Category Archives: WWII

The Ambulance

As we approach Independence Day this week,  maybe it is a good time to reflect on the miracle of being born in this country and the freedom espoused in the Declaration of Independence.  And of the debt owed to so many who have fought so that that freedom remains after more than 200 year.

Liberty-1943

From our propaganda collection

 

Sitting out in front of the hangar in our parking lot is an Army ambulance.  Not WWII era,  but rather a 1967 Viet Nam-era vehicle.  This ambulance came to Yakutat as surplus and served as our first official EMS vehicle.  As a kid,  I remember it parked in the brush just about 100 yards from where it sits now.  It unfortunately rotted away in the weeds for a long time and is far too gone to be restored.  Although it is a neat decoration for the hangar,  she is in a real sorry shape.

Last year,  there was a huge armory auction down in California.  Among the various Shermans and artillery was a 1967 Army ambulance exactly like ours.  They had estimated its value to be between $5,000 and $10,000.  I fantasized about buying it and secretly one night swapping it out with our derelict version and then wait to see how long it would take anyone to notice.  Unfortunately,  the bidding got out of hand and it ended up selling for a whopping $65,000!  Oh well.

Today,  I stumbled upon a find…  A nice drivable 1967 Army ambulance.  Not restored,  but preserved in relatively good shape.  It is OUR ambulance!  The seller wants $14,750 for it.  No idea how to get it from Virginia to Seattle for the barge trip to Yakutat…  Would make for a fun road trip and there are “bunks” in the back you can sleep in!

https://classiccars.com/listings/view/1083719/1967-jeep-military-for-sale-in-lynchburg-virginia-24501

Unfortunately this isn’t to be…  We’re still trying to get out from under the fuel facility debt,  so this year doesn’t have any extra cash for artifacts,  no matter how cool they may be.  Oh well.  Maybe the 3rd time will be the charm.  Although if anyone out there needs a tax deductible donation for their taxes…

Here are a few more of our original propaganda posters…  Tried to give you a variety…

Advertisements

A Wonderful Life

We have so many blessings to be thankful for.  2017 was a tough year for us,  but as we see the year come to a close,  we are reminded of the wonderful friendships we have through the shop and the blog and our vast extended family.  Thank you all.  I certainly have a big backlog of things to say and I always promise to spill all and end up too busy to do it.  Just know how much you are in our thoughts,  prayers and hopes for the coming year.

Last night (as we always do on Christmas Eve),  we watched the greatest Christmas movie of all again…  A very good friend of ours is actually Frank Capra’s grandson,  which is a wonderful connection to my all-time favorite Hollywood director.  Every time we watch a Capra movie,  we stuff a dollar into a jar to pay for the lapsed copyrights on Frank’s film catalog.  The jar is overflowing and someday will go to the family for keeping his legacy alive (we watch these things a LOT).  It may not amount to much and won’t save the historic family cabin in the Sierras,  but…  Someday when we have the museum done and have our theater,  I want to have a Frank Capra marathon,  see if one of the movie channels would coordinate with it,  have the family here to talk about the moves for our very own special features documentaries and commentaries,  etc.  With historic artifacts on display like his three Best Director Oscars,  etc.

Lots of online articles featuring It’s a Wonderful Life today – including some idiotic feminazi claiming the movie is sexist and pushes a misogynist message to oppress women.  Such a ridiculous claim because in reality it is Mary who is the strong rock and hero of the picture…  Not the troubled lead character contemplating suicide…  An article written by a truly sexist idiot who can’t see an unconventional heroin by modern standards save the life and soul of a man (she goes on to say men should stop acting in lead roles altogether – way to go CNN,  you beclown yourselves again-I’m not linking to it because you really don’t need to read this crap).  But most of the other articles respectfully proclaim the movie to be the treasure it is.  And several that delve deeply into the troubled actor Colonel James Stewart who struggled in his post-WWII civilian role as so many war veterans did and still do today.  I urge you to read Jimmy Stewart – Bomber Pilot

I’ll end my babble quoting one of the articles and a long quote from the director himself,  on why be made the film and attitudes that shaped most of his successful career:

“I didn’t give a film-clip whether critics hailed or hooted Wonderful Life. I thought it was the greatest film I had ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made. It wasn’t made for the oh-so-bore critics, or the oh-so-jaded literati. It was my kind of film for my kind of people. …

A film to tell the weary, the disheartened and the disillusioned; the wino, the junkie, the prostitute; those behind prison walls and those behind Iron Curtains, that no man is a failure!

To show those born slow of foot or slow of mind, those oldest sisters condemned to spinsterhood, and those oldest sons condemned to unschooled toil, that each man’s life touches so many other lives. And that if he wasn’t around it would leave an awful hole.

A film that said to the downtrodden, the pushed-around, the pauper, “Heads up, fella. No man is poor who has one friend. Three friends and you’re filthy rich.”

A film that expressed its love for the homeless and the loveless; for her whose cross is heavy and him whose touch is ashes; for the Magdalenes stoned by hypocrites and the afflicted Lazaruses with only dogs to lick their sores.

I wanted it to shout to the abandoned grandfathers staring vacantly in nursing homes, to the always-interviewed but seldom-adopted half-breed orphans, to the paupers who refuse to die while medical vultures wait to snatch their hearts and livers, and to those who take cobalt treatments and whistle — I wanted to shout, “You are the salt of the earth. And It’s a Wonderful Life is my memorial to you!”

From the article:
https://stream.org/frank-capra-wonderful-life/

Alaska Warbird in Smithsonian

A friend of ours lives down in Florida,  who’s grandfather served in Alaska during WWII with the RCAF.  She has a great blog that honors her granddad as well as the other men who fought and served during the Aleutian campaign.  Her link has been on the right side of my blog for several years under the “WWII Web Sites” box titled “Florida Beaches to the Bering Sea“…

This morning,  Karen e-mailed to say she had helped to find the true identity of the P-40 hanging in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum…  It was her grandfather’s plane!

A19600242000cp03

The Smithsonian just posted a story about the plane and its history on their website:

https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/unknown-history-curtiss-p-40e-lopes-hope

All I can really add is that I hope they repaint it someday to her original colors,  to honor the men who actually flew her instead of someone who didn’t…

Abel1IMG_0002_0

Alaska Warbird Museum Posts

For those of you who would like to continue to follow what is happening with the hangar renovation and the Alaska Warbird Museum,  I’m separating that from the regular blog and it’ll have it’s own HomePage and blog.  Feel free to go to www.akwarbirds.org to stay in the loop with that.  You can easily subscribe to new blog posts and updates there.

In the meantime,  we are one week away from our 75th anniversary celebration and fly-in/air-show.  Commemorating the grand opening of the Yakutat Army Air Base.  They spent a year building it to be an advanced bomber base for a war we were not in and had their grand opening 3 months before Pearl Harbor…  What did we know and when did we know it…?

Tentatively scheduled to appear – Alaska Air National Guard,  a 1941 Navy Grumman Goose,  possibly 2 t-6’s giving rides and our Lt. Governor and weather depending,  we could see as many as 200+ aircraft flying into little ol’ Yakutat.  If that’s the case,  come see me completely melt down and collapse in a nervous breakdown!  If the weather is bad,  we could be having a quiet little family dinner in the hangar instead…

Events are scheduled to begin at noon Friday August 5th,  with hangar banquet dinner scheduled for 6pm.  Saturday morning starts early with Yakutat’s regular Fairweather Day celebration at Cannon Beach (home of our two 6″ Coastal Defense Guns).

Again,  new web site for the Alaska Warbird Museum is www.akwarbirds.org.

The 75th Anniversary fly-in/air show

75 years ago, war came to Alaska and Yakutat was at the leading edge of our defense of the territory.  The first Army Air Base completed in Alaska,  Yakutat for a time had the longest runway on the west coast and became the model for other early air bases throughout Alaska.

Lightning Banner

P-38 Lightening with hangar in background – this plane crashed on Attu 3 months after the photo was taken

 

2016 holds many 75th anniversaries to major WWII events,  most notably for the country is December 7th,  when Imperial Japan attacked the Navy Base at Pearl Harbor.  In Alaska,  they knew what was coming and began a massive build-up to defend the territory from what was to come.  Oddly,  some of the self-made obstacles toward Alaska’s defense became a tremendous advantage.

In early ‘42, there was really nothing the US could do to slow the Japanese advance throughout the Pacific.  Our best effort turned out to be a strategic failure called the Doolittle Raid.  Lead by Jimmy Doolittle,  we launched a handful of twin-engine land bombers off the deck of the carrier Hornet.  These aircraft were being ferried to China for them to use,  however all but two ran out of fuel and crashed.  On their way by Tokyo,  they dropped a handful of bombs that did little damage.  In other words,  the mission was a complete failure – except for that it had done to the Japanese psyche.  They had told their people they were invincible – that no one could touch them.  Yet,  here comes a collection of land bombers.

The only information the Japanese could glean from the Doolittle Raid was that Jimmy Doolittle grew up in Nome. This little factoid had absolutely no bearing on the raid,  but it fed into Japan’s obsession with Alaska.  As the Battle of Midway approached,  Japan had twice the carriers available,  along with the more experienced piltos and technologically advanced aircraft.  They divided their forces and sent two of those carriers to the Aleutians,  giving us an even fight.  In other words,  because of their obsession with Alaska,  we had 3 carriers and one island to their four carriers,  found their fleet first and sank all four of their carriers at Midway,  allowing the US more time to rebuild our devastated fleet and train our men.

Dauntless Banner

SBD Dauntless dive bomber parked on the ramp between the control tower and hangar – SBD’s are credited with sinking all 4 Japanese carriers at Midway

 

Up here in Alaska, we were at war with Japan,  but a war had been raging for years (or a century) between the US Army and US Navy.  They didn’t share information,  they fought over funding and jurisdictional control,  etc.  Since the President was a Navy man,  the Navy usually won these battles.  General Buckner,  commander of the Army in Alaska was told not to set foot in the Aleutians because islands are ships and therefore the jurisdiction of the Navy.

YAK_Historic_Aerial_photo_Nov_1_1947

Yakutat Air Base circa 1947

 

Initially in 1940, Buckner was given authorization and money to build three projects in Alaska.  Yakutat,  Annette Island and the Cold-weather Research Station in Fairbanks.  The Yakutat Air Base was supposed to have three runways and we only have two.  General Buckner secretly embezzled money from his three projects,  put it into a private bank account,  set up a private for-profit corporation and set out to build two “canneries” in the Aleutians.  When these “canneries” were done,  we had two new air bases.  Air bases so “secret” that the Japanese spy network didn’t have a clue because even the US didn’t know we had them!

586-sioux-falls-air-base

Typical layout of runways on WWII airbases in the lower 48 – Yakutat’s 3rd runway would have aligned with our westerly winds

 

When the Japanese struck Unalaska and the Navy Base at Dutch Harbor, they had three times as many men to land as the US had to defend the entire territory.  Suddenly,  they were hit by a P-40 fighter response so much stronger than they expected that they decided to withdraw and land their people on Attu and Kiska – a thousand miles away.  Yakutat’s third runway on Umnak and Cold Bay saved Alaska from that eminent invasion.  Had these bases been financed in the open,  Japan would undoubtedly have been prepared and Alaska’s role in the war could have been far different.

 

Although the first bomber landed at the new air base on May 8th (that is our official “establishment date”),  the formal grand opening ceremony took place August 6th,  1941.  This year,  Fairweather Day falls on that date,  so we moved our official Grand Opening Anniversary celebration to Friday August 5th,  2016.  We are celebrating with a state-wide fly-in and air show,  complete with aircraft from the National Guard and possibly the Canadian Air Force.  There will be WWII aircraft from up in Anchorage that weather permitting will give rides for a fee.  The event will close with a 6pm hangar banquet dinner (for a $30 donation PP) and speeches from General Hummel and Lt. Governor Mallott.

Valiant Banner

The KWAAN BT-13 Valiant where it crashed near the mouth of the Situk – notice the train tracks in the background

 

This will be a busy weekend, with the new Sandy Beach Park dedication Friday at noon,  our events begin an hour later at 1pm with a paper airplane contest (we’re going for distance across the hangar bay floor when launched from the 2nd floor balcony),  short-field landing contest at 2pm and flour drop (the pilot flies over the target and tries to drop his baggy of flour as close to the mark as possible out the window) at 4pm.  Aircraft static displays will be on the ramp for visitors to explore.  Yes,  we need volunteers to help with logistics,  airport security and set-up.  Contact me at the fly shop if you want to lend a hand.

OK, here is my disclaimer…  We are obviously still a long way from being the museum we hope to become.  We just couldn’t let this particular 75th anniversary pass by without marking it in some way.  My grand hope right now is just to have a few toilets that flush and the hangar bay relatively clean for the event.  If it rains,  we’ll probably have no one from outside Yakutat show up,  but a beautiful day could bring in dozens – if not hundreds of aircraft from around the state.  As our first event,  our learning curve has been steep,  but we’ll get better over the years as we have more and more air shows under our belt.  Ultimately,  this event is about honoring those who serve our country,  not just the Greatest Generation,  but all the vets and active servicemen and women who protect our freedom.  Freedom doesn’t come from the promises of politicians,  or the words on old dusty documents.  It comes from the people who stand with their bodies as our shields,  to protect us from those who wish us harm.

Tentative Schedule of Events:

1200hrs Rasmuson Sandy Beach Park dedication

1300hrs Paper Airplane Contest

1400hrs Short-field Landing Contest

1600hrs Flour Drop

1800hrs Hangar Banquet

1900hrs Speeches

2000hrs Wrap/clean-up

RememberDec7th-1942

1942 original propaganda poster from our collection (hopefully will be displayed for the event…)

We found a Date!

Follow-up to the hangar fire story…  Charlie Russell located an aircraft damage report that showed a PV-1 Venture twin-engine bomber was damaged by “army handling” during a hangar fire in Yakutat.  The date of the incident shows April 16th,  1944.  Still don’t know the cause,  but I’m working on that as well…

Lockheed Hudson of the 406th stationed in Yakutat - the damaged Ventura is the same basic design,  just improved

Lockheed Hudson of the 406th stationed in Yakutat – the damaged Ventura is the same basic design, just improved

Soldier with rifle at Cannon Beach

Soldier with rifle at Cannon Beach

Soft-top Jeep in front of the fly shop...

Soft-top Jeep in front of the fly shop…

Ingrid Bergman visits Alaska and stopped by here

Ingrid Bergman visits Alaska and stopped by here

The coffee shop sign at the airbase

The coffee shop sign at the airbase

The coffee shop,  where Leo's Vehicles is now...

The coffee shop, where Leo’s Vehicles is now…

Just received a patch in the mail today – Alaska Territorial Guard patch.  Pretty cool!

PB050046

Big thank you again to Levi,  for sending these photos.  I’ll share more later…

A HUGE Surprise about the Hangar!

I have been in this hangar,  tearing it apart and rebuilding for years now.  I thought In knew most of its major history,  but I was wrong!

A couple weeks ago,  a guy named Levi in Fairbanks contacted me asking if some photos from WWII he had were from Yakutat.  He e-mailed a batch and they were…  He acquired an album 4 years ago containing nearly 200 WWII photos most of which were taken here through the entire war.  One of them caught my eye as strange:

The completed ramp, Dauntless and PBYs and a hangar without windows

The completed ramp, Dauntless and PBYs and a hangar without windows

I LOVE the line of 7 SBD Dauntless Dive Bombers lined up in front of the hangar,  along with the two PBY Catalinas behind them.  But the hangar isn’t “right”.  I have seen photos during construction where the windows and siding were not installed,  but the ramp wasn’t paved at the time.  This photo shows all the windows from my office and the fly shop missing.  Later in the deluge of photos he sent,  there were two more showing a catastrophic fire that devastated this side of the building:

IMG_20150927_0027

I have never heard of any fire.  No one else I have talked to around here knew of a fire.  Renovating this side of the building has been easier because the walls were all covered with Masonite instead of the concrete/asbestos siding for the hangar bay and northeast side.  That is because this side had to be completely rebuilt a couple years after the hangar was erected.

IMG_20150927_0028

That must have been an incredibly intense fire,  to twist the “I” beams like they did and burn through the “unburnable” concrete/asbestos siding.  The damage lessens toward the fly shop end,  so the fire must have started right where the old ambulance is parked now.

Levi just received two batches of photos from a dealer in Massachusetts that are also from Yakutat.  The condition of these is pretty poor,  but remarkably both photographers took pictures of some of the same aircraft and events.  The album had come from Arizona.  I’ll be posting more of Levi’s collection shortly,  but the Great Hangar Fire was such a shock to learn about.  Figured I’d share that with you first…

B-24 on the Yakutat Airbase ramp

B-24 on the Yakutat Airbase ramp

Navy PBY with the hangar in the distance

Navy PBY with the hangar in the distance

My favorite plane!

My favorite plane!

A B-17 lumbering into a parking spot

A B-17 lumbering into a parking spot