>Introduction to Attu, by CWO Bower

> Temnac Valley, Attu, AK

We are stuck inside again today with a williwaw blowing (the Aleut word for hurricane force winds and driving snow) so I thought I should write a little about the island and our job here.

Attu Island has a colorful history. It is located well past the date line: in fact it is closer to Russia and Japan than to mainland Alaska. The original population of native Aleuts maintained a strong culture using bidarkas (the Aleut version of the kayak) to harvest resources from the surrounding oceans. When the Russians arrived they subjected the Aleuts to their gentle form of rule resulting in some of the names around the island. Massacre Bay and Murder Point are the two most obvious examples. The Russians introduced the Artic Blue Fox and used the Aleuts to trap the fox for their fur trade. Attu was ceded to America when we purchased Alaska, and some of the population stayed on to continue the fur trade.

Recognizing its stategic location on the Great Circle Route between the Far East and the American west coast, Japan seized Attu during World War II . Their ships landed about 2800 men to capture the island in 1942 in a relatively bloodless action. In May of 1943 American forces landed on three beaches to reclaim Attu. In 19 days of hellish action the Americans lost over 540 men, while the Japanese fought nearly to the last man. The battle ended in a Japanese Banzai charge that took the American forces by surprise. There are still many scars and relics left from the battle, including bomb craters, rifle pits, unexploded munitions and rusting hulks barely recognizable as vehicles. None of the native population returned to stay after the war.

The Coast Guard arrived in 1943 to begin our long history on Attu. We constructed the first of three LORAN stations on remote Theodore Point to transmit a navigation signal used by our planes and ships. The equipment was upgraded and moved to Murder Point after the Marines left that location, then the station was upgraded and moved a second time to its current location. We still transmit a navigation and timing signal 24 hours a day, every day. Despite the harsh conditions and our proximity to the Arctic with its interference on electronics, we try to keep our signal usable 99.99 percent of the time. We are also linked to two stations in Russia to form a second navigation option. There are 21 men assigned to the island to maintain the transmitters, power generators and hotel services. We are here for one year, with a brief break available at about the half way point.

In the summer months (as shown in the picture) Attu is cool and hospitable with an incredible diversity of flowers and plants. The flowers vary greatly depending on their elevation: our highest mountains reach 3000 feet. We are blessed with lots of snow, rain and fog, so we have many streams tumbling down the steep mountains. In the fall salmon run up many of those streams to spawn. We have no native mammals, and the fox were eradicated because of their detrimental affect on the native birds. And the birds come here in droves! The island hosted many “Birders” in past decades, but they are no longer allowed to visit, so that job is left to the Coast Guard men and women who are privileged to serve here at the eastern-most spot in America.
Attu’s varied history, mountain vistas and recreational attractions make it a unique and awe-inspiring place to visit.