Fri, June 07, 2013

Attu Boy

Below is an excerpt from Attu Boy, Nick Golodoff’s memoir of his experiences on Attu and in Japan during World War II, published by the National Park Service in 2012, that relates the events of the Japanese invasion of Attu through the eyes of a six-year-old.
The Invasion of Attu – June 7, 1942
The Attuans had been warned by the U.S. military that the Japanese might come. Before the U.S. could evacuate the Attuans, the Japanese invaded. The teacher, Etta Jones, told them about Pearl Harbor. Her husband had a radio.

When the Japanese arrived, it was a nice calm day. Now I know that it was June 7, 1942, but I didn’t know it then. The whole village of Attu was in church that Sunday morning. As I was going to church, I looked up and saw Jesus coming down real slow. I turned around to see if anyone else was looking, and when I turned back he was gone. Once church was over we all heard noises that sounded like motors from the next bay. It was a sound we had never heard and turned out to be machine gun fire. Four or five young men were sent up a hill to look. By the time they figured out what the noise was it was too late, the Japanese were already there. Then we saw a plane go over the village. This plane flew over once. The plane had a red round symbol on the wing and the plane was so close to the ground we could see the pilot.

When I saw Alex Prossoff heading down to the beach I started to follow him thinking he was going boating and that I could come along. Just before I caught up with Alex, on the way down there was a platform where they were going to build a house. On the platform there was a gunnysack spread over it. While Alex and I were down at the beach, we heard sounds and voices that we did not understand. The Japanese were loud as they came down the side of the mountain. We heard a noise that sounded like crows. Every time I looked I didn’t see anything. We started to hear shooting, so Alex ran and I followed. Alex and I ran past the church to the other side of the village and that’s where we saw the Japanese soldiers coming down the hill. While I was still running after Alex, I could see a piece of mud popping up in front of me so I stopped. I looked back and the mud behind me was popping up. The reason we were not hit is that the bullets did not reach us, but they came only one or two feet short of the path we were running on. I did not understand the mud popping up at the time, but now I understand that the Japanese were shooting at us. Alex and I were lucky to get away.
Alex was still running so I continued following him. When Alex reached his house, he went under it. His wife was already hiding under their house so Alex crawled in. When I tried to go under I was told to go in the mud house [1] which was behind the house Alex was under, and is what I did. They had a barabara behind Alex’s house that was his old house before they built a wooden one. It was used for storage. Someone opened the door to the mud house for me.
When the Japanese landed in Attu I wonder why they were shooting when they were coming down the hill. I think because everybody was outside listening to the noise from the next harbor where they were landing and nobody knew what was going on. The reason the Attu people were all outside was that there was all kinds of noise from next bay to the village. That is my first time I have seen so many people out at the same time.
When we went up we saw a Japanese plane go over and then later the Japanese came down the hill shooting. The schoolteacher’s husband had a radio, but they did not send out a message until the Japanese were almost to the school. Then they started to send a message and the Japanese took over the school and cut them off. During the gunfire, I believe the Japanese killed their own people because I heard that one or two of the Japanese people were dead. That only person that was hit from Attu was one woman who was shot in the leg.
Nick Golodoff, 2011

While I was in the mud house I heard people outside speaking a different language. It was lucky that Alex went under the house because if he wasn’t there the Japanese would have shot the mud house and could have killed us all. After the Japanese caught Alex and his wife under the house, they gave him a note. The note said that everyone had to come out, and if no one listened, the Japanese were going to blow up the house and mud house with machine guns. Alex translated what the Japanese wrote in English. If they told us to get out we would not be able to understand and the reason Alex told us that the Japanese know how to write in English but did not know how to speak it. Alex translated back to the Japanese in English.

We all went out and the Japanese marched us all over to the school. That’s where I met up with my mom and dad. I threw up when I got there because I was scared. I do not know how they got the other Attu people but when we got to the school, everybody was there except for the four men [teenagers] that went up the hill. Later they took two men from the village and a Japanese soldier to go up and look for them and they hollered at them to come out to let them know everything was ok and they brought them back. There was a teacher and wife in Attu but I don’t know what happened to them. The white couple were married and Mrs. Jones was the teacher. I heard they both tried to kill themselves on Attu. I don’t know what happened to them. They didn’t want to be POWs, I guess. They cut their wrists only someone found out.
I’m unsure how long they kept us there in the school but it seemed like almost all day. Later that day, toward evening, the Japanese sent us all to our houses. Once we had gotten to our houses, the Japanese posted guards with guns at every house. The guard by our house didn’t have any matches or a lighter, so he would knock on our door and ask for a match in Russian. My dad would give him matches. Our guard was nice—just like most Japanese people I know.
The next day I went out and walked around a bit. I cannot really recall what happened, but, again, I was only six years old. Every day I would go out and walk around. I got familiar with the Japanese troops and they were friendly to me. When I would go down to the beach there was a guard that had a box and inside it there was some candy. Every time that I saw him down at the beach he’d offer me some. Behind each house, there was a mud house [barabara] and I believe that the Japanese troops were taking turns sleeping in them. I noticed behind the village there was a long mud house and I think they used it for cooking and a mess hall. The Japanese had foxholes all over Attu. One time I went to church and there were Japanese navy men living inside the church. They had beds on each side of the church. I am unsure why they cut the cross that was on top of the church. They used cloth as a net to catch trout with.
The Japanese commander used to take baths in drums. The Japanese soldier would put water in the drum and build a fire underneath it to heat the water and when the fire went out, he would take a bath. When Japanese purchased anything in Attu they did not use money, they used fox fur. They would take their foxes to the store and were told how much it would cost and used furs to cover the purchase.
Early one morning while the Japanese occupied Attu, an American plane flew low over the village before anybody got up. Just before the American plane showed up, we heard a cannon go off at the point of the bay. That happened twice. I figured they were just taking pictures. The first time it happened, my mom and dad hid under the bed, but I was at the window. I saw a Japanese soldier come out in his underwear running to a fox hole with his rifle. While this was going on my dad grabbed me and pulled me under the bed with him. The second time the American plane flew over my mom and dad went under the bed, and I ran to the window again. This time the Japanese soldier had his clothes on as he was running to the foxhole with his rifle.
[1] Nick uses the term “mud house” for the traditional Unangan semi-subterranean dwelling commonly referred to as a “barabara.”