HOLMES BEACH, Fla. - Karen Abel plans a trip next summer that will go beyond a mere vacation. She will go west more than 6,300 miles, and go back more than and seven decades, all to help people remember what is now called the “Forgotten War."
Abel says that, like a lot of World War Two veterans, her grandfather did not talk much about his service. But after he died, the meticulous details and letters he left behind told a story that she says amazed her, yet saddened her, because so few people had heard it.
“I think that's important,” she says. “(It's) the only battle fought on North American soil. That's significant!”
While the Japanese attacked pearl harbor in 1941, they never actually occupied any territory in Hawaii. The following year, the Japanese captured two of the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska. One of them, Attu, pokes so far west that it puts a dent in the International Date Line. Those remote outposts are the only U.S. territory the Japanese ever successfully conquered.
“So many families and children and grandchildren do not know anything about their world war ii veterans,” Abel says.
She was one. Her grandfather, Robert W. Lynch, flew combat missions for the Royal Canadian Air Force alongside American forces in the Aleutians in 1942 and 1943. The U.S. Government gave him an Air Force Medal for his service.
Abel learned this when she delved into the detailed flight logs Lynch kept and photographs he took at the time, and letters he later traded with the Canadian Defense Ministry. Those documents gave Abel some sense of what it was like for her grandfather. “They lived in tents,” she says. “There were thousands of casualties from frostbite.”
Now, Abel says, she wants to see the land where her forefather fought. “In my head I had it that I would fly there, take a little ferry, completely ignorant to the vastness of Alaskan geography.”
Attu is 1,100 miles – and a three-day ferry ride across the treacherous Bering Sea – from the Alaskan mainland. This did not dissuade Abel, but the effort to take the trip has itself become a journey. She details it on a blog (www.BeachToTheBeringSea.com) that has also become a modern memorial that she hopes will help people remember the forgotten war.
“And I think that my grandfather would want exactly what I'm doing know is to let people know.”
Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the Aleutian Island campaign's end. More than 1,400 U.S. and Canadian troops died.