By Ron VandenBoom
Many of the great military campaigns of WW II have become famous.
Some, like D-Day, The Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima, Midway, and Guadal Canal, have been written about extensively in history books, novels, and biographies. Movies, too ,have added to their overall popularity and etched them indelibly in our minds.
But these were not the only battles fought during WW II. Many less heralded battles also contributed to Americas victory over totalitarianism and fascism.
Ray Bergh, a history teacher at Box Elder High School, grew up listening to stories about one such campaign. A campaign so brutal that victory was measured daily and surviving into tomorrow was the only criteria. It was a battle that forced men to confront the multiple enemies of boredom, wind, snow, cold, inadequate shelter and even occasionally the Japanese.
They were stories of a battle that took place in Alaska, an undisputed piece of American soil and the closest piece of American soil to the Japanese mainland still mostly under U.S. control. It was also partly under the control of the Japanese whose troops occupied the Aleutian Islands in early 1942.
They were stories Bergh felt needed to be written down saved for future generations so the work and sacrifice of those like his father would not be forgotten.
Bergh has finally brought their story to life in his book, The Forgotten Squadron V.P. 62. a factual/documentary look at life in the Aleutians.
Berghs father, Quintin Bergh, was a pilot, co-pilot, and navigator, in the U.S. Navy during the Aleutian Campaign. He flew PBYs or flying boats as they were sometimes called. They were also sometimes called gooney birds and some affectionately called the planes Dumbo after the Disney cartoon elephant. Their unusual overhead wing span of 115 feet and rotund fuselage did make them unique looking among military aircraft.
Bergh has recorded his fathers recollections of his time he spent flying in the Aleutians a time he refers to as the the forgotten war and the 1,000 mile war of WW II. He tells of the boredom he experienced between those moments of harrowing do or die struggles with wind and sea as they patrolled for Japanese submarines.
He tells of two plane crashes and of the loss of life that is a part of war. He relates stories of the cold, the wind, and the sudden and dangerous weather changes that more than once nearly spelled doom to the himself and other brave pilots.
Bergh has included in the book the recollections of 17 pilots, ground crew and others who served at places like Cold Bay and Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians. He has also added an extensive collection of photographs and documents collected from his father and other sources that make the book a valuable historical document.
The book is not for those who want to curl up in front of a warm fire, a hot cup of chocolate, and a good book.
The 178 pages are a historical record that will be boring to those who want adventure, excitement, or emotion in their reading. Most of the book reads like a manual for assembling the M-1 rifle, rather than a highly charged novel full of romance, emotion and depth.
It is a valuable record of a little known campaign, but it is not a storybook.
If you want adventure to come to life, take in a movie. But if youre one of those who appreciate history history without emotional embellishment Berghs book will be your cup of tea.
To order a copy of The Forgotten Squadron V.P. 62, call Ray Bergh at 265-6524, or send $10 to Ray Bergh, 609 Montana Ave. Havre, MT 59501.