wings over the aleutians(by stanton h. patty, seattle times, 1 aug 1966)
Wings Over The Aleutiansby Stanton H. Patty, Seattle Times, Aug 1. 1966Shemya, Alaska.---Secrecy envelops this air force station near the far end of the Aleutian chain like a tight cocoon. We are the only newsmen to visit here in recent times. Special permission of the Alaskan Air Command was required. This flat, treeless chunk of rock in the Semichi group of the Aleutian islands is a base for more than a dozen priority activities. Most of the Air Force, Navy and Army units supported here cannot even be identified. Shemya and its work are in a true twilight zone. One thing that can be said is that Shemya has an advanced radar installation of the Air Force’s space tracking network. It’s job is to detect, identify, track and catalog all objects in earth orbit. A glance at a map of this part of the world shows the value of Shemya’s strategic position astride the great circle route between America and the far east. Lt. Col. Bennet P. Browder, 47, of San Antonio, the station commander, put it this way: “The mission represented by the various tenants on this 2 by 4 island are as important to our defense effort as anything going on anywhere.” Don’t ask Browder to elaborate. He cannot. Personnel assigned here serve a one year tour. Unlike the big naval station at Adak, some 400 mile to the east. There are no wives and children at Shemya About 1,000 men are stationed here. There is no native village on this wind lashed island. Shemya is at 174 degrees east longitude - 1400 miles from either Tokyo or Anchorage. “We’re so far west, we’re east,” said Browder with a laugh. “and this place probably has the worst combination of winds and precipitation you could find.” There were 17 time last winter when the wind exceeded hurricane force. The worst blow on record was 139 mile an hour. In a year’s time, 75 inches of snow will tumble onto Shemya. The mean temperature is somewhere between 36 and 41 degrees. Even in the summer months, landing conditions for aircraft are below the required minimum of a 200 foot ceiling and a half mile of visibility about 20% of the time. But, because of modern navigational aids, Shemya seldom is deprived of air service. Reeve Aleutian Airways delivers the mail twice a week. Huge C-124 Globemaster cargo planes from McChord AF base usually arrive each week with fresh food. Mona Lisa, the annual sea borne re-supply for remote military sites in Alaska, calls at Shemya with about 2,000 tons of subsistence items ranging from canned goods to vehicles. Browder praised Reeve Aleutian, with it’s record for dependability, as “one of the great morale factors out here.” Bob Reeve, the famed early day Alaskan bush pilot, who owns the airline, personally dispatches generous stacks of free magazines for the men of Shemya. Duty on this rock is grim. The Air Force does what it can to make it as pleasant as possible. Facilities include a closed circuit TV station showing most of the popular programs from home on film, a 500 seat theater, a large gymnasium and a four lane bowling alley. The television station is on the air 12 hours a day. I don’t know what we would do without it, says Browder. Humor probably accounts for much of Shemya’s happy frame of mind. And it is no accident.” If you have a sense of humor out here, you’d better hang on to it” advise Browder. “that’s all you have.” One of the safety valves is the “Shemya Plug.” This circular slab of concrete with a length of chain resembling a king-sized bathtub stopper. “if a man is disgusted, he can walk up to the plug and try to pull it and sink the island." Browder explains. Another attraction is the “Shemya to Seattle bridge.” The chopped off frame structure really is an old rock crusher but it looks like a bridge approach and it is pointed in the right direction. Shemya also has a mars station for patching telephone calls to homes in the lower 48 through “Ham” operators. Another morale booster is the Alaska switch, the telephone service for calling home after duty hours. Shemya has three or four turns a month on the Alaska switch. But the man-made wonder of Shemya is the composite building...a 608 foot long concrete pavilion providing a self contained community for about 900 men. This building includes administration offices, a four bed hospital, living quarters, a 450 seat dining hall, a barber shop and other features. Shemya is staffed with one physician, two dentists and 12 medical technicians. Shemya’s bleak landscape is dominated by what they call the “Monster" . . . an air defense command station with giant antennae tower, 150 feet high and a radar bubble 100 feet in diameter. Ravens took a liking to the sealing compound in the joints of the radar dome not long ago. It required four months to reseal the bubble with something less tasty. Shemya’s senior resident, a fixture since 1957 is a shaggy mascot named Boozer that belongs to everyone here. The privileged pooch even has his name painted on his own bright red fire plug. The vicious weather of Shemya has been legendary since May, 1943, when hand-picked troops of the fourth infantry regiment occupied this island to keep it out of Japanese hands. This was during the battle of Attu. Despite furious winds, the troops whittled an airfield from the tundra. Soon bombers of the 11th Air Force and fleet air wing 4 were paying regular visits to Japanese strongholds on Kiska Island in the Aleutians and the Kuril islands near Japan. The daring Aleutian flyers were the first to strike regularly at the Japanese homeland. At one time, according to base records, there were 20,000 men stationed here. Some day, what is happening here will be in the now it can be told category, but for now you will just have to accept this sincere comment of one AF officer: "The people of the United States can sleep a little easier tonight because of Shemya." One thing you can count on, Shemya is not sleeping.
Tom Ryan supplied this hand-typed copy of this article about Shemya that appeared in the Seattle Times, dated 1 August 1966. If you find misspelled words...it's more than likely the webmaster's fault for not copying them correctly!