Paul  Kengor
Every Veterans Day presents an opportunity to commemorate those who served in some faraway place long ago, many of whom paid that ultimate sacrifice. World War II offers its share of remembrances: Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941; Normandy, June 6, 1944; the Battle of the Bulge, December 16, 1944; to name a few.

Sadly, however, one series of battles continues to be ignored. On June 3, 1942, the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, located at the Aleutian Islands, west of the Alaskan peninsula. Three days later, they landed on the islands of Kiska and Attu, culminating in the only battles of the war fought in North America. Many of the men there went through hell.

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Remarkably, the battle is barely known.

One person who has not forgotten is renowned World War II historian, Donald Goldstein. Goldstein, a retired University of Pittsburgh professor, authored one of the only books on the campaign, called the “Williwaw War,” named for the freezing, high-velocity winds flowing from Siberia and the Bering Sea, which made service in the Aleutians a constant misery.

"It was strategically very important who controlled those islands," says Goldstein. The Americans stationed there "kept the Japanese from the West Coast and from invading the U.S. mainland.... From a strategic point of view, you can't underestimate the situation there. Look at a map! The Aleutians aren't very far from Seattle."

In the Aleutians, American troops battled not only the Japanese, but debilitating weather and boredom. To combat the fierce and unpredictable williwaws, soldiers leaned forward as they walked, before falling on their faces as the winds abruptly ended. They battled blinding, waste-deep snow, dense fog, sleet that felt like a sandblaster.

To escape the climate, troops spent hours inside. The boredom was so bad that some drank anything they could find. There were stories of casualties from "torpedo juice." Morale was awful.

"War is boredom mixed with moments of stark terror," says Goldstein. "You sit and wait. And then all at once it comes."

And when it came to the Aleutians, it came with ferocity. Shortly after bombing Dutch Harbor, the Japanese took Attu and Kiska. Thirteen months later, in August 1943, American forces sought to drive them out. Kiska was easy, since Japanese forces had bailed out two weeks earlier. Attu, however, was another story.