Some of the 11th Air Force pilots from Battle of the Aleutians. Thanks to Pilot Glenn Ellis.

U.S. Troops battle snow and ice in the Battle of Attu, May 1943

Frank Gartz’s best friend, Frank Von Arx, writes to him from his post in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. Besides the usual wry humor, this letter contains little-known information about the World War II Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. It was the first time the Japanese had invaded American soil since the War of 1812. I had known nothing about the battles of Attu and Kiska before reading this letter and looking into the history.

Frank Von Arx praises the 11th squadron, which battled the Japanese in Alaska (see featured image of some of the men.)

The struggle for the Aleutians began June 3, 1942, with a Japanese aerial bombardment at Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island. Little damage resulted do to poor weather. On June 6, the Japanese invaded Kiska and the invasion continued on Attu the next day. Read about the Battle of the Aleutian Islands here, fought primarily on the islands of Attu and Kiska. (see red dot on map)

“Somewhere in the Aleutians”

February 3, 1944

Dear Aviation Cadet Gartz,

Received your letter just a couple minutes ago before eating dinner and since I have the afternoon free, very unusual I assure you, I will try to dash off a reply. The reason I am off work is because some shots (inoculations) are waiting for me at the dispensary and this lousy weather has Snafued* our trucks so completely I don’t have to go back to the hangar.

*[“Snafu” is the military term for: situation normal all f***ed up]

I find your report on cadet life very interesting and enjoyable and can hardly wait to hear further developments. It’s good mail isn’t censored coming from the states because it makes the correspondence more understandable, if you know what I mean.

So you are a navigator. Before I opened the letter I was wondering what it would be. Navigator popped into my head and I decided if you were a navigator you have gotten very, very industrious and are asking for the toughest job of all. My opinion is based on buddies who have washed out in the attempt and they aren’t pilots.

Still I hope we might run into each other someday up here. If you go to a bomber outfit there is a good chance of that. The boys are Paramashu* from around here.—if you’ve read the papers. So if you get air transport there is even a better chance and those guys would fly below sea level if weather won’t give them a better break  once in a while up above.

I’m glad you are still a Lieutenant. How are the fellows in your bunch? Fresh from civvies or old army men? One advantage you have is of  being through the mill before taking over as boss so you know from whence you talk. Are there any overseas men around?

You see that we have a new address again, I suppose.  I guess we will sweat the next two years out with the 11th Fighter Squadron, which is an old timer around here. I am in the uncomfortable position of being one of the “rookies” up from the states, having supposed to have relieved the sheet-metal chief. Most of these fellows are two year men and have been bombed and what not. All of them are eager to see the states and I have to laugh at the changes they’ll see, especially T.S. army life.

You wanted to know what made me think there would be holes in your plane.  Excuse me, Frank, I was mistaken. That was before I found out how good the 11th Fighter was. During Attu* and Kiska the metal men had to fix two bullet holes. That’s pretty good, I think. Two bullet holes and half a dozen Japs.

At any rate it is good to be working at a job again. We are at a fairly good spot except for some stinky weather lately. One good point it ain’t as D….G.I.! We can go about fixing our own hacks up and living our own lives a little, just as we do our work.  Life is fairly rugged, nothing compared to a year before but we fetch our water from a mountain stream, get our own oil, shit in wind and snow. In fact to sum it all up here are three rules to Aleutian life: 1. Never take off unless half the engines are running.  2. Never land unless one wheel is down, and 3. Never piss against the wind.

Either way it is an experience.  I better go and get my shots or the docs will be hurt.

Crew Chief Frank, 11th Fighter Sq, A.P.O. 980, c/o P. M. Seattle, Wash.

Original Letter