Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Alaska Territorial Guard in Action, WWII

The Alaska Territorial Guard in Action

In the winter of 1937, Gen. Malin Craig, U.S. Army Chief of Staff said, “…the mainland of Alaska is so remote from the strategic areas of the Pacific that it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which air operations therefrom would contribute materially to the national defense.” This overall sentiment seemed to be the case in the early 1940’s when the National Guard was federalized shortly before the attack of Pearl Harbor. Alaska National Guard members were almost totally removed from the State of Alaska at the time of their activation.

Pictured Here: Japanese bombing of Dutch Harbor, 4 June 1942. Historical Photo - Public Domain: Naval Historical Center, Department of the United States Navy

This created a need for an armed territorial force in the summer of 1942 when the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Territorial Governor, Ernest Gruening, commissioned the creation of the Alaska Territorial Guard that same year. He asked Major Marvin R. Marston and Captain Carl Schreibner to be his military aides.

Major Marston believed that the Alaska Territory was some of the most important territory America controlled at the time. Major Marston is quoted as saying, “The nation’s whose air bases are nearest the North Pole will be feared most and have the least to fear.”

Over the course of the Major’s four-plus years of service in Alaska, he became known as “Angaiyokak”, or “boss”, to the Eskimos. Ernest Gruening referred to Major Marston as “The Arctic Lawrence”, likening his level of respect from the Eskimo people, and the Major’s level respect for the Eskimo people to that of Lawrence of Arabia.

Recruiting began in earnest in 1942 and continued into 1943. By this time, Japanese troops controlled Attu and Kiska islands in the Aleutian Island chain off the coast of Alaska. These islands were part of the territory claimed by America and became significant in World War II history in that Attu and Kiska were the only U.S. lands occupied by a foreign force during the war.

The remaining American forces in the area, units of the Alaskan National Guard not moved elsewhere to fight, and the Alaska Territorial Guard, launched a massive attack of the island of Attu on May 11th, 1943. It only took them three weeks to repel the Japanese.

The primary invasion force of the Japanese retreated from Kiska on June 28th, 1943.

The Alaska Territorial Guard was under the command of the Alaska Defense Command and also assisted in moving equipment and supplies to the Russians during World War II.

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