Can I tell you a story about the INVASION of “ADAK”.
It started at Cold Bay, 50 (fifty) of us so called airmen were transported to Umnak where we got on a Canadian CORVETTE ship. It was night and dark and I heard these men talking in what I thought was an ENGLISH ACCENT. So my big mouth and me says, “what ho a bloody limey ship”. Well these men talking came alive and said in a harsh voice “who said that, who called us bloody limeys”. It did’nt take me long to understand that I had made a big blunder. I never opened my mouth and hid in the group.
Well we sailed out of Umnak in the dark of night, and the voyage went down hill from there. The sea got rough and rougher, and then all hell broke loose. First the Bow went down into the water and sea spray blew over the entire ship. Then a roll to port with the nose coming up clear of the water so that when the bow settled down it crashed with loud bong and the ship would quiver from stem to stern. Then a roll to starboard with the bow going down again and this time the stern came up so high that the screws came out of the water, when this happened the ship vibrated violently and started a new roll with the nose descending again into the sea. The Capt. Told us the next morn that through the night the ship rolled to a maximum of 70 (seventy) degrees to one side and then tried to match in on the other. Now you guys who can read a compass or any other instrument made up of DEGREES can understand what a 70-degree roll looked like. I’d say we were in danger of floundering.
While all this was going on, Forrest Elvig had gotten wet on deck and had retreated to a hatch over the engine room, where he had removed his outer clothes and hung them on the hand rail around the cat walk. As the rolls got greater and greater and the hatch came closer to the surface, Elvig was getting warmer and warmer in his cozy corner. THEN, the big roll, water comes tumbling into the hatch, freezing Arctic water and splashes all over Elvig, you could hear him scream allover the ship, when that cold water hit that nice warm skin. Some trip.
In the flotilla of ships they had two or three tugboats pulling barges. The one in question had about 200 or 300, 55gal drums of 100-octane gasoline all tied down nice and neat. On the barge were two 50-cal machine guns. One on each end of the barge. Two men attended each gun, I would guess in case of attack one man would fire and the other would load and lead the belts of ammo into the gun. So what happened, the rough sea got to the barge and turned it over and the four guys with it. The cable pulling the barge was cut loose and the flotilla went on its merry way. I guess in the middle of the night, and the sea as rough as it was, HOW were you going to see the men in the dark anyway. Like all soldiers, they were EXPENDABLE. That was ONE rough night.
When we got to Adak and into the harbor or inlet, from out of nowhere came personnel landing craft. The guys on the Corvette threw an invasion ladder over the side and us 50 airmen climbed down with rifle and duffel bag, and some had tool boxes. We climbed down very slowly. So to the shore we went, beached and lowered the noses of the landing craft. 50 guys stepped out and someone said unload the gear. So we made two lines facing each other, and rolled our gear hand over hand and had the craft unloaded in couple of minutes. Some one up the beach away was shooting pictures of us unloading, and he says ‘are you people COMMANDOS”. Of course we smarted of and said “ yeah, airforce commandos”. At this point and date 8/14/99 I must tell whoever is reading this, that about six months ago I was watching the HISTORY channel, and what should appear but us guys unloading on the beach just like I said. How about that I’m on film, I’m Immortal. (Happy face).
We settled every thing down on the beach and started to look around for some thing to do. A group of infantry people had gone into the interior of the island to take care of the Japs who were on the island). so some of us wandered off and found a stream about four or five feet wide ten to twelve inches deep. LOADED with humpback salmon. To make a long story short, we were looking for some different food, cause “C” rations had been our fare for weeks, and hash to me is sickening. So three of us went fishing with JACKKNIVES. Yes I said jackknives we stood astraddle the creek with our jackknife in hand we stabbed 52 (fifty-two) salmon in one hour. Back to camp, built a fire with rocks around for reflection of heat. Cleaned fish and used only the select part from the gills to the butthole. We only had two square shovels to cook them on. Dillahunty stole a slab of bacon from the navy and that was our frying oil and seasoning. That was a meal fit for a king.
Nine days later the Engineers had the steel matting laid down and in came a PBY to test the runway and then our beloved P-38s. Camp was made and fox holes dug, mess hall erected and slit trench activated. Up on the side of the mountain away from the shoreline. There I stayed for another nine months. From that point it was Amchitca, Shemya, and Attu.
We had fun, yes we did. Vivid memories will go to my grave with me of the adventure and friends who shared it with me.
H. R. McGalliard
54th Fighter Sqdn.
343rd Interceptor Group.
Alaskan Defense Command.