Crusty old Joe's

Kodiak Alaska Military History

The official web site of the Kodiak Military History Museum

by Dave Evans



July 18, 2002

There are so many gaps in our history here at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park. We badly need to fill in information about Fort Abercrombie and its eight-inch coastal gun battery. Even though our guns were demolished in 1948, they are still are among the eight-inchers in the best condition in the United States. There were only about a dozen of these 8-inch Mark VI batteries planned and built during World War II. That figure of a dozen also includes the battery next door on St. Peter's Head at Chiniak. As for the rest, some were never even completed, and most were demolished and hauled away long ago. One battery at Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, is said to lie buried under a golf course.

We certainly don't have much visual evidence. Photography of strategic installations during the War was prohibited; later, at the time of demolition, the military just wanted the guns to go away. Ours were packed with high explosive and blown to bits around Thanksgiving 1948, as nearly as we can determine. Any photographs that people in Kodiak might have of Fort Abercrombie or its guns would now be exciting finds indeed. Much of what we've found out about Fort Abercrombie has been through reminiscences of people who were stationed here or living on the Island while Fort Abercrombie was a functioning military post, and those conversations are becoming painfully less frequent as the years go by.

And those conversations! They're often ones that actually give some feeling of what it was like to be here. Tom Masterson was an 18-year-old Minnesota boy who was stuck out in the fog and rain on Cliff Point with an anti-aircraft unit. Walter Dangel and his searchlight crew had to make up a story about how their sergeant broke his leg; they claimed he'd stumbled off a Miller Point cliff, when in reality he'd fallen down a flight of stairs in one of Kodiak's more questionable establishments of the time. The sergeant was shipped off to Anchorage and never seen again, and that's how Dangel became a searchlight battery commander while only a corporal. Mrs. Rasmussen and the rest of the high school girls had sweet memories of singing "Moonlight Becomes You" on the boat coming back from dances on Long Island.

There were also those stories about hiking down Heitman Mountain after a hunting trip, and running across boxy structures, each with windows and wiring for a single light bulb--possibly the "False Kodiak" that was to be used to confuse enemy aircraft lining up for nighttime bombing runs on the Navy Base. There was even the anecdote about the man hired to run the generator lighting up the decoy village who resigned when he figured out what the lights were for. There was no way to talk him out of his visions of bringing in bombing strikes on himself.

Please regard this column as a request to talk with anyone in the community who was here when Fort Abercrombie was functioning and who has any familiarity with the guns or the military installation. The State Historical Park and the Military Museum would certainly also welcome any military relics of the time--and they're sometimes not recognizable as such. An odd-looking wheeled apparatus that spent years decorating a Kodiak garden turned out to be one of the loaders for the six-inch guns on Long Island. The most recent donation of a 1950s flight suit mysteriously appeared the other night as a trash bag hanging on the door of the Ready Ammunition Bunker (nicely fulfilling the "NQA" --no questions asked--policy on Museum donations). Chance conversations have led to donations of uniforms and copies of the Kodiak Bear, the wartime newspaper for Fort Greely. Each of those acquisitions spins out even more of Kodiak's history, and we'd like to encourage the community's participation in helping to build that historical record.

Contact me at the Park if you have information about those days at Fort Abercrombie or if you have military artifacts you would be willing to donate. What we have of the history is a fascinating chapter for Kodiak, but the information on this important time is frustratingly sketchy. We'll be grateful for any help you can give us. Updated 2002 July 20