One painting is a striking image of an eagle on a shield emblazoned with "30th Coast Artillery--Headquarters Battalion." It's a conspicuous part of the Visitor Center decor, but where it came from is one of the mysteries we're trying to solve about World War II Fort Abercrombie. One rumor says it and a couple of other paintings we have came from a building right here at the Fort. Another has them somehow making their way here from the Headquarters Building on Umnak Island, site of the airstrip that provided fighter cover for Dutch Harbor.
A major problem is that so far we haven't been able to locate a 30th Coast Artillery. There is a 30th Field Artillery that was stationed in these parts, but no sign of a 30th Coast Artillery. I did find a surprising indication of a nearly hometown connection for me in an old Albion, Michigan newspaper's "50 Years Ago" item about an even older National Geographic article. The 1942 article showed two departing servicemen from that town about an hour down the interstate from my own winter habitat. They ended up being attached to a 30th Coast Artillery on Adak, at the time an important military base farther out on the Aleutian Chain. But we haven't yet found records of an Adak unit with that designation.
[See Dave's update.]
That's where our mystery lies right now. One of the servicemen in the Geographic article passed away two years ago; the other is still with us, presumably living in Michigan, and we're attempting to locate him. The historical thread is in some ways a suitable illustration of how indirect the process becomes of pinning down definite information about events of 60 years ago.
The other painting is not such a complete mystery--we know exactly where it came from. It depicts a cavorting pink elephant, and was painted on the inside wall of a Kodiak Quonset hut of the era. We've been trying to find out if there is a genealogical connection between this pink elephant and that shown on the insignia of the 404th Bomb Group.
The 404th flew B-24 heavy bombers in the Aleutian Campaign. The planes arrived in Alaska freshly camouflaged in tan paint for desert warfare. The tan paintjob quickly oxidized to pink. The 404th celebrated the distinctive color scheme of their huge bombers by calling their Group "The Pink Elephants." We've been attempting to determine when members of the 404th passed through Kodiak, and whether our Quonset elephant has any relationship to the elephant shown on the Bomb Group insignia. We're on the 404th's web page, but so far none of those veterans have recognized the artwork. Maybe an elephant is sometimes just an elephant, even a partying pink one.
Our paintings are just two of the quandaries that face us at the Park. Though we're not looking at events that occurred all that long ago, these efforts by un-named servicemen in the 1940s have lost their history. As personal remnants of a situation existing at a point in time, they don't leave a substantial trail in official records. Instead, they depend more upon conversational contacts and remembrances for clarification, and are stories that are much more liable to evaporate and be lost forever.
David A. Evans, Naturalist, Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park