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Ohio family charged in Rhoden murders kept low profile in Alaska, neighbor says
Four people have been charged for the execution-style killings Matt Finn has the latest details.
An Ohio family of four, charged Tuesday in the execution-style slayings of eight people in 2016, relocated to Alaska about a year after the murders, living a quiet life -- even as officials continued to eye them as suspects in the slaughter.
The four members of the Wagner family indicted on aggravated murder charges could be sentenced to death if convicted in the Rhoden family murders, Ohio Attorney General and Governor-elect Mike DeWine announced during a Tuesday news conference. The quartet -- George "Billy" Wagner III, 47 his wife, 48-year-old Angela Wagner and George's sons, George Wagner, 27, and Edward "Jake" Wagner, 26 -- spent "some significant time in Alaska" in the two years before their arrest, officials said.
"I just might tell you this is just the most bizarre story I've ever seen in being involved in law enforcement," DeWine said.
George "Billy" Wagner III, Angela Wagner and sons George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner were indicted by a grand jury on Monday, and were each charged with eight counts of aggravated murder, investigators said. (Twitter/Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine)
In June 2017, a little over a year after the April 2016 killings that garnered national attention, the Wagners moved to Kenai, Alaska, about three hours southwest of Anchorage. A real estate listing for the home in Kenai highlights the property's "big backyard" and the amount of "privacy" enjoyed by tenants, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The home where the Wagners lived in Kenai, Alaska. (Realtor.com)
Brad Conklin, a neighbor of the Wagner family, told KTUU he had casual conversations with the family, once warning them about possible wildlife dangers in the area.
"Monday morning, I drove by, I seen them putting out kids toys. And that's when I'm gonna let them know that we do have bears in this area,” Conklin told the television station. “And to watch their kids. And I just struck up a conversation with them saying 'Hi, welcome to the neighborhood.' No big deal"
In a separate interview with KTVA, Conklin said the Wagners "pretty much kept to themselves" before moving back to Ohio in May.
"[It's] a crazy world we live in today," Conklin said.
The victims were identified as 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden their three children, 20-year-old Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and 19-year-old Hanna Frankie Rhoden's fiancée, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley Christopher Rhoden Sr.'s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden.
At the time of the Alaska move, Jake Wagner told the Cincinnati Enquirer the family was leaving due to rampant speculation they played a role in the Rhoden deaths. Wagner also said he wanted a better life for his daughter -- whose mother was one of the victims of the massacre.
“Really the point to moving up here was to basically get into a better environment so they wouldn’t talk about us. Sophia is getting older, so she wouldn’t hear it,” he said in July 2017. “And then it followed us here.”
Arrests made in connection to 2016 massacre of Ohio family
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the suspects -- a husband, wife, and their two adult sons -- were arrested in connection with the Rhoden family murders Matt Finn reports.
A pastor at the Resurrection Bay Baptist Church in Seward, Alaska told the Dayton Daily News in 2017 the Wagners were planning to move to Alaska for over a decade and had come up multiple times to visit and fish.
“They’re just good country people,” Kelly Cinereski told the paper at the time, adding none of the family members had talked to him about the killings.
Alaska Sen. Peter Micciche, who represents the area, told KTUU police told him there were "no issues" involving the Wagners when they were living in Alaska. Micciche added his concern was the family thought of the area as a place to lay low while the investigation in Ohio was ongoing. He said news of the arrests had brought relief to some of his constituents.
"You saw some reactions, you know, 'finally! They were arrested,'” he told the television station. “I think generally there's some relief, although I think folks knew they were no longer in town. It's comforting to know they won't be coming back."
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announces the arrest of a family of four in the killings of the Rhoden family in Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The Wagners are believed to have thoroughly planned out the murders, authorities said. DeWine said the family “conspired together to kill eight victims under the cover of darkness, and then covered their tracks.” A motive for the mass murder has not yet been revealed.
In this May 3, 2016, file photo, mourners gather around caskets for six of the eight members of the Rhoden family found shot April 22, 2016, at four properties near Piketon, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The victims were identified as: 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden their three children, 20-year-old Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and 19-year-old Hanna Frankie Rhoden's fiancée, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley Christopher Rhoden Sr.'s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden. Hanna Rhoden's newborn child, another baby and a young child were left unharmed.
Two other people — Billy Wagner’s mother, Fredericka, and Angela Wagner’s mother, Rita Newcomb — were also arrested in connection with the case after investigators said the pair aided in the cover-up and misled authorities. DeWine said there is "absolutely no evidence" that anyone else was involved.
Fox News' Nicole Darrah and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Alaska 2016 - History
In 2016, Alaska experienced widespread warmth, shattering average temperature records that in some cases have been kept for more than a century. Many communities around the state recorded their highest average temperatures ever. That includes Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, where the average temperature was 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Some places not only broke previous records, but exceeded them by huge margins (see map below). Another first: 2016 was the first time Nome’s annual average temperature was above freezing. At 32.5 degrees F, it broke the previous (2014) record of 31.6 degrees F.
Sites of record and near-record warmth in Alaska in 2016. NOAA Climate.gov map adapted from original by Rick Thoman, NWS Alaska Region headquarters.
An outstanding feature of the 2016 climate was the remarkable persistence of the mild (for Alaska) weather. In a more typical year, we’d expect there to be warmer than average days and weeks and periods of colder than average temperatures that roughly balance over the course of the year. This was most definitely not the case in 2016 though, when warmer than average days outnumbered cooler than normal days by an amazing 9 to 1 ratio. Nearly all of the cooler than normal days were squeezed in near the end of the year, from mid-November to mid-December (see graph below).
Difference from average daily temperature index based on 25 stations chosen to represent the diverse geography of Alaska. Alaska experienced only 30 below normal temperature days in 2016. NOAA Climate.gov graph adapted from original provided by Rick Thoman, NWS Alaska Region headquarters.
Superimposed on the long-term warming trend, the 3 to 7 degree temperature anomaly for most of the state in 2016 had a cascading effect on things like infrastructure, the Arctic ice pack, permafrost, tree lines on the mountains, and the subsistence way of life of many of the region’s native peoples. Snow melted much earlier than normal. On the big rivers of Alaska, many places saw record or near record early break-up of ice in the spring, and freeze-up on rivers in the autumn was delayed as well. Autumn sea ice extent was exceptionally low, with minimums near Alaska not reached until Oct 11, about two weeks later than the recent average. Most unusually, open water persisted in the central Chukchi Sea into December.
Despite the record warmth, the state’s 2016 wildfire season was kept in check by the exceptionally wet conditions over parts of the state’s Interior. A total of over 500,000 acres burned in 2016, a number slightly above the longer term median. In contrast, 6.2 million acres burned during Alaska’s record fire season in 2004. The state’s second worst fire season occurred during Alaska’s fourth warmest year, 2015, when 5.1 million acres were scorched.
The widespread warmth in 2016 was the result of multiple factors: a strong El Nino last winter, persistently warm ocean surface temperatures near Alaska, and the long-term temperature increase due to human-produced greenhouse gases.
Typical impacts of El Niño on the jet stream and winter climate across the United States. NOAA Climate.gov map by Fiona Martin.
El Niño winters often feature persistent patterns, and early 2016 featured persistent low pressure in and near the Aleutians. When that happens, the low draws mild, southerly air over much of the state. Ocean temperatures near Alaska have been persistently above normal since 2013, in part because of the prevailing weather patterns and in part due to larger scale ocean circulations. In fact, parts of the Eastern Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean saw the warmest ocean surface temperatures of record during the 2016 spring and summer.
The persistent southerly flow during the winter left much of low-elevation mainland Alaska with significantly below average snowpack at the end of winter. In most areas, the snow also melted out early, enhancing the spring warmth. 2016’s warmth is also part of the long-term trend of rising Northern Hemisphere temperatures since the early twentieth century.
The northern part of the state was off to warm start in 2017. A series of storms forcing warm air north of the Bering Strait meant every community on Alaska's usually-frigid North Slope was above freezing on New Year’s Day. Barrow reached 36 degrees F, tying an all-time January record.
Still, it is unlikely Alaska will set a new warm temperature record in 2017. However, sea ice extent around Alaska and over most of the Arctic remains very low and what ice is out there is, for the most part, much thinner than in years past, a potentially significant factor for the upcoming summer. Ocean surface temperatures near Alaska are still warmer than normal, especially in the Bering Sea.
For the January through March late winter season, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting only modest shifts away from the “baseline” odds (equal chances for above, near, or below average temperature or precipitation) for parts of the state, in part because of competing influences. The ongoing, but weakening, La Niña tilts the odds to the cold side, while low sea ice and warmer than average sea surface temperatures favor warmer than average temperatures. There are equal chances for above or below or near normal precipitation except in west and northwest Alaska, where low sea ice extent slightly favors significantly above precipitation.
Alaska 2016 - History
Vast, remote, and largely still wild, Alaska stirs wonder in the hundreds of thousands who visit each year. With a land area of more than 570,000 square miles, and the longest coastline of any state, Alaska is larger than Texas, California, and Montana combined. It contains 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the United States, including Denali, the highest peak in North America. It is home to an estimated 100,000 glaciers. Its natural monuments—mountains, tundras, glaciers, lakes, seas—are of such gargantuan scale that the environment can seem immutable.
A band of clouds hugs the slopes of Denali, in the Alaska Range Mountains. The scale and grandeur of Alaska's terrain can create an impression of changelessness. Photo by Flickr user NickL, used under a CC license.
Yet Alaska’s climate is changing, thanks to human-caused global warming, and the effects are widespread and sometimes dangerous. This is the story told in a new report from the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (a NOAA Climate Program Office RISA team), in partnership with the International Arctic Research Center and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The report, Alaska’s Changing Environment, will be updated every three years. The first installment focuses most of its attention on the dramatic changes the state has experienced in just the last five years.
Alaska's ten coldest years on record (blue dots) all occurred before 1980. Meanwhile, nine of its ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1980. Graph by Rick Thoman, Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.
What’s in the report?
Rick Thoman and John Walsh of the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy authored the report, which describes major changes in temperature, sea ice, glaciers, permafrost, plants, animals, and oceans. Some of the content comes from Walsh’s own research—partially funded by the Climate Observations and Monitoring program at NOAA’s Climate Program Office—in which he developed climate indicators to monitor variables like tundra greening, growing season warmth, storminess, and sea ice.
Unlike the National Climate Assessment reports issued by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Alaska’s Changing Environment can pay more attention to topics that are relevant to Alaska alone for example, it devotes two pages to sea ice trends. In addition, the new report brings Alaska climate observations up to date through August 2019. (The Fourth National Climate Assessment, published in late 2018, contains no information beyond 2016 for Alaska).
“Our hope,” said Rick Thoman, Alaska Climate Specialist, in a recent interview with Climate.gov, “is that the style and presentation will allow any interested citizen to get a feel for what's been happening in recent years. By focusing solely on observed changes (or lack of changes), we avoid the confusion that can result in mixing ‘what's happened’ with ‘what might happen’ through climate model projections.”
Length of the snow season (gray bars) in Alaska each year from 1997-2018. Orange slanting bars show the trend: the date when the state becomes 50 percent snow covered is arriving a week later in October than it used it, and the spring "snow-off" date—when half the winter snow has melted—is arriving nearly two weeks earlier. Image by Rick Thoman, Alaska Center for Climate and Policy.
Another unique feature of Alaska’s Changing Environment is its anecdotal observations from rural areas of Alaska. Climate change threatens dire consequences for many Alaska Native villages in remote areas, where subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering are critical to livelihoods. On April 7, 2017, Miki Collins of Lake Minchumina observed that the snow melt was earlier than usual. “Dog team hauling gas during spring melt,” said Collins in the report. “Gravel exposed on Holek Spit grinds on sled runners, a problem especially when hauling heavy loads.”
Why report on Alaska climate so frequently?
It is important to monitor Alaska's changing climate with precision and diligence the pace of change can be rapid. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Alaska has been warming twice as quickly as the global average since the middle of the 20 th century. Alaska is warming faster than any U.S. state. Alaska’s Changing Environment notes that, since 2014, there have been 5 to 30 times more record-high temperatures set than record lows.
On July 4, 2019, all-time temperature records were set in Kenai, Palmer, King Salmon, and Anchorage International Airport. Remarkably, Anchorage hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit the average summer temperature in Anchorage is normally in the mid-sixties. July 2019 was the hottest month in recorded history for the state. June 2019 was the second warmest on record.
The red bars show the percent of a station's warmest temperatures on record that have occurred in the past 5 years. The blue bars show the percent of a location's record-cold temperatures that have occurred over the same time. Without climate change, no more than 10 percent of the hot or cold temperature extremes for the period 1953-2018 should have been set in the past five years. Instead, the ratios are extremely lopsided, with many locations experiencing 20-30% of their record-warmest temperatures since 2014. Graph by Brian Brettschneider, International Arctic Research Center, based on GHCN-Daily data from NOAA NCEI. )
These extremes on land are surpassed by what’s going on in the sea. Alaska’s Changing Environment affirms, “Nothing in the Alaska environment is changing faster than sea ice.” Today, typical summer ice extent on the Chukchi Sea is only 10% of what is was in the early 1980s, and the Beaufort Sea ice-over usually occurs two to three weeks later in the fall than in past decades. In 2018 and 2019, late winter ice coverage in the Bering Sea’s Alaska waters was significantly lower than any winter in the last 170 years. Surface waters along Alaska’s west coast were 4–11ºF warmer than average this summer.
What’s at stake?
Alaska climate monitoring is critical to U.S. economic strength. Alaska’s commercial fishing industry is the most productive such industry in the United States, producing more harvest volume than all other states combined. Alaska exports annually more than one million metric tons of seafood in 2016, Alaska seafood was sold in 105 countries. The Alaska seafood industry generates $12.8 billion in annual economic output for the U.S. Climate change and ocean acidification put all the state’s fisheries at risk.
Scientists dump a catch of walleye pollock onto a sorting table onboard the NOAA ship Miller Freeman during a stock and food source assessment in September 2007. Alaskan pollock—the fish stick fish—is the United States' largest fishery. (Photo by Ingrid Spies, provided by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.)
Climate change over the long term could also burden Alaska with significant adaptation costs. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, the cost to the state of a warming climate is projected to range from $3.3 to $6.7 billion, between 2008 and 2030 (2015 dollars). The costs in the transportation sector alone will be significant. Greater snow and ice melt will lead to increases in transportation cost, as ice roads must be replaced with gravel roads. A 2004 report estimated the cost of gravel roads on the North Slope of Alaska at as much as $2.5 million per mile (2015 dollars).
“Alaska is built for seasonal cold,” said Rick Thoman. “Whether it’s modern housing, transportation in the vast roadless areas of the state, or traditional food storage methods, warming is disruptive and brings stress, risk, and hardship to many.”
The story of Alaska
In 1976, author John McPhee described the power and constancy of Alaskan rivers in his classic nonfiction book, Coming into the Country. “The river flows,” he wrote, “as it has since immemorial time, in balance with itself. The river and every rill that feeds it are in an unmodified natural state—opaque in flood, ordinarily clear, with levels that change within a closed cycle of the year and of the years.
“The river cycle is only one of many hundreds of cycles—biological, meteorological—that coincide and blend here in the absence of intruding artifice…while human beings have hunted, fished, and gathered wild food in this valley in small groups for centuries, they have not yet begun to change it.”
A river meanders through the Brooks Range Mountains in northern Alaska's Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Photo courtesy the U.S. National Park Service.
Whether McPhee knew it or not, though, Alaska was poised for profound change. Alaska’s Changing Environment and its future installments will tell that important, impactful story.
The Economic Value of Alaska’s Seafood Industry. McDowell Group. Prepared for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. September 2017.
McPhee, John. Coming into the Country. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.
A look back at UAA's spring 2016 history conference and undergraduate scholarship
Frazier Manfull, Celeste Earley and Heather Teel were among the undergraduates who presented at Phi Alpha Theta's conference sponsored by the UAA Department of History. (Photo by Philip Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)
So many good things happen in spring semester at UAA, it can be hard to keep up.
Each year, Professor Rachael Ball reaches out to alert the UAA community that the Phi Alpha Theta history conference is on the calendar. This is fourth statewide conference and the Department of History's third year of support. UAF students typically participate. Find images of the successful event at the history department's Facebook page.
Here is background on this year's conference that occurred March 24-25 at UAA, along with brief interviews with three of the undergraduate scholars who presented there, about their work and their passion for history.
Phi Alpha Theta
Phi Alpha Theta is the national history honor society. UAA has an active chapter that serves as a meeting ground between faculty and students. The annual conference is their big effort, but the group also hosts student and faculty gatherings like board game nights for bouts of History Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit.
Ray Ball is the honor society's faculty advisor and she serves as the faculty organizer for the department's Phi Alpha Theta conference. Senior Celeste Earley presented at the conference, but also served as its student director this year. The conference and other Phi Alpha Theta events are always open to all interested students, Ray said.
Traditionally, a reliable and self-sufficient student might just get the conference leadership tap from Ray. That's what happened with Celeste this year. She earned internship credit for her conference organizing activities through the English Department's A495 internship class.
New internship opportunities
But come the fall, the history department will be able to offer its own internship opportunities. Ray expects future student conference directors to apply in the fall for the spring organizing role. She said she considers it a great resume builder and an opportunity for a student to stretch professionally.
Beyond the conference, UAA history students will be able to earn internship credit by volunteering time and talent at community activities like the Anchorage School District's annual history day, where they typically serve as judges for a variety of high school history projects.
The UAA conference this year featured six panels moderated by a faculty member and organized to highlight and explore the academic work of UAA students:
- Fascism and Film in the Age of Mass Society (chaired by Paul Dunscomb)
- Case Studies in the History of Slavery (chaired by Songho Ha)
- Cultural Conflict and Native American Identity (chaired by Stephen Haycox)
- Politics and Policy in American History (chaired by Ian Hartman)
- Revolt Rebellion and Writing on the Medieval and Early Modern World (chaired by Ray Ball)
- Identity, Acculturation and Resistance (chaired by Bill Myers)
Stephen Haycox offered a public lecture Thursday evening on "Battleground Alaska: Fighting Federal Power in America's Last Wilderness." Thomas Cox of Sam Houston State University gave the keynote address Friday at lunch, titled "Middle Men in the Middle Kingdom: The American Merchant Community in China during the First Opium War, 1939-1842."
Meet the scholars
Celeste Earley and midwifery: We already mentioned that Celeste served as this year's conference student director. Now, imagine taking on that huge job while working full time? That's exactly what Celeste did.
As a history major and women's study minor, Celeste says she has had a steady job since she turned 14. For the past three years, she's worked full time at the Anchorage Museum as their assistant visitor services manager. She plans a career in museum work.
Anchorage born and home schooled until 10th grade, Celeste graduated in 2012 from Stellar Secondary School. Attending UAA was an economic decision she said her parents had saved for her college career so she wouldn't face school debt after she graduates in December 2016.
Celeste says she was a history major upon arrival at UAA. From a young age, she was fascinated by the stories of kings and queens. That developed into a more thorough examination of the social, political and gender politics in early modern and medieval history.
"I loved the mystery of it," she said, explaining that academic history requires a lot of detective work. Instead of reading accounts in history books, she relished going to original source documents, like manuscripts, letters, some books, and even an online subscription of scanned early English books that allows scholars around the world to read them. Her research project developed out of the senior seminar with Professor Ball, who teaches most of the medieval and early modern classes at UAA.
Celeste's paper examined early midwifery manuals and why they were written by men. "That just stunned me," she said. Her own mother has a career in midwifery, Celeste explained, and she's been interested in the topic as she grew up. But how could men write manuals about childbirth when they aren't even allowed in the birthing chamber, she wondered.
Her research showed that in Europe during the Scientific Revolution (1500s-1700s), "science bloomed." Despite reliable reputations as female midwives, Celeste documents how male doctors trained at male-dominated universities had an advantage over female midwives, able to learn new knowledge and test new equipment. They started writing birthing manuals. Wealthier women who could afford doctors began having them attend at their births. Medical schools began to view midwifery as a public health threat. The first midwife manual written by a woman didn't happen for another 100 years, she learned.
Celeste found interacting with other history students especially rewarding. "The was my first conference. It was so much fun, I had a great time. I tend to get stuck in my own field of history and I hyper focus. Being at the conference, I could see what everyone else was passionate about. It made me really proud of the history department."
Frazier Manfull and Fascist Japan: Frazier started out as a justice major, but the history general electives always satisfied, so in May he'll graduate with both majors.
"To be perfectly honest, a video game got me into history," he said with a laugh. "Before I even came here, I got into Europa Universalis 3 by Paradox. A 15th-century strategy game, it lets a gamer take control of one of seven European nations from 1492-1792, gaining power through trade, military might, diplomacy and colonialism.
"After I started studying history, I learned that a lot of [the game] wasn't all that accurate, but it was grounded in fact enough to get me hooked," he said.
Frazier is a graduate of Family Partnership Charter School, and started taking classes at UAA as a high school sophomore. He is also is a protégé of Professor Paul Dunscomb, an expert on east Asian studies. Dunscomb's guidance led Frazier to explore whether Japan was a fascist nation during World War II.
"If you ask the man on the street, the answer is likely yes," Frazier said. But among academics, fascism has a very specific definition. There are a lot of arguments over it. "If you ask 10 academics, you'll get 11 answers," he said. Frazier ended up arguing that Japan was fascist, but it was not a clone of either Germany or Italy.
This year's conference was Frazier's second time to present his own work. He'll also return to Student Showcase this year, and present his paper in Bellingham, WA at the Phi Alpha Theta Northwest Regional Conference. He applied and received an undergraduate research grant to acquire some of his history sources and to attend the regional conference to further vet his paper.
Frazier is vice president of UAA's chapter of Phi Alpha Theta and says the group plans an upcoming movie night to view "Ghengis Khan," a movie about the founder of the Mongolian Empire "and every actor in it is white," he noted, clearly an inaccuracy that history majors can enjoy.
What truly hooked Frazier on history? "I like it because of the stories," he said. "It's filled with human narratives that are both mundane and bizarre."
He hopes to study history in graduate school, but in the near term, will lean next on his justice degree for a job. "I've been going to school for a long, long time," he said. "It'll be good to work for awhile."
His advice for undergraduates?
"It's the thing I should have done right from the beginning: Get to know your professors. It took me a few years. Now I know them much better."
Heather Teel and indigenous cultural conflicts: Heather stumbled into history. Her original major was Japanese, and she enjoyed a year abroad at Hokaido, Japan. "I like languages. I'm good at them, I like breaking them down."
She thought translation work would be interesting, but then had second thoughts. She took a U.S. history class from Professor Ian Hartman and got hooked.
"He's an excellent lecturer. And his means of showing you how to write a research paper for upper division, that was critical. He shows how history can apply to modern-day issues, and how we can use it to inform ourselves," she said.
Heather's conference paper was titled "AIM for Cultural Conflict," based on the American Indian Movement.
"My paper addresses lots of issues in the civil rights movement at the time. The American Indian Movement was a great way to simplify the intense cultural conflict among and between the American Indians and the government. The government treats groups like this as if they are homogenized, but they are not. Treating them this way hurts government policy and function," she said.
Her interest stems from her own personal background. Both parents have family ties to Indian tribes. Her grandfather grew up for a time on a reservation. But today, the ties are nearly severed. "We have lineages. but no real contact or awareness," she said.
Heather was born in Arizona but raised in Belgium with a military family. Her dad retired to Alaska and brought the whole family. She graduated from Steller Secondary School, and tried college but wasn't quite ready. But when she got to UAA, this double major was ready to go.
The conference has value for Heather because it allows students to get feedback on their work. "You work an entire semester on something, and only the professor reads it and maybe you do a quick class presentation. But at the conference, everyone's interested. Other professors attend and push the analysis."
Heather, a self-described nontraditional student, is 33. She plans to take the next year off to work on her own fiction. Her advice to undergraduates following in her footsteps is to not panic about school. In her first semester in history, her father became ill just as finals and papers were due. Research papers were new for her, and she did panic. "I thought I had turned in the worst thing ever," only to learn that it was hardly a disaster. So brace yourself, pace yourself, keep moving forward.
Written by Kathleen McCoy, UAA Office of University Advancement/> " A look back at UAA's spring 2016 history conference and undergraduate scholarship " is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Mysterious New Whale Species Discovered in Alaska
Scientists say a dead whale on a desolate beach and a skeleton hanging in a high school gym are a new species. Yet experts have never seen one alive.
Like many good mysteries, this one started with a corpse, but the body in question was 24 feet (7.3 meters) long.
The remains floated ashore in June of 2014, in the Pribilof Islands community of St. George, a tiny oasis of rock and grass in the middle of Alaska's Bering Sea. A young biology teacher spotted the carcass half-buried in sand on a desolate windswept beach. He alerted a former fur seal researcher who presumed, at first, that she knew what they'd found: a Baird's beaked whale, a large, gray, deep-diving creature that occasionally washes in dead with the tide.
But a closer examination later showed that the flesh was too dark, the dorsal fin too big and floppy. The animal was too short to be an adult, but its teeth were worn and yellowed with age.
It turns out, according to new research published Tuesday, that this was not a Baird's beaked whale at all, but an entirely new species—a smaller, odd-shaped black cetacean that Japanese fishermen have long called karasu, or raven.
"We don't know how many there are, where they're typically found, anything," says Phillip Morin, a molecular geneticist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center. "But we're going to start looking."
It’s rare to uncover a new species of whale. Advances in DNA research have helped scientists identify five new cetaceans in the past 15 years but two were dolphins and most were simple category splits between fairly similar species. This animal, in the genus Berardius, looks far different than its nearest relative and inhabits an area of the North Pacific where marine mammal research has been conducted for decades.
It's just so exciting to think that in 2016 we're still discovering things in our world—even mammals that are more than 20 feet long.
"It's a really big deal," says study co-author Paul Wade of NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory. "If you think about it, on land, discovery of new species of large mammals is exceptionally rare. It just doesn't happen very often. It's quite remarkable."
Morin and his team examined the St. George carcass, took bone powder from old museum specimens, and reviewed DNA tests of whales from the Sea of Okhotsk. They studied skulls and beaks and analyzed records from whaling fleets in Japan. They even tracked down a skeleton hanging from the ceiling in a high school gymnasium in the Aleutian Islands.
The scientists conclude in their study published in Marine Mammal Science that this type of whale, which has not yet been named, is nearly as far removed genetically from the Northern Hemisphere's Baird's beaked whales as it is from its closest known relative, Arnoux's beaked whales, which swim in the Antarctic Ocean. The differences, in fact, are so dramatic that the animal has to be something else, they say.
"It's just so exciting to think that in 2016 we're still discovering things in our world—even mammals that are more than 20 feet long," Morin says.
He is not alone in his enthusiasm. Robert Pitman serves on a taxonomy committee for the Society for Marine Mammalogy, which publishes an annual list of all recognized marine mammal species. He is not among the 16 co-authors on Morin's paper. But at a time when the diversity of marine mammals is shrinking—the Yangtze River dolphin is now functionally extinct and Mexico’s vaquita porpoise is dangerously close—Pitman calls the discovery "heartening."
"It boggles my mind to think that a large, very different-looking whale has gone unnoticed by the scientific community for so long," Pitman says. "It sends a clear message about how little we know about what is in the ocean around us."
The discovery also raises new questions about how well humans are understanding the threats posed by marine activities, from energy exploration to sonar use, given that so few people even knew such a creature existed.
Of the 88 recognized living cetacean species, including orcas and humpbacks, bottlenose dolphins and Dall's porpoises, 22 are beaked whales. The largest of those, Baird's beaked whales, also called giant bottlenose whales, can reach 35 to 40 feet (10.7 to 12 meters) and weigh more than 24,000 pounds (10,900 kilograms). They travel in large groups, may dive 3,000 feet (914 meters), and can be underwater for an hour. While beaked whales are still hunted in Japan, little about them is known. In part that’s because they spend so much time feeding and exploring vast, deep canyons far from shore.
When Christian Hagenlocher on St. George, a 35-square-mile (91-square-kilometer) island inhabited by 100 people, frequented by hundreds of thousands of seals, and visited by 2.5 million birds, pointed out the dead whale in Zapadni Bay to former seal researcher Karin Holser, she thought it was a Baird's beaked whale. But later, as tides and currents revealed more of the animal, Holser realized she didn't recognize it at all. She consulted a colleague's cetacean identification book and sent pictures to other experts in Alaska.
"This dorsal fin was larger, further aft, and had more curvature than that of a Baird's beaked whale," says independent ecologist Michelle Ridgway, who arrived on the island days later. "The jaw structure and the shape of the melon were not quite right, either.” And this whale, while clearly an adult, was just two-thirds the size of full-grown Baird’s beaked whales.
Holser and other island residents measured the whale. Ridgway collected tissue, arranging to ship the slightly fetid samples through intermediaries to Morin's lab in Southern California.
Just nine months earlier, he'd spied new research by Japanese scientists attempting to describe differences between Baird's beaked whales and a rare black form that whalers had whispered about since the 1940s. Groups of these smaller whales were sometime spotted in Japan’s Nemuro Strait, but only between April and June. There was no record of scientists ever seeing one alive.
"They're almost folklore," Morin says.
The Japanese scientists had speculated in fall of 2013 that this may be an unknown species of beaked whale. But they were forced to draw conclusions from DNA taken from just three of the creatures that had stranded off Hokkaido. They concluded more evidence was needed.
Even before receiving the samples from St. George, Morin had been trying to hunt down more specimens.
He went through NOAA's tissue collection, pulling all 50 or so that had previously been identified as a Baird's beaked whale. Using DNA testing he found that two were actually a closer genetic match to the small black whales tested by Japanese scientists in 2013. One of those was from a whale that washed ashore in 2004 and now hangs in a school gym in Dutch Harbor. Scientists there had long assumed it was a younger Baird's beaked whale.
Morin also took the suggestion of one of the Japanese scientists, who had identified a skeleton from 1948 with an unusual shaped head at the Smithsonian Institution. And he tracked down another skeleton from the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History with body measurements that suggested they were the small black form. Morin took bone powder from both, and tested their DNA. They, too, were a match for karasu.
Along with the whale from St. George, Morin now had found five new specimens that were similar to the three found in Japan.
To describe a new species, however, "you build up lines of evidence, but that's very hard with an animal we've never seen alive," Morin says. But body measurements between Baird's beaked whales and the smaller black creature proved vastly different, as did their DNA.
Baird's beaked whales range throughout the North Pacific from Russia and Japan to Mexico. Genetic variation among Baird’s beaked whales was tiny. But for the five new black specimens Morin tested, all initially from the Bering Sea or the Aleutians, the sequences differed from the Baird's beaked whales significantly.
"The genetic variation within the forms was little, while the divergence between them was much larger," Morin says. "That's our strongest argument."
The whale still needs to be formally described and named, and Morin's findings would have to be accepted by outside experts who track cetacean taxonomy. But Pitman and others say the case is strong that it’s a new species.
"We're doing increasing damage to our environment, and we can't even begin to conserve the biodiversity we know is out there," Morin says. "Yet there's so much more about our world we don't even understand."
Holland Milk Products, Inc. starts local production of Alaska Evaporated Filled, Sweetened and Chocolate Sweetened Condensed Milk.
Alaska Evaporated Filled and Sweetened Condensed Milk achieves brand leadership.
Alaska launches the “One-on-One" campaign featuring basketball star Cisco Oliver and Michael the Alaska boy “Galing mo, man" and “Wala pa rin tatalo sa Alaska" become two of the most memorable advertising lines of all time.
The “One-on-One" campaign is extended to feature the sports soccer and tennis, and wins awards of excellence in advertising.
Alaska Milk adapts to suit the changing times.
Alaska launches advertising campaign to encourage use of Alaska liquid milk in food preparations.
Alaska expands its product line to include Alaska Powdered Filled Milk.
Alaska features Asia's “Sprint Queen," Lydia de Vega, in its latest advertising campaign.
Alaska obtains a franchise in the Philippine Basketball Association, the country's professional league.
Alaska Choco Ready-to-Drink is introduced in the market.
The introduction of Alaska Powdered Filled Milk 80g pouch, continues to be one of the fastest selling sizes among our milk brands.
Alaska Evaporated Filled and Sweetened Condensed Milk exceed ₱1B annual sales and maintains its position as market leader.
Alaska team wins its first championship title in the PBA Third Conference.
Alaska Powdered Filled Milk surpasses ₱500 M mark in annual sales.
Alaska launches public-service campaign promoting good values among Filipino children using its basketball team.
Alaska starts its sports development program for school children through Power Camp.
Alaska team bags the Governor's Cup title in the PBA Third Conference.
Alaska strengthens its commitment to sports development by supporting the inter-collegiate league, NCAA.
The Alaska team turns ten and becomes repeat champion of the PBA Governor's Cup.
Alaska Milk Corporation is listed as a public corporation.
Alaska celebrates twenty-five years of bringing nutrition into your homes.
Alaska Liquid Milk has maintained brand leadership, while Powdered Filled Milk has become a major player. Together, they generate over ₱28B in annual sales.
Alaska Aces win PBA ALL-Filipino Cup, PBA Centennial Cup and PBA Commissioner's Cup.
Alaska acquired ATCI, a distribution company, and created their own sales force.
Sharon Cuneta becomes the Alaska Liquid Milk celebrity endorser.
Alaska Aces wins their 10th title in the league.
Alaska Powdered Filled Milk re-launches with "Lakas Nutribuilder".
Alaska launches the “Growth Gap” campaign, highlighting a crucial period in a child’s development. Within two years, Alaska was able to double its market share from 10% to 20%.
Alaska Aces wins 2003 PBA Invitational Cup.
Alaska Milk launches Alaska Crema All-Purpose Cream, Alaska Evaporada, and Alaska Condensada.
Re-launches Alaska Evaporada and Condensada.
Launch of Alaska Evaporada and Condensada, targeting “Momprepreneurs," a P2.5B business today.
New looks for Alaska Evaporated Filled and Sweetened Condensed Milk.
Alaska and Nestle agree on sale and licensing of Carnation and Milkmaid.
Wilfred Steven Uytengsu, Jr., President and CEO of Alaska Milk Corporation, is named the 2007 Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines.
The Entrepreneur Of The Year was founded in the United States by professional services firm Ernst & Young in 1986 to recognize the achievements of the most successful and innovative entrepreneurs worldwide.
Alaska Milk Corporation introduces Alaska Yoghurt Drink, a ready-to-drink milk naturally fermented with good bacteria which help in proper digestion.
Alaska Milk Corporation introduces the new look of Alaska Choco.
Alaska Yoghurt Drink extends its flavors. Available in four flavors: Strawberry, Blueberry, Green Apple, and Orange.
Alaska Milk relaunches “Alaska Choco!" and “Alaska Sweet Milk!" with a new look.
Alaska Milk hits ₱10 Billion mark in revenues.
Alaska Powdered Milk Drink introduces the 33g pouch, a pack size for single-serve consumption.
Krem-Top Coffee Creamer enters the market.
Alaska Aces celebrates its 25th year as a PBA team.
Advertising campaigns win awards in effectiveness & societal values (Araw Awards, Tambuli).
Alaska brings IronKids to the Philippine youth sports programs.
Alaska Milk signs a three-year partnership contract with NBA, the world's leading and most popular basketball association, through its Jr. NBA Program.
Alaska announces its partnership with FrieslandCampina. Through FrieslandCampina’s larger portfolio, new brands are introduced into the Alaska family of products.
Alaska Evaporada and Condensada's Summerap Campaign won Gold for Best Innovative Campaign in Tambuli Awards.
Launch of Alpine Sterilized Milk.
Alaska Celebrates its 40th Year anniversary.
Launch of Alaska Chocolate Powdered Milk Drink.
Launch of Alaska Nutribuild 345.
14-time Champion Alaska Aces wins the 2013 PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
Alaska Milk Corporation wins the Agora Awards Marketing Company of the year.
Alaska Aces head coach Luigi Trillo wins the Philippine Basketball Association Coach of the Year Award from the PBA Press Corps.
Alaska launches the San Pedro Laguna Plant “Master Plan”, a plan that revolutionizes the facilities with state-of-the-art advance technologies to keep up with the times.
The new Condensed Milk Plant in San Pedro Laguna is launched and opened.
Alaska brands continue to win Araw Values Awards for Krem-Top Bida Changers and PlayPH Jr. NBA Our Language.
Launch of Alaska Crema Whipped Cream with the tagline “Foodie Achievement Unlocked!”
Alaska partners with the Department of Education through the Adopt-A-School Program in helping the malnourished public elementary school children by providing free milk for 120 feeding days.
Launch of Alaska Crema-Asada 370ml with the main tagline “Sa Sweetness at Creaminess, WALANG TATALO!”
The “Master Plan" marks its completion with the opening of the New Milk Powder Plant, Condensed Milk Plant and all other major Alaska Milk facilities in San Pedro Laguna.
And the Alaska Milk’s story of passion continues, to provide Filipino families and children with accessible nutrition.
6th Floor, Corinthian Plaza Bldg, 121 Paseo de Roxas,
Makati City, Philippines
The Homestead Act of 1862
In the mid 1800's, with economic and social changes gripping the developed eastern states of the union, people were increasingly looking west to the vast underdeveloped lands and the romantic vision of a new opportunity. The US government had tried in the past to make land in the west available for private purchase but the costs were still prohibitive for many families and settlement of the west had been slow. The idea to provide free land to homesteaders willing to develop the land was eventually introduced and met with some resistance, but finally in 1862 president Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into existence and the law took effect on January 1st 1863. The new legislation made 160 acres of land in one of the western states or territories available to people willing to live on the land for 5 years, develop the land for agriculture and build a house on the land. At the end of 5 years, if those requirements had been accomplished, that person could then receive full ownership of their 160 acre parcel. This opportunity would continue for over 123 years and prove instrumental in not only developing the western states but allowing millions of Americans to own their own private parcel of land.
Of moose and men: A brief history of domesticated moose in Alaska
Long before Jack Carr was noticed for raising two pet moose, he was already famous.
An Alaska mail carrier at the turn of the 20th century, Carr spent his days crisscrossing the territory by dog sled, delivering mail between the Last Frontier and the contiguous United States.
In this role, Carr brought news of Alaska to a national audience. He was the first to confirm the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, when he brought the news of gold to Seattle, the New York Times reported more than a century ago.
Only later, after moving to Washington state, did Carr procure and train two moose. He named them in honor of President William Taft and Taft's daughter, Helen. The unusual pets brought Carr's name to the headlines once again.
Despite the novelty and interest surrounding his pet moose, he wasn't the only one domesticating moose during that era. From Fairbanks to Skagway, stories of pet ungulates were making the news.
'Moose will go on vaudeville stage'
Carr's name is scattered among various publications of the time, where he described the advances and ills of the era, from the destitute miners spending their scant money at saloons to the bustling population of Dawson City.
He took the first mail from Circle City by dog team in 1896, mushing down to Skagway, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner wrote in 1960. The next year he purportedly traveled from St. Michael, at the mouth of the Yukon River, to Seattle. His journey took only 87 days, the article says, not including the days he rested.
By 1898, Carr was described as "one of the most famous mail carriers and travelers" among Yukon pioneers by the Klondike Nugget, based in Dawson City.
A few years later, Carr was again on the move.
A 1906 article from the Fairbanks Daily Times says that Carr, "the greatest of all mushers," had "quit the business." He and his wife were heading to Seattle, ending his mail contract between the Yukon-Koyukuk region.
The couple had already sold a trading post they owned in Fort Yukon. Carr had also secured a gold mining claim that "relieve(d) him from any further necessity of mushing or doing anything else save watching the other fellows work," the article says.
(The later News-Miner article says, though, that he was still mushing in Alaska in 1908, so there is some discrepancy as to the end of his mail-carrying career. At some point, though, he ended up back in Interior Alaska, with two baby moose by his side.)
In November 1909, his image appeared in the Seattle Daily Times next to two moose calves. The article was dug up by Elizabeth Cook of the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society.
"Moose Will go on Vaudeville Stage," the article's headline proclaims. "Jack Carr, Pioneer of Alaska, Educating Animals He Caught in Far North for Theatrical Career."
According to the article, Carr captured the twin calves near Circle City in the Interior when they were 6 days old. He fed them condensed milk and oatmeal until they were more fully grown.
He named the two moose Bill and Helen, after President William Taft and his daughter.
Bill and Helen were brought to Seattle via steamship and train, where they lived in an enclosure on Carr's property, the article says.
Undated images of the two moose fully grown show that he succeeded in training them to pull him in a sulky, a light, two-wheeled carriage. Another image shows a moose standing on two legs and Carr standing on a pedestal, smiling at his domesticated creature.
Eventually, Carr got bored of living in Seattle, the News-Miner reported. He moved to the now-abandoned town of Katalla, Alaska, where he lived for the rest of his life. It's unclear when or if the moose went with him.
Today, of course, all of this would be illegal. State law bans the keeping of game animals as pets. Moose can be kept in captivity only under certain circumstances, by zoos and other permitted facilities.
But long before the Gold Rush, other Arctic regions were experimenting with domesticating moose.
In the 1700s, Swedish King Carl XI used moose as riding animals for couriers. He also planned to make moose-mounted cavalry regiments, an idea that was presented later to the Academy of Science in Stockholm as an alternative to importing horses. The idea never took hold, though the animals' untrainable nature and susceptibility to disease made them less preferable to horses.
In the 1930s, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin also hoped moose would replace horses in cavalry regimes but the idea was eventually abandoned. Moose domestication projects in Russia continue today, mostly selling moose milk and serving as tourist attractions.
Meanwhile, in Alaska's territorial days, there were no laws against keeping moose, and another famous Alaskan, J. Bernard Moore of Skagway, also had his own family pet.
Carnation the moose
The Moore family settled in Skagway Bay in 1887. Ten years later -- after J. Bernard Moore successfully predicted that a gold rush would flood the valley with stampeders -- their homestead was overrun with men heading north.
The city of Skagway was born, and for a short time, one of the most famous residents was a young bull moose.
The tale of J. Bernard "Ben" Moore's moose is related in detail in "Skagway: City of the New Century" by Jeff Brady.
Moore inherited the moose in Seattle in 1899 from a miner who had brought the creature down from Canada. Its name: Carnation.
Carnation arrived in Skagway incognito. Eventually, Moore taught the moose to be put in harness, and he decided to hitch Carnation to a wagon and parade through town.
A local newspaper described the scene:
"All idle eyes in the business center of the city yesterday afternoon were amused by the sight of a fine specimen of the monarch of the woods, a moose, parading in the streets in harness and subservient to man," the Skaguay News wrote on Dec. 30, 1899.
During his short tenure as a local attraction, Carnation was photographed, featured in stories and visited frequently, Brady writes. In 1900, the 2-year-old moose died, with his death attributed to gluttony -- eating "too much clover," a newspaper reported at the time.
Moore buried Carnation on his property and mounted the moose's head above the piano in his home. Moore's homestead is today a National Historical Landmark.
'Asked many times to keep the moose out of the saloon'
A brief history of pet moose wouldn't be complete without the infamous tale of one in Fairbanks that in 1913 annoyed city officials so much they crafted an ordinance against it.
Fairbanks bartender Pete Buckholtz acquired his calf from hunters, Alaska Dispatch News columnist Dermot Cole writes in his book "Fairbanks: A Gold Rush Town that Beat the Odds."
The moose was fed potatoes and stale bread in winter months, and sometimes willow branches cut by Buckholtz. It was broken to harness and, like the other pet moose, could be hitched to a sled.
Docile and affectionate, the moose followed its owner around, including into the saloon where Buckholtz worked.
"Buckholtz had been asked many times to keep the moose out of the saloon, but he refused," Cole writes.
Mayor Andrew Nerland decided that he had to do something about this nuisance moose. While the city didn't have the power to ban the possession of a live moose, they found a loophole: They could ban moose from city sidewalks. And so they did, preventing the moose from legally entering the saloon.
The war after Attu: Anchorage historian writes the first history of air battle launched from Alaska
What may be the least-visited World War II monument on the American mainland stands on the south side of Merrill Field: the Eleventh Air Force/Americans Home from Siberia Memorial.
It honors Americans who served in the Battle of the North Pacific, perhaps most forgotten of Alaska's "forgotten fronts," conducted across battle lines that ranged for thousands of miles from the Aleutians to the northern islands of Japan, the theater where America's involvement in the war began — and where it ended.
While the Battle of Attu, the only North American land battle in the war, remains little known, it has received increasing attention in recent years. But the fight that followed, in which American bombers raided Japanese strongholds in the Kuril chain for two years, remains largely unstudied and unrecognized, even by World War II buffs.
Now the first history of the operation, "Mission to the Kurils" by Anchorage historian John Haile Cloe, has been published (Todd Communications, $40).
In the foreword of his book, Cloe notes that the Japanese task force that attacked Pearl Harbor assembled in a bay on Etorofu Island in the Southern Kurils before steaming to Hawaii. Russian and Japanese soldiers engaged in combat in the islands three days after Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of his nation. The final surrender of the islands was signed aboard an Alaska-based warship.
Cloe's book begins with a quick overview of the invasion of Alaska, beginning June 3, 1942. Aircraft carrier-based planes bombed Dutch Harbor and, soon after, the Japanese army occupied Attu and Kiska at the far western end of the Aleutian chain.
The U.S. retook Attu in May of 1943 after a nearly monthlong struggle that led to the death of nearly all of the 2,000 Japanese defenders. A joint U.S.-Canadian force landed on Kiska a few weeks later to find that the entire Japanese garrison had been evacuated./>A B-25J from the Aleutians approaches Japanese targets in the Kuril Islands. (Army Air Force, 613ABW Hist. Office.)
American strategists then attacked facilities in the Northern Kurils with planes based on them. The Japanese retaliated with a final bombing raid on Attu on Oct. 13, 1943, the last attack on American soil in the campaign. The Battle of the Aleutians thus elided into the Battle of the Kurils.
The war after Attu
With the enemy removed from the Aleutians, Alaska could catch its breath. Lights-out curfews were lifted in Anchorage and other towns. Ground troops were reduced. Boredom became a bigger problem than gunfire. Cloe dedicates a chapter to the recreational opportunities in Alaska's World War II bases, the dogs adopted by the lonely men, the USO stars who put Alaska on their itineraries, including Bob Hope and Ingrid Bergman.
But at the far end of the territory, the war continued as seriously as ever. The U.S. Army Air Corps' 11th Air Force and the Navy's Fleet Air Wing Four were charged with keeping pressure on Japan's northern defenses.
The Kuril front, like the Battle of Britain, was by and large an aerial showdown. Ships did bombard in the Kurils, but American soldiers didn't land on enemy soil. War planes, primarily, took the fight to the foe.
The round trip from bases on Attu and Shemya to the nearest of the Kurils was approximately 1,700 miles, sometimes hundreds of miles farther when routes had to be changed because of weather. The limited fuel capacity of the bombers meant they could not tarry looking for targets or spend too much time trying to outmaneuver fighter planes that challenged them — not if they wanted to get home with any gas left in the tanks.
The rapidly changing North Pacific weather was as awful then as it is now, with freezing rain, high winds, storms and dense cloud cover regularly in the forecast. The bombers that succeeded in reaching a target were relatively easy pickings for the faster, more agile Japanese fighter planes. The raids took a heavy toll on the men stationed in Alaska as their planes were shot down or dropped into the ocean without ever returning to base.
Captives of the Soviets
But if the average armchair historian knows one thing about the Kuril Campaign, that one thing is most likely to be the saga of the so-called "Siberians." The Kamchatka Peninsula stretched between the Aleutians and the Kurils, and that was territory owned by the Soviet Union. Russia was America's ally against Germany, but had a nonaggression pact with Japan. Japan had solidly whipped Russia at the turn of the century and the Soviet leader Stalin, facing a life-or-death struggle against the Nazis on his western border, was not interested in taking on a second front in the war.
American officials pleaded for landing rights in Kamchatka, but the answer was "nyet." Shot-up bombers, planes with mechanical problems or running out of fuel, found themselves forced to land — or crash — on the Kamchatka Peninsula. There they were detained by Russian soldiers.
Though the Americans seem to have been well-treated, they were in an awkward situation, something between prisoners of war and friendly visitors. Technically they had crossed into neutral territory with weapons and were therefore belligerents. Yet at the same time that Russia interned them, a caravan of American-made warplanes was crossing the Bering Strait several hundred miles to the north en route to fight Japan's ally, Germany./>Some of the American airmen lost in missions over the Kuril Islands. (Army Air Force, Hist., 77th Bomb Squadron, Air Force Historical Research Agency)
Some Americans were transported across Asia to a site near the Iranian border where they were allowed to "escape" across the border. Others remained in the custody of the Soviet Union until the end of the war.
In fact, Soviet leader Stalin was not ignoring the Japanese front. He had plans, but concealed them for the time being.
A superb deception
Meanwhile, the raids on Japan from the Aleutians were a continuing, if little-reported, corner of the war. One may ask why so much energy, equipment and personnel were expended to attack a sparsely-populated area almost as far from Tokyo as it was from Attu. Cloe gives several reasons.
The Kurils were home to a large part of the Japanese fishing fleet. As the war dragged on, hunger became a major problem for the Japanese. By distressing fishing boats, transport ships and even on-shore canneries, America put considerable pressure on the imperial government struggling to take care of its civilian population.
More importantly, it made the Japanese suspect that a land invasion might be launched from Alaska and forced them to take troops and planes from elsewhere in the Pacific to defend its northern islands.
As soon as the Aleutians were secure in 1943, the U.S. War Department ordered Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner to prepare a "deception plan." "The Top Secret Planning document, code named Wedlock, was designed to divert attention away from the planned amphibious offensive to seize the Marshall and Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific," Cloe writes.
It was a striking success. In June 1944, American forces overwhelmed Japanese defenders on Saipan, Guam and Tinian, destroying the Japanese carrier-based air force in the process. Operation Wedlock received high praise for keeping Japan focused on the North Pacific until it was too late to adjust.
The captured central Pacific islands gave America bases from which long-distance bombers could strike the population and industrial centers of southern Japan. On Aug. 6, 1945, one of those planes dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later a second was dropped on Nagasaki.
On Aug. 12, a naval task force deployed from Massacre Bay on Attu Island shelled Paramushiro Island in the Northern Kurils. One of those ships, an old cruiser, Concord, is officially recognized as firing the last naval warship shot of the war. Two days later, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender.
The battle after the war
As the Empire of the Rising Sun was collapsing, Stalin made his move. Russia abrogated its neutrality agreement and declared war on Japan in early August, 1945. The about-face was in accord with agreements made between allied leaders at Yalta earlier that year. Cloe describes President Franklin Roosevelt as "a sick man" at the conference, ready to concede to Stalin's demands in return for the Soviet Union joining the war against Japan. When Stalin insisted on claiming the southern half of the Sakhalin Island and the Kurils, Roosevelt agreed, perhaps in the mistaken belief that they had already been taken in war.
Three days after Japan announced it would surrender, Russian troops invaded the Kurils. Thinking hostilities had ended, the Japanese commander was unprepared. Fighting lasted for several days, until the Japanese forces in the Kurils surrendered. Many civilians on the islands made it to Hokkaido. Soldiers captured by the Russians were taken to labor camps, where many died. The last of the captives were not released until 1955.
The Americans tardily realized Stalin's ultimate plan was to take the large, heavily populated island of Hokkaido. Adm. Frank Fletcher was ordered to dispatch warships from the Aleutians to keep the Soviets out. He arrived in Japanese waters on Sept. 7 and accepted the surrender of Japanese forces in the Northern Area aboard his flagship, the Panamint, on Sept. 9, 1945, a week after the official surrender ceremonies on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay./>Japan’s Northern Area defenders surrender aboard the Alaska-based amphibious force command ship Panamint on Sept. 9, 1945, one week after surrender ceremonies aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. (U.S. Navy, Isaiah Davies Collection, Air Force Historical Research Agency)
World War II was over. The groundwork for the next war — the Cold War — was laid.
The Kurils, where Americans had fought and died for two years, were now Russian territory, and remain so to this day, a monument to Stalin's opportunism. "Conquest of the Kurils gave Russia an easier access to the Pacific and a barrier against the West during the Cold War," Cloe writes./>P-40 fighter planes await destruction at the Eagleston Scrap Yard in Anchorage after the war. (Army Air Force, Rhodes Arnold Collection, UAF Archives)
The American military began the long withdrawal from most of its bases in the Aleutians. Hundreds of planes were demolished and sold for scrap. The 11th Air Force itself was re-designated as the Alaskan Air Command. It would retain that name through the hottest days of the Cold War, though the designation of the 11th Air Force was restored in 1990. Today it remains headquartered at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, from which it continues to provide the primary air defense for Alaska and North America.
Remembering the veterans
Cloe came across the Kuril front while working on Elmendorf as the Alaska Air Command historian. The soft-spoken Virginian had served two tours in Vietnam as an infantry officer and was stationed at the Infantry School before Fort Benning, near Columbus, Georgia, when the air conditioning in his post housing broke down.
"I put in for a cooler assignment," he said, and the Army steered him to Alaska. He and his late wife drove up the Alaska Highway in 1970, "and I've been here ever since."
He became interested in history while a student at Virginia Military Institute. "I'm not good at math and I can't spell, so that left history," he said. The institute "threw a lot of history at us and I read a lot of military biographies."
His office at Elmendorf was filled with documents and photographs relating to the 11th Air Force in World War II. "I soon realized, other than Brian Garfield's 'The Thousand Mile War' and Stan Cohen's 'Forgotten War' series, the war in the North Pacific and Alaska has not been well-covered or understood by most historians."
He started work on the book 29 years ago, "partly as a retirement project. I never learned to play golf, so that was not an option. Plus I was tired of writing classified histories and studies on the Cold War that ended up in the safe, where they still remain, and wanted something out in the public for a change."
Work on "Mission to the Kurils" remained intermittent until 2011, when Cloe made it a priority. He traveled to military archives throughout the country to check out stories and locate detailed operation records. "The units wrote good histories," he said. "The Kuril front was well-documented."
Cloe said his primary incentive "was to make certain that those who served in the North Pacific were not forgotten. I got to know a lot of veterans of the Aleutian campaign. I interviewed a significant number. Most are gone now."
The vast appendices of the book list the missions and individual bombers of both the Aleutian and Kuril campaigns. Most importantly, it lists the names of those killed, captured or detained by the Russians. The same 1,067 names one sees on the wall at Merrill Field./>The names of 1,067 American and Allied airmen killed, captured, missing or detained by the Russians are displayed at the Eleventh Air Force/Americans Home from Siberia Memorial at Merrill Field. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)
A few flags are wedged into divisions in the concrete wall. But no flags hung from the poles in front of the names on a visit last month. Nor were there any other visitors aside from this reporter. No ceremonies are planned at the site this coming Veteran's Day, Nov. 11. Cloe said the Edward D. Monaghan Chapter, Air Force Association, working with the Air Force and the UAA Air Force ROTC detachment, plans to do clean-up and rehabilitation work on the site next spring.
There is some paradox in the fact that the site — between one of Anchorage's most-traveled streets, 15th Avenue, and one of the busiest small plane airports in the world — feels poignantly lonely. Its solitude in the midst of commotion is oddly analogous to the forgotten Kuril front itself. Cloe hopes his book will help reverse that neglect.
"While a number of authors have written about various aspects of the Kuril Operations, none have covered it in its entirety," he said. "This is a first. You could fill a large bookcase with just the books on Normandy or Iwo Jima. But this is the only one dedicated to the Kurils."/>The memorial is located along the south side of Merrill Field. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)
THE ELEVENTH AIR FORCE/AMERICANS HOME FROM SIBERIA MEMORIAL is located at Remembrance Circle on the south side of Merrill Field, uphill from the intersection of 15th Avenue and Lake Otis Parkway.