Alaska News

Memorial erected in honor of Attu's civilian war casualties

A new memorial to Attu Island villagers who were killed or captured by Japanese forces in World War II was erected on the long-abandoned site of the village on Tuesday. Senator Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo were with the party that traveled to the island at the end of the Aleutian chain for the dedication.

Col. Suellyn Novak, President of the Alaska Veterans Museum, said a Coast Guard C-130 flew the monument from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to Eareckson Air Station on Shemya Island. A helicopter from the Coast Guard cutter Munro, which was in the vicinity, transported the memorial to Attu.

An older memorial, erected in 1993 had been eroded by the elements, Novak said. "The old one was so deteriorated that you could barely read it."

The Alaska Veterans Museum spearheaded efforts to replace the old memorial with a more permanent marker so that the ordeal of the villagers would not be forgotten, Novak said. Other groups involved in the project included the Aleut and Pribilof Island Trust, Anchorage International Rotary Club, The Aleut Corporation and Legacy Funeral Homes.

She described the new memorial as composed of several bronze plaques made by J & T Foundry in North Pole and mounted on yellow cedar, donated and prepared by George S. Rhyneer. The entire structure is surrounded by a stainless steel cage.

The purpose of the cage is "to preclude thieving" of the highly-valued metal, Novak said. The bronze cost about $9,800 and the cage was valued at $6,500. "But Dowland-Bach donated the labor," she added.

Since the Battle of Attu in 1943, in which thousands of Japanese and American troops died in combat, the island has been inhabited mainly by small detachments of military personnel. The site, while difficult to reach, is essentially unprotected from vandals or thieves.

The memorial plaques were blessed by Archpriest John Zabinko of St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage on Saturday prior to being moved to Attu. The bronze plates include the names of 23 civilians who either died during the invasion or in prisoner of war camps and 26 people who survived the deportation and internment.

The Attuans were "the only North Americans forcibly removed from their homes" by enemy forces during the war, Ostebo said in remarks dedicating the memorial.

The Japanese army took Attu on June 7, 1942. In September of that year, the villagers "were herded into the hold of a coal freighter, and taken to internment camps in Japan," Ostebo said. "None of the villagers would see Attu Village again, for upon repatriation, they were relocated to Atka," hundreds of nautical miles to the east.

A depiction of the village as it once looked, with a Bureau of Indian Affairs school and an Orthodox church connected by a row of neat wood frame houses lining the beach, is on the memorial along with the names.

All structures in the village were destroyed after the Attuans were deported. Only depressions in the tundra mark where the houses once stood.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.


Anchorage Daily News

Mike Dunham

Mike Dunham has been a reporter and editor at the ADN since 1994, mainly writing about culture, arts and Alaska history. He worked in radio for 20 years before switching to print.