The past two weeks have been busy at the Museum of Veterans and Military History in Vilonia, with many visitors.
Nearly 1,000 children have logged in including about 700 from the Vilonia School District. Also, there have been several memorable veterans including two who served in World War II. One Vietnam veteran donated a couple of vases to the museum that were gifted to him in the 1960s as a going away gift from a Vietnamese houseboy.
One visitor, recently, asked one of the docents, A Korean Vet, for some help with a college paper. Another younger visitor wanted to know more about the American warfront. He said he is very interested in Alaska’s role in WWII. Although the docents are aware of it, there’s nothing really about it in the museum.
Alaska’s role as battlefield, lend-lease transfer station, and North Pacific stronghold has often been overlooked by historians. In recent years, awareness seems to be growing though regarding Alaska’s involvement. Some may not know that the only World War II battle fought on U.S. soil took place in Alaska or that Japanese forces occupied two Aleutian Islands for more than a year. The Aleutian Islands Campaign occurred in 1942. It took a team of the U.S. and Canadian forces almost a year to drive them off, due to the rough terrain and weather.
The goal for the Japanese was to control Pacific Ocean transportation. It prompted some Americans to believe that Alaska was a highly significant territory to hold and make into a state at a later date.
The battles raging in the Aleutians and around the world changed the lives of ordinary Alaskans. Many Alaska natives joined units of the Alaska Scouts and the Territorial Guard to patrol Alaska’s coasts and lead reconnaissance missions in combat zones. Aleuts living on the island of Attu were taken prisoner by the Japanese while families from both the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands were evacuated by U.S. forces and spent the remainder of the war in derelict fishing and mining camps.
Several books have been written on the battle to retake Attu, May 11-28, 1943. The battle claimed the lives of 549 Americans and left twice that number wounded. About 2,600 Japanese soldiers, according to historians, died during the fighting or committed suicide before being captured. Only 29 were taken prisoner. Also, there is documentation regarding The Lend-Lease Program where Russian pilots were trained in Fairbanks.
There is also a famous photo showing black engineers building a trestle bridge during the construction of the Alaska Canada Military Highway. Black G.I.’s made up roughly 40 percent of the estimated 11,500 Army troops who in just nine months completed a wilderness highway linking Alaska with the United States.
The question from the young visitor has inspired additional research.
Located at 53 N. Mt. Olive, the museum is open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays and 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., the first Sunday of the month. No charge to tour. For information, call 501-796-8181.