Cordova Chronicles: A tribute to Cordova’s World War II veterans

The flag will be flying as we celebrate another Fourth of July, albeit in a subdued fashion due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. No Kelp Box races, street games, crowds, dancing on Main Street and community wide picnic to the honor the birth of our nation.

A single flag flies on a unique plaque hidden in the archives of the Cordova Museum. Presented by the CHS Class of 1943, it is an amazing list of all the CHS graduates that served our country in WWII up through that year, accompanied by a photo of each.

A plaque presented to the Cordova Historical Society by the CHS Class of 1943 lists all the graduates that served our country in World War II. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

Its type-written letters are faded, and alas, the names of those who served in the remaining two years before that global conflict finally ended on September 2, 1945 are not included.

Each served with honor, as they and many other Cordovans who were not CHS graduates were swept up in a conflict that sent them all over the world and shaped the lives we now live.

Several years ago, I was searching for an article in the 1944 volume of The Cordova Times about my future mother-in-law May Ekemo, titled “A love triangle with a bear”. Editor Everett H. Pettigjohn had a colorful flare for the dramatic and penned a marvelously humorous piece in the Sept. 30, 1944 edition about an encounter between nurse May Hammett, her future husband, John Ekemo, and a rather large brown bear.

May, fresh from Mississippi, did not realize how much danger she was in when John “pulled the trigger and a hot slug smacked Brownie (a charging brown bear) right over his left eye” that saved the day.

Scanning microfiche film copies of each page of The Cordova Times covering the deer season for that fall was a tedious task, yet to this day I remember that it was the only front page story in all the editions of what was a daily newspaper back then that did not cover WWII.

This truly was a war that reach everywhere, including a small coastal town in Alaska.

Many who served were CHS graduates.

Their names, as listed on the plaque, in reverse chronological order, were:

  • Axel Janson, Private ’43, U.S. Army;
  • Otto Johansen, ’43 (Branch not legible);
  • Charles J. Stovall, ‘43 U.S. Army (A.T.S.);
  • Fred Johnson, ’42, U.S. Army (Engineers);
  • Clarence Jacobsen ’40. Private, U.S. Army (A.T.S.);
  • Jack Allen, ’40, Corporal, U.S. Army;
  • Frank Morris, ’40, Corporal, U.S. Army; 
  • Patrick Burchett, ’39, Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Force;
  • John Jay Hoover, ’38, U.S. Army (A.T.S.);
  • Robert MacDonald, ’38, Ensign, U.S. Coast Guard;
  • Calvin Stewart, ’38, U.S. Army Air Force;
  • Lewis Brewer, ’38, U.S. Navy;
  • Reino Matson, ’37, Corporal, U.S. Army;
  • Henry Stewart, ’37, Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Force;
  • Tim Eckstrom, ’36. Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Force;
  • George F. Peterson, ’35, U.S. Army Air Force;
  • Charles Buck, ’35, U.S. Army (Signal Corps);
  • Richard Davis, ’32, Ensign, U.S. Navy;
  • Patrick O’Neill, ’32, Captain, U.S. Army Air Force;
  • Philip Lydick, ’31, Sergeant, U.S. Army;
  • Karl Rosswog, ’30, Lieutenant, U.S. Army (Airborne Engineers);
  • Philip O’Neill, ’29, U.S. Navy;
  • George Dooley, ’28, Sergeant, U.S. Army;
  • Cecil Waln, ’26, U.S. Navy;
  • Bill Field, ‘25. Sergeant, U.S. Army (A.T.S).

It should be noted that this plaque included CHS graduates through 1943. The CHS Class of 1944 had only one male member; the Class of ’45 only two; plus WWII ended on Sept. 2, 1945, so is likely none of them were called to duty.

Of course, there were countless Cordovans who were not CHS graduates also served.

Mimi Briggs, director of the Cordova Museum, did extraordinary research through the archives of the 1946 volume of The Cordova Times to track returning war veterans, and found 21 different articles under the “What’s Doing in Cordova” section describing the returns of both CHS grads as well as other locals.

For example, in the May 20, 1946 edition, under headline “Halness back after Army service,” stated: “Edward Haltness arrived back in Cordova last week after three and a half years with the Army transport service (A.T.S) in Alaska waters. He had a nice piece of shore leave stacked up, but local packers wouldn’t let him take a rest and he went to work today at W.R. Gilbert Co. Ed is an old hand in the clam-packing trade. As a warrant office, Ed has been skipper on some of the army’s bigger intercoastal vessels.”

Another clip, in the May 25, 1946 edition, mentions Karl “Bud” Rosswog, CHS ’30, made his first visit to Cordova in five years on May 25, 1946. He received an honorable discharge with the rank of major, and had two years of service in Europe, which included six months in Germany, where he was in the first wave at the famous battle of Remagen bridge, the original breakthrough in the Rhine crossing, under fierce enemy fire.

The Cordova Times didn’t miss a beat in combining veterans returning and boat harbor news. This clip from the October 10, 1946 edition:

“Ex-G.I.’s buy ‘Jerry T’. Fred Johnson and Bill Anderson, two Cordovans with lengthy war service records, have purchased the “Jerry T” fishing boat, from Art Tiedman, it was learned today.”

Others returning veterans mentioned in newspaper clips throughout 1946 included:

  • Charley Patton, A.T. S , First Mate, Aleutians;
  • Stanley Chapman, U.S. Navy Seabees;
  • Johnny J. Hoover, CHS ’38, A.T.S, Aleutians;
  • Al Shone, (brother of Mrs. J.S. LeFevre), U.S. Army, Ft. Lewis, Washington;
  • Vince Addington, U.S. Army, Ft. Richardson, Alaska;
  • Bob Leff, U.S. Army, Ft. Richardson, Alaska;
  • Jack Allen, U.S. Army Signal Corps, Pentagon;
  • Stanley Knutson, U.S. Army Air Corps, Tech Sergeant, Italy and European theaters;
  • R.R. “Whitey” Johnson, A.T.S, Aleutians;
  • Jay Stovall, CHS ’43, A.T.S., T5;
  • Otto Wahrer, U.S Army, Staff Sergeant;
  • Robert E. Means, CHS ’42, U.S. Navy, Ensign;
  • George Peterson, CHS ’35, U.S. Army Air Force, Africa and Italy;
  • Jimmy Olsen, “veteran of last war,” branch and rank not listed;
  • Sammy Anderson, U.S. Army, Infantry, Europe;
  • William Marcks, U.S. Army, Signal Corps;
  • and Jimmy Johnson, U.S. Army, Aleutians.

There are undoubtedly countless other Cordovans that served in WWII that are not mentioned on the Class of 1943 Plaque or in clips from The Cordova Times in 1946.

To all that have served our country, whatever the time or wherever the place, a big thank you as we celebrate another Independence Day.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes.