Survivors look back on the Japanese bombing of Unalaska 75 years ago

A memorial overlooking downtown Unalaska is dedicated to the Unangax who were forcibly evacuated during WWII and the Aleutian villages that were never resettled.
(Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

75 years ago, Japan bombed Unalaska, killing more than 40 Americans and triggering the evacuation of hundreds.

In the aftermath, many Aleutian residents survived. But the number is dwindling as decades pass.

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43 veterans and evacuees are gathering in Unalaska this weekend to commemorate the events of World War II.

The attack on Dutch Harbor turned the Aleutian Islands into a war zone. While the military dug in and fought the Japanese, the region’s Native residents were forcibly evacuated by the U.S. government.

Now, organizers say they’ve planned a commemoration that honors both halves of that painful history. Janice Krukoff is on the planning committee. She said the two groups may have had different experiences of World War II, but marking the anniversary is really about one thing.

“Being able to see the veterans and the evacuees come together, it’s a long time in the making,” Krukoff said. “Continue moving forward in a positive way, our story never to be forgotten.”

For Krukoff, that story is personal and urgent. Her parents were among the 881 Unangan people taken from their homes and sent to internment camps in Southeast Alaska.

They survived, despite the crowded conditions and meager supplies. But not everyone was so fortunate.

Krukoff said she’s approaching this weekend as a chance to recognize the Unangax who died during the war — and to learn from those still living today.

“The majority of them are elderly now,” Krukoff said. “So this may be the last hosting of something of this magnitude.”

Time is also passing quickly for veterans of the Aleutian campaign. Only eight servicemen are making the trip to Unalaska. Historian Jeff Dickrell said that’s far fewer than the last major anniversary.

“For the 50th, there were probably 100 veterans,” Dickrell said.

This weekend, Dickrell will tell the story of the Japanese attack in detail, with help from visiting vets. Their talk is just one part of a packed agenda that includes storytelling sessions, memorial services, and historic flyovers.

Those won’t feature the Japanese fighter planes that flew over Unalaska during the 50th anniversary. Dickrell said that sight was too intense for many who lived through the real thing.

“Everybody just fell silent,” Dickrell said. “We all realized that it was kind of a dichotomy of cool history, but also you’re replicating the deaths of Americans and war.”

This time around, pilots are sticking with North American military aircraft — an amphibious Grumman Goose and a bright yellow T-6 Texan.

The commemoration started Friday and continues all weekend.