Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day- What does it mean to you?

As this much needed long weekend approaches I have been reflecting back on several discussions I have had over the last month. It is apparent, that in this overstimulated, rat raced, narcissistic, disconnected world we now live in (well, isn't that a positive way to start a post...), many of us have forgotten the reason we have this long weekend in the first place.  We owe this break to the countless men and women who lost their lives fighting for the very place we call home.    

During WW2 alone, over 400,000 men and women exhibited the utmost of courage, and valiance, that I do not have, and lost their lives in one of the scariest places-war, just so you and I can live a privileged life of freedoms.  And that is exactly what we have in this country- freedom, regardless of what political party you are associated with.  We have more freedoms and choices than most of us can even comprehend.

Only 2 of these R.C.A.F. 111(f) pilots survived the war.  L-R: Frank Skelly, Frank Crowley, Joseph 'Red' McLeod, Ed Merkley, Hal Gooding, Clifford Hicks, Jim Gohl and Nick Stusiak in Kodiak, Alaska.   Photo Credit. Bill Eull

We are incredibly privileged and fortunate to make North America our home.  When we lose sight of the sacrifices made by those who came before us, it diminishes the amount of contentedness we feel for our current lifestyle.   Again, a lifestyle made possible by those who fought for the survival of this country we now enjoy!   Continuing to remember their significant contribution to our life, allows us to put into perspective, just how blessed we all are.   The reality is, if those brave servicemen and women had not paid the ultimate price, then rest assured, our lives would look very different right now.  We have to be thankful.  We have to remember their sacrifices.

So I ask, before your festivities begin, that you take moment to reflect on your life, on your priorities, your decisions, and on your outlook and if necessary make some positive adjustments- mentally or otherwise to live up to your end of the deal.  Life is meant to be lived happily.  Hundreds of thousands of airmen, marines, soldiers, sailors and coastguardsmen paid the ultimate price just so you could do so.   The gift they left behind is the power and freedom of choice so that you can make the changes needed to live a fulfilled life.   You not only owe it to yourself but you also owe it to every single person who died fighting for every liberty you enjoy today.

Otherwise, what the heck were they fighting for? 

Today's post is dedicated to R.C.A.F. P/O (Pilot Officer) Ed Merkley.  He was one of my grandfathers closest friends and I have numerous pictures of them together.   One of my absolute favorites is below.  Ed survived the treacherous flying conditions of the Aleutians, went on to fly with the 440(f) overseas and was killed November 19th, 1943. 

R.C.A.F. P/O (Pilot Officer) Ed Merkley

A Christmas card from Ed sent to my grandfather just before he died.  1943
 " Dear Bob & Eileen,
How goes things with you?  I am doing fine.   Gee- these Spits are a real air craft.
We just came back from a 48-    boy did we get goosed. Sure had fun-and you can't beat fun- Life is good.
Hope you manage to get home for Xmas. 
How is instructing going? Are you going to quit smoking Eileen, if you go home at Xmas?
              Best of Luck,   Ed."

L-R- P/O Robert Lynch & Ed Merkely, S.F.T.S. #2 Uplands Ontario, 1941

With that I wish you a Happy Memorial Day and remember- as Ed said, even in the middle of war- life is good.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

More From Kodiak, Alaska

There were simply too many extraordinary images to share.  Here are just a few more... and then some. 

250th Coastal Defense Gun Emplacement at St. Peters Head,  Battery No.1
 Chiniak Point, Kodiak Island.  2014
The remains of the 8 inch gun after its demise.  
At least 100ft away from it's base at the top of the hill. 
WW2 Ammunition Bunker at St. Peters Head. Battery No. 1.  
Chiniak Point, Kodiak Island.  2014
Inside the same bunker.  
One day, I hope these graffiti artists realize how disrespectful this is. 
WW2 Pill Box at St. Peters Head, Battery No. 1. 
Chiniak Point,  Kodiak Island.  2014

Construction of Fort Greely.  Base buildings consisted
 of wooden structures, Quonset huts and tents.
Photo Credit: Baranov Museum.

250th Coast Artillery Regiment- Robert E. Metcalf. 
Photo: from his daughter, Jane Metcalf

One heck of a view from Chiniak Point.
Arctic Lupines.

WW2 Housing- a Quonset hut found in some random yard along the way.
Quonset Hut in Fort Greely. 1943.  
Photo: Levi Ballard, c/o R.C.A.F. Corporal. Killip's collection.
The huts slept about 12 men and were often built 4ft into the ground 
for protection but primarily to contain the heat 
during the cold Alaskan winters.  

Now,  one historical storage shed. Do they have any idea?

R.C.A.F. Mess Hall in Fort Greely. 1943

How would you like this in your front yard?  
A grown over WW2 gun emplacement along the
 coastal dirt road to the base.  2014

  Frequent and strong crosswinds may have caused this 
AAF P-39 accident at Chiniak Point.  1943. 

Representing at the Northeast end of the air strip.

And that's a wrap from day two in this sweet little fishing town filled with an unknown yet important history.  Kodiak leaves an impression on you.  As I sit here I can still smell the sweet clean air that envelopes this Alaskan Island.  One day Kodiak.  I'll be back.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Runway Talk

One of my main objectives while I was on Kodiak was to make it to one of the old WW2 Airfields that, according to my grandfather, was only used by the R.C.A.F. while in Kodiak.  Although I had previously been advised, that it may not be worth my trip, I was going anyways. Glad I did as it is one of the highlights of my entire time in Alaska.  One incident where my stubbornness pays off.

This particular runway I was determined to see, was constructed using PSP or Marston matting- interlocking steel planks- nicknamed for the place where they were produced, Marston, North Carolina.  During the war,  the U.S. Army of engineers used these 10ft by 15inch planks to create simple yet durable runways in record time.  For example, a five thousand foot runway, on top of rugged terrain, could be constructed in under 10 days.  General Benjamin B. Talley, who was in charge of U.S. Army and Air Corps construction in Alaska, utilized this runway system all through out the Aleutian chain, building functional airstrips on Umnak, Atka, Adak, Amchiktka, Attu and Shemya in one years time.

Want to see how it was done?  This three minute video from Adak in 1942 shows you how.


The old air strip I was in search of was located in Chiniak, 40 miles southeast of the main town of Kodiak.  The Royal Canadian Air Force had a small satellite base there which consisted of 6 planes, 8 pilots (two of them officers) and 15 ground crew and was commanded by R.C.A.F. P/O (pilot) Eskil.   Along side the Canadian airmen was the U.S. Army unit of Battery D of the 250th Coast Artillery Regiment.  Together, they solidified the eastern defenses of the U.S. Naval Air Station Kodiak.

Chiniak Point was a bit of a challenge to get to as the well maintained island roads turned into narrow logging roads.  It really was in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.  With Dake, my trusty guide, and the WW2 maps provided to us by Crusty Old Joe from the Military Museum in Fort Abercrombie,  we would find our way.   After driving 30 minutes along the bumpy dirt road we came to a junction and there it was, a long and open clearing among the trees.  The airstrip.  The very same one my grandfather and so many of his friends would land on time and time again as they patrolled the skies for our safety.

Laying of the Marston Mat on Chiniak Point.  1942.  Photo: Baranov Museum.

What is left of the old WW2 Marston mat runway.
R.C.A.F. Kittyhawk (P-40) AK944 sitting on the Chiniak steel runway. 1943
R.C.A.F. Kittyhawk coming in for a landing at Chiniak.

To my dismay, almost all the Marston matting that once made up the airfield had been tossed in ribbon fashion,  alongside the bush.  Discarded as if it were some valueless item.  For me that runway felt sacred and to see it tossed so carelessly aside was like disrespecting an important part of history.  I realize that at some point, things have to go but still...  We walked around the deserted scraps of steel until I came across a piece small enough for me to take home where I could honor it the way I felt it should be honored.   The 3ft X 2ft piece was, in fact,  too big and heavy- this stuff weighs a ton, for my suitcase so Dake was kind enough to wrap it up and mail it to me.  Best mail delivery I have ever received.  It now is a permanent part of my dining area.  Yes, dining area- I mean, what dining area is complete without a WW2 runway as it's wall decor?

Discarded Marston matting = my good fortune.

Flt. Sgt. Skully,  My Papa & Flt. Sgt. Weber proudly standing with his plane on that very Chiniak runway.  1943.

Dining Decor.

It was such a surreal moment, to be standing in the very same place as he, and all his R.C.A.F. brethren,  would have been standing as at any moment they were ready for battle.  To close my eyes and envision them moving around as they were preparing for flight not knowing what lies ahead of them brings me again to the deepest place of gratitude for their sacrifices. 

It does not seem to matter how many times I express this gratefulness, it never seems like it is thanks enough.  And so I write..