GHOST TOWNS OF THE WAR SURVIVES IN ALEUTIANS:
ADAK, ALASKA – The old wartime headquarters lies wind-swept and forlorn. The williwaws (the eighty-knot winds of the Aleutians) have sand-blasted and tortured the Quonset huts and barracks that once housed thousands of American soldiers and sailors. Beneath the snow covered summit of Mount Moffett lies a great and silent city of decay, half buried in the mountain tundra and the volcanic mud, weathered and worn by the years.
The living have nearly all departed from “NORPAC HILL” of the Pacific Area in the last year of World War II.
OFFICER’S CLUB GOLD PEELS: the old officers club, up the flight of wooden steps from Sweeper’s Cove and Kuluk Bay, lies open to the weather. The Gold has peeled from the once bright Navy Stars in the ceiling of the bar and lounge and the floors are buckled.
The dark rooms are redolent of parties while the winds screamed and snow flurries hid the peak of Adagdak, and the winter night in 1944 when Captain Hooley Gearing’s boys stole the slot machine so he could play it on his flagship while his destroyers were in route to bombard the Kupile Islands.
There is no monopoly of desolation on Adak, It is everywhere within a Forty-square mile area. Finger Bay, which once echoed day and night with the sound of riveting hammers and the hiss of welding torches, is silent. Only the wind howls. Here where the repair facilities of the Seventeenth Navy District once healed ships wounds, is now a tangle of rusted steel, buildings askew, dreary Quonsets with rags of cloth flapping from their broken windows.
The Army warehouses on the flats new the sea, empty and racked by wind and time swarm only with Norway rats. Scrap salvage lies in a rusting pile. Barbed wire still zigzags across the slopes. Near the beaches at low tide, it impedes the stately progress of emperor geese.
ROCK BOUND SENTINEL: Adak, the so-called golden link in the chain of Aleutians, was the island where the northern pacific war effort of the United States reached it’s peak in 1945.
Today it is one of the most remote outposts of the American power and American civilization. A dreary, wind-swept, snow peaked island. A rock-bound sentinel against Soviet power. It’s good harbor and airfield are a combination rare on the same island in the volcanic Aleutians and makes it almost as important today as it was in 1944-1945. It is one of two American Naval Bases In Alaska. Kodiak is the other.
It is the only United States Military bade, as such in the Aleutians, the Air Force and Army and a small Naval Meteorological Detachment maintain some Military facilities on Shemya, which are shared with the Northwest Airlines.
Adak, like all of the Aleutians – called “Weather factory of the World” is rugged and forbidding, it is often foggy in summer, windswept much of the time, and treeless. Around the House of the Knoll, called Norpac Hill, a few stunted wind-twisted evergreens cling to live in volcanic soil. The house, once occupied by Admiral Fletcher, is deserted.
On the road to the Coast Guard Navigation station some unknown Wag has collected in one sixty-foot square most of the trees transplanted to Adak from the mainland during the war. A sign that towers above the tiny grove of misshapen dwarf evergreens reads, “ADAK NATIONAL FOREST, YOU ARE NOW ENTERING, AND LEAVING ADAK NATIONAL FOREST”. It is said that these trees were six feet tall when transplanted, they are now only four feet high.
All of these grim things of the war dramatized by the stark backdrop of nature. There is a saying in the Aleutians: “if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.”
Icy Bering Sea to the north, the stormy Pacific to the south, the winds above, the hidden fires of ancient volcanoes below – these are the boundaries of the Aleutians.
To the normal desolation of time and weather have been added the scraps of storms and earthquakes. Earth tremors and sometimes severe quakes are frequent in the Aleutians, two buckled piers at Adak, sagging in deep catenary curves, are mute witness of one quake. Last winter a gale breached the breakwater. A Naval Construction Battalion hastily repaired it last summer.
But to the 3,000 Americans, chiefly servicemen and their dependents and civil service employees, who keep the flag flying on Adak, and to the few hundreds in the rest of the Aleutians, perhaps the grimmest scenery is provided by the forsaken cities of World War II. The snow covered peaks and the icy wind swept water have a forbidding but inspiring majesty. But the rusting Quonsets, the abandoned warehouses, the scrap, and junk, and weathered boards are depressing desolation compounded.
Most of the Aleutians and many sites on the Alaskan Peninsula are marred by these ghost military towns. There thousands of more at Cold Bay, at Dutch Harbor, at Umnak, Atka, Amchitka, Great Sitken, Tanaga and Shemya, and on Attut and Kiska, once held by the Japanese.
A few of the better built of these structures are still in use and of course new quarters, a new hanger and control tower at Adak, modern barracks and recreation facilities have been completed since the war. But most of the temporary buildings of World War II, abandoned and worn, now encircle the new construction with depressing effect. A salvage contractor has stripped many of the buildings, but what clean up and removal of the wartime eyesore has been accomplished, has been done chiefly by military personnel, toiling slowly over the years at a seeming herculean task.
In Germany, the Soviet Union and England, rebuilt cities hide most of the scares of war. In the gentler tropic climates prolific vegetation has hidden the Quonsets, humid rains have rotted wooden barracks. The jungle hides all, but here in the Aleutians, where nature is start and uncompromising, a desolate and unwitting monument to war, the Ghost Cities of the Aleutians, promise to endure in the decades to come, until wind and weather, earthquakes, tundra and time gradually obliterate them.
This article was taken from the New York Times on Friday, 13 February 1959.