Kodiak Daily Mirror - U S Navy searches for blast from the past under Kodiak waters
U.S. Navy searches for blast from the past under Kodiak waters
by James Brooks / editor@kodiakdailymirror.com
Jul 10, 2012 | 292 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Seventy years ago this week, the front page of the Kodiak Daily Mirror proclaimed in large letters the latest updates on the ongoing American offensive against the Japanese in the Aleutians.

In small print at the bottom of the front page was an apology, explaining that the issue was delayed because military censors required the paper to pull a story from the front page.

This month, the U.S. Navy is beginning a project to erase other World War II relics from Kodiak Island. Their question: Does unexploded ammunition still lie in Kodiak waters, and if so, where?

“There’s not much information out there that we’re finding,” said Tom Abbot of URS Corp., which has been hired to find what lies beneath the surface.

Unexploded ordnance isn’t a new phenomenon in Kodiak, which has hosted the U.S. military since World War II.

At the turn of the century, the Army Corps of Engineers did a thorough search of the Buskin River valley, home to Fort Greely (predating the Interior base of that name) during the war years. While that effort kept Kodiakans from turning up unused rifle rounds and the occasional live grenade, ammunition that might have been dumped or dropped in the waters around Kodiak Island has been overlooked.

The Navy is starting to change that.

In 2011, the historian at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire visited Alaska to do research on the topic, said Naval Facilities Engineering command spokeswoman Leslie Yuenger. "We don't know what triggered it, and unfortunately he's passed away so we can't ask him."

Abbot has a simpler explanation for the Navy's interest in cleaning up old ammunition: “I think that’s one of the things on their to-do list,” he said.

In addition to Kodiak, the Navy is also looking at Dutch Harbor and Kiska, one of the two islands occupied by the Japanese during the Aleutian campaign.

For now, the effort by URS involves mostly trawling through historical records kept in archives and storage rooms, trying to find out who might have dropped a dud bomb or shell near Kodiak.

The principal suspects are antiaircraft batteries and harbor defense guns.

“They did have live-fire exercises,” said Dave Ostlund, director of the Kodiak Military History Museum.

In 1944, the harbor defenses of Kodiak included twelve 155mm cannon, two 6-inch guns, four 8-inch guns and eight 90mm guns.

That year, the guns fired live salutes in honor of a visit by Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, head of the Alaska Defense Command.

In another famous incident, guns mounted on Long Island fired live shells to warn a ship carrying Gov. Ernst Gruening away from a minefield.

In general, however, most live shots from the harbor defense guns were for target practice, Ostlund said.

“They’d contract a local fisherman to tow targets for them,” he said.

As for where those shots landed, it isn’t clear.

“Who knows where the impact zone was, because the range on the big guns was 14 miles,” Ostlund said.

Abbot asks anyone who has records or information about target ranges or offshore ammunition dumping grounds to contact him at tom.abbott@urs.com or by phone at 206-438-2004.

"Some people have been there for many generations and remember hearing stories and/or have artifacts or newspaper articles or grandpa's memories or something like that that could aid the Navy in determining what is still out there," Yuenger said.

Once a preliminary report is finished, Abbott said, it will be forwarded to the Navy for additional research or action.
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