Greetings from Lakewood, CO!
That's me on the left (as if you couldn't tell the difference). My wife and chief graphics design engineer Nadine is on the right. Welcome to the Aleutians web site!
My association with the Aleutians comes by way of having been assigned to the little 2x4 mile island of Shemya from April 1975 - April 1976. I thought it would be interesting to share, along with others who've sent photos, maps, and related items, the "Shemya" experience.
Shemya was at once a wild place with lots of partying, or a lonely place where one was separated from their families for about a year at a time.
It was an interesting place given its WWWII history, with the old gun emplacements spread around the island and the junk yard replete with souvenirs from that time of our history. Being there through the late Summer months was like being in the middle of a National Geographic magazine photo . . . seals, sea lions, birds of all descriptions, the famous Shemya Blue Fox, and of course two-legged homosapiens were in abundance...about 1,100 or so folks shared the island with me.
My turn for a remote, isolated tour of duty assignment came about in 1974, with a reporting date of February, 1975 to Shemya, AK. I postponed my trip to Shemya by taking a vacation, with an adjusted reporting date of April, 1975. Good move it turned out to be, Shemya had an earthquake in February that caused some minor damage around the Island. The AFRT station's tapes were dumped from their racks, ending up all over the floor, one of the old runways cracked a little more, fun. No place to hide on a 2x4 mile island. Good thing there was no Tsunami following the earthquake, Shemya's only around 240' at the highest point! Ten of us were assigned to open up a PMEL (Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory, or Metrology) lab on Shemya. We starting operations utilizing what was called "Transportable Field Calibration Unit" "suitcases" of equipment, and was initially located in one of the "newer" shacks along the main road. We eventually moved into the new Cobra Dane Metrology Lab upon its completion in January of 1975.
As many others did to pass the time away while living on "The Rock," I took on a part-time job (thus was also able to make and save enough money to make a 30-day trip back home over the Christmas holidays). I lucked out and snagged a job sharing the duties of running the photo hobby shop/Photo Lab. One day while cleaning up I came across some old and rather large positives (black and white slides) obviously taken during the WWII era. These slides were shot on both Attu and Shemya. It was easy to discern some of the locations, for the original photographer typed the locations directly on the slides. I copied the slides using 35mm film, developed them, brought them home and stuck them in storage. My son Tom and his wife Sharon were kind enough to have retrieved them, had 5x7s made, and mailed them to me for posting on this web site. Check out the Shemya WWII photos page, as well as the post-war photo pages.
It was interesting to find on the Internet what was available regarding Shemya. The first site I found was Semichi Sam's. I was also surprised to discover the Shemya I knew had changed names to "Eareckson," and eventually learned of its closure in 1995. I was glad to see there was/is a major cleanup effort going on there as well. Anyone who's seen the "mountain" of oil drums stacked in the dump area must have had the same thoughts. I've watched videos that Jim Lux sent of life on the Rock that he had taken in 1996 while looking for WWII P-38s, and was struck by the lack of activities I was familiar with while there...the club had closed, no sign of the "smokehouses," hardly anyone in sight...like a ghost town.
While attempting to collect photos, stories, anecdotes, web page links, and other trivia items about Shemya, I received several inquiries about the other Islands that make up the Aleutians, with many wanting to know more about Attu, and some having photos of Amchitka. I've expanded the site to include the possibility of adding all of the Aleutian Islands as material permits. Give the Attu pages a visit when you can. Just recently, we've added Amchitka, Adak, and Umnak pages. My thanks to all of you who've sent in images, stories, and other materials to help populate this site with content, and to my wife for helping with many of the graphics . . . prepping them for the web! Her job was the most difficult . . . some of the photos have barely withstood the test of time, and yet she is able to bring out the best in them!
Thanks for stopping by, hope you enjoy, and drop us a line!
George (Smitty) Smith
Last Updated: 23 January 2014 09:29
Originally published 15 July 2001