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Esther Norton

Esther Norton from Noatak and Kotzebue, 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. She talks about hearing about World War II, listening to events on the radio, and the men training for the Alaska Territorial Guard. She discusses how important having a radio was and how she helped care for the sick in Noatak, and tells about the time when they suspected there was a submarine off the coast.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2015-25-01_PT.1

Project: Kotzebue Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Feb 29, 1996
Narrator(s): Esther Norton
Transcriber: Denali Whiting
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
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There is no slideshow for this person.

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Hearing about the start of World War II when living at Candle, Alaska, and buying a radio

Moving the schoolhouse at Noatak, Alaska

Caring for the sick and using the radio

Hearing a message about an airplane crash, and rescuing the survivors

Being prepared and the men training

Suspicion of a submarine sighting

Remembering Marvin "Muktuk" Marston

Being scared of the war

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ESTHER NORTON: We were at Candle. I followed my husband to the mining camps -- camps at Candle. That’s the time when they come home from work they told us the war broke out. And it was bad news.

We were with York Wilson’s camp and family. And us. We were followed up to the -- to the mines. Those mines have numbers like 14 and 17. The mine ca -- the mining camps at Candle.

So it was a bad news in 1940. We ordered -- Dick and I ordered a large radio. A real large one.

So they came and we -- when they set it up we listen to the news. How much the war in Germany and Britain. How much they lost planes each day. We listen.

And it was so sad and we were so -- so sorry and some of the white people, they draft them already out of the mine work. And many were left.

And then -- we went back to -- to Noatak. And Kotzebue and Noatak. And all the men were drafted as a ATG (Alaska Territorial Guard). Every men that are able was reported even they are old people.

Putumi, my father-in-law was there, too. And also Kumak. And I remember those people.

And then it was the war so much, they even have no school teacher to spare. Every men in the state maybe go to war.

And we even have no school teacher that year at Noatak. And so that Noatak school was almost fall off from the bluff, and it need help, and a guy named Mr. Green came up from Juneau and start to -- to move that large schoolhouse. And no bulldozer. And how they gonna move it?

And people -- men, they cut woods and peel them and put a something that are slick -- slicky.

And then they make a rail with the woods and make a roller out of woods and, "Everybody come on today, let's move our -- our schoolhouse further up."

So everybody was pulling, all the people in this town they were pulling and here the schoolhouse start moving. Without no bulldozers. That’s the year we -- we have -- my husband was the mayor and -- and then no schoolteachers.

So how we gonna take care of our sick -- sick people? No nurse, no doctors. So my husband was the mayor then.

They told us to take all the medicine out of school and bring it to our house. And we on charge on the sick people in those days.

And -- that radio that we ordered was so useful, helpful. The only radio in the village. And we listen and everybody always be out there listening. Want to hear the news, what’s going on.

And then when somebody is real sick we -- we write a letter to the hospital and fast team has to go down and deliver the letter to -- to the doctors and the nurses down there and they blind message to us through the radio.

And we -- we write them down and we know what to do with this patient and what’s the problem. That’s a problem we have all winter long.

Now that radio during the war, only radio we have, was so useful. Because we can see other side of the world from that there. It was silver tune radio.

And it was so good that we can pick up Golden Days from -- from the states and Anchorage and Fairbanks.

And one time, my husband during the evening it was stormy and dial them over, you know. Look for some messages.

And then he heard somebody was force landed above Noatak, you know, on that -- one of the rivers that have little hill.

"And we are force landed. If anybody can hear us, please report. Because we were force landed and it was so stormy we don’t know what to do and our battery is giving out. Please somebody report."

That’s all we -- we get -- did get that message and then I write it down and Dick ran over to -- to -- that’s the time we have teacher that second year.

That force -- that plane was force landed. And then -- we don’t know no news about it and later we learned that Ferguson plane was force landed at Kelly River.

And then the passengers were George Francis, Art Flat, and somebody else, and one lady from Point Lay, I think. And they rest tomorrow they rescue them. Follow the direction to -- to lead them through that message. They landed just right there.

And George Francis said it was so miracle here the plane was appear from nowhere to -- to rescue them. And after that that year George Francis and Art Flat, my husband said no ending for the thankfulness for Dick Norton.

So each time we -- we were ready because our husbands are always on duty. National Guard. National Guard.

They march along way up in the hills, anywhere they have guns and march "hut two, hut two," all where. Even we don’t have a war right now they "hut two, hut two," everywhere.

And they have big rifles. And they have a coat, I think, coat and few equipment.

And they -- we were told to be ready all the time. You p -- you make some biscuit, anything. And pack the matches.

Your children’s clothes, what you need. Be sure, if it’s summer, be sure and take some fish nets. If you have boat, just ready to go so we will paddle up the hills if there're enemy around.

And one time when we were -- I went to the movie one night, too. And they tell us to go out from the movie. And they said they spotted a submarine out there.

We were so scared, we can’t run -- run to our homes. We were cornered there with people until the news -- what’s going on out there.

And the U.S. Army, U.S. Army airplanes, they go bomb what they saw down there. They thought it was a submarine. But it was, when they bomb it, it was a whale. It just open up.

I -- I remember Marston. He used to walk around down there with a camera or movie camera all the time. I can’t be out because I don’t wanna be in the picture. If he’s around.

And so it was springtime and the woods were floating out (driftwood). We used to gather some wood but -- drag them in with -- with rope.

There -- Marston always be back there taking pictures. Yeah, that’s the way we managed to survive those years.

I’m glad the war is not on right now and -- my little boy was two years -- three years old. Ernie.

He listened to the radio and he understand what’s going on and he always cry -- start crying. "Mama, what’s going on? I’m so scared." He understand what’s going on because it’s always be in the news.

That’s all I have to say.