AN ACCOUNT OF THE WWII
ATTU CAPTIVITY
By
Olean Prokopeuff (Golodoff)


 

This extract is from the book titled "The Aleutian Invasion"  prepared by Ray Hudson and his students of the Unalaska High School in 1981. A letter introducing this book follows:

                                  November 4, 1981

DEAR FRIENDS OF THE CUTTLEFISH CLASS!

Here, at last, is our little production on World War II in the Aleutians. We hope you will be pleased with what we have accomplished.

To all of you who were so generous with your memories and photographs we want to give a very special thanks. Without your help and support we could not have produced what we did.

We have had paperback copies of this book for about two months, but the hardback copies arrived only this week. (The printer in California was going to drive them here in a truck!) If you know people who might like a copy the school has them for sale at $6.00 for paperbacks and $8.00 for hard-covers. We had 500 of each printed.

Once again, many thanks! We hope you will enjoy reading the book.

                       With best wishes,

              (signed) The Cuttlefish Class

 

For some of the best first-hand accounts
of WWII in the Aleutians, procure a copy
of this book! Note: the prices quoted in the
above reproduced letter are more than likely
NOT valid today! And...as of yet the
availability of this book is questionable.

This extract is a first-hand account of the Attu villagers experience during WWII:

14. During The War An Account of the Attu Captivity by Olean Prokopeuff (Golodoff)

(NOTE: This story was told by Olean Prokopeuff (Golodoff) and transcribed by Dr. Knut Bergsland with the assistance of Nedesta Golley, Sally Swetzof (Snigaroff), and Moses Dirks. It was translated by Michael Lekanoff with revisions by Moses Dirks. We are grateful to the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association, Inc., for permission to reprint this account which originally appeared in Aang Angagin/Aang Angaginas). The year 1942, on a Sunday morning, the Japanese armed forces came and captured us. They came from the interior of our island after day-break. That morning, a Japanese airplane flew around the village three times. The teacher [Etta Jones] was informed of this by the villagers. Instead of informing the authorities, the teacher told the villagers that there were lots of American patrol planes patrolling this area. After the teacher told them that, the villagers felt secure.

After they came down from the hills, it was said that our village was surrounded by them.

After that, the villagers went up to the observation hill and saw the Japanese fleet anchored in the bay on the other side. As they were attacking in force, one of our ladies was shot in her leg. As they were firing their weapons in all directions during their assault, their forces also hit their own men and it is believed that a few of their own men had been killed.

After they came, they went to Alfred's wife's house. Since my house was being shot at, and since I was being scared, I went to Alfred's wife's house carrying my three year child, Elizabeth.

From there we went to Alfred's wife's house where she was lying in bed with a sore leg. After we went to Alfred's wife's house, the Japanese soldiers surrounded it. They faced the house and had their rifles aimed at it. So at that point in time, Perocoviya sat down. I then thought to myself, "What if I get shot standing up? I would drop the child and she might hurt herself." So I, too, sat down. The Japanese soldiers did not shoot, and an officer got there in time to give orders to move away from the house. So the soldiers moved. The Japanese had an interpreter who spoke English pretty well. He told us to follow him to the school house, and we followed him there.

After we arrived at the school, when a fire was made outside, I was afraid that the school house was going to be set afire with all of us in there. Since we weren't being set on fire, we were asked if we were all present. We stated that three of our young men were out. They waited for the young men to come back to the village but there was no sign of them. The young men did not return from hiding until some of the village men went out and escorted them back to the village. Only then did they return.

The young men were brought home then we were sent back to our houses. When we went into our homes, everything was scattered on our floors, even the Easter eggs were on the floor. It was never determined what the Japanese searched for.

We all stayed inside our homes. The guards stayed by our homes with bayonets. They were standing around guarding like that for three days. Once day-break came, some flares were shot into the air. We went under our beds because of being scared, not knowing what was happening. After three days we were taken aboard a ship and we were on our way.

My house was opened and burned. We were taken out to the ship when it was getting dark. After spending the night on board the ship with much whistling and running about going on, and because of our ignorance of exactly what was happening, we were very anxious. Later on we were told that an American submarine was detected and that was the cause for all the commotion. A short-cut was said to be taken to where they were going. (I was not aware of what short cut they meant.) After traveling for some time, we were told that we were passing by a navy yard. All during the voyage, we were kept in a hold which was very unpleasant smelling, and it-was also dark. We never once saw daylight until we reached Japan.

When we reached Japan, the Captain collided with the dock, and when this happened, we were thrown from our seated position right on to the deck. Then we thought to ourselves, "Ayayaa! Did our ship get shot?" This was a scary experience.

Finally, we were gathered on top of the dock. Then we were sprayed. Later on we were picked up by a vehicle and taken to a black house. Since we fed ourselves with our own food from home during the trip, the only different food that was given to us was some warm rice. It was the only warm food we ate.

When asked if we were hungry, we told them yes. A meal was cooked for us that day. They brought our food on a tray. Chop sticks, which we did not know how to use, were given to us to use. There was a policeman present there with his partner. So as soon as they started talking with each other and not paying attention to us, we would quickly eat with our hands. When the policeman turned towards us, we would pretend like nothing had happened at all. We were also served an unusual looking cooked bird with its feathers still on it. We felt suspicious of the cooked bird and so we did not eat it.

After we were fed, we were put to bed. Our mattresses were laid on the floor. Pillows were also given to us, and they were very hard, but we did not complain. The blankets that were given to us were almost as thick as the mattresses, but we used them anyway.

Every morning the floor was mopped. The house that we were staying at had a kitchen down stairs. We had a stove that we had taken from Attu which we used there.

We had soup that looked like grass and some dried rice. When we ran out of grass soup, we started making rice soup. Prior to this, we ate the food that we brought along from Attu, like the dried fish, the salted fish, and so on, but when we ran out of food, we were given vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and so on. After eating the boiled potatoes, we would have very bad stomach aches, and they were very painful.

It so happened one day that we were told that some officials were coming there to our place for a visit. A Japanese cook was brought there for us. They told us not to go away and the Japanese cook put wood into the oven. He lit it, and as a result of that, the smoke filled the room. I can't remember whether or not cooking took place that day.

We were once again grouped and questions were asked of us. They asked if we were eating good food. We did not give them any reply. They once again asked us if we wanted to talk. We refused to talk. Then after that, we were given food once more.

As things were, our men were put to work. Shortly after that, they started admitting our people to the hospital. The people were getting sick one after the other until I was almost the only one left at home to cook. While I was doing that, they took my husband to the hospital. After they took my husband, my children were starving. So when I went to fetch some water, I would pick orange peelings off the ground. Then I would cook them on the top of the heater. Then I fed them to my children, and only then would they stop crying for a while.

Shortly thereafter, they admitted my children to the hospital. They asked me to come to the hospital. So I went there and "Ayayaa!" The people that were admitted to the hospital were very sick. That day a few went home. Being unable to hear what was happening, I begged to be returned to work. So they started me working on clay.

That land where we were was very hot. We worked with picks and shovels shoveling away at the clay. Then the clay was dried and crushed. The clay was also being worked on in the factories during winter.

While working on this clay, a particle of it went in my right eye. I was afraid that I was going to lose my eyesight, but I have managed to arrive here (on Atka) without having to wear glasses. Later on, those who were sent home from the hospital took ill again. They were taken once more to the hospital. We were allowed to visit the hospital for check-ups. Whenever they did that, I would ask my people what they were doing to them. They replied, "We are being inoculated."Ayayaa!" We did not know what was being done to them.

But then the people were dying. Lots of people died there. My daughter and son were among those who were in the hospital. They would say, "Mother, come here and scratch me." So I would go over to him/her and not knowing exactly where they wanted me to scratch, I would scratch then moved away from them. The reason why they were unable to specify where they wanted to be scratched was because they could not move.

When my husband was close to death, he sent for me. I went to the hospital, and he gave me some cigarettes which he had stashed away. Then I stayed awake with him most of the night. Then he told me if I were sleepy to go to sleep. So I went to sleep, and during my slumber, he died.

When I was awakened, I got up, and I noticed that in our religious custom when a person dies, he is not dressed, but I watched them dress him. After he was dressed, he was taken out. I did not know what they did to him. It was not until my Leonty died that I went to where they must have taken him. Leonty was put in an oven, and I was told to light some flowers, so I did. Then I went to the other room. After that they pulled him out and I did not like what I saw. I approached a Japanese priest and asked him if it was a sin to do that. He told me that the reason why they did that was because they did not have any burying space. They said that they hardly had any space for burying people.

The people continued to die. All that was left was just a few of us. Time passed until we heard an airplane. We went out and we stepped out to look. We saw drums coming down in parachutes, and evidently, the plane was an American plane and the drums contained food. So we stayed up and ate all night.

After the food was dropped, the Americans came. We could see cars running around and they made a lot of smoke. These cars had to be cranked to get them started. So one got tired of cranking a car before it could be started. They also had some cars that didn't make any noise at all when running.

Then we were taken inside the house. We were asked if we wanted to go home. We all said, "Yes!" They were Americans and they told us that the war was over, and we were going to be taken home. That next day, we were taken to the airport. We stayed there for three nights. Our flight must have been late or something. I never did find out.

We finally departed from that place and we landed on a number of islands. I don't even know the names of the islands.

We saw where the Americans dropped their atomic bomb. It looked like a bundle of kindling wood. The place appeared demolished when viewed from the airplane. When we were in Japan, we used to be evacuated to the interior whenever the Americans dropped their bombs.

Then we flew once more. I still can't remember the names of the three islands (over which we flew). I think we were still flying, and I remembered Okinawa, because we were there for two-and-a-half weeks. Then once again we were airborne heading for the main land. When we arrived on the main land, it was unbearably hot there.

We caught a boat from Manila bound for San Francisco. During our trip, we encountered a storm, and we were told that we were in Alaskan waters. We were hoping that they could let us off at Unalaska, but instead the boat continued on to San Francisco. From San Francisco we took a train to Seattle. From Seattle, we boarded a ship, Branch, and later arrived at Adak. When we were in Seattle, we were there for some time and it was getting close to Christmas. We did not really want to go home, but we were brought here. At that time, they dropped off many soldiers on Adak. We were brought here from Adak in a small tug. I had gotten used to the big ship that brought us from Seattle, and I did not feel very safe on that small tug.

When the tug arrived at Atka, a truck picked us up and we were taken to the school. At the school, we were assigned to where we were going to live. I was placed in Cedor's house.

A year passed, then the houses were built for us. Army Quonset huts were made for us to live in, and we stayed in the huts for another year. Then our houses were finished so we moved in. Since then, they have been our houses for a long time. Today, whenever there is a storm, I don't trust my poor house.

(I have concluded this story with lots of parts missing because I did not have any help telling it.)  

 

Back To WWII Page