My name is Mike Arnold (USMC 1967-69). I am writing in behalf of my best friend David Ellis. His father Fred Ellis was a Marine stationed on the Aleutian Islands during World War II. While there he wrote poems--David sent me several of them. I wrote to David saying I would try to find a Web site that would post them, or otherwise to preserve them, for others to read.

After investigating a few sites, Marine and poetry sites, I came across this site and thought it would be the most ideal and appropriate.

I transcribed the poems and saved them in a file entitled "Sons of the Williwaw". (David also included a copy of a certificate his father received with the heading "Sons of the Williwaw".) The seven poems are entitled:

1. Aleutian Blues
2. Battle Without Guns
3. In Place of a Letter
4. Mail Call
5. My Wife
6. One Aleutian Island
7. Reconversion

I'm not a literary critic and can not judge the quality of these poems, but I believe they are well worth preserving for their historic value. They are also relevant today.

When I enlisted into the Marines right out of high school, David told his father who nodded with approval. That was the greatest compliment that I had ever received. David wrote to tell to me about that incident just a couple of months ago, some forty years later.

Michael Arnold


"The Williwaws were so bad they would blow a man off his feet. We had to dig a tunnel through the snow just to get to the mess hall to eat. This is a cold, desolate Godforsaken place we have come to defend our country"

Journal of Fred A. Ellis: U.S. Marine Corps. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, 1943.

The following poems were written by my father while stationed in the Aleutians during World War 2. He was 27 years old, married with 2 kids teaching art in high school when his country called for his service. He didn't flinch and left for 1 1/2 years to the worst place on earth without any communication with his family for the entire period. He kept a daily account of his activities and progressive loneliness and abandonment.

He was in charge of the .50 caliber machine gun placements on the islands and it took him to the worst areas this world has to offer. He wrote about horrid conditions, wind, rain, ice, snow and and what it meant to be a Marine.

I think when we send troops off to War and we ask them to make the ultimate sacrifice of both dying and killing for our freedom, they come back a changed person. He certainly did.

I didn't know or understand the connection that each Marine has with another and the Brotherhood that exists. Every Marine he met was a friend and there was a bond that no one could ever understand unless they too were part of that Brotherhood.

Dad died at 56 years of age in 1972 and to his dying day spoke of the Marine Corps in almost a reverent manner

The greatest honor that can be given my father is for the following poems be read and contemplated. Please enjoy them and then think of all the service men who served, fought and died in Hell on Earth to give us what we have today, our Freedom

David W Ellis Ph.D.


Fred Ellis

“Aleutian Blues”

Up here where there are no commandments,
And a man can die of thirst,
At the outpost of civilization,
And a victim of its worst.

No one knows how we are living,
And some don’t give a damn,
Back home we’re soon forgotten
We Marines of Uncle Sam.

Living up among the mountains,
In a land of mud, “williwaw,”
snow and stone,
Up in this glacier country,
Where we are all alone.

We can't go to town or city,
To squander our meager pay,
To raise hell for an evening,
And then to awaken broke next day.

Disgusted at night on our pillows,
With an ill no doctor can cure,
No, we are not convicts,
Just Marines on a forgotten tour.

We have one consolation dear,
Listen close and I will tell,
When we die we will go to heaven,
Because we served our hitch in Hell.

Fred Ellis, U. S. M. C.

“Battle Without Guns”

The Aleutian road to Tokyo
Is built of mud and rock, and guts...
Is built by men!
No balmy sunset evenings,
No soft moonlight romance,
No blossoming spring,
No singing birds,
No nightingales!
Just mud, and rain, and wind!

There is no glamour there,
And little beauty,
Even of the rugged sort.
Lets glance along this island chain...
This God-forsaken string of straggling peaks
That jut their barren crests up from the sea
And spot the map.
They form a chain of dots
That reach from Alaska
To the Japanese Kuriles.
Lets glance at them a while
But if you’re expecting something pretty
Be sure to wear your rose-hued spectacles!

Bleak and little known
This straggling archipelago,
Lies like a comic’s nose,
And, on the map, too long to fit this page.
Sixty, more or less,
Windswept volcanic mountain tops.
Shiver there in the frigid North Pacific,
And some of them we know.
On them our friends and brothers
Maintain this Northern Skyway Highway.

Once there was peace in these Aleutians
The natives lived in peace
And no one else was interested.
Then the Monkey Men,
The squat, brown men of the Mikado,
Tried to use those stepping-stones,
And war found the Aleutians!
Then, in defense, came men from Indiana
Men from Louisiana
They came from Kansas and New York
To don long winter underwear,
Take up their stations,
And begin to fight!
But, driving the Japanese out
Only began the fight.

The men who donned long underwear
Are fighting now!
Are fighting as bravely, as doggedly
As men have ever fought!
They fight the weather!
They fight it where the foulest weather in
the world is spawned!
They fight the cold and snow,
They fight the rain,
They fight the williwaw!
The williwaw can blow a strong man off his feet,
Can lift a roof
Or rip a door clear off its hinges!
Sometimes, men crawl for half a mile
On hands and knees
Because the williwaw makes standing up impossible!
And our men fight this williwaw.
Roads must be constructed,
And buildings kept repaired!
Yes, they fight the weather.
And there is something else….
They battle loneliness,
The loneliness of barren wastes,
Of landscapes uninhabited.
Forgotten, fog-drenched desolation.
They battle loneliness!
Grim and silent is their fight
Grim against a stark unfeeling foe.
They fight the elements!

There was a time
When human beings lived in peace here
They called the cold, foreboding islands “home”.
They were the Aleuts.
Before the war they numbered approximately 4000
Mongol in type, in stature and in features,
They got their food out of the sea.
And though they are bred to the fight with
the weather,
Their number has lessened,
Their progress is little,
And a century finds them but little ahead,
In spite of the years.
In spite of the men who introduced reindeer
And imported cattle;
In spite of all these
The unfeeling islands,
Bleak and windswept,
Have always prevented advancement.
Men must fight
To live on these mountain tops,
And none fight more fiercely
Than the soldiers and sailors,
Marines and even some civilians.
Who, dreading the curse of feeling deserted,
Battle infinite loneliness on the Aleutians.

The strange Aleutians...
Stubborn and ominous,
Unfriendly to mankind,
Yet forming a land-bridge
between two continents,
A land-bridge of mountain tops,
Dripping in eternal fog,
And stretching across an ocean.
Soldiers and Marines will tell you a story
Of women behind every tree...
Because both women and trees are but a dream;
Neither exists.
A coarse, reedy grass
Grows and fall in a matted carpet
And covers the jelly-like muskeg
Where a man may sink
And be lost forever,
Or even lose a jeep or even a truck.

These strange Aleutians….
Where fight the bravest men upon the earth...
And the stubbornness.
Here they are, as we travel westward:
The largest of all is Unimak.
And active volcanoes,
Still smoke from its snow-clad peaks.
Unalaska is next in line.
Unalaska, parent island of Dutch Harbor,
Where, on June third, in forty-two,
Came the first Nipponese attack
On the land of North America.
Just west of Unalaska is Bogoslof,
Which rises and falls from the sea amid
earthquake and smoke.

Umnak is next.
And, before Dutch Harbor,
It grazed several thousand sheep.
Farther out, the Andreanof group
Includes Atka, home of the Korovin volcano,
And home of the native basket-weavers,
And then Adak, the arsenal of the North Pacific.
The Rat Islands follow...
And bomb-scarred Kiska is known to all.
Then come the Near Islands,
Named for their nearness to Asia.

Attu is the best known of these.
Bloody Attu, where American boys
Fought savagely, bitterly, grimly,
In cold and wet,
Until the hills and valleys of snow-capped Attu
Disgorged its filthy, rat-like invader.
The end of the chain.

Yes, its’ the end.
But the end of this Highway?
The end of the Highway is Tokyo!
And the next stop from Attu is Paramushiro
Through Attu the Highway is cleared!

Once the Jap made a miscalculation,
And tried to establish himself on these islands.
But, as the Aleutians are stubborn,
So are the men here!
They cleared out the sneaking marauders!
And now, across these stepping-stones that skirt the
wind-tossed Bering Sea.
Fly American planes, filled with men and equipment.
And on these stepping-stones
These mud-gray blobs upon the sea...
Are men who work and build until the day
When, as our President said,
We shall hit the Jap
From the north and south,
From the east and west!

The end of this chain is near the Mikado...
Within striking distance of the Emperor’s land,
And, when the time comes,
When the jaws of the nutcracker shall close,
With Tokyo inside,
The men who built those mountain tops into
fortresses and landing strips,
Who won the fight against the storm,
Who conquered desolation,
These men shall be the winners!
Their struggle proved worth while!
And of the bridges that lead to the Emperor’s
None is more direct,
Nor stronger!
Whether or not it is used,
Only our leader could tell.
Nevertheless, there it will be,
A menace to Tokyo,

A triumph in building,
A tribute to manhood!
The manhood whose strength and courage,
Whose stubbornness and energy
Will bring us all back home and an everlasting

The End

By Fred Ellis
Dutch Harbor, Alaska

“In Place Of a Letter”
(to Gertie, 1/29/1945)

Between the daylight and darkness,
as the night is beginning to lower,
There comes a pause in the days occupation.
That is known as the verse writing hour.

And I wonder while sitting,
with a pen in my hand.
Raking my brain for some
words to command.
What are you doing at this
time and hour.
For I would be with you
if it were within my power.
And each little thought that
tumbles across
this flickering mind of mine...
And each little line
as I scribble it here,
Reminds me of someone
I hold very dear.

I could write a long letter,
or perhaps even better.
I could send an appropriate card,
But somehow or another
For this wife and mother
No letter or card would do
For nothing I could buy...
no matter the price
Would be good enough
for someone so nice.

So here as I sit I have
“oddles” to write.
But to tell you it all
would take more than one night.
These verses are awkward
The lines are not just straight
But they’re written to tell you
I think you’re just great.

If Heaven is nice -- if its
pleasant and sweet,
There is one of its Angels
I’m expecting to greet,
When at last I have come
to that place in my life,
When I can get home
And just be with my wife.

“Mail Call”

What more welcome cry
is there
Then the cry of mail?
Men seem to come from
I’ve never seen it

If the folks back home
knew what it meant,
Those letters to receive,
I’m sure those letters
would be sent
To gladden hearts that

I can appreciate their
hungry eyes;
It's a sight I hate to
For I know my own
hope dies
When there’s no mail
for me.

“My Wife”
April 1945

The unsung heroes of this war
Are the women of men like me;
Not only mine but many more
We swore to protect ‘til eternity.

They are building ships, planes,
tanks and guns;
Working like blazes for the war
to be won.

They care for our children, yours
and mine;
Each letter they write says,
“Every thing’s fine.”

But, never a word about their tough
Those lonesome nights, the
hardship and strife,
Days of wondering, worrying and
Hoping for a letter, they never stop praying.

Yet it’s we who will glory when
war is won;
But what about them and the
job they’ve done?
Will we forget? Not in a thousand
The job they did through pain
and tears!

When we reach home we have but
one wish
Please, God, grant us the power
for this:
To make each day happier
Than the one before
For our dear loving wives forever

“One Aleutian Island”

I hope that I shall never see
Another island without a tree
A land like this with
heaven’s curse,
The loneliest spot on God’s
green earth

A spot in the sea all covered
with snow
Where no one really
wanted to go.

Not a town in this lonely
And womankind is never about
Somewhere twixt Heaven and
There’s nothing to buy and
nothing to sell

And when you leave you’ll
come back never
But gladly shout: “Goodbye


When bugles sound their final notes
And bombs explode no more,
When we return to what we did
Before we went to war,
The sudden shift in status,
In the ladder of success,
Might make a one worth gentleman
Feel like an awful mess.

Just think of some poor captain
Minus his silver bars,
Standing behind a counter,
Selling peanuts and cigars,
And think of all the Majors
With their oak leaves far behind,
And the uniforms they’re wearing
Are the Western Union kind.

Shed a tear for some poor Colonel
If he does not feel himself,
Jerking sodas isn’t easy
When your "eagles" on the shelf
‘Tis a bitter pill to swallow
‘Tis a matter for despair,
Being messengers & clerks again
A mighty dream to hear.

So be kind to working people
That you meet where ever you go
For the guy that’s washing dishes
May be your old CO.

Updated: 01/04/2013 11:54

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