After my mother died ten years ago, someone who had known her when she was young sent me a packet of pictures along with a nice note with stories from the late 1940s when my mom and dad had just gotten married. Most of the pictures came from that period. But there was one photo of my mother that evidently had been a Christmas card she sent in 1942. There on the card was a picture of my mother in uniform. She is young and beautiful and she is smiling just a bit. Underneath her picture she wrote these words to her friend, "Somewhere in the Aleutians.” It is vague and mysterious and full of meaning. While the war raged in Europe and the Pacific, one little corner of the conflict reached the long string of islands that stretches out from the Alaska Peninsula. In 1942 the Japanese invaded the islands of Attu and Kiska, giving them a staging area for a possible attack on Canada or the western coast of the United States.
My mother was an Army nurse in World War II. After growing up in Marshalltown, Iowa, she attended nursing school in Chicago. When the United States entered the war, she entered the army as a nurse and was sent to Alaska. I know she spent time in Nome because that’s where she met my father who served in the Army Medical Corps. My older brother Andy said that our mother had won some sort of contest during the war. He remarked that she had been very popular. Looking at her picture, I can see why.
Seventy-one years have come and gone since she wrote that note from "somewhere in the Aleutians.” I don’t know what she did exactly or how long she was there. Neither she nor my father ever said much about their wartime experiences. And we never asked much about it either.
But seeing that picture brought it all back to me. And on this Veteran’s Day, I’m thinking about my mother who served in Alaska during the great war. She was a veteran too.