World War II In Alaska: 75 years later

This post written by Leanna Williams, a Pioneer Air Museum volunteer.
Summers in Alaska are always busy, as we frantically try to soak up all the sunshine and warmth we can before winter sets in again.  This year is an especially event packed one here at Pioneer Air Museum, with the observation of several historical anniversaries of several major events relating to Alaska aviation history: the construction of the Alaska Highway, Lend-Lease, and the bombardment of Dutch Harbor and subsequent occupation of the Aleutians by the Japanese.
Alcan Builders on a Pioneer Bridge, March 1942.  Photo from the UAF Archives, Lael Morgan Collection.  UAF-2012-71-189
This year, we recognize the hard work of the military and civilian workers who built the Alaska Highway 75 years ago, under extraordinarily difficult conditions.   Although today the Alaska Highway (sometimes called the Alcan) is the route that many of our visitors take to come to Alaska, its original purpose was one of national defense, as there was no road connecting Alaska to the “Lower 48” contiguous states at the outbreak of World War II. Approximately 10,000 soldiers worked through not only the mosquito-infested heat of the Northern summer, but also the subzero winter to build the highway. Construction of the highway officially began on March 9, 1942, and connected the airfields of the Northwest Staging Route, another World War II project involving the Alaska territory. 
The Northwest Staging Route was a series of airfields used to ferry planes as part of the Lend-Lease agreement with the (then) Soviet Union. With the Alaska Lend-Lease route, approximately 8,000 aircraft were sent from the Lower 48, through Canada, to Fairbanks.  Here in Fairbanks, Soviet airmen took the controls and flew the planes west to Nome and then across the Bering Strait to Siberia, and on to the Eastern front of the European theatre of World War II. In a wreath laying ceremony at the Lend-Lease monument in Fairbanks this May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kisylak, and Alaska’s lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott recognized the importance of that historical cooperation between the two countries.  Lt. Governor Mallott remarked how the Lend-Lease Act transformed the territory of Alaska, referencing the influx of money, personnel, and infrastructure development associated with that part of the war effort.
Lend-Lease may have transformed Alaska, but we cannot overlook what has been called “The Forgotten War” – the Aleutian campaign of World War II.  June 2017 is when we remember the 75 years that have passed since Alaska was thrust into the battlefield, beginning with the bombardment of Dutch Harbor by the Japanese, the occupation of Adak and Kiska islands, and the year-long effort to liberate those islands.
World War II was arguably the most transformative period in our state, and certainly for Alaskan aviation.  That global conflict necessitated massive infrastructure development here, as aircraft, military personnel, and funding flowed into and through the territory.  The Pioneer Air Museum is dedicated to preserving Interior Alaska’s aviation heritage.  We encourage you to explore some or all of the following links to learn more about how the Alaska Highway, Lend-Lease, and the Aleutian campaign reshaped Alaskan aviation.
Read More about the history of the Alaska Highway here:
Read more about Lend Lease here:
Read More about the Aleutian Campaign here:

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