An Alaskan Christmas

Aleutian Christmas

Aleutian Christmas

CHIPLEY, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — A 10-inch blanket of snow covered Fort Richardson, Alaska, when Oscar “Buck” Buchanan first arrived in October 1942.

“To some of us Florida boys, this was an experience,” Buchanan wrote in an account detailing his service during World War II that he mailed to The News Herald. “The train was late [to pick us up] and we were told it was due to moose, who would use the tracks for walking through a tunnel made of snow and couldn’t get off the tracks.”

106th Engineers

106th Engineers

This is where Buchanan, a private in the National Guard, spent most of World War II with the Company D, Second Battalion, 106th Engineers.

Two years earlier, Buchanan, then 22, left West Bay with his friend Alex Hinote to enlist.

“At that time, I either had to volunteer into the service or be drafted,” he said.

After a brief honeymoon with his new wife, Juanita Sasnett, he started moving around the country, first for his own training, then to train others.

When the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, everything changed, he said. The unit was told to prepare to ship overseas for combat, their time extended for the length of the war, and they were promoted to general engineers.

Troops on Attu

Troops on Attu

“Our trucks, with a lot of equipment, were loaded onto a train and preceded us to Fort Dix, and sent directly to England. We followed later on Pullman cars — our first train ride — and were scheduled to follow our equipment to England on the Queen Mary,” Buchanan wrote. “While waiting for the boat, another decision was made for us to be sent to Alaska.”

The Japanese had occupied the Aleutian Islands, which fan out toward Asia from the southwestern tip of Alaska, and the U.S. government was worried about the possibility of a mainland invasion from the north.

So Buchanan was sent in the opposite direction of his things.

Along the way, he stopped with a few friends in Olympia, Wash., for 72 hours.

“We visited a ‘service center’ and were entertained by some of the staff. We asked the lady at the piano if she could play ‘Dixie.’ She could and we sang ‘Dixie Land, where I was born’ along with her,” Buchanan, now 95, wrote.

Later in the evening, they tried local oysters, confusing the waitress by asking for them raw instead of in stew.

“When the oysters came, they were the size of a quarter and in a bowl. They tasted like chalk. She said they came from China,” he recalled. “We took the stew.”

Muir Glacier, 1940's

Muir Glacier, 1940’s

The dining reportedly did not improve as Buchanan traveled by a freight boat through the Inside Passage to Alaska.

When they arrived north, the men were outfitted with winter clothes, a coal heater and an A-frame tent. It was an adjustment for those who were used to warmer climates.

“Sometimes the food froze on the plates before it could be eaten,” Buchanan said. “On Christmas Day 1942, the temperature was 43 degrees below freezing.”

At the start of the New Year, the men were moved farther north to an Alaskan base with Quonset huts, where the military had to build an airport capable of accommodating a B-24 bomber as well as a hospital, a railroad and roads. As part of the construction, they had to tunnel through a mountain to get to the harbor.

The men were aided by civilians, and Buchanan became a trained surveyor.

106engbat1 (428x320)

As it seemed less likely the Japanese would enter Alaska, the work slowed and the American men began to relax. They skied makeshift slopes, visited Mount McKinley, received furloughs back to the States, visited Anchorage, hunted and fished.

When the war ended, the men went home to “no fanfare,” Buchanan wrote. He returned to his wife in Chipley, continued to work as a surveyor, and raised two children. He still lives in Chipley.

To this day, he said on the phone, he feels the 106th Engineer Battalion should have received a little more credit.

“We were called to a defense duty in Alaska and did it well. Even though there were no fatalities in the unit, no credit was given to them for the casualties — civilians as well as soldiers — that were prevented by preparing the Alaskan front for the invasion of the Japanese forces,” he said. “When the Japanese got ‘cold feet’ and fled to a warmer climate, the Florida boys got cold feet but stood their ground.”

©2015 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)
Visit The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.) at http://www.newsherald.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

Sometimes you just have to keep you equipment on a leash.

Sometimes you just have to keep you equipment on a leash.

Engineer's priority....

Engineer’s priority….

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

James Beavers – Marion, IN; US Army, Vietnam

Vincent Capodanno – Staten Island, NY; USMC, Vietnam, Chaplain, Medal of Honor, KIA

Milton Crenshaw – Little Rock, AR; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Tuskegee instructor0083f165f66161f63454e92890403bcd

Henry ‘Red’ Erwin – Adamsville, AL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Sgt., B-29 radioman, POW, Medal of Honor

Kenneth Howarth – Chester, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 127th Engineers/11th Airborne

Yvonne Mole – Victor Harbor, AUS; A Army Medical Womans Service # SFX 24647, WWII

Paul Oskolkoff – Ninilchik, AK; US Navy, Vietnam

Frederick Scott – Gainsville, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, B-17 mechanic

Harry Shipman – Hamilton, CAN; RC Army, WWII, ETO, 48th Highlanders

Dwayne ‘Doc’ Wise – Storm Lake, IA; USMC, WWII, Korea, Lt. (Ret. 22 years)

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on December 21, 2015, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 48 Comments.

  1. I love the humour. However ugly the world may be, we have Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Best wishes to you and yours. Thanks for contributing to keeping the memories and experiences of The Greatest Generation alive.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating. I’d never really thought about Alaska’s relation to the Pacific War.

    Like

  4. Either you volunteer or get drafted — LOL. Nice read. The Japs were choosy as to battlefields, it seems.

    Like

    • The Japanese fought too long for Alaska and they finally faced that fact in August ’43. And the draft was the same in every country – how do you think JFK got so many to die in Nam?

      Like

  5. What a big change for those guys from Florida. Hard to imagine having your food freeze on your plate at 43 below zero. That’s cold!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. i always enjoy your posts, this one is no exception. I have been fighting cancer lately but hope to be posting new blogs within the next 3-4 weeks and will start a new blog called from this side of cancer in February. Keep writing, your work is outstanding!

    Like

    • That is quite a compliment, Kevin, thank you for taking the time to say so! I certainly hope your treatment will not be too severe or cause too much discomfort. When the time come, please be certain to bring me a link to your new blog. Thank you!

      Like

  7. Yes, it’s tough, not everyone can be glorious. But glory always involves loss of life and as Buchanan pointed out, hanging in there prevented loss of life – which is actually the best aim of all.

    Like

  8. With not much other recreation, I expect they all became very good at skiing!
    He has a point in that they played their part as much as did any unit involved in heavy combat. Simply by being there, they undoubtedly made a difference.

    Like

  9. That last comment about not being appreciated is a good one. If the Alaskan door had been open then all Canada and the US would have been under attack.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What an interesting post. Sitting here toasty and warm this morning considering what it must have been like to have the ‘food freeze on the plate.” Another excellent contribution. Thank you and Happy Holidays to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for the continuing stories you’ve so wonderfully brought to us via these posts. Merry Christmas to you and your family` M 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You have me shivering from cold! My father-in-law served part of the war in the Aleutian Islands.
    Marcey

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Simply having your tour extended for “the duration of the war” qualifies him as hero in my book. Everyone played a part and everyone won that war.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. The 106th should receive credit. Japan might well have fought there. It’s not at all implausible. Here’s something on WWI, and the italian ‘White War’ being revealed by melting glaciers http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/10562017/Melting-glaciers-in-northern-Italy-reveal-corpses-of-WW1-soldiers.html

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Suitably seasonal snowy conditions indeed, GP. Must have been a shock for the soldiers from the steamy area of Florida.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Keep on sharing GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I appreciate this, Angel – Merry Christmas!!

    Like

  1. Pingback: My Article Read (12-22-2015) | My Daily Musing

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