Episode 109: Attu History Uncovered
On Frontiers, we love to explore history, especially stories that have been forgotten or overlooked. Such is the case with the Japanese invasion of Attu Island during World War II.
Most Americans have no idea that the only battle fought on U.S. soil took place in the Aleutians, but, the Attu story is even more obscure.
There are a number of events in Dutch Harbor this week to commemorate the Japanese Aleutian attacks — to honor the soldiers who fought — and to look at how this battle changed the course of the war, as well as the lives of the Unangan, or Aleuts, who were forced to leave their homes and moved to internment camps in Southeast Alaska.
This program originally aired in February 2016 — shortly after KTVA’s Bonney Bowman and photojournalist John Thain traveled to Attu to report on a clean-up of toxic wastes left behind from WWII. And as often happens with Frontiers, one thing leads to another.
Bonney was intrigued by the island — and the story of how an entire community was captured and taken to a concentration camp in Japan. Only half survived the harsh conditions — and those who did never returned home to Attu. The United States government resettled them on Atka, another island in the Aleutian chain.
Here are some of the highlights from this show:
- A look at the tar, fuel and goo that contaminates Attu Island — how it threatens birds other wildlife.
- Nick Golodoff’s story — Nick was only six-years-old when the Japanese invaded Attu. Thanks to the help from his granddaughter, Brenda Maly, who co-wrote his book, “Attu Boy,” we see life at a POW camp in Hokkaido through a child’s eyes.
- 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.
This show, however, does not look at how Americans took back Attu — another fascinating chapter of WWII history. Perhaps a story for a future Frontiers.