Ruth 0. Matson, Gustavus, Alaska.
WAR: Closer than we thought!
It was during the summer of the days of the war with Japan. We were trolling, out on the oceanside and we scarcely knew there was a war going on. The little harbors, where we anchored at night, and in which the fishbuyers bought our freshly caught fish were calm and so peaceful, with no hint of the troubles of War, that was assailing our country and also that of Japan.
Once in a great while, there was an incident which might bring it to mind, such as the time that the Coast Guard came out to alert us to avoid certain areas, for there had been rumors of a submarine there. Lynn and Marge Flesher were fishing thereabouts, when suddenly the Coast Guard signaled them back into the nearest harbor. Marge was at the wheel, steering, and Lynn was overhauling the gear, at that minute. Marge didn't understand the signals and so she paid no attention to them when suddenly the Coast Guard placed a warning shot across their bows. Marge was panic stricken and Lynn at once understood, and he immediately headed for the harbor. These were the nearest incidents that we knew of telling us that war was at hand.
We came in to Gustavus, occasionally, for our mail and we took our boat, the "Joy W." up Salmon River, to our little dock, near the Salmon River Bridge. I was sitting on the banks of the River while Matt was getting supplies out of the boat that we wanted to take down home. Suddenly, a small plane painted in the colors that Tony Schaum had on his little patrol plane, came by. Tony patrolled this area while the convoys were making up, behind Pleasant Island, then these boats would go on across the Gulf of Alaska, in Convoy, taking men and supplies to the Westward.
As I sat there waiting, this small plane came zooming down, just right over the road, and not even as high above the road as the trees on each side of the road were tall! As it came to the bridge, it zoomed right over our boat, just barely clearing the tall trolling poles that our boat carried.
"Tony, you rascal, get away from over our boat, before you cause us trouble,!" I shouted at the fast disappearing plane, even though the pilot couldn't hear me, and I knew it! Later, we learned that though Tony did fly this route, he never did it that late in the evening nor that low over the road, nor was this his exact route! Who, then, we wondered was it that flew so low over the road and between the trees lining either side of the road, each evening so close to sunset time? If it wasn't Tony, then just who was it? It turned out it was a Jap plane camouflaged to look like Tony's plane making reconnaissance flights to study the making up of the Convoys at Pleasant Island.
Later on, on another trip home, we were visiting with our neighbor Archie Chase, and he told us that not long before, he had heard a terrific noise that sounded like heavy shooting, out to the west of Gustavus, out towards Glacier Bay. Archie contacted the Coast Guard and asked them to investigate and find out what was going on. After that, Archie said that they didn't hear any more such noise and commotion, so he figured that the Coast Guard had the situation under control, whatever it was.
Two or three years later, we were on a trip to Bellingham, Wash. A young man whom I had known as a child, was staying with my Aunt and Uncle in Bellingham. Walter had been in the Marines, during the war. One evening he said to us, "Oh, that's right Ruth, you and Fred live near Glacier Bay, in Alaska, don't you?"
We replied that that was right, and wondered why he asked. Then he told us that his pal, also in the service had been in a dog-fight over Glacier Bay, and in that fight his pal had downed a Jap Plane there!
We were amazed. The war had always seemed so far away to us, and this fight over Glacier Bay was no doubt the shooting that our neighbor, Archie Chase had heard, and there, the war had been really almost in our own front yard.
Excursion Inlet is just a few short miles East of Gustavus and it was a huge sub-port during the war. Ships were outfitted there before going to the war zone areas in the Aleutians. Several troop ships and supply ships had been the recipients of severe bombings just off Cape Spencer, returning to the Inlet in pretty bad shape. As we learned after the war was over, the Submarines and War in general were often very close to our quiet little sleepy settlement of Gustavus.