Wednesday, July 26, 2017

When in Dutch Harbor- Tour Crab Boats & Eat Crab!

Last night's Deadliest Catch episode inspired me to share with you a special tour I got while I was in Unalaska for the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Dutch Harbor and Aleut Evacuation- a crab boat tour!  My friend and Unalaska resident, Lydia, surprised me with arranging a tour of her friends fishing vessel- F/V Baranof, on a rainy Saturday when all the warbird flights were grounded due to the lousy weather.  I was stoked!  I have been watching the Discovery Channel's, Dutch Harbor based crab fishing show for the last nine years, not in an effort to learn more about crustaceans but in a effort to learn more about the Aleutians itself and the type of environment that my grandfather would have encountered while flying P-40's there. It somehow connected me to his experience.   As a positive result,  I now have a new found appreciation for the fishing industry. 

Deck of the 180ft F/V Baranof

Anatomy of a crab boat: the launcher, the block, coiler and the crane (left).

F/V Baranof Captain Patrick Sjodin. Good sport.  Thanks for your time. 

I took quite a bit of teasing for my viewership of the show and especially for the LFS Bering Sea 2017 sweatshirt I donned while at sea during the WWll history tour that took us out along the chain to Attu and back.  Now understand, some people from those parts, have a beef with the show;  how is has become dramatic, fake, exaggerated, over glamorized (is that even possible of a fishing show?) and in a sense, invaded their community.  All sentiments I agree with especially in the latter years of the show but it is television and most TV shows are like that.  Real with a hint of exaggeration or outlandishness.  They almost have to be in order for the show come across the tube as compelling enough to watch.  It is the nature of television. It is 'entertainment' after all.  How entertaining would it be if the people on the show were as boring as dirt?  Exactly.

My buddy and retired Bering Sea crab fisherman, Travis Lofland
BIG props to you Travy and friends.  I don't know how you did it...

Aside from the stretch in reality that it may be at times, a positive aspect of the show is that it brings light to one of the many overlooked industries that we so easily enjoy the fruits of.. or in this case, the meat of.  These guys work in some horrendously treacherous conditions just so we can eat crab and other sea foods!  And after watching an episode a few weeks back where they fished through 30 foot seas and 50mph winds,   I have even more appreciation for those who catch the crab I eat.  I mean, I know what 10 foot seas feel like (see my short, measly in comparison, video below) and that was plenty enough.  And I was just sitting in the wheelhouse never mind running around on a pitching and rolling deck with freezing spray.  Seriously- that is some unbelievable shit they go through.  Almost unimaginable.  So why not recognize them- we (and I don't mean me.. just to be clear) celebrate the Kardashian's and Honey Boo Boo for goodness sakes and they provide us with nothing! I 'd say we owe these crab guys a great big freaking thank you!!!

Oh dear... and I digress, the crab boat tour...right.   Lydia, sweet soul Lydia, being the good sport and human that she is, indulged my inner guilty pleasure and set up a tour.  Alex, one of the CAF warbird pilots, came along and boy was he glad he did.  He and the engineer had a blast talking mechanics.  I thought they were never going to emerge from the three floor engine room.  The F/V Baranof is not your standard crab fishing boat, it also serves as it's own processor.  It processes and boxes all it's own catch right there on board to ensure the highest standard of quality and freshness.  The frozen and boxed product is then shipped and sold mostly to Asia.  Why? Simple. Supply and demand.  They are huge seafood consumers, much more than the U.S. and they buy the stuff up.   Luckily for us, not all of it went west that day, we were sure to leave with two boxes of freshly caught crab to be enjoyed on our last day of the commemoration.   And it was scrumptious!

Lydia and I on deck of the F/V Baranof
Alex, one of the CAF pilots with our dinner! 2- 11lb boxes of crab.
Scarlet King Crab (front) vs. Tanner or Snow crab (back).  Scarlet all the way.

Alex & Cricket enjoying a well deserved crab feast after a weekend full of flying.

So, I'll continue to withstand the friendly jabs at my show preferences because in the end, I actually feel grateful because it inspired me to learn more about the Aleutian Islands and what my grandfather persevered in the 1940's. It peaked my interest, and it helped motivate me to travel there. And look what has come of this so far?   No complaints here... nothing but smiles.  Fish on.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Work Is Worth It

Written 6/20/2017
Exhausted is how I left Florida in May.  Exhausted describes how I have been this entire year really.  Excited, yet exhausted   There is an expression that my daughters team uses repeatedly when they are in the thick of practicing for a competition- the work is worth it.   And it is. When you are working towards something you care deeply about, every ounce of work is worth it.  But as I laid my weary, tired achy body to bed one night aboard the rolling Puk Uk, our marine chariot for the 2017 WWll Aleutian Island history tour, I was questioning my desires.  

My home for three weeks, the 70ft M/V Puk Uk.  It is one of the only vessels that travels all the way to Attu. 

Normally, I feel strongly guided to move in a certain direction lead by some kind of extraordinary circumstance that directs me to move one way or another.  With all the busyness of this year coupled with several misleading heart flutters, I have been missing or perhaps numb to the strong pull of my guide wires, the ones that make it clear what my next step is.   Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible things on the horizon for 2018, and in actuality next summer is already full with exciting events!  But something, at least as of that night, was missing.

I suspect this contemplation stems from the utter feeling of devitalization from the last 300 some odd days of planning this summer’s events.  I’d say,  if there is one place for me to get replenished, it would be here in the middle of the Bering Sea.  I mean, we are totally disconnected, surrounded by the breathtaking marvel of the sea, the mountains and marine life. The history alone should be enough to clear all ones uncertainties away.  The most challenging part of the year is over.  Our trip is half way through, we have our sea legs, the long days of hiking are behind us, and I am fully caught up on sleep. It is now time to exhale, slow down and open up to the experience of what may be next.

Barren Islands, Alaska
And as for the long awaited events that brought on such contemplations?  Phenomenal. All of them.  For now, here is quick slide show that highlights some of the festivities and people involved with the 75th Anniversary weekend

Welcome to Unalaska!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The 75th Anniversary of the bombing of Dutch Harbor has been filled with a weekend long remembrance ceremony in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. We were blessed with the presence of nine WWll veterans, forty evacuees along with speakers, warbirds and an outstanding community that came together to honor those whose lives were effected. 
After nearly a year long of planning for this commemoration, it was a huge success all around, even when the Aleutian weather reared it's unsettled head.  It is an event quite worthy of a separate post, perhaps even multiple, which will have to come at a later date.

WWll Veteran from the 7th Infantry who landed on Attu May 1943, Signalman Frank Vaughn.
Right now, final preparations are being made for a second WWll historical tour through the Aleutians that leaves just hours from now!  This years tour has a very diverse group with three Japanese film makers, two ladies, both daughters of Aleutian Island veterans and four Alaskans, plus me- the Canadian.   Makes for a well rounded trip, I'd say.

As I so often do, before I left I wanted to sit down and investigate what the 111 (F) Squadron, RCAF were up to on this day 1942.  Around this time 75 years ago,  the squadron, then stationed out of Patrica Bay, British Columbia (now the Victoria Airport) were just days away from making their long trip north to Anchorage in defense Alaska.

Below are a few entries from the Squadron diary leading up to their arrival in the last frontier state.   After reading this and coupled with the memories fresh in my mind from last weekend, reminded me of exactly why I am out here and how all the blood, sweat and tears of this last year, is totally worth it.  

Patricia Bay, B.C

June 10th, 1942
No flying.  Servicing Ships.

June 12th, 1942
F/S Baird and Sgt. Stusiak returned to Pat Bay from leave and left that evening for Prince Rupert enroute to Anchorage.  Balance of squadron arrived at Wrangell and departed at 19:00 hours.

June 13th, 1942
Squadron Leader Nesbitt leaves the squadron to take the post of C.O. of the Canadian Wing at Annette Island.  He will be sorely missed by all personnel of the squadron.  F/L Kerwin appointed C.O. of our squadron.   The balance of the squadron arrived in Juneau at 07:00 hours. 

June 14th, 1942
Squadron left Juneau at 06:00 hours and arrived at Valdez at 14:00.  Squadron offices set up at Elmendorf.  No flying today. 

June 15th 
Squadron took over readiness (24 hours) with six Kittyhawks. Balance of squadron departed Valdez at 07:00 hours.

June 16th, 1942
P/O Lynch and *Whiteside on orders from W.A.C. moved by air to Sea Island (Vancouver Airport) for the purpose of flying two Kittyhawks of the 14 (F) to Anchorage, in formation with the three that are already at Sea Island.  All machines to have belly tanks.  Balance of squadron to arrive at Seward at 14:30. Disembarked at 19:30, embarking on train at 21:00.  Church services were conducted each Sunday by the Adjutant. 

L-R- my grandfather P/O Lynch, wife Eileen, Baird's wife Muriel, *F/S Baird at Patricia Bay, B.C. just before departing for Alaska.  F/S Baird was killed July 16th when he and four other Canadian Airmen were killed when lost in the Aleutian weather.

* P/O Whiteside did not survive the war, he was in the same formation as F/S Baird (above) when they got lost in the fog and crashed into Unalaska.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Once A Pilot, Always A Pilot

Volunteer pilot Brian Norris released this in flight video of WWII Veteran Pilot, Bob Brocklehurst's ride in the TF-51D Mustang. Here you get to hear some of Bob's war stories, listen to some technical talk and watch Bob take control of the plane.  So much fun to ride along with them!  Thanks Brian for allowing us to share in this experience!   Bob truly is amazing and really, so are you.  Thanks Brian for your commitment to making sure the legacies of the planes and the people who flew them are never forgotten! 

Monday, February 20, 2017

WWII Aleutian Pilot Flies Again!

This week will go down as one for the highlight reels.  Anyone who knows me, knows I dream big so when presented with a window of opportunity to make a dream come true for the only known Aleutian Campaign pilot still living, I was on it!  Thursday, thanks to the Collings Foundation and pilot, Brian Norris,  I got to be part of the extraordinary experience of seeing WW2 fighter pilot, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Bob Brocklehusrt re-live some of his wartime youth by flying a P-51 Mustang once again.  It was an absolute honor and privilege to be part of.  From the way I see it, my role in making this happen is the very least I could do for anyone who was willing to pay the ultimate price in defense of our continent and to protect our way of life;  the glorious life of privileges that we enjoy today.

Pilot, Brian Norris and Co-Pilot Lt. Col (Ret) Bob Brocklehurst

Back on the ground after a successful flight.  L-R: Me, Bob and Brian. 

Mr. Bob keeps asking me, why I do this thing that I do?  I thought I would give him a formal answer and share it with you... online.

First off, I will say that the drive to peruse this passion comes from a place much bigger than myself and I am really just along for the ride.  Those who have been following me for a while all know it began with the story of my grandfather, an Aleutian Campaign P-40 pilot with the RCAF and my desire to discover what he went through during the war.  This quickly lead to the realization that many people had no knowledge of the fight going on in Alaska during WWII.  That was heart rending.  I wanted these airmen, soldiers, and sailors to have a voice as well.  To be heard.  To be remembered and to be honored.  So this began my mission to write about those that served alongside my grandfather in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.   

14 & 111 Fighter Squadron, RCAF Pilots on Amchitka, Alaska. 

Obviously through this process, I began to develop a sincere appreciation for all veterans who served in the biggest war our world has seen.  And because of this, I feel indebted to the greatest generation for the selfless sacrifices millions of them made in defense of our freedom. OUR freedom.  Yours and mine.   The same freedoms we enjoy every single second of every single day.  Freedoms that sadly, are regularly taken advantage of without thought or appreciation.  The lessons and the significance of what this historical group did for us is getting lost in the busyness of the rat raced narcissistic life many of us are caught up in.  Especially today, with the internal turmoil I am witnessing, it is important that we remain level headed and keep in focus, why these men and women were putting themselves on the line for you and I.  Was it so we could live in a conflicted country 75 years later?  I think not!  These WWII veterans, who were from all walks and religions of life, went to war in defense of all of our liberties.

I recently posed this question to a miserable Boston cab driver, who had some derogatory uneducated things to say about a certain group, "Hey picture this" I said  "If you were on the battlefield and your life needed to be saved, you would not care one bit if that same person you are criticizing was coming to save you.  You would just be happy to be saved.  So, why would it be any different now?  We are all humans first."  Interestingly, this cab conversation came just after finishing up an interview with Allan Serrol,  a 101 year old, Aleutian Island Army veteran who took part in the bloody hand to hand combat on Attu.  He was sharing with me what it was like to shoot a gun at someone for the first time.  And how he would not have wished that on anyone.  Allan had some profound things to say about the war experience and how it effected him.  And here, this damn cab driver is unjustly worried about one group of people just because they are different than him.  Shameful really.  Allan's story is just one example of many stories I have heard with the common message being that our veterans were fighting for everybody who lived here, not just certain groups of people.  Do you really think millions of people died so that we can continue to fight against each other in our own country?  Seriously?  Is that why they sacrificed their lives?  Their stories are important to us as a nation, so we can stay grounded and insure that their fight was not in vain. 

101 year old, Aleutian Island Army Veteran, Sgt. Allan Seroll.  December 2016.

For that, I feel a personal responsibility on behalf of my grandfather and all who served alongside him in defense of our freedoms, to do my best to make their stories known long after they are not around to share them themselves.  If we choose to forget their sacrifices, then also lost are the lessons that the war provided us.  And if the lesson is lost, then what the heck were they fighting for in the end?  And to me, that is the most tragic end of all.
This is something that so deeply touches my heart, that to speak about it creates tears of immense thankfulness and undying gratitude for their willingness to give up their lives for a bunch of people they did not personally know.   I didn't know them.  You didn't know them.  My parents, aunts, uncles did not know them but yet they were willing to quietly give their lives for us, complete strangers, as well as for this great country in which we now live and call home.   It IS thanks to them.  And that is why I do what I do Mr Brocklehurst. 

Take a look at Bob flying high at 8000 feet in the 'Toulouse Nuts' a TF-51D.  This was the last original TF model ever built and won the 2016 Oshkosh Warbird Grand Champion.   Riding in style, I'd say. 

Bob is still on top of the world after his ride.  I knew that I would fall in love with this story but I had no idea that the world would too and I could not be more thrilled at the result.  Bob is flabbergasted with the amount of phone calls he is receiving from all over and deservedly so.  To him and his family, he is just a humble regular guy- Dad, Grandpa, Great Grandpa, Great Great Great Grandpa, Uncle, friend, neighbor.... But to many of us, he is a hero, and part of a group that we will always owe a great deal to.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your service Lieutenant Colonel (Ret)  Bob Brocklehurst.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Rest In Peace John Haile Cloe

It is with a very heavy heart that I write this post.  Retired Colonel John Cloe, my friend, mentor and irreplaceable source of knowledge for all things Air Force history in Alaska, passed away suddenly last week.   

Our fearless leader in Gertrude Cove on Kiska Island, Alaska 2016

I met John several years ago when he was slated to be our tour guide for the 2014 World War Two Aleutian Islands historical tour.   You see, John, along with Valor Tours, is the one who created this unique excursion through the remote and largely unknown battle sites along the Alaskan island chain.  That year, our sea chariot, the 72ft M/V Puk-Uk, suffered a mechanical issue just days before departure resulting in the cancellation of the trip.  As compensation, for those still willing to fly up to Anchorage, John offered to take us to different war related historical sites around the area and host us to dinner.   Since then, John has always been open and available to help or answer any questions I may have had along the way.  He has given me advise and most importantly, support in my own efforts to research and bring awareness to the  history of the Aleutian Campaign.  John and I still had some unfinished business we were working on which I will now pursue more fiercely, in his honor. 

Dinner is served at John's house.  Fresh salmon of course! I still make it the same way thanks to Susan and John!

2012 crew outside of the very well done Prince William Sound Museum in Whittier, Alaska, a main port during WW2.

How fortunate we were to have John guide us during this summer's tour where we got the pleasure of experiencing many firsts with him;  his first time seeing the Coast Guard C-130 crash site on Attu and his first time landing and exploring the island of Umnak, where the U.S. Army Air Force had their most advanced base when the Japanese first bombed Alaska in 1942.  The Umnak excursion just happened to be the highlight of John's trip and he pushed to get there because he knew it was an important stop for me.  And in fact, we had planned to go back there one day...  I will forever be grateful to him for this opportunity.  My grandfather with the RCAF alongside the 11th Air Force were stationed there during the campaign.

 Taking a much needed rest on Umnak while waiting on me to come down from the mountain.  I went up there to get a birds eye view of the runway where my grandfather used to land in 1942.  (2016)

John and Rob Barr at the site of the 1980's Coast Guard C-130 Crash on Attu Island. (2016)

Our youngest tour goer, Kevin (16), John and retired veteran Stephen Staska on the skiff en route to our landing on Attu. (2016)

Atop Ballyhoo Mountain at Fort Schwatka, a WW2 U.S. Army base in Unalaska.  This was the last day of the 2016 tour.

Just months before John's passing he released a new book, a long time in the making and another labor of love, titled Mission To The Kurils.  This, as he put it, is the second part to his first book, The Aleutian Warrior, which was released in the early nineties.  This new hardcover educates the reader on the WW2 Naval operations against the Japanese home islands that were launched right from the Aleutians.  I know how happy John was to finally have this project finished.  You can find it on Amazon although the last time I checked it was unavailable.  I do know you can also purchase it from Todd Communications. 

I feel incredibly blessed to have known John and lucky for me, I had the chance to tell him that.   I assured him that I would try my best to continue on with the work he has so passionately dedicated his life to, although I will no where come close to what John has accomplished, as he was truly one of a kind and has done an immeasurable amount to ensure that the history of Alaska's military efforts are not forgotten about.  On behalf of veterans and the families of the veterans who served there, rest in peace John.  We will surely miss you this summer and many many days in between.

Below, you can read more about John's legacy written by the Funeral Home where his service will be held on January 21st, 2017 in Anchorage, Alaska. 

"Author and military historian John Haile Cloe, 78, passed away at his Lower Hillside home on Dec. 26, 2016, after a brief illness. His wife Susan and family were at his side.

Born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, John graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1963 and went on to serve 29 years in the U.S. Army. He served two tours of combat duty with U.S. and South Vietnamese Infantry units in Viet Nam, then became an Air Force civilian historian and retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves in 1992. His many writings include a series of highly regarded military history books.

When Virginia Military Institute was notified of his passing, a VMI official said: "John was the most decorated member of his class," an aspect of his distinguished career that the unassuming man never mentioned. Among his honors John received 10 Air Force level awards and was the Alaska Historical Society's Alaska Historian of the Year in 1992. He won the society's Pathfinder Award in 1988 and the American Aviation Historical Society's Author of the Year Award in 2004.

John won the Air Force Wing Historian of the Year Awards in 1976 and 1994. In 2003 Brig. Gen. Robertus Remkes cited John for 40 years of dedicated service to the nation. He was also awarded the Air Force Association's Exceptional Service Award and two Medals of Merit for his documentation of Air Force history in Alaska.

John's books include Top Cover for America: The Air Force in Alaska, published in 1984; The Aleutian Warriors, a History of the Eleventh Air Force and Fleet Air Wing Four, which was a comprehensive book about the Alaska Theater of World War II published in 1992; and Mission to the Kurils, an account of the arduous but little-known World War II air and sea operations by American bomber crews against the Japanese Home Islands from Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Mission to the Kurils was published in 2016.

He also wrote a book about one of the projects he championed, the recovery and restoration of a P38 fighter plane from a crash site in Temnak Valley on Attu Island. The book was entitled Saving The Lightning. The restored fighter is now on display at the Elmendorf Aviation Historical Park on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson. John's friend, military colleague and fellow author Ted Spencer, retired executive director of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum, said John Cloe was a champion for the military heritage in Alaska.

John also wrote a book, Attu, the Forgotten Battle, which will be published by the National Park Service in support of the National Historic Monument on Attu Island, which is owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the years John produced more than 40 histories and studies, many of them classified, covering the Cold War In Alaska.

In a review about Mission to the Kurils by Mike Dunham of the Alaska Dispatch News, Dunham noted that the 2016 book was the first history of the little-known war fought by American bomber crews flying from Aleutian air bases to attack targets in the Japanese Home Islands. In a news article about his passing, Dunham wrote that John's "encyclopedic knowledge of the military history of Alaska made him the leading expert on World War II in the territory."

In 1970 John was stationed at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia and, John told Dunham, the air conditioning broke so he "put in for a cooler assignment." John drove to Alaska via the unpaved Alaska Highway with his late wife Cay and was assigned as a historian at Elmendorf Air Force Base, a position he held until 2006. He made Alaska his home for the rest of his life.

John was widowed twice. His first wife, Harriet Catherine (Cay) Hill, passed away in 1992. He then met Jane Slisco and they were married in 1995. Jane died in 2008. John found love a third time with Susan and the two were married in 2011.

John's lifelong commitment to the military and its history led him and Susan to visit battlefields around the world. Two of the last four summers he guided groups of World War Il history buffs on tours of sites of historic significance in the Aleutian Islands.

John was a member of the board of directors of the Alaska Humanities Forum and the Alaska Historical Commission and an elder at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Anchorage. He was active in the Air Force Association and the Eleventh Air Force Association, a group of World War II veterans who served in the Aleutians. He was also a private pilot and avid climber, reaching the highest point in 49 of the 50 states, missing only Denali in Alaska. (He attempted to climb both Denali and Mt. Everest but fell ill and was forced to abort both climbs.)

John is survived by his wife Susan, stepdaughters and stepsons, Cynthia (Cindy) and Dan Ryynanen of Maple Valley, WA; and Christina (Andrews) and Rob Jennings of Napa, CA; Toms and Kelly Andrews, Christian and Leslie Andrews, and Christopher and Kelly Andrews, all of Anchorage; and step-grandchildren Lucas and Tyler Ryynanen and Susannah and Isabel Jennings, Claire and Gage Andrews, Polly-Faye Andrews, and Lily and Sophia Andrews.

Funeral services will be held at St. Mary's Episcopal Church at 3 p.m. on Saturday, January 21, followed by a celebration of life in Waldron Hall at the church.

Arrangements are with Janssen's Evergreen Memorial Chapel.

Be the first to share your memories or express your condolences in the Guest Book for John Haile Cloe."

Funeral Home
Janssen's Evergreen Memorial Chapel 737 E. Street
Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 279-5477