WWII in the Archives: Records of the Aleutian Islands Campaign

The month of May marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Attu, the only battle during WWII fought on American soil.  On June 2-3, 1942 the Japanese Imperial Navy launched attacks on the American military base of Dutch Harbor.

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Above photographs from the “Alaska at War” documentary materials. Department of Natural Resources, Office of History and Archaeology, AS 28145

In a letter sent to Governor Gruening, Claude Smith, an oil burner installation and maintenance man, describes the conditions at Dutch Harbor providing an interesting firsthand account of the bombings as well as general conditions of the base.

“The morning of June 3d we were just getting up at 5:45 when I heard the sound of plane or planes.  I immediately knew they were not PBY’s or “flying coffins” as we called them.  The first warning we had of the attack was the actual dropping of bombs.”¹

Two days later the islands of Attu and Kiska were taken.  These remote islands had not yet been evacuated and as a result the Unangan (Aleut) residents of Attu Village were taken as prisoners of war by Japanese forces.  This resulted in a mass evacuation of the Aleutian Islands’ 800+ Alaska Native residents who were sent to poorly supplied camps over 1,500 miles from their homelands where many of them died from disease and starvation.²

Within the Office of the Governor’s correspondence files are letters and reports concerning the “Aleut Relocation” [VS 495].  These records, dated 1941-1947, describe the decision processes relating to the evacuation including the sites of relocation which display knowledge of the poor conditions as described in the following telegram dated July 12, 1942:


These records have been digitized and are available online on Alaska’s Digital Archives at under Governor Ernest Gruening’s subject file and correspondence concerning Aleut Relocation.


In 1943, from May 11-30, American troops retook the island of Attu during the Battle of Attu, one of the major conflicts of the Aleutian Islands Campaign.  In the translated and transcribed diary of Nebu Tatsuquhi, a Japanese Medical Corps Officer, the events of the battle unfold as described by him until his death.  His final entry on May 29, 1943 reads:

“Today at 2000 o’clock we assembled at headquarters.  The field hospital took part too, the last assault is to be carried out.  All the patients in the hospital were made to commit suicide.  Only thirty three years of living and I am to die.  I have no regrets.  Banzai to the Emperor.  I am grateful that I have kept the peace in my soul which Enkist bestowed on me.  At 1800 took care of all the patients with a grenade.  Goodbye Tacks, my beloved wife, who loved me to the last.  Until we meet again, grant you godspeed.  Misaka, who just became four years old, will grow up unhindered.  If I feel sorry for you, Takiko, born February this year and gone without seeing your father.  Well, goodbye, Matsue, brother Hochan, Skuchen, Masachan, Mitichan, goodbye.  The number participating in this attack is a little over a thousand.  Will try to take enemy Artillery positions.  It seems the enemy will probably make an all out attack tomorrow.”

In the retaking of Attu the United States troops lost 549 soldiers, while the Japanese forces were nearly all destroyed with 2,400 casualties.³  Included in the U.S. troops was one of Alaska’s own, John Potochnick, Jr., who was awarded the Purple Heart.  In a letter to the soldier’s father, John Potochnick, Sr., Governor Ernest Gruening commends his actions saying:

“In one sense your son John’s experience is unusual because very few Alaska boys took part in the recapture of Attu – most of them came from below and were trained in the states.  It should therefore be a matter of special pride and satisfaction to you that he is one of the few Alaskans who took part in the first battle to drive the Japanese invaders from our American soil, and shared in the honor and glory of that victory.”

Letter to Governor Gruening, August 10, 1943.  Office of the Governor, General Correspondence, 1934-1953, Federal Government — Department of War, 1933-1948, VS 495

For more information on the Aleutian Islands Campaign and Alaska during WWII in general check out the documentary “Alaska at War”, available on the Archives YouTube channel at the following link: 

1. Letter from Claude Smith, 1942. Office of the Governor, General Correspondence, 1934-1953, Federal Government — Department of War, 1933-1948, VS 495.

2. Native Voices Timeline:

3. 75th Battle of Attu Commemoration: 

Collection Spotlight: Alaska Women’s Commission Records

Although Women’s History Month has come to a finish, we wanted to dig into one more collection which focuses on women in Alaska; the records of the Alaska Women’s Commission did not disappoint.

The Alaska Women’s Commission (AWC) stemmed from the creation of the Alaska Commission on the Status of Women, which passed in 1978 as Alaska Statute 44.19.165.  The statute outlined the purpose of the commission as “…to implement the recommendations contained in the preliminary study on the status of women in Alaska which was mandated by the Ninth Legislature, Second Session, under Chapter 99 SLA 1976, and improve the status of women in Alaska by conducting further research and by making and implementing additional recommendations on the opportunities, needs, problems, and contributions of women in Alaska including, but not limited to 1) education, 2) homemaking, 3) civil and legal rights, and 4) labor and employment.”

Office of the Governor, Alaska Women’s Commission (RG53), Publications and Reports (SR640), AWC Poster (AS8528)

The AWC took on a variety of issues affecting women conducting studies, publishing in-depth reports, hosting conferences in rural areas, providing resources and publications, and producing and backing legislation in the interest of women from all backgrounds and from all regions of Alaska.

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The Alaska Women’s Commission records not only record the administrative history of the commission but also offer a view into the issues affecting women during that time on a state and national level.  Photographs, public service announcements, speeches, correspondence files, legislative files, committee meeting packets, and annual reports are just some of the resources available in the AWC records.


“Many outstanding women have helped to shape Alaska by contributing their talents and skills.  To honor these women and to provide visible role models for tomorrow’s leaders, I have established the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.  These awards will acknowledge the achievements of true pioneers like Lisa Starr Rudd, whose unwavering belief in women’s equality led to the creation of the Alaska Women’s Commission. To memorialize her achievements, the Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to her.”  – Governor Steve Cowper

Established in 1988 during the 10th anniversary of the AWC, the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame went on to induct leaders such as civil rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich, health care professional Arne Beltz, activist and educator Lucy Frey, and mayor and activist Lillie Hope McGarvey.  In box AS 9427 theirs are just a few files among dozens of biographic profiles on the women who have helped shape the history of Alaska.

File folders in Alaska Women’s Commission box AS 9427

These folders include biographical sketches, subject files, photographs, news clippings, and other materials compiled from the State Archives and Library’s Historical Collections as well as from other archives across the state like the University of Alaska’s Archives and Special Collections.  Below are peeks into the files of Mary Antisarlook, Marie Drake and Elinor Dusenbury, Della Keats, and Nell Scott, and represent a sample of materials you might find in these folders.

Mary Antisarlook pioneered reindeer herding at the turn of the 20th century.  [AS 9427]
Marie Drake authored the official Alaska Flag Song, while Elinor Dusenbury composed the music to accompany Drake’s words.  [AS 9427]
Della Keats dedicated her life to medical practice and traditional healing.  [AS 9427]
Nell Scott became the first woman elected to serve as a Territorial Representative in 1937.  [AS 9427]
In a letter to Governor Hickel in 1991 Mary McClinton and Carol Mikon, Chair and Vice Chair of the AWC, stress the importance of the commission, its effectiveness and inclusiveness, and their intention of “minimizing the use of state dollars and pursuing efforts to increase the independence and decrease long term dependence of women on state services.”  While the AWC was ultimately consolidated with the Alaska Commission on Children into the Alaska Human Relations Commission in 1993, during their existence they branched out, helping communities establish local councils and commissions on a regional scale in places like Juneau, Sitka, Anchorage, Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), and Fairbanks, some of which still exist today.

If you’re interested in digging further into the Alaska Women’s Commission records (RG53), you can visit us at the Alaska State Archives, located on the second floor of the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building in downtown Juneau, Alaska.  We’re open to the public Tuesday – Friday from 10a – 4p*.

*Summer hours begin April 30th.  The Archives will be open Monday – Friday, 10a – 4p.

Caption reads: “Gov. Hammond signs a proclamation designating the week of March 8-14 as Women’s History Week. From left are: Emma G. Widmark, grand president, Alaska Native Sisterhood; Jean Munro, representative, Future Homemakers of America; Blanche L. McSmith, representative, National Council of Negro Women; Donna Flint, representative, Soroptimists International of Juneau; Chottie Angst, representative, League of Women Voters; Caren Robinson, director, AWARE, Inc.; Barbara A. Dale, vice chairwoman, Commission on the Status of Women; Susan Clark, representative, American Association of University Women; and Laraine L. Glenn, representative, Girl Scouts.” Photo credit: Chuck Kleeschulte. [AS 8536]

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Records

At 12:04 am on March 24, 1989 the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef off Prince William Sound resulting in one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history.  Approximately 11 million gallons were spilled covering an area of 460 miles from Bligh Reef to the village of Chignik, impacting 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline and killing countless animals (with estimates as high as 250,000 seabirds alone) and billions of salmon and herring eggs.¹

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The above images come from a collection of over 2,000 slides from the Office of the Governor, SR612 Press Secretary, Public Information Files (AS 17959).  You can view more images from this group by visiting Alaska’s Digital Archives at or by clicking HERE.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) had a huge impact on multiple state agencies in Alaska.  The records created by those agencies as they dealt with the impact of the spill hold a wealth information related to this event and how it impacted government, and in turn citizens.   You can access these records at the Alaska State Archives in agencies such as the Office of the Governor, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Fish and Game, and the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

Among them you’ll find textual records such as reports and minutes, photographs, video and audio records, and maps.  Below are a few examples of records relating to the Exxon Valdez oil spill held in the Alaska State Archives:

  • Dept. of Administration, RG84 – Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Commission, 1989-1990
  • Dept. of Fish and Game, RG261 – Division of Habitat and Restoration, SR621 – Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) files, 1989-1994
  • Dept. of Fish and Game, RG261 – Division of Habitat and Restoration, SR1290 – Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) restoration project files, 1989-1998
  • Dept. of Environmental Conservation, RG299 – Division of Spill Prevention and Response (SPAR)
  • Dept. of Environmental Conservation, RG297 – Division of Environmental Quality,  SR563 – Subject files, 1989 – Daily Reports, Coast Guard Exxon Valdez spill fact sheet, EVOS daily status reports
  • Dept. of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, RG21 – Commissioner of the community and Regional Affairs, 1975-1999, SR1336 – Exxon Valdez oil spill records
  • Dept. of Environmental Conservation, RG295 – Commissioner of Environmental Conservation, SR1363 – Speeches, 1990-1992
  • Office of the Governor, RG1 – Executive Office, SR88 – Central Subject files – Exxon Valdez Files of Mike Nizich, Governor Cowper’s Administrative Services Director March – May

However the bulk of records created in response to EVOS were created by the Department of Law, Series 708 Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) litigation, 1969-1993.²  To learn more about these records and the Archive’s involvement in appraising and processing the materials in this collection visit the Archive’s webpage, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Litigation Records Appraisal and Processing Project.  Currently the Archives is negotiating with the Department of Law to transfer the remaining litigation files of permanent value, referred to as the Reopener files, to the Archives.  These files were not among those in the original transfer due to the possibility that the materials might need to be used again in the event that a Reopener Claim was made.  The 1991 settlement between the State of Alaska, United States and Exxon included a decree entitled “Reopener for Unknown Injury” which could allow the governments to make an additional claim for unforeseen damages that were not covered in the original settlement.  While actions were taken in 2006, the governments ultimately decided not to pursue the claim in 2015, allowing for the final transfer of records to the Archives.

For additional resources and information outside the Alaska State Archives, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOSTC) website at is a great place to start your research.  The EVOSTC is a joint partnership between the federal and state governments “formed to oversee restoration of the injured ecosystem”.  The EVOSTC website offers multiple resources on the spill from their Oil Spill Facts page, to publications including some of the council’s historical records (stored at ARLIS), to the current status of restoration projects.

If you’re interested in reviewing any of the Archive’s EVOS materials, or would like to know more about what we have, you can shoot us an email at, give us a call at (907) 465-2270, or just drop in!  We’re located on the second floor of the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building located at 395 Whittier Street, Juneau, AK 99801.


  1. “Oil Spill Facts.”, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, Accessed 22 March 2018.
  2. Records in Series 708, Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) litigation, 1969-1993 are restricted.  If you’d like to include these materials in your research we will refer your request to the Department of Law for approval before we can release the records for review.

Pi Day State Records Pie Chart!

March 14 is Pi Day and this year we at the Alaska State Archives decided to make a pie chart representing our collections!  While we hold district, territorial, and statehood records this chart only represents those records from statehood (1959- present).  Also note this chart does not represent cubic feet, or the amount of space these records take up in our vault, just a count of individual records.

Our biggest record group was a close contest between Office of the Governor with about 3,940 records and Dept. of Law with 3,780 records.  On the other end of the spectrum, Dept. of Military and Veteran Affairs and Special Collections and Local Government Records tied for the least amount of records, each with about only 30 tucked away on our vault shelves.

Pi Day Statehood Records Chart
Click HERE for a larger image.
  1.  Office of the Governor
  2.  Department of Administration
  3.  Department of Law
  4.  Department of Revenue
  5.  Department of Education and Early Development
  6.  Department of Health and Social Services
  7.  Department of Labor and Workforce Development
  8.  Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development
  9.  Department of Military and Veteran Affairs
  10.  Department of Natural Resources
  11.  Department of Fish and Game
  12.  Department of Public Safety
  13.  Department of Environmental Conservation
  14.  Department of Corrections
  15.  Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
  16.  State Legislature
  17.  State Court System
  18.  Special Collections and Local Government

Alaska History Week

Alaska History Week is celebrated during the first week of March.  This year the Alaska State Archives decided to participate by showing off some of our collections through an Instagram campaign (seen below).

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Established by Sec. 44.12.092, “The first week of March each year is established as Alaska History Week to celebrate the contributions and experiences that comprise the past development of The Great Land. Alaska History Week may be observed by school assemblies, programs, and other suitable observances and exercises by civic groups and the public.”

Each day we shared historical government documents you can find in our collections and how we at the Archives can help you with your research needs.  If you weren’t able to follow along while it happened, search #akhistoryweek2018 on Instagram to see what you missed!

In our collections you’ll find District, Territorial, and Statehood records created by government agencies such as the Office of the Governor, all state departments, the Legislature, and the Court.  The records include a variety of formats like photographs, maps, microfilm, audio reels, video tapes, and of course, good old-fashioned paper.

Currently we store around 25,000 cubic feet of permanent records – that’s a lot of potential research material.  Whether you’re interested in genealogy, legislation, agency histories, historic events or government figures, we’ll likely have something of interest for you.  You can schedule an appointment or just walk in; we’re open to the public Tuesday-Friday from 10a-4p in the brand new Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building in downtown Juneau, Alaska.  If you’re not located in town you can contact us by phone at (907) 465-2270 or by email at

We hope you learned some fun tidbits of Alaskan history and more about our role at the State Archives.  Remember to join us again next year!