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WWII Center

The Aleutian World War II National Historic AreaThe Aleutian World War II National Historic Area

In 1996, the United States Congress designated the 134 acre Aleutian World War II National Historic Area as an affiliated area of the National Park Service to interpret the history of the Unangax^ (the Aleut people), the defense of the Aleutian Islands and the United States during WWII, and to educate and inspire present and future generations about it.

Few Americans have heard of the “Aleutian campaign” or that Native islanders, the Unangax^ (literally the “people of the passes,” and incorrectly called “Aleut”) were removed from their villages and left to languish in squalid relocation camps, bereft of adequate nutrition, medical attention, heat, running water, and toilet facilities. Historians have often referred to the Aleutian campaign as the “Forgotten War.” It was fought on American soil, and American forces incurred heavy losses along the 1500-mile front. The campaign also exacted a heavy toll upon the Unangax^, who have called the islands home for over 9000 years, and who found themselves in the way of both the invading Japanese forces and the American forces.

The Unangax^ predate Russian settlement of the region by thousands of years. Living on the riches of the sea in a climate and topography both rugged and unforgiving, they spawned a culture rich in art and oral tradition, including ultra-fine grass basketry, sleek iqyan (skin boats), and beautiful bentwood hats. With Russian contact beginning in the mid-1700’s, the Unangam population began a rapid decline.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the US military began to speculate on the role of the Aleutians in WWII. In an unprecedented, ill-advised decision shared by many governmental agencies but acknowledged by none, the Unangax^ were removed from their homes in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands.

Although neither accused nor suspected of any infidelity to the US, the Unangax^ were interned in decaying canneries and camps in Southeast Alaska, while their non-Native neighbors were allowed to remain and continue in their day-to-day. Conditions in the camps were deplorable. Nearly ten percent of the internees died at the camps. When allowed to return to their homes after the war, many Unangax^ found their homes and churches pillaged by American military personnel. The quality of their soil and drinking water had been permanently compromised by military contamination. Many did not return to the islands after the War. The government refused to fund repatriation to the villages of Attu, Biorka, Kashega and Makushin

Unalaska/Dutch Harbor was bombed by Japanese forces on June 3rd and 4th, 1942. 42 Americans were killed, 64 were injured, and ten US aircraft were lost.

Japan occupied Kiska and Attu Islands, taking the entire Unanga{ village of Attu as prisoners of war to Hokkaido, Japan. The battle in May 1943 to reclaim Attu lasted three weeks. 2,351 Japanese soldiers were found dead; only 28 surrendered. 549 out of 15,000 US soldiers were killed; 1,100 were wounded. In August 1943, US troops attacked at Kiska, believing that the enemy was hiding in the hills, only to find that they had secretly been evacuated.

The Aleutian World War II National Historic Area tells the story of the men and women who were stationed in the Aleutians, the Unangax^ who were removed from their homes, and the technology and means available to fight WWII.

The site is a 134-acre tract of land on Amaknak island in Unalaska, Alaska. It houses the military ruins of Fort Schwatka, the highest coastal battery ever constructed in the US. Looming nearly 1,000 feet above the storm-tossed waters of the Bering Sea, it serves as an impressive monument to the war effort, but wars are made up of both noble and ignoble events.

The Aleutian World War II National Historic Area also overlooks ancient Unangam settlements of the area, and provides an ideal venue to interpret the history of “Aleut” removal. Moreover, the Historic Area is wholly owned and managed by the Ounalashka Corporation, which represents Unalaska, Biorka, Kashega and Makushin villages’ internment camp survivors and their descendants.

The Congressional designation as a National Historic Area allows the interpretation of the history of the Unangax^ and their removal and internment during the War. To this end, OC and the National Park Service have cooperatively worked to renovate the Naval Air Transport Service Aerology Building, located at the Unalaska Airport. The renovation includes interpretation of military aspects of the war, as well as the internment story. It is an ongoing project with innumerable interpretive and educational opportunities.

The Aleutian WWII Visitors Center is located at 2716 Airport Beach Road, Unalaska, Alaska, at the Unalaska Airport.

Hours of Operation:

Wednesday – Saturday

1:00 – 6:00 p.m.

How You Can Help

Americans have a unique tradition of supporting national parks. Some parks have been created in their entirety by the generosity of visionary Americans. In other cases, the pennies, nickels, and dimes of school children have purchased entire parks. In this case, the Ounalashka Corporation (OC) and the National Park Service, with OC as the major donor, have worked together to preserve the valuable natural, cultural and historical resources for future generations. To continue our ability to interpret its history and keep the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area accessible to the American public, we need to enhance federal funding with private donations.

Your tax-deductible gift to the Fund for the Aleutian WWII National Historic Area ensures that your donation will be used exclusively to support this area’s lands and programs. We pledge to employ the same stewardship values in the use of your generous contribution as we do in protecting this area for future generations. You can make your check payable to:

Fund for the Aleutian WW II National Historic Area at the National Park Foundation
c/o National Park Foundation
1101 17th Street NW, Suite 1102
Washington DC 20077-6378

The National Park Foundation is the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service. Created by Congress in 1967, the foundation raises support from corporations, foundations, and individuals to protect and enhance America’s national parks. Gifts to NPF are tax-deductible. Thanks to the generosity of people like you, NPF has been able to direct millions to national parks. By giving through the National Park Foundation, you are assured that your gift will meet unfunded needs and will support the parks.

Visit the National Park Service’s site for the Aleutian WWII National Historic Area website. Just click here:  National Park Service’s official Aleutian WWII NHA Website