Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mission of Honor

I started writing this blog a few years ago with the grand vision and hope of going to the Aleutian Islands one day to pay a tribute to my grandfather for his service during the second world war.  And on this Memorial week, as we remember and honor those who sacrificed themselves for our who freedom,  I could not think of any better time to share with you the most wonderful of blessings I have just received.  In less than three weeks I will embark on a trip of a life time; a mission of honor,  to the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.  

I will join nine other brave souls on a challenging expedition of WW2 historical sites throughout the Aleutian Islands.  The tour is organized by Valor Tours, Ltd who specializes in WW2 historical tours worldwide.   The tour begins in Anchorage on June 15th, where we catch a flight west to our first stop along the aleutian chain- Adak.  This was the launching point of military operations for much of the Aleutian campaign.  And it is from where my grandfather flew his combat missions.   After a full day of exploring Adak, we board the 72ft M/V Puk-Uk and keep west to Kiska.  In June of 1942, Kiska, a U.S. territory, became occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army. American and Allied forces spent much of their time trying to drive the enemy out of the island via persistent air attacks.   We will spend two full days there exploring, on foot, the old Japanese war base.

From there, continuing on to the most westward point in the United States- Attu.   This remote island was the location of the second deadliest battle in the Pacific Theater, just behind Iwo Jima.  It is now a designated National Historic Landmark.  We spend 3 or 4 days exploring the island before we head back East to our final destination- Dutch Harbor, where the war in Alaska all began.  On  June 3rd and 4th, 1942, the Japanese attacked Dutch Harbor by way of air destroying much of the town and its base.  It is in this small fishing town that is home to the Museum of the Aleutians, where I want to donate my grandfathers things.  The perfect ending to what will be an incredible tour.  The next day, June 30th, we will conclude our trip with a flight back to Anchorage.

Our floating Aleutian escort.

As if that wasn't enough,  I am also looking into making a separate trip over to Kodiak Island. It has been one of my goals to visit as many of the bases my grandfather was stationed at as possible.  The Naval Air Station in Kodiak is where he was for many months. From there he taught other pilots how to fly in the dangerous Aleutian conditions. Actually, the Naval Air Station no longer exists.  It is now home to the Kodiak Coast Guard but many of the same WW2 buildings are still in use today.  

For me, this trip is a pilgrimage of sorts.  A pilgrimage to pay my utmost in respects, not just to my grandfather, but close in my heart will be, all the men and women who endured the fiercest and loneliness of conditions so that we can live free today.  To bring recognition and respect,  to those that were forgotten about while fighting for our continent.   What an absolute honor it will be.  I am incredibly thankful. 

Funny, I went to Disney a few months back and found myself thinking that I must be boring because I am not a fan roller coasters.   But looking at this trip, I realize, I am not boring at all. I may not like roller coasters but I sure do like an adventure and this is going to be one heck of a ride.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Here's To You Veterans!

One of the things we found when my grandfather died was a scrapbook he and my grandmother had kept during the war.  In it, were many newspaper articles and clippings of the men and women who were serving in Alaska during World War 2.  On this Memorial Day I thought I would honor some of his comrades by sharing their faces with with you.  I only wish I knew their stories and was able to share that as well.  Here's to you fellas...

GRIM ALASKA WEATHER cannot erase the smiles of these Ontario pilots trained for fighting under all conditions.
LEFT TO RIGHT- Flt. Sgt.  G Schwalm (Alliston) , Pilot Officer Harold Paytner (Toronto), Sgt. C. W. Hicks (Exeter).

The Japs on Kiska felt the blows of guns and bombs at the hands of these four Canadian pilots, members
of the R.C.A.F squadron actively engaged in the Battle of the Aleutians.  Left to right the fighters are
Pilot Officer A. L. S. Harrison (Winnipeg), F/S G. A. Costello (Stonewall), Flying Officer G.G. Miller (Winnipeg) and Flying Officer Bob Lynch (Winnipeg).  Flying Officer Lynch wears the ribbon of the American Air Medal, awarded for his part in action over Kiska. 

MORE R.C.A.F ALASKANS who call Ontario home are rear, LEFT TO RIGHT:
Leading Aircraftman Wary Barnsley, Leading Aircraftman William Manzer, Leading Aircraftman E. D. Doughty and Leading Aircraftman Milton Hannigan.   Kneeling is Pilot Officer Harold Paynter and C. W. Hicks.

Sgt. C. Buckborough, Sgt. E. Gillanders and Leading Aircraftman Rose.
Front: Flt. Sgt. D. Casselman and Sgt. Clayton Ryan.

"FARTHEST NORTH AIRMEN" from Ontario include, LEFT TO RIGHT, back row:
Cpl. M Burke, Leading Aircraftman E. J. Holmar, Leading Aircraftman Fred Tomkinson,
Sgt. Louis Wise and Flt.- Sgt L. Sunstrum.  Kneeling: Leading Aircraftman Ken Coutts
and Leading Aircraftman George Grindrod. 

CANADIAN AIRMEN fly and fight side by side with U. S. air forces in far north Alaska,
helping attack the Jap foothold in the Aleutians and patrol the air over the northwest
 approaches to the continent.  Pilot Officer Harold Paynter of Toronto is shown with the
 "thunderbird" emblem of his fighter squadron. 
 My deepest expression of gratitude seems so insignificant to the sacrifices that these brave servicemen endured for our freedom.  But I will say it anyways for words is what I always have.~

Thank you to the Veterans and active duty servicemen from 
all branches of the military for your service.