Stevens urges military history tourism

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2002

UNALASKA (AP) -- During World War II, the severe wet and windy Aleutian weather was the real enemy of thousands of troops stationed on the island chain. For U.S. aviators, the airport weather station in Unalaska was the first line of defense as a source of weather forecasts.

The restored aerology building reopens June 17 as the Aleutians World War II National Historic Area Visitors Center. The opening is part of a summer of activities commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Japanese aerial attack on Dutch Harbor when about 50 U.S. troops were killed.

The $1 million restoration was completed with $900,000 in federal funds. The National Park Service furnished the exhibits in the building owned by the Ounalashka Corp., Unalaska's Native village corporation.

At a 1940s-era dance in Unalaska's new elementary school Sunday, Sen. Ted Stevens called for expanding military history tourism in the Aleutian Islands. Stevens toured the restored visitors center during a quick stop in Unalaska over the weekend.

Japanese troops occupied Kiska and Attu during the war. Stevens said the Park Service should encourage tourism to those now-uninhabited islands with excursions from Unalaska.

''The role played here in World War II needs to be told better and we need to find better ways to tell our people what it means to have part of our country invaded by a foreign force,'' Stevens said.

The Unalaska visitor center takes a big step in that direction, with mannequins dressed in World War II military garb. It also explores a darker side of the Aleutians campaign: the involuntary removal of Aleut Natives to Southeast Alaska.

While the evacuation was justified as benevolent protection, it was racially discriminatory because non-Native civilians weren't forced to leave the community, said A.B. Rankin, Unalaska city treasurer, whose parents were among the deportees.

A special memorial service will be held for the Aleut evacuees at the center's grand opening June 17.

Other June events include opportunities to shoot World War II era weapons, a film festival, an Aleut dance festival, an Aleutians veterans reunion and the dedication of signs marking a bomb crater leftover from the June 1942 attacks by Japanese planes flying from offshore aircraft carriers.

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