14. During The War
An Account of the Attu
Olean Prokopeuff (Golodoff)
(NOTE: This story was told by
Olean Prokopeuff (Golodoff) and transcribed by Dr. Knut
with the assistance of Nedesta Golley, Sally Swetzof (Snigaroff),
and Moses Dirks. It was
translated by Michael Lekanoff with revisions by Moses
Dirks. We are grateful to the
Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association, Inc., for permission
to reprint this account which
originally appeared in Aang Angagin/Aang Angaginas).
The year 1942, on a Sunday morning, the Japanese armed
forces came and captured us. They came
from the interior of our island after day-break. That
morning, a Japanese airplane flew around
the village three times. The teacher [Etta Jones] was
informed of this by the villagers. Instead of informing the
authorities, the teacher told the villagers that there were
lots of American
patrol planes patrolling this area. After the teacher told
them that, the villagers felt secure.
After they came down from the
hills, it was said that our village was surrounded by them.
After that, the villagers
went up to the observation hill and saw the Japanese fleet
anchored in the bay on the other side. As they were
attacking in force, one of our ladies was shot in her leg.
As they were firing their weapons in all directions during
their assault, their forces
also hit their own men and it is believed that a few of
their own men had been killed.
After they came, they went to
Alfred's wife's house. Since my house was being shot at, and
I was being scared, I went to Alfred's wife's house carrying
my three year child, Elizabeth.
From there we went to
Alfred's wife's house where she was lying in bed with a sore
leg. After we
went to Alfred's wife's house, the Japanese soldiers
surrounded it. They faced the house and had their rifles
aimed at it. So at that point in time, Perocoviya sat down.
I then thought to
myself, "What if I get shot standing up? I would drop the
child and she might hurt herself." So
I, too, sat down. The Japanese soldiers did not shoot, and
an officer got there in time to give orders to move away
from the house. So the soldiers moved. The Japanese had an
interpreter who spoke English pretty well. He told us to
follow him to the school house, and we followed him there.
After we arrived at the
school, when a fire was made outside, I was afraid that the
was going to be set afire with all of us in there. Since we
weren't being set on fire, we were
asked if we were all present. We stated that three of our
young men were out. They waited for
the young men to come back to the village but there was no
sign of them. The young men did not
return from hiding until some of the village men went out
and escorted them back to the
village. Only then did they return.
The young men were brought
home then we were sent back to our houses. When we went into
homes, everything was scattered on our floors, even the
Easter eggs were on the floor. It was
never determined what the Japanese searched for.
We all stayed inside our
homes. The guards stayed by our homes with bayonets. They
standing around guarding like that for three days. Once
day-break came, some flares were shot
into the air. We went under our beds because of being
scared, not knowing what was happening.
After three days we were taken aboard a ship and we were on
My house was opened and
burned. We were taken out to the ship when it was getting
spending the night on board the ship with much whistling and
running about going on, and because
of our ignorance of exactly what was happening, we were very
anxious. Later on we were told that
an American submarine was detected and that was the cause
for all the commotion. A short-cut was
said to be taken to where they were going. (I was not aware
of what short cut they meant.)
After traveling for some time, we were told that we were
passing by a navy yard. All during the
voyage, we were kept in a hold which was very unpleasant smelling, and it-was also dark. We
never once saw daylight until we reached Japan.
When we reached Japan, the
Captain collided with the dock, and when this happened, we
thrown from our seated position right on to the deck. Then
we thought to ourselves, "Ayayaa!
Did our ship get shot?" This was a scary experience.
Finally, we were gathered on
top of the dock. Then we were sprayed. Later on we were
by a vehicle and taken to a black house. Since we fed
ourselves with our own food from home during the trip, the
only different food that was given to us was some warm rice.
It was the only warm food we ate.
When asked if we were hungry,
we told them yes. A meal was cooked for us that day. They
our food on a tray. Chop sticks, which we did not know how
to use, were given to us to use.
There was a policeman present there with his partner. So as
soon as they started talking with
each other and not paying attention to us, we would quickly
eat with our hands. When the
policeman turned towards us, we would pretend like nothing
had happened at all. We were also
served an unusual looking cooked bird with its feathers
still on it. We felt suspicious of the
cooked bird and so we did not eat it.
After we were fed, we were
put to bed. Our mattresses were laid on the floor. Pillows
were also given to us, and they were very hard, but we did
not complain. The blankets that were given to
us were almost as thick as the mattresses, but we used them
Every morning the floor was
mopped. The house that we were staying at had a kitchen down
We had a stove that we had taken from Attu which we used
We had soup that looked like
grass and some dried rice. When we ran out of grass soup, we
started making rice soup. Prior to this, we ate the food
that we brought along from Attu, like the dried fish, the
salted fish, and so on, but when we ran out of food, we were
given vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and so on. After
eating the boiled potatoes, we would have very bad stomach
aches, and they were very painful.
It so happened one day that
we were told that some officials were coming there to our
a visit. A Japanese cook was brought there for us. They told
us not to go away and the Japanese cook put wood into the
oven. He lit it, and as a result of that, the smoke filled
the room. I can't remember whether or not cooking took place
We were once again grouped
and questions were asked of us. They asked if we were eating
food. We did not give them any reply. They once again asked
us if we wanted to talk. We refused
to talk. Then after that, we were given food once more.
As things were, our men were
put to work. Shortly after that, they started admitting our
to the hospital. The people were getting sick one after the
other until I was almost the only
one left at home to cook. While I was doing that, they took
my husband to the hospital. After
they took my husband, my children were starving. So when I
went to fetch some water, I would pick orange peelings off
the ground. Then I would cook them on the top of the heater.
Then I fed them to my children, and only then would they
stop crying for a while.
Shortly thereafter, they
admitted my children to the hospital. They asked me to come
hospital. So I went there and "Ayayaa!" The people that were
admitted to the hospital were very
sick. That day a few went home. Being unable to hear what
was happening, I begged to be returned
to work. So they started me working on clay.
That land where we were was
very hot. We worked with picks and shovels shoveling away at
clay. Then the clay was dried and crushed. The clay was also
being worked on in the factories
While working on this clay, a
particle of it went in my right eye. I was afraid that I was
going to lose my eyesight, but I have managed to arrive here
(on Atka) without having to wear
glasses. Later on, those who were sent home from the
hospital took ill again. They were taken
once more to the hospital. We were allowed to visit the
hospital for check-ups. Whenever they
did that, I would ask my people what they were doing to
them. They replied, "We are being
inoculated."Ayayaa!" We did not know what was being done
But then the people were
dying. Lots of people died there. My daughter and son were
who were in the hospital. They would say, "Mother, come here
and scratch me." So I would go over
to him/her and not knowing exactly where they wanted me to
scratch, I would scratch then moved
away from them. The reason why they were unable to specify
where they wanted to be scratched was
because they could not move.
When my husband was close to
death, he sent for me. I went to the hospital, and he gave
cigarettes which he had stashed away. Then I stayed awake
with him most of the night. Then he
told me if I were sleepy to go to sleep. So I went to sleep,
and during my slumber, he died.
When I was awakened, I got
up, and I noticed that in our religious custom when a person
is not dressed, but I watched them dress him. After he was
dressed, he was taken out. I did not
know what they did to him. It was not until my Leonty died
that I went to where they must have
taken him. Leonty was put in an oven, and I was told to
light some flowers, so I did. Then I
went to the other room. After that they pulled him out and I
did not like what I saw.
I approached a Japanese priest and asked him if it was a sin
to do that. He told me that the
reason why they did that was because they did not have any
burying space. They said that they
hardly had any space for burying people.
The people continued to die.
All that was left was just a few of us. Time passed until we
an airplane. We went out and we stepped out to look. We saw
drums coming down in parachutes, and
evidently, the plane was an American plane and the drums
contained food. So we stayed up and
ate all night.
After the food was dropped,
the Americans came. We could see cars running around and
they made a
lot of smoke. These cars had to be cranked to get them
started. So one got tired of cranking a
car before it could be started. They also had some cars that
didn't make any noise at all when
Then we were taken inside the
house. We were asked if we wanted to go home. We all said,
They were Americans and they told us that the war was over,
and we were going to be taken home.
That next day, we were taken to the airport. We stayed there
for three nights. Our flight must
have been late or something. I never did find out.
We finally departed from that
place and we landed on a number of islands. I don't even
names of the islands.
We saw where the Americans
dropped their atomic bomb. It looked like a bundle of
The place appeared demolished when viewed from the airplane.
When we were in Japan, we used to
be evacuated to the interior whenever the Americans dropped
Then we flew once more. I
still can't remember the names of the three islands (over
flew). I think we were still flying, and I remembered
Okinawa, because we were there for
two-and-a-half weeks. Then once again we were airborne
heading for the main land. When we
arrived on the main land, it was unbearably hot there.
We caught a boat from Manila
bound for San Francisco. During our trip, we encountered a
and we were told that we were in Alaskan waters. We were
hoping that they could let us off at
Unalaska, but instead the boat continued on to San
Francisco. From San Francisco we took a train
to Seattle. From Seattle, we boarded a ship, Branch, and
later arrived at Adak. When we were in
Seattle, we were there for some time and it was getting
close to Christmas. We did not really
want to go home, but we were brought here. At that time,
they dropped off many soldiers on Adak. We were brought here
from Adak in a small tug. I had gotten used to the big ship
that brought us from Seattle, and I did not feel very safe
on that small tug.
When the tug arrived at Atka,
a truck picked us up and we were taken to the school. At the
school, we were assigned to where we were going to live. I
was placed in Cedor's house.
A year passed, then the
houses were built for us. Army Quonset huts were made for us
to live in,
and we stayed in the huts for another year. Then our houses
were finished so we moved in. Since
then, they have been our houses for a long time. Today,
whenever there is a storm, I don't trust
my poor house.
(I have concluded this story
with lots of parts missing because I did not have any help