Stragglers on Attu

Stragglers on Attu

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  • Oct, 06 , 22

Imperial Japan invaded and occupied the Aleutian Islands in June 1942. These small, remote islands off the Alaskan coast are barely habitable but, being relatively close to Japan, did have significant strategic value in the context of the Pacific War. On May 11, 1943, a division-sized American force landed on Attu, the most heavily defended of the Aleutian Islands. The Japanese force defending the island numbered around 2,600 men. By May 30 the fighting was over; the Americans took 28 prisoners and counted more than 2,300 Japanese dead. Chances are that of the roughly 300 unaccounted for Japanese the vast majority were killed during the fighting, and their bodies were never located or accounted for.

Still, there were a few stragglers, as witnessed by American weatherman Paul Carrigan. After the fighting, Carrigan and friend hiked across the island, hunting for souvenirs. Below is an excerpt from the upcoming release Awaiting the Sun, which includes a quote from Carrigan:

It was the middle of summer, and daylight hours were long. However, the going was more tedious than they expected. “Near the head of Massacre Valley,” wrote Carrigan, “a soldier told us we’d be hard-pressed to reach any souvenir grounds on the high ridges before dark. He added that most of the ‘good stuff’ had been gleaned weeks ago.” Darkness closed in before they reached their destination, and they were half sitting, half reclining. Carrigan related what happened next:

 

An almost imperceptible sound I could not identify caused me to turn my head … toward Massacre Bay. I heard no further sound and was about to turn away when I saw him … a hurrying, bobbing, weaving figure choosing a path that kept him well below the ridge top … For a second or two I watched and wondered idly why the man would be running toward the interior western mountains when it was almost dark … As he drew closer he became silhouetted against the dim skylight and a cold, prickly chill shot up my spine. It was clearly a Japanese soldier … Unaware of our presence, the Jap kept coming. With [a] long overcoat slapping around below his knees and in a half crouch he was moving at a good clip with a curious … lope. Over his left shoulder … hung a bulging sack. His right hand held what at first appeared to be a long pole but frighteningly materialized into one of those overly long Japanese rifles … As fleetingly as some bad dreams come and go, the enemy soldier vanished into the dark. After several headlong spills during the next five minutes, we burst into the first US tent camp and pantingly blurted out what we thought was our startling story. The soldiers, jaded members of an engineer outfit, seemed almost indifferent … “Nothin’ ta get excited about,” said [a] sergeant wearily. “There’s still a few running loose … They steal food but don’t do any killin’.”

 

The much-awaited Awaiting the Sun: WWII Veterans Remember the Aleutians by Bil Paul will be available this fall.
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