Never the Same

Attu: Graves of fallen soldiers from the Battle of Attu 

 

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13 (NIV)

 My father was wounded on the pitiful island of Attu in World War II. Shrapnel imbedded in his spine left him paralyzed, recuperating in a VA hospital for a year. He was never the same.

The spinal injuries he suffered defending a little spit of volcanic rock hanging on the tail end of the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska left him with recurrent back pain for the rest of his life. When the first symptoms of stomach cancer appeared 30 years later, he thought it was his troublesome back. By the time the cancer was discovered, it was too late. He died a month after surgery.

My mother was never the same. I was never the same.

War does that. It changes lives, steals dreams, shatters hopes. But the men and women who returned from World War II were stalwart characters. They got on with life, building families and communities. They were the first in line at the polls on election day, first in line at a Red Cross blood drive. They understood duty, loyalty, courage. They didn’t preach it, they lived it. Their priorities were—in order—God, family, country.

Dad refused to talk about the war. So when I discovered his Bronze Star hidden in a dresser drawer, I was surprised. I didn’t think Attu was significant enough to warrant a medal for bravery. One World War II writer described it as “the lonesomest spot this side of hell.”

But, unknown to the American public, for 15 months—from early June 1942 to the mid-August 1943—US forces fought off a Japanese invasion in what one writer described as “arduous operations hampered by shortages afloat, ashore, and in the air…not to mention the almost insuperable obstacles of weather and terrain.” When it was all over, American casualties added up to 3,829 (25 percent of the invading force—second only in proportion to Iwo Jima): 549 dead, 1,148 injured, 1,200 with severe cold injuries, 614 with disease, and 318 to miscellaneous causes. The Japanese lost 2,351 men; only 28 were taken prisoner. (Source: http://www.hlswilliwaw.com/aleutians/Aleutians/html/aleutians-wwii.htm)

Attu didn’t get much press. It was only as I looked up information for this column that I discovered the real significance of this historic battle.

We still were reeling from Pearl Harbor, as the Aleutian Island invasion took place a mere six months later. Perhaps it was to protect the public, to prevent a panic that news about the battle raging in the Bering Sea was blacked out. How many outside the military and the government knew at the time that the enemy was that close? Our military was tied up in Europe and the South Pacific. Little Attu paled in comparison.

Yet history would have been different had we lost Attu and the rest of the Aleutian Islands.

Never once in all his pain did my father ever complain or protest war. He knew the price that must be paid for freedom. Whether in Vietnam, Bosnia, or the Middle East, liberty’s price is the blood of our sons and daughters—no less than what God paid for our freedom from sin and its consequences.

Our eternal history would have been different had the battle for our souls not been waged and won 2,000 years ago on a God-forsaken spit of land called Calvary. But this war, unlike human wars, changes lives for the better, restores dreams and renews hope. Once we decide whose side we’re on, we are never the same.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16 NLT). Thank you, thank you, thank you, God! Amen.

© 2006 by Michele T. Huey. All rights reserved.

Attu, 1943 (from my Dad’s files)

On May 25, 1943, my father, Sgt. Peter Maddock of Co. B 205th ENGR COMB BN U.S. ARMY, was wounded in the Battle of Attu. His injuries included dislocated spine, severe frostbite of both hands and feet, injuries to the groin, and shrapnel in his back, for which he received the Purple Heart Medal (see picture below). For his actions in the line of duty, he also received the Bronze Star.

Below are some pictures I recently discovered. I’ve tried to identify as much as I could. Captions include what Dad had written on the back of that particular photograph.

Dad outside his barracks hut on Attu Island
I can’t tell if this is Dad or not. It very well may be, as he was in charge of a construction company in the engineers battalion, which built warehouses, post buildings, roads, and bridges of wood and steel.

 

I believe Dad is the third from the left, the one with the glasses.
Dad is the second from the right, outside the barracks.

“Alexae Point, Attu P. 38 Airstrip Hope you can read the sign.”  Sign reads: “Home of the Army’s Northwestern-most airfield”
“Self explanatory. We were trapped on Fishhook Ridge at the time.”
“A warrior’s grave Ensign Henderson on Attu 1943. This ridge named for him. Note machine gun used as headstone.”
Japanese soldiers WW2
“Grave of 34 Japs all in one hole. These aren’t buried very deep and the rain always uncovers them. Our hut is about 50 yds from here.”
Purple Heart Award Ceremony, July 27, 1945   “Joe’s wife snapped this just as Colonel (?) was (shaking) my hand.” The rest is unreadable as the ink faded or got wet. Dad later added: “Award of Purple Heart at Deshon Hospital, Bulter, Pa.”

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