William Roy Dover’s memory of the World War II battle is as sharp as it was 75 years ago, even though it’s been long forgotten by most everyone else.
His first sergeant rousted him from his pup tent about 2 a.m., when word came the Japanese were attacking and had maybe even gotten behind the American front line, on a desolate, unforgiving slab of an occupied island in the North Pacific.
“He was shouting, ‘Get up! Get out!’?” Dover said.
Dover and most of the American soldiers rushed to an embankment on what became known as Engineer Hill, the last gasp of the Japanese during the Battle of Attu, fought 75 years ago this month on Attu Island in Alaska’s Aleutian chain.
“I had two friends that were too slow to get out,” the 95-year-old Alabama farmer recalled. “They both got bayonetted in their pup tents.”
Joseph Sasser, then a skinny 20-year-old from Cartharge, Miss., also found himself perched against the berm on Engineer Hill when a captain with a rifle took up a position about 10 feet away.
“I noticed about after 30 minutes or so, he was awfully quiet,” Sasser said. “We checked to see if he had a pulse and if he was alive, and he was not.
“We didn’t even know he had been shot,” said Sasser, also 95.
American forces reclaimed remote Attu Island on May 30, 1943, after a 19-day campaign that is known as World War II’s forgotten battle. Much of the fighting was hand-to-hand, waged in dense fog and winds of up to 120 mph.
The battle for the Aleutian island was one of the deadliest in the Pacific in terms of the percentage of troops killed. Nearly all the Japanese forces, estimated at about 2,500 soldiers, died with only 28 survivors. About 550 or so U.S. soldiers were killed.
American forces, many poorly outfitted for Alaska weather and trained in California for desert combat, recaptured Attu 11 months after the Japanese took it and a nearby island, Kiska. It was the only WWII battle fought on North American soil.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now owns Attu Island, which is part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Seventy-five years later, 102-year-old Allan Seroll of Massachusetts, who worked in communications including Morse code for the Army Signal Corps, still carries the burden of the Battle of Attu.
“I wake up in the middle of the night, and I can’t go back to sleep,” Seroll told KTVA. “That’s what this has done to me. That’s how much it affected me and still does.”
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