Alfred Wells, Sr. from Noorvik, Alaska speaks on February 29, 1996 during the Communities of Memory public storytelling event held at the NANA Museum in Kotzebue, Alaska from February 29 to March 2, 1996. He talks about his experience in the Alaska Territorial Guard.
Digital Asset Information
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Getting drafted at age 20 and reporting to Kotzebue
Being sent to Nome for training
Joining the Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG), equipment issued, and learning drills
Becoming staff sergeant, and getting the men to learn to march
Becoming a lieutenant and recruiting others
Marching in parade in Kotzebue
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
My name is Alfred Wells and I’m from Noorvik, Alaska. And I was one of the guys that were pulled out from Nome Arms Station 1942 to be sent home and become an ATG.
I was 50 -- about 54 years ago. And -- when I heard about this las -- yesterday over KOTZ radio, I sure wanted to come down. Because I told my wife -- I said I have to go down.
And be -- be with those people that are -- tell what -- how things were at that time, in those years.
Okay -- in either the last part of February they were having a corralling up at Theresa Creek behind Deering and my brother Delbert and I, we went up -- we went up there because our parents were shareholders -- stockholders in reindeer.
We went to be there to take some meat home. There was no caribou in those days in this area. So, while I was up there, at Theresa Creek, I had a real big envelope come in from selective service.
And I looked at them and I don’t know much about reading and -- well anyway, I was asked to be at Kotzebue that day and that time. And -- me and my brother drove, we had two teams -- two dog teams and I showed him those papers that I got -- I was 20 years old.
And hu -- he asked me, what you wanna do? Would you like to go straight to Kotzebue or what would you like to do?
I had a girlfriend at Noorvik and I said I wanna go through Noorvik and from there we can go to Kotzebue.
And -- at that time, there was already -- time when they tell us we cannot go into Kotzebue after 10 o’clock or else you’ll be shot.
This was during the war, you know. So we went through Noorvik and when we got there, Johnny Coffin had same kind of letters for him to go down to Kotzebue too. So my brother took us to Kot -- were -- was going to take us to Kotzebue and we started kinda late and we knew it would be 10 o’clock in the evening --
after 10 o’clock in Kotzebue in the evening if we get there. So what we did, we stopped -- we just crossed the Kobuk lake and stopped there overnight so we can go to Kotzebue in the morning.
And uh -- when we got to Kotzebue they had these -- Wein’s had these small airplanes with three seaters, you know. And from here after we -- the selective service committee decided to send us over to Nome.
Me and Johnny Coffin. And we found out that Rodney was going to go to the army from here. So took three of us over to Nome.
And I -- I was there about a month in army camp. And a lot of young men came in from outlying villages.
Even from Bering Strait and Point Hope. And lots from NANA region.
And then after -- after about a month -- after about a month I was in Nome. And I got to know the supplies sergeant and he called me -- "Alfred, come over here. I have something to tell you."
He sat down. He said, "Alfred, do you know who Robert Newlin is?" "Yeah," -- I said. "Yeah. I know him." "Okay, whatever you guys have -- whatever you guys have -- get them and go over to headquarters."
And we did. When we go to headquarters they didn’t tell us nothing. And from there we were taken down to the army hospital. And from the army hospital we were taken down to the airport.
Nobody told us what we’re -- what we were gonna do. But anyway, when we got to the -- to the airport we were told we were gonna be sent home.
Wow -- and Robert and I went home -- this little plane took us straight to Noorvik. It was springtime and after we were all sent home except for two guys who volunteered to get into the army.
They were two guys from the Bering Strait area and they got into the army, but the rest of us got home.
Right here in Kotzebue there was Blaine Barger that was with us, there’s Seymour Tuzroyluke from Point Hope, you know -- these older guys that -- and there was word that there's a guy coming in that is gonna make us an army to become and army in our villages.
So Muktuk Marston came. All the men gathered who were able to get into -- into the service. All the old men.
Each one of them, there was about 49 from what I read from Noorvik while ago.
And after all of us got -- and we stayed to become and ATG they send two army sergeants to Noorvik.
One of them was Robert Blankenship -- Rob Blankenship and another army sergeant.
And they started show us and train us. Before they go they gave -- they put in a -- give me stripes, three stripes.
And I -- I didn’t even know how I was supposed to use those. Well, anyway, I became a Sergeant and we stay -- they were there with us for several days and teach us how we have to drill, you know, and things like those.
We were issued 1917 -- World War II big coats and 1917 rifles and, you know, those old army rifles.
But they were -- some of them were really good. The older folks, the older people that became ATG’s were the best shots than we were.
So it would be kind of dangerous to go to those older people that come to us younger men.
Well, it was -- it was really exciting. I mean -- all of us didn’t want to go to war but we had to protect our homes.
And I started being able to receive letters when I became a Sergeant and we had a commanding officer at Nome -- who was stationed at Nome. His name was Major Ost. His first name -- I forgot his first name.
Major Ost stationed at Nome. And Ernest Gruening was the governor at that time.
They traveled several times to go check on how we were doing. And after about two months, they send me new stripes -- as staff sergeant.
I start to go up -- and then -- when we start a drill we didn’t know much about drilling. ‘Cause the -- the guys like Walter Morris, Billy Sheldon, Jimmy Patterson and those guys were already in the army.
And when we try to march, you know, when they ask us to -- to the rear march, you know, when we’re marching -- some of the old men go this way some of them go that way, some of them go back, go right. But anyway, we were all marching, all directions -- into all directions we were marching.
We were -- we were really having fun. And it has been a -- it has been, you know, something that we haven’t done before.
But if we were asked to go, we would go. Just like the army, the rest of the army. If we were asked to go, we would go too.
And our teacher, when our teacher -- so our teacher became a captain and started show us to -- following -- how we should -- how should -- we should drill and things like those.
And then I became a lieutenant again. And then I started helping -- I started getting letters from our Commanding Officer at Nome station. Major Ost. And sometimes from Gruening.
And I know that -- Elmer -- Elwood Hunnicutt was captain here. And Peter Atoruk was captain at Kiana.
Harry Cleveland, Sublauna (Inupiaq name?, sp?) was captain at Selawik. And I became captain after our school teacher was transferred.
One time I had a letter from Major Ost. He said Alfred, what I would like you to do is to get two corporals, get to sergeants, and get two lieutenant.
And what I did was -- I got Rick Sampson and Robert Patterson to be corporals. I got Robert Newlin, and the other one I can't remember, to be sergeants. And Steven Sampson and Charlie Sheldon, Uqak, be -- became lieutenants.
The story goes on and on like that. And I had been a -- you know -- exciting work. Because we have to help our people in the village to protect our people in the village.
And sometimes when we come down here to Kotzebue when they have big parades, you know. Army drills. They’d have some of the guys that had been in the army to -- to lead them and command.
Taikuu, I want to thank each one of you and -- for coming here and announcing that -- this meeting here. Thank you very much.