World War II veteran recalls ‘Forgotten Battle’
May 22, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Historians refer to the Aleutian Islands campaign as the Forgotten Battle.
The battle occurred amid roiling seas and pea-soup fog in the chain of islands stretched between North America and Asia at almost the same time as the Battle of Guadalcanal started thousands of miles to the south.
Guadalcanal is engrained in history, but the Aleutian Islands campaign is almost relegated to a footnote.
Not for local veteran Norman Peery.
For Peery, 86, World War II meant rough seas in the Aleutian Islands and, in postwar military service, smooth sailing to occupied Japan.
The retired Boeing electrician participated in the Aleutian Islands campaign, a bitter struggle over the islands between the United States and Japan.
The islands stretch for more than 1,200 miles from the Alaskan Peninsula and form a dividing line between the Bering Strait and the North Pacific Ocean.
Peery entered the U.S. Navy on Dec. 16, 1943, and served 18 months in the remote island chain aboard the USS Jarvis, a destroyer. (The ship was built at a Seattle shipyard in 1943-44.)
“There was a lot of rough water, believe me,” Peery said in a recent interview. “If you’ve ever been up in that water, you know.”
The destroyer plied the water off Adak and Attu. The islands hosted fierce fighting in the campaign.
“The water up there was so rough that you had to stand in the kitchen and put an arm around a post at dinner and hang on to that post and eat with the other hand,” he said. “That was kind of hard.”
The ship’s massive size offered some relief from the angry sea.
“On a destroyer, you’ve got a big ship, so it’s pretty easy to calm down,” Peery said.
Peery, a Navy boatswain during the war, served as a fuse setter on 5-inch guns used to bombard Japanese forces on the islands and in the Kuril Islands, another disputed archipelago.
“We shot these big 5-inch shells over to the little islands,” he said.
The harsh conditions on the rugged islands — craggy terrain, limited vegetation, dense fog — made the fighting difficult for the soldiers ashore. Navy ships at sea shelled the islands in a long struggle to eject the Japanese from the hardscrabble territory.
(The racially charged U.S. propaganda during World War II referred to Alaska as a “death trap for the Jap.”)
The bitter cold in the North Pacific reminded Peery of conditions at boot camp in Farragut, Idaho.
“They had these peacoats that they’d given us, and we really used them, because it was cold when were exercising out in the open,” he said.
The ship operated out of Adak and Attu throughout the efforts in the Aleutian and Kuril islands. In August 1945, the USS Jarvis left the North Pacific.
On the Web
The Issaquah Press featured local World War II veteran Eugene Klineburger in the 2011 Lest We Forget section. Read the article at http://bit.ly/lhE2CT.
In September 1945, the ship reached Japan.
Japanese authorities surrendered to Allied forces about a month earlier. The crew aboard the USS Jarvis assisted in occupation landings and destroying military installations along the Sea of Japan.
In Japan, Peery also had the opportunity to meet his brother Paul, a sailor on the escort carrier USS Manila Bay. The brothers’ ships came close to each other and, after signaling back and forth, the Peery brothers met on a gig boat, a small craft used to ferry sailors between larger vessels.
Peery and other crew members assisted in disarming the Japanese military. (Allied forces occupied Japan until 1951.)
Despite the language barrier, U.S. forces in the island nation and the Japanese enjoyed a cordial relationship.
“They were friendly to us,” he recalled.
Peery served in the Navy until May 1946, and although he remains active in the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3436, he said he would have liked to kept in touch with USS Jarvis crewmates.
“I wish I’d paid more attention and gotten their numbers and all that stuff, but I didn’t really get ahold of anybody,” Peery said.