Following in the fast-paced and entertaining footsteps of the previous three volumes, Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Four captures the essence of life in Alaska between 1935 and 1960. Its vivid nonfiction short stories and more-than 350 historical photographs highlight major events of World War II, the Cold War era and Alaska’s struggle for statehood.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the military presence in Alaska was woefully inadequate. And within six months, the Japanese bombed Alaska’s Dutch Harbor, occupied two islands in the Aleutian Chain and had eyes toward an invasion of America.
As the U.S. military began building bases across Alaska, it also organized the Alaska Native people into a territorial guard that became known as the “Eskimo Scouts.” These men and women routinely patrolled more than 2,000 miles of coastline and 200,000 square miles of tundra to make sure the enemy did not advance.
World War II brought big defense dollars north, which helped bolster Alaska’s economy. It also brought a secret Russian mission to Fairbanks, interment of Aleut people in the foreign landscape of Southeast Alaska and a wide proliferation of tuberculosis.
During the Cold War era, Alaska saw another increase of money and people into the Last Frontier. This period of its colorful past also generated stories of heroic Alaska Airlines flights for freedom, Alaska Natives’ battles against discrimination and the blossoming of Anchorage into a jewel on the tundra.
The last section of this action-packed volume features Alaska’s 91-year-old struggle for statehood. Tales of tenacity, hope and determination fill these pages, and they also showcase many of the movers and shakers of days gone by, Alaska’s first elected governor and the discovery of crude oil that tipped the balance toward statehood.
“I’ve been reviewing books for the News-Miner for several years now, and have enjoyed much of what I’ve read. But if someone asked me to pick my favorite books out of the dozens I’ve reviewed in that time, my answer would be immediate: The ‘Aunt Phil’s Trunk’ series by the late Alaska historian, Phyllis Downing Carlson and her niece, Laurel Downing Bill. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this series, of which the fourth volume has just been published, is outstandingly well produced, exceptionally informative and heaps of fun to read.” – David A. James, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
“These are the first books I've read in years and couldn't put them down once I started!” — Cindy Yates, Anchorage, Alaska
“I think ‘Aunt Phil’s Trunk’ is a great source of information about Alaska. It is written in a way that is easily understood and all the pictures make me want to travel to Alaska.” — Mike MacPhee, Bad Axe, Michigan
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Reviewed by Michelle Stanley for Readers' Favorite Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Four by Laurel Downing Bill documents the period 1935 - 1960. The bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 by the Japanese sealed America’s entry into World War Two. The United States defended themselves against Japan and Germany, who had also declared war on the country. America increased military defense in Alaska and Russian soldiers joined them in battle. While airstrips and military bases were built, the Japanese bombed and occupied two islands in the Aleutians. Attu residents were captured and sent to concentration camps, and the military moved other Aleut people to relocation camps in Southeast Alaska. Their living conditions were deplorable and the Natives often succumbed to illnesses, due to cramped living conditions and sparse supplies of food and medicine. The military trained some Alaska Natives as lookouts to guard the territory’s coastlines. Laurel Downing Bill captured my attention once more with amazing stories in Volume Four of her series, Aunt Phil’s Trunk. It was interesting to read how Alaska underwent changes after the war, and development of towns strengthened under local government. Alaska lobbied hard for statehood, despite the disapproval of some politicians. While they debated this issue, Alaska Natives continued their arduous battle for equal rights. The discovery of oil proved Alaska was worthy to become a state in 1959, and William A. Egan became its first elected governor. A schoolboy named John “Benny” Benson won the Alaska flag design contest. The trail from untamed frontier to statehood was indeed a rough one, but Alaska braved it well.
Reviewed by Anne-Marie Reynolds for Readers' Favorite Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume 4 by Laurel Downing Bill covers the history of Alaska from 1935 to 1960. This volume tells the story of Alaska during the war years; of how Japan occupied two of the Aleutian Islands after bombing them and of how the Cold War affected the people of Alaska. We encounter many ordinary Alaskans who played their part in the war – the man who wrote the U.S. Air Force song and the many Eskimo scouts who protected the coastline without receiving any pay. We learn about how Anchorage grew from nothing more than an outpost to a major location, resulting in the final push for Alaska to be seen as more than just a supply place for raw materials. The final part tells how Alaska gained statehood, to become recognized as an official state of the United States. Laurel Downing Bill has done it again. With her series, Aunt Phil’s Trunk, she has succeeded in opening up the history of a beautiful country, of letting people in through its doors to see what life used to be like. The photos are a fantastic addition to the book, really bringing it to life and bringing home the truth about the people of Alaska. We tend to forget what impact past wars had on people and Aunt Phil’s Trunk reveals it all, in a brutal but honest fashion. These books are a must-have addition to anyone’s bookshelves, and are books that I, for one, will read over and over again.
Reviewed by Tania Staley for Readers' Favorite Laurel Downing Bill once again brings her Aunt Phil’s extensive research on Alaska history to life with her fourth installment of Aunt Phil’s Trunk. Volume 4 deals with the years 1935-1960 and encompasses the events that occurred during World War II, the Cold War and Alaska’s journey to becoming a state. Bill’s extensive text takes a down-to-earth, unbiased look at the intrepid inhabitants of Alaska. Readers are sure to learn new and interesting information about the fascinating state of Alaska and discover plenty of reasons to admire its noble and varied history from Bill’s collection. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing the three previous volumes of Aunt Phil’s Trunk and each one has been a delight to read and discuss. As I have said in previous reviews, Laurel Downing Bill writes with a style that is both informative and entertaining. These books are not stuffy tomes of historical fact. Instead, every effort has been made to recreate history with vibrant detail. There are countless photos and first person accounts throughout that make this collection more of a time capsule than strict history books. These same elements are apparent in this fourth volume. The history in this collection is much darker than the previous volumes, much of it dealing with topics such as segregation, discrimination and the atrocities of war, but the account is still entertaining. Before reading Bill’s books, I never realized how much Alaska’s history has influenced the rest of our society. I highly recommend Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume 4, and I sincerely hope that more historians take on history with the same style and flair as Laurel Downing Bill.
Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite Aunt Phil's Trunk: Volume Four of Bringing Alaska's History Alive is a historical nonfiction work written by Phyllis Downing Carlson and her niece, Laurel Downing Bill. Bill has continued her project of fleshing out her aunt's research, writing and archival collection, and she focuses this volume on Alaska's history between the years of 1935 and 1960. Much of the book is concerned with the Second World War, as it greatly influenced the direction of and heightened Alaska's growth and connections with the mainland. With the aid of the perennial Alaskan musher, Alaskan residents would get to see a road come into existence that would eventually be open to civilian use called the Alaska-Canada Highway. The Al-Can was a triumph of engineering and hard work as the government felt compelled to protect Alaska lands from incursions by the Japanese. Those fears were indeed justified as the Japanese did mount attacks upon, and occupy, the outer Aleutian Islands. Volume Four of Aunt Phil's Trunk ends on a high note: the long-anticipated Alaska statehood. I've learned a lot from reading each of the volumes of Aunt Phil's Trunk, but I think what I've read in Volume Four has affected me more deeply than the others. While I've read many works on WWII, I had never realized the impact it had on the land and the Native people inhabiting Alaska. I was appalled at the treatment of the Aleuts who were forcibly ejected from their homes and forced to live in relocation centers made out of old canneries, where there were few amenities, and the fact that their suffering and sub-standard existence was considered acceptable. The struggle of Native Americans against segregation and for equal rights as citizens is covered extensively in this volume. Finally, the sheer logistics involved in defending a land so vast and undeveloped is the subject of a large part of this incredible tale. The reader gets to see Anchorage turn into a bustling city; far-off settlements become armed forces bases and we finally see brave motorists driving along a very muddy road. Aunt Phil's Trunk: Volume Four of Bringing Alaska's History Alive is a marvelous historical account, filled with pictures and tales that do indeed bring this state's history very much alive.
Reviewed by Kathryn Bennett for Readers' Favorite Aunt Phil's Trunk Volume Four: Bringing Alaska's History Alive by Laurel Downing Bill brings us into Alaska from 1935 until 1960, covering an expanse of history in the great state's time of life. So many forget that in 1941 Pearl Harbor was not the only place in America that the Japanese bombed. Military was sparse at the time in Alaska and it did not take long for Dutch Harbor to be bombed and two islands to be occupied. Once again, the layout of short stories and more than 350 photographs brings history alive for the reader. Laurel Downing Bill has hit another home run with volume four of Aunt Phil’s Trunk and I found myself learning a lot of brand new things when reading this one. I had no idea during World War II that Japanese forces occupied two Aleutian Islands. Nor did I know just how hard Alaska struggled to become a state within our union. The short stories are engaging, entertaining and, most of all, educational. The pictures that accompany the stories go a long way in helping, as well; it gives you faces, images to put with the facts so you’re more likely to remember. I think that everyone from children to grandparents will enjoy the work that has gone into the book. If you are an amateur historian, a full-time one or just someone curious about Alaska, you simply can’t go wrong with the stories that the author lays out in gripping fashion in Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Four.