Little Bits of History

North, to Alaska

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 21, 2013
21 Alaska Highway's construction

Alaska Highway’s construction

November 21, 1942: The Alaska Highway’s completion is celebrated at Soldier’s Summit. On February 6, 1942, the threat of invasion of the US was a real and present danger so construction of a highway connecting Alaska to the US mainland was finally approved. Proposals for a highway connecting the territory to the Lower 48 were first proposed in the 1920s. Since most of the roadway was through Canada, their approval was paramount. However, the only Canadians likely to benefit were a few thousand residents of the sparsely populated Yukon Territory. Canada did not immediately give approval.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, priorities for both the US and Canada changed. Actual construction on the highway began on March 8, 1942. The 95th Engineer Regiment, comprised of 10,607 men built the 1,522 mile road in only 8 months. The road was completed on October 28 and the celebration on this date was broadcast via radio – although the temperature was bleeped out due to security issues. The road was rugged and impassible for most civilian cars until 1943. Even then, steep grades and uneven surfaces especially on tight switchbacks made the drive treacherous. Pontoon bridges were replaced with log bridges and eventually steel bridges were built.

The 95th Engineer Regiment was understaffed, like many during this harried time. General Simon Bolivar Buckner, son of a Confederate general, was faced with this shortage and the unique way it was filled. He needed troops and so was sent 3,695 men to swell the ranks to build the road. Black men. The general’s dislike of these troops was legendary. They were ill-clothed and lived in tents while the temperatures were -40º F and a record low of -79º F was established. These men, mostly from the South, did a remarkable job and many were decorated for their efforts. As a result of the work by these men, integrated troops became the standard.

The Alaska Highway is also called the Alaskan-Canadian Highway or ALCAN Highway. It runs from Dawson Creek, British Columbia through Whitehorse, Yukon and stops at Delta Junction, Alaska. The historic end of the highway is around milepost 1,422 where it meets Richardson Highway. Mileposts on Richardson are numbered from Valdez, Alaska. ALCAN is not officially part of the Pan-American Highway, but the road is commonly considered part of the vast network reaching all the way to Argentina.

“Strike while the iron is hot.” – James Howell

“That policy that can strike only while the iron is hot will be overcome by that perseverance, which like Cromwell’s, can make the iron hot by striking: and he that can only rule the storm must yield to him who can both raise and rule it.” – C.C. Colton

“We cannot afford to miss an advantage. Never was any man too strong for his proper work.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When war begins, then hell openeth.” – George Herbert

This article first appeared at examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Although built by the US, the agreement between the US and Canada stated that the Canadian portion of the road would be turned over to Canada six months after the end of the war. This took place on April 1, 1946 when the US Army gave control over to the Canadian Army, Northwest Highway System. The Alaskan portion of the road was completely paved in the 1960s. As late as 1981, most of the Canadian portion was still gravel. Today, the entire roadway is paved. British Columbia’s government owns the first 82.6 miles of the road and this portion was the only part paved during the late 1960s and early 1970s. From mile marker 82.6 to Historic Mile 630 is owned and operated by Public Works Canada. From Historic Mile 630 to Historic Mile 1016 is owned by the Yukon government and they also oversee the road up to the US border at Historic Mile 1221. At this point, jurisdiction moves back to the US and from there to Mile 1422 it is owned by the State of Alaska.

Also on this day: Missing Link – In 1953, the Piltdown Man was declared a hoax.
Senator Rebecca – In 1922, the first female US Senator took her seat.
Revolting – In 1910, the Revolt of the Lash took place.

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