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WWII Survivors Commemorate The Bombing Of Unalaska And The Unangan Evacuation After 75 Years

Jun 8, 2017

Florence Stepetin (left) reaches for the arm of Fevronia McGillivrey at the end of a memorial event. The friends, who grew up on Saint Paul Island, were evacuated and sent to internment camps in 1942. Though McGillivrey now lives in Seattle, both women traveled to Unalaska to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the evacuation.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB

It’s been 75 years since the U.S. government removed the Unangax from their homes in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, following a deadly attack by the Japanese.

Hundreds of people gathered in Unalaska last weekend to commemorate the bombing of Dutch Harbor during World War II and hear stories from survivors.

Local veterans, and veterans stationed in the Aleutian Islands during WWII, return to their seats together after raising Alaska, U.S., and POW/MIA flags to begin the commemoration.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
After a long flight from Anchorage, Colonel Alex Roesch grins at his co-pilot over the tail of the Harvard Mk IV, which dates back to 1951. Two historic aircraft made the trip to Unalaska for the 75th commemoration of the bombing of Dutch Harbor in WWII.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
Unalaskans listen to stories about the decision to evacuate 881 Unangax from their homes after the Japanese attack. The U.S. government sent families to abandoned canneries and mining camps in southeast Alaska, where many lived without running water, plumbing, or electricity. More than ten percent of the evacuees died in the camps.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
Patricia Kudrin Sharp listens during a closed-door conversation between veterans who served in and evacuees who were removed from the Aleutians during WWII. Sharp was born in Burnett Inlet, an internment camp in Southeast Alaska, to parents who had been evacuated from Kashega.
After sharing a slideshow of photos from prewar Unalaska, Gert Svarny speaks to WWII evacuees and veterans about her experience in a southeast Alaska internment camp. She was 12 years old when the Unangax were evacuated.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
Dorothy Shabolin of St. Paul Island adds some levity to a storytelling session between veterans and evacuees by breaking into the Charleston. Her energetic rendition of “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay" also met with clapping and cheers from the audience.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
Frank Vaughn (left) shakes the hand of Bob Brocklehurst (right). Both men served on Attu Island during WWII — Vaughn as a radio operator and Brocklehurst as a fighter jet pilot.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
Helena Schmitz is a descendant of the Hodikoff family of Attu Island. The Attuans never returned home after they were captured by the Japanese and held as prisoners during WWII. Schmitz lives in Anchorage and works as an environmental scientist for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
Allan Serroll of Woods Hole, MA served on Attu Island during WWII. He remembered the baby blue foxes he and his fellow soldiers kept as pets during the war. According to Serroll, the foxes loved one thing in particular: Hershey's chocolate bars. Returning to Unalaska, Serroll came prepared.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
Many WWII veterans stationed in the Aleutians remembered the weather as their most formidable enemy the war. More than one pilot felt the weather caused more American casualties than the Japanese. The veterans didn't have to relive the Aleutian wind and rain during the commemoration — at least, not all weekend.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
At a traditional luncheon, hosted by the Qawalangin Tribe, June McGlashan passes out lusta: fermented seal flipper. St. Paul Islanders brought the Unangax delicacy to share with evacuees, veterans, and other elders.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
Joe Sasser Jr.'s hat waits while Sasser eats a slice of cake during the commemoration. A veteran from Mississippi, Sasser arrived on Kiska Island one day after the Japanese abandoned it under cover of fog. Sasser remembers his reluctance to eat the left-behind food, concerned that it was poisoned.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
A member of the Unalaska Unangax Dancers has her regalia adjusted before a performance for veterans, evacuees, and dignitaries.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
In the summer of 1942, Everett LaVigne (left) was evacuated from Unalaska with his mother and sister on the SS President Fillmore, an ammunitions ship that was attacked during the bombing. His father, who was white, was allowed to stay behind. LaVigne later served in the Vietnam War and worked as an engineer for the U.S. Coast Guard.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
Veteran Bob Brocklehurst often wondered why he hadn’t met any Unangans during his time in the Aleutians. He did not learn about the evacuation and internment of the islanders until the commemoration, 75 years later.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB
Dorothy Shabolin (left) and Patricia Kudrin Sharp (right) return to their seats after taking pictures with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Gov. Bill Walker at the commemoration. Both women spent the early years of their childhoods in internment camps in Southeast Alaska, and moved back to the Aleutians after WWII.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB