back to the States for development. I have sent a mail order for an Argus C3 camera, but I am afraid that it may not be in production due to the war effort.
July 9, 1943, Anchorage, Alaska.
We finally wound up the project at Gulkana (Dry Creek). Company F of the 176th Engineer Regiment (with which I have been associated for more than a year) moved north up the Richardson Highway to Big Delta to reorganize and to help another Company put finishing touches on the Big Delta project. I think they will all eventually go to"Atka in the Aleutians.
Company F pulled out of Dry Creek On the morning Of July 5 th. I was left alone in the camp for the rest of the day. It sure was a lonely place after the men left. Many of the men came by my cabin to say good bye. Suddenly, when they were all gone, I realized that I had not said goodbye to Captain Childress, my boss during the past year. But, then I saw the Captain's Peep coming back into camp. Captain Childress had returned just to tell me goodbye and wish me well.
That afternoon two P-40 fighter planes dropped in at the Gulkana airfield. Very seldom do military planes come here. A few civilian planes stop by now and then. Earlier in the week two new P-40 fighters and a new B-25 bomber had landed. The Gulkana airfield is used for an emergency stopping place for planes being ferried from the States to Fairbanks. The field is a little west of the direct route so most of the planes skip the Gulkana field. There is a long series of CAA (Civil Aeronautics Authority) airfields built through Canada and Alaska to Fairbanks. This route is being used to ferry military planes to Russia. The planes are picked up by Russian pilots in Fairbanks and ferried through Siberia to European Russia. Other planes destined for Anchorage and the Aleutians fly over the Gulkana field.
I left Dry Creek on the morning of July 5th on the mail truck. The truck was a 2 1/2 ton regular Army ten wheeler which rides quite rough. Three of us, besides the driver, were making the trip. I reached the truck first so I got the front cab seat. The other two men rode in the canvas covered back. Even on the cushioned front seat the ride was hard on the backside.
The Post Ambulance was also making the trip to Anchorage with six more enlisted men in it. The Ambulance was almost worn out and it was feared that it might break down. So it was decided that the Ambulance would go first and the mail truck would come after so there would be no chance of men being stranded along the way by a break down.
The road was the newly and only partially constructed Glenn Highway connecting Palmer (and Anchorage) to the Richardson Highway at Glen Allen (very near to our camp at Dry Creek). Further north on the Richardson Highway at Big Delta there is a connection to the partially constructed Alcan Highway from the States. Thus, there is a road connection from the U. S. through Canada toboth Fairbanks and Anchorage. Although work started less than a year ago, the new roads are already passable to well equipped Army vehicles.
The first 40 or 50 miles of our trip from Dry Creek to Anchorage was in fairly good condition but very rough. Construction was in progress all along the way. Then direction of the Glenn Highway from Dry Creek was just slightly southwest, across the plateau which lies just inland and north from the Chugach coastal range and just west of the Wrangell range.
The plateau is dotted with hundreds of lakes, some very large. About 30 miles out the great Klutina lake could be seen to the south lying at the base of the Chugach Mountains. Klutina lake, about 20 miles south of the road lies at slightly lower altitude than the road so that the entire lake can be seen from the road. The lake is shaped like a hugh ell, each part being about 20 miles long. One leg of the ell goes far back into the Chugach mountains in a tight valley. The lake is formed by melt water from the hugh Columbia glacier and the glacier can be clearly seen from the Glenn Highway. The glacier drops down out of the mountains to their very base and into the valley of Klutina lake. The drop off of the glacier is not abruptly into the lake water but through a connection of many streams. The lake drains into the Klutina river which runs into the Copper River near Copper Center on the Richardson Highway.
We passed to the south of another very large lake, Tazlina lake, even larger than the Klutina. Tazlina lake was not visible from the Glenn Highway.
We did cross the Tazlina river, which drains Tazlina lake. When we reached the Tazlina river bridge we were surprised to see the ambulance trying to get up the hill on the far bank of the river. The mud was too deep and slick, even for the four wheel drive ambulance. The ambulance backed out of the way so that the 2 1/2 ton truck in which I was riding might make a try at the hill. The truck has ten drive wheels, including two sets of double wheels driving in back and two front wheels driving as well. It also has seven or eight gears forward. Nevertheless, the mud proved too much for the truck. It is very seldom that this particular army vehicle gets stuck. We managed finally to get the truck up the hillside through the mud by literally filling the mud road with tree trunks and branches which gave the driving wheels some traction. Then the truck was turned around at the top of the hill and its front mounted winch was used to pull the ambulance up the hill.
A second mud hole just a short distance from the river also was impassable at first. We repeated the operation of improving the road surface with tree limbs and then pulling the ambulance through with the truck winch.
About this time a small peep which had been following us tried to climb the hill. It had four wheel drive as well but it could not climb the hill. We instructed the ambulance to proceed on towards Anchorage while we in the truck repeated all the maneuvers to get the Peep through the mud. While we were doing this a civilian type truck had gotten stuck on the hill and was waiting to be winched up the hill. When the civilian truck was up th hill, another civilian vehicle was rapidly approaching across the river. At this point the mail truck driver, a soldier, balked at spending more time on the hill. We had spent more than two hours there, and after all the mail had to go through. We departed before the next vehicle had time to get stuck.
Two or three more times the ambulance got stuck ahead of us. The truck pushed it through each time.
Finally as we descended into the Matanuska Valley the road got much better. It was an older road which had been constructed for the Matanuska Valley homesteaders during the decade of the 1930s. When we reached the better road, the ambulance began to have trouble with its rear axel. But it did not break down completely, so we continued on toward Anchorage.
Soon after this we began to see signs of civilization along the road. First there was a railroad track. Then the Matanuska Valley farms began to appear. There were huge barns, nice houses with pickett fences, amd cows and horses in the fields. Forgetting the tall snow capped mountains that surround the valley, we might have been in Kentucky or Tennessee.
Soon we came to the little village of Palmer, the center of the homesteader and colonial community. The Alaska railroad went right through town. The track was a spur built off of the main north/south route of the railroad in order to service the Matanuska Valley.
At Palmer there were several government buildings used as offices by the Matanuska residents in some sort of co-operative plan to market the crops of the valley. There is a community center, a huge creamery, a trading store, office building, a garage and filling station, an overnight Lodge, and several houses occupied by the people running the various co-op businesses. Also there is a fine hospital, an elementary school and a high school.
Across the railroad tracks, in the part of the town devoted to non-government civilian enterprise, there were several saloons, a couple of general stores, and a few Liquor stores.
In general, the Matanuska Valley scenery is beautiful and the houses and fields are also beautiful. The houses have nice lawns with flowers. I did not know that anything of such kind existed in Alaska. We spent the night in Palmer and went on to Anchorage the next morning.
The road from Palmer to Anchorage was the best we have encountered in Alaska. It is entirely of gravel, but like a super-highway compared to other roads we have seen. We went through Fort Richardson on the way to Anchorage. Fort Richardson military reservation covers many square miles. Our route through the Fort was about 20 miles. On the reservation is the largest military air base in Alaska. We saw many planes in the air over the reservation.
We dropped the mail and the two soldier passengers in the Fort and drove on to Anchorage which was only about one mile from the Fort Richardson gate.
In Anchorage, I tried every hotel in town to try to get a room. But no room was available. My only hope lay in a possible room at the Parsons Hotel, a room which was supposed to be vacated that day. I finally dumped my baggage in the lobby of the U. S. Engineer office. Later in the day I finally got the room at the Parsons Hotel. The Engineer office loaned me a truck to take my luggage to the hotel.
Alas, at the hotel I found that my .room was too small to accommodate both me and my luggage. I put my foot locker in the basement of the hotel and tried to put another big box there also. But I could not get the big box down the stairs. I finally decided that the U. S. Engineer Office would just have to take care of the box for me so I took the box there. They promised to care for it.
At the U. S. Engineer office I learned that I could go for my next project either to Ladd Field in Fairbanks, or to Umnak Island in the Aleutians. I reasoned that it would cost much more for me to live in Fairbanks than in Umnak. I was paying $2.00 a day for my room in Anchorage, a room just barely big enough for my bed. And meals in town are at least $1.00 each. I wanted to save some money, so I chose Umnak.
My travel orders read to proceed from Gulkana (near Dry Creek) to Anchorage and then to Umnak via military aircraft. So now I am in Anchorage on call to be ready at any time, night or day, for a plane ride to Umnak. I am told that if a seat on a military plane does not become available in a reasonable time, I may have to proceed by boat. I am authorized to take up to 200 pounds of luggage with me on the plane. I have more than 200 pounds of luggage, so I will have to store part of my belongings here at the U. S. Engineer Office.
Anchorage is a very fine town. It has grown since I was first here a year ago. There are many fine office buildings and the town is up-to-date in every way, more of a city than many even larger sized towns in the States.
I can get no leave to visit the States. I am deferred from the military draft in a 2-B classification until September 30, 1943. Then I may be deferred again to continue with the U. S. Engineer Office, or I may be drafted into the military.
But that will be another story.
F. M. Perry (Written in 1993.)