The Capture of Attu

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In 1942 Attu, the westernmost island in the Aleutian chain, was home to two Americans and forty-five Aleut hunters and their families. Located one thousand miles from the Alaska mainland and isolated by year-round damp fogs which manage to survive the constant high winds, Attu was called by an early visitor “the lonesomest spot this side of hell.”

In June 1942 Attu and the nearby island of Kiska were invaded by the Japanese in the hopes of accomplishing several goals: forestalling use of the islands by the Americans, hindering U.S.-Soviet cooperation, and establishing bases for attacks on the American mainland. On 11 May 1943, the U.S. effort to retake Attu began. The struggle was essentially an infantry battle. The ever-present fog, rain, and high wind limited the use of air power, and the craggy terrain made mechanized equipment next to useless. The infantry retook the island foot by foot.

Lieutenant Robert J. Mitchell was one American wounded in the battle. During his convalescence he took down the accounts of the survivors while their memories were fresh. He presents them here in their own immediate, direct, and informal language.

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