Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Lt. Col. (RET) Bob Brocklehurst

Lt. Col (RET) Robert (Bob) Brocklehurst, is one of the last remaining WWll Aleutian Island pilots at nearly 98 years young.  I met Bob a few years ago when his barber (my client) connected us.  He has not been able to get rid of me since!  What a blessing Bob has been to me and to my daughter.   Most of my life I grew up with people blessed in years and I learned the most valuable lessons from them.  My daughter gets to experience that in Bob.  He is an inspiration and we are so proud to call him our friend.

Robert “Bob” Brocklehurst began his 28 years of military service months before the United States entered World War II. Interested in becoming a pilot, he became a cadet in the Army Air Corps in February 1941 and completed his training in the fall of that year. In the weeks following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Brocklehurst and 23 other pilots and their P-40s were deployed north to Alaska.

Brocklehurst, was attached to the 11th Fighter Squadron and lead by Col. John “Jack” Chennault , son of infamous Claire Chennault, in their P-40’s when they landed in Fairbanks, March of 1942.  He was soon transferred to the 18th Fighter Squadron, which also flew P-36s. The squadron eventually moved west to Kodiak in defense of US Naval Base.

In addition to worrying about a Japanese attack, the pilots also had to contend with Williwaws; blizzards with hurricane force winds,  zero visibility, sketchy navigational aids and poor communication. 

Brocklehurst flew out to Umnak to reinforce the island in June of 1942, just before the Japanese struck Dutch Harbor, Alaska from the air  on two consecutive days.  Within a week the Japanese then landed and occupied the American island of Attu, killing one and taking over 40 civilian prisoners, and Kiska, where they captured the 12 man crew of a small US weather reporting station. 

After the attack Brocklehurst was ordered back to Anchorage to form a new unit, the 344th Fighter Squadron, flying P-40’s and was appointed squadron commander after successfully leading a formation of 12 Warhawks through horrendous weather to land safely on Adak. He took his new squadron all  600 miles west along the Aleutian chain where he earned the distinction of being the first fighter pilot to land on the island of Attu just days after it was liberated in June of 1943.

This May, Bob returned to Anchorage with several of his fellow veterans of the Aleutian Campaign to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Attu and the end of the war in Alaska.  And this July, Bob will join us in a 2018 EAA Oshkosh Warbird in Review segment featuring the fliers of WWll's Aleutian Campaign.

Bob’s Air Force career had him flying eighteen different aircraft including: P-36, P-38, P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51, F-86 and a T-33 with stints in Alaska- twice, Okinawa, Camp Springs Army Airfield (Andrews) twice, Steward Air Force Base and lastly the Pentagon 

In 2016 Bob got the chance to fly one of his old Warbirds again, thanks to the Collings Foundation and Brian Norris.  The flight ended up making national news but more importantly ignited a ripple of memories he is still riding.   As the newscaster says, this may be the best thing you watch all day.   Thank you Bob for your service then and for your friendship now. 

For Bob's full flight- visit Once A Pilot, Always A Pilot.

Monday, June 4, 2018

WWII Japanese Guns (120cm) on Kiska Island, Alaska

And just like that another year has zipped along right before my eyes only proving once again the old cliche 'Where does the time go?' is actually still a valid question.   It seems like it was only a few months ago that I was aboard the Puk Uk rubbing my tired throbbing feet after having just returned from one of our long tundra hikes through some of the most forgotten about battle sites in all of WWll; the Aleutian Islands. 

This year has been busy with different Aleutian related projects: WWll Visitor Center remodel in Dutch Harbor, Canada wide RCAF in the Aleutians museum exhibit, EAA Oshkosh Airshow Warbirds In Review Aleutian Campaign segment, RCAF commemorative hike in Unalaska, CAF- Alaska Wing and their RCAF Goldilocks revival, and the big event of the year- 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Attu held just two weeks ago in Anchorage (more on that, on a later day...)  No wonder I have not had time to write!!

Nine Aleutian Island Veterans made the trip to Anchorage to Commemorate Attu75.

In preparation for this year's trip beginning THIS Saturday, yikes, I thought I would post this teaser.  It is just a minuscule fraction of what we see while hiking on Kiska Island where the Japanese Imperial Navy had their largest garrison during WWll's Aleutian Campaign at roughly 5000 soldiers, all of which, under a veil of the oh so common- Aleutian fog, quietly boarded a Japanese troop carrier that had secretly made it's way into the Harbor right under the noses of US Navy.  The ship safely made it's way back to Japan leaving the island with nothing but bad memories.  This evacuation was not officially discovered until a combined Canadian/US force of 35,000 troops, code named Operation Cottage,  landed on the Island on August 15th, 1943 and found nothing but empty gun positions and well build Japanese bunkers.  Even then, on a now unoccupied island, over 300 Allied soldiers died either by confused in the fog friendly fire or booby traps left by the Japanese.

In the video, we were walking around the North Head of the island where the Japanese big guns are located, four 120cm dual purpose guns all guarding the west side of Kiska Harbor which really is the perfect vantage point for any one trying defend Kiska Harbor against a land invasion. 

It is such a privilege and honor to be able to co-lead this expedition and share with people the uniqueness of this campaign and the stories of those who served.  Our next trip is scheduled for 2020!  Make sure you are on it!