Thursday, August 28, 2014

Elmendorf-Richardson Joint Base

I must say, it is very advantageous to know people who are familiar with the area when traveling.   Lucky for me,  on our trip we had 4 locals, one former local, and then us foreigners: me- the transplanted Canadian, an Italian and a Dutchman.   The local peeps were wonderful hosts picking us up and chauffeuring us where the group needed.  God Bless them, I mean really,  the cost of renting a car in Alaska is outrageous not to mention the effeciency and invaluable benefit of being with someone who knows where they are going especially on this type of trip.  So very thankful.

Colonel Cloe and his wife hosted a wonderful fresh caught salmon dinner
which started with reindeer sausage and Alaskan beer.  Delish! 

After I walked off my gooey yet decadent raspberry pinwheel I was picked up by Allison (former Anchorage resident) and we headed south east towards the base.  We were there a little early so we pit stopped at the Alaska Heritage Center gift shop.   Interestingly, there I found a Haida Gwaii scarf that I had regretted not buying last summer while thousands of miles away,  in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, at the Museum of Civilization.  Did not make that mistake twice.  Talk about a great use of 15 minutes, eh Allison?

We forged ahead and met the others at the front gate of Elmendorf-Richardson Air Force/Army Joint Base. Unfortunately once inside the guard station, we were informed that our non citizens needed to apply weeks in advance to be given access to the base which meant that our tight click would now have to split up.   It ended up that half went to the Aviation Heritage Museum with Col. Cloe and the other half moved forward with the base tour.   Happily, I was part of the latter group. 

Although combined in 2005 by the Base Closure and Reassignment Commission it was not until 2010 that the two branches of the military were merged into one location.  It currently acts as the headquarters for the United States Alaskan Command, 11th Air Force, U.S. Army Alaska, and the Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region. Major units to be found there are the Eleventh Air Force, 673d Air Base Wing, Alaskan Air Command, Alaskan NORAD region, United States Army, 4th Brigade Combat team (Airborne) 25th infantry division, 3rd Wing (USAF) and numerous other tenant units. 

My grandfather was stationed at Elmendorf for roughly 3 months and for the members of the R.C.A.F the base served as a place where they would primarily learn the USAF radio procedures before moving into the more active postings further west.   Bill Eull, who has spent countless hours researching the 111F Squadron has a super write up on what life was like for the Canadians who were stationed there.  Bill continues to amaze me on the work he has done on the behalf of service men.  Keep it up Bill, there are a lot of watery eyes looking down with grand appreciation.

While on base, my "To Do" list included a visit to the gravesides of my grandfathers fellow squadron members who died while serving in Alaska.  To even find the Allied section, which was not marked on the cemetery map, we had to fight off bird like mosquitoes for quite a while.  We finally located the section next to the Japanese grave markers and behind a hill, not even in plain sight.  Granted the section was not very big but still.... behind a hill next to the then, opposition?  Jeesh. 

Top- Japanese Memorial.
 Bottom- R.C.A.F Pilots:  S/L Kerwin, F/S Maxmen,  F/S Lennon, F/O Whiteside

Anyways, there they sat.  It was sad to see those gravesides.  So far away from home.  Made me wonder who visits them?  Who pays them any honor?   My way to pay tribute to them was to do what we do in Canada and that is to use poppies as a symbol of recognition for their sacrifice. I laid poppies alongside the sites of four of the five fearless airmen who died when they got lost in the fog and crashed into Unalaska Island.  F/O Gordon Baird, not pictured, was lost at sea and was therefore located in a separate section, a section for those missing in action.  My grandfather would have been flying with them that day but by the grace of God, he crashed landed his plane one day earlier and was forced to travel to Umnak as a DC-9 passenger with the ground crew.  Who would have thought that a plane crash would have saved his life. Luckily for me, it was just not his time. 

Goes to show you that we all have a time limit on this earth. Some are gone way too soon, some seemingly with out meaning, but for all of us, it is the only thing guaranteed in life. That alone, makes me want to go out and live my very best life possible while I am still blessed with actually being alive.  In some way, it makes other peoples loss a little less senseless. 

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