By Adam Pinsker
Channel 2 News
10:27 PM AKDT, August 22, 2012
70 years after the Japanese invaded Attu Island on the Aleutian chain, a permanent memorial has been dedicated.
The memorial honors nearly 500 Attu villagers taken prisoner by the Japanese and the GI's that helped repel the Japanese a year later.
Director of the Alaska Veterans Museum Suellyn Novak spent the past couple years working on establishing the new monument.
"The battle of Attu was the second most costliest battle in the pacific, as far as the percentage of casualties from the percentage of troops involved,” said Novak. “It was second only to Iwo Jima."
In June of 1942, the Japanese Army invaded this small island hundreds of miles from Tokyo.
Capturing 500 Attu villagers, people who trace their roots back 9,000 years. They were sent to Japanese POW camps for almost three years where half of them died.
In 1943, a detachment of US troops landed on Attu to drive the Japanese from the island.
"I fought for about 4 days, I got shot in the back of the knee,” said Greg Nova. “I don't know how long I laid there, but I couldn't tell if it was midnight or noon."
Many of Nova's fellow soldiers weren't lucky enough to survive. Just three months before the mission, they trained in the Mojave Desert and were ill equipped to handle the Alaskan climate.
"I think it was 580 something that died,” he said. “Most of them did not die from gunshots they died from frostbite."
The surviving Aleuts never returned to the island after the war, but their sacrifice hasn't been forgotten.
"The museum's motto is they shall not be forgotten," adds Novak. "Well, that also applies to those villagers because they didn't wear a uniform, but they were certainly prisoners of war three years."
Novak says the back breaking work it took to replace the old memorial with a new one is the least she can do to honor the memories of those whose lives were forever changed on this island seven decades ago.
The new copper memorial is worth about $12,000 and that's not including the other materials and tools used to assemble it. Novak says the new marker should hold up well under the harsh weather conditions.
Email Adam Pinkser
Copyright © 2013, KTUU-TV