NPS Joins Commemoration of Dutch Harbor Bombing Anniversary
The National Park Service will join several community and agency partners this weekend in commemorating the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Dutch Harbor in World War II. The three-day event will recognize and honor veterans who served in the Aleutian Campaign, and the Aleut people who were removed from their home villages to internment camps in Southeast Alaska.
Speakers and representatives of the Ounalashka Corporation, the Qawangalin Tribe, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, and the City of Unalaska will participate and were among the organizers of the ceremonies. Ravn Alaska will fly more than 30 veterans and evacuees of the bombing of Dutch Harbor to the commemoration event.
During World War II the remote Aleutian Islands, home to the Unangan (Aleut) people for over 8,000 years, became a fiercely contested battleground. This thousand-mile-long archipelago saw invasion by Japanese forces, the occupation of two islands; a mass relocation of Unangax civilians; a 15-month air war; and one of the deadliest battles in the Pacific Theater.
The air raid on Dutch Harbor came in the opening months of the United States’ involvement in World War II. On June 3 and June 4, 1942, carrier-based aircraft bombed and strafed Dutch Harbor and neighboring facilities, and were met with anti-aircraft fire – a secret Japanese message warning of the attack had been intercepted three weeks before, and since late May the installation had been on high alert. On June 7 the Japanese military took Kiska Attu islands, farther west on the Aleutian Islands.
In response to Japanese bombing and invasion, U.S. authorities evacuated nearly 900 Unangax from nine villages. They were herded from their homes onto cramped transport ships, most allowed only a single suitcase. Heartbroken, Atka villagers watched as U.S. servicemen set their homes and church afire so they would not fall into Japanese hands.
The Unangax were transported to Southeast Alaska and there crowded into abandoned canneries, a herring saltery, and gold mine camp – rotting facilities with no plumbing, electricity or toilets. For two years they struggled to survive. Illness of one form or another struck all the evacuees, but medical care was often nonexistent, and the authorities were dismissive of their complaints. Thirty-two died at the Funter Bay camp, 17 at Killisnoo, 20 at Ward lake, and five at Burnett Inlet.
As the Aleuts returned after the war, three small villages – Biorka, Kashega and Makushin -- which had been destroyed during the evacuation period were never resettled. Decades after the war, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and others focused attention on government actions during the war, culminating in the passage a reparations bill on August 10, 1988.
In 1996, Congress established the Aleutian WWII National Historic Area, incorporating World War II airfield and defense facilities. The area is owned by Ounalashka Corporation, and the National Park Service provides consultation and technical assistance.