• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
2m 32s

Episode 66: The Uncovered History of Alaska’s Attu Island

By KTVA Alaska 6:26 PM July 31, 2016

Forgotten history is one of my favorite Alaska frontiers to explore — uncovered secrets from the past inform the present.

This week on Frontiers we take you to Attu, one of those isolated, hard-to-get-to spots. Abandoned yet full of mystery with so many unanswered questions lingering in the air.

Although this small island in the Aleutian chain played a pivotal role during World War II, its history has been mostly forgotten. Few Americans even know Japanese soldiers invaded and occupied Attu and another island, Kiska — the only American soil ever seized since the War of 1812 when America was at war with the British.

KTVA’s Bonney Bowman recently traveled to Attu with photographer John Thain to report on a clean-up of toxic wastes left behind from WWII. And as often happens with Frontiers, one thing led to another.

Bonney was intrigued by the island and began to explore another chapter of its forgotten history: the story of the Aleut or Unangan, the indigenous people who once lived and thrived there before the Japanese invaded and took the entire community to a prisoner of war camp in Japan. Only half of the forty people survived the harsh conditions, but they never returned home to Attu. The United States government resettled them on Atka, another island in the Aleutian chain.

This week, we are happy to showcase some of Bonney and John’s fine work on Frontiers. Some of the highlights:

  • A look at the tar, fuel and goo that contaminates the island and threatens birds other wildlife.
  • Nick Golodoff’s story — Nick was only six-years-old when the Japanese invaded Attu. Thanks to help from his granddaughter, Brenda Maly, who co-wrote his book, “Attu Boy,” we learn about Nick’s friendship with a Japanese soldier who befriended him at a POW camp in Hokkaido.
  • An interview with Rachel Mason, a cultural anthropologist with the National Park Service. Rachel not only helped to edit “Attu Boy,” but in the course of her research interviewed many of the Unagan survivors of WWII.

One of the wonderful things I love about being a part of Frontiers is all the help we get from Alaskans in bringing these stories to you.

We want to thank the archivists at the Alaska State Library and Alaska State Archives for providing video and photographs.

We also had help from Michael Livingston of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, who provided the POW photographs we shared with you. They are haunting images — especially those of the children with numbers attached to their clothing, reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps.

We hope this show helps you to see beyond the numbers. I knew the Japanese invaded the Aleutians, as part of their strategy to control the Pacific, but like many Alaskans had never heard of the story of the Attu islanders.

We did not have time to look into what happened, when the Americans took back Attu — also a fascinating chapter of WWII history. Perhaps a story for a future Frontiers.

Latest Stories

  • Sports

    Native Youth Olympics highlight culture, camaraderie for competitors

    by Heather Hintze on Apr 27, 20:21

    For athletes at the 2017 Native Youth Olympics (NYO), the games are all about culture and community. “My favorite part about NYO is the camaraderie between everyone,” said Allie Ivanoff, a sophomore in Unalakleet. “You can go up to a person and they’ll coach you if you need it. Everything is about sportsmanship in this […]

  • Politics

    Wasilla representative casts lone no vote on bill honoring Alaska’s Hmong veterans

    by Liz Raines on Apr 27, 20:07

    A state lawmaker known for going against the grain on votes with racial undercurrents sparked controversy Thursday. Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) was the lone vote against a bill in the Alaska House to honor Hmong veterans who supported the United States in the Vietnam War. Eastman also voted against a bill honoring black soldiers earlier […]

  • Politics

    Eastman calls for reprimand after LeDoux blocks committee debate

    by Liz Raines on Apr 27, 19:38

    There are more signs of friction in Juneau this week. The latest example came between two fellow Republicans in the House, when a seemingly non-controversial committee meeting became anything but. It ended with one lawmaker calling for a reprimand of the House Rules Committee chair, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage). Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) is calling […]

  • News

    State fire investigator takes stand on Day 5 of Sockeye Fire trial

    by Shannon Ballard on Apr 27, 19:15

    Memories of the 2015 Sockeye Fire were reignited Thursday, five days into the state’s case against the Anchorage couple accused of starting the destructive blaze — Greg Imig and Amy DeWitt. In recorded interviews, Imig repeatedly told fire investigators there was no way the more than 7,000 acre wildfire could have started on his property, but state […]

  • News

    Trump to sign order aimed at expanding offshore drilling

    by Associated Press on Apr 27, 17:11

    President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Friday that could lead to the future expansion of drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. The order will direct his interior secretary to review a plan that dictates which locations are open to offshore drilling. It’s Trump’s latest effort to dismantle his predecessor’s environmental legacy and […]

  • On-Air

    Reality check w/ John Tracy: Grading Trump’s first 100 days in office

    by John Tracy on Apr 27, 16:57

    The press is fixated this week on grading Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. The grade depends on exactly what you’re grading the president on. First, by objective standards, the president has signed 28 bills into law — far more than his two predecessors, and more than Bill Clinton. He’s also signed more executive […]

  • Anchorage police make 2 DUI arrests at same location

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Apr 27, 16:35

    Police arrested two separate motorists on DUI charges at an Anchorage gas station early Sunday morning. The first driver, 33-year-old Duane Nash, was pulled over for speeding on Minnesota Drive shortly before 4 a.m., according to a release from the Anchorage Police Department. After he pulled into a gas station parking lot on Spenard Road, police noticed […]

  • News

    Latest: Tillerson says China asked North Korea to stop nuke tests

    by Associated Press on Apr 27, 16:06

    The Latest on tensions on the Korean Peninsula (all times local): 6:35 p.m. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says China has asked North Korea to conduct no further nuclear tests. Tillerson says China also told the U.S. that it had informed North Korea “that if they did conduct further nuclear tests, China would be […]