Sunday, November 4, 2012

Letter from Joe, November 1942

Dearest Bess:

We did it! After eight months up here in this freezing, burning, mosquito- and grizzly-bear-infested wasteland, we've finished the Alaska Highway!

I should say, "sort of finished." We got slowed down plenty the last few weeks by something the engineer-types call "permafrost." Turns out that just underneath the ordinary-looking dirt there's big layers of ice that lasts all year round. And the craziest thing about it is that we have to insulate it and keep it frozen! If we don't, it melts and opens up giant sinkholes in our road.

So the boys with the pencils and transits scratched their heads for a while and finally decided that those "corduroy roads" we've been building out of logs would have to do. I guess what works for mud works for ice.

Things got a little tense in our camp. We got so far behind that the Army brass decided to bring in Negro engineering brigades to add to our manpower. Some of the fellows from the South took offense, and I heard one officer say that it was ridiculous to send blacks up here because they'd never stand the cold. But the Negro troops worked plenty hard and personally I was happy to see anything happen to make this wretched job go faster.

So we bulldozed and felled trees and built bridges, racing south toward the northbound crews. It started getting really cold again. A few of the fellows were going around with their down sleeping bags wrapped around themselves, leaving trails of feathers wherever they went. It was the usual circus of bulldozers breaking down and trucks tumbling into rivers or snapping axles that froze brittle if they sat still for too long. But night and day we kept at it, fixing whatever broke and pushing forward.

Finally at the end of September one of our advance clearing crews broke through to an advance party from the northbound unit, near the British Columbia/Yukon border.  We're calling that spot Contact Creek now, and a few days ago my brigade arrived there as well. You've never seen such jubilation! There were a heap of what the newspaper boys call "photo opportunities," and I got permission to send you a few pictures.

Our C. O. says there's still a few weeks' work left to do before the highway officially opens, but I've saved the best news for last: I'm coming home on furlough! Should be home just in time for Thanksgiving, though probably not long enough for Christmas as well. I don't know whether they're rationing turkeys these days but I wouldn't care if we had nothing but cold beans and water as long as I was kissing you and holding you in my arms again. Till then, take care and keep 'em flying!

Your loving husband,


(Images from National World War II Museum)

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