From War to Wilderness: Alaska’s Near Islands

The Near Islands’ name seems like a misnomer. At the westernmost point of the Aleutian Islands, they’re not really near much of anything except each other and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. But their place in history is assured as the site of the only land battle during World War II to take place on U.S. soil.

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On June 7, 1942, a Japanese force occupied Attu Island, capturing 45 Aleut natives and two non-indigenous citizens. The prisoners were relocated to Hokkaido, Japan. The Japanese would remain on Attu and nearby Kiska Island for about a year, until they were defeated by U.S. and Allied forces in late May of 1943.

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Despite their remote location, Attu and Kiska were strategic in relation to Pacific shipping lanes and as bases for air attacks against the West Coast of the United States. The battle for Attu was by no means an insignificant engagement, as thousands of soldiers were killed and injured on both sides.

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For many years Attu was the site of a U.S. Coast Guard radio navigation station and was marginally populated. The Coast Guard station was closed in 2010. Since 1980 Attu Island has been part of the Aleutian Islands Wilderness, which consists of more than 200 islands extending over 1,100 miles from the mainland. Attu is highly regarded as a site for bird watching.

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