Alaskan war dogs: Heroism defined

  • Published
  • By Jack Waid
  • 354th Fighter Wing Historian
Editor's note: This is the second part of a series featuring the history of the military's use of sled dogs in Alaska. For the first part, click here.

During World War I, the French government asked Alaska's Darling Kennels and Alaskan Scotty Allan, All Alaska Sweepstakes winner of the 1909, 1911 and 1912 races, to provide and train Alaskan sled dogs and sleds for the French war effort.

One hundred-six dogs were provided from Alaska and eventually found their way to France. While in France, these dogs provided invaluable service; they opened mountainous supply routes and communication between units in the field and headquarters not previously accessible.

Their actions were so important that in his book, "Soldiers and Sled Dogs," Charles L. Dean wrote, "Three Alaskan sled dogs in French service were awarded the Croix de Guerre, France's highest military honors, for actions in combat."

It was not long after the end of World War I that the nation was again drawn into another world war. At the beginning of World War II, the only military working dogs in the whole of the U.S. military were being utilized by Navy and Army forces in Alaska.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a real need to increase the number of military personnel in the Alaskan Territory. Gov. Ernest Gruening, Alaska Territorial Governor at the time, asked for military support and a plan was derived to create a territorial guard. Thus the Alaska Territorial Guard was formed by Maj. Marvin "Muktuk" Marston, an Army Air Corps officer.

Marston, along with Gruening, agreed to use the Alaskan native population to form this guard. Being predominately comprised of Alaskan Native Americans spread out from the Aleutians, the interior and coastal areas of Alaska, a form of transportation was needed so Marston could make contact with potential members.

The ATG members put hundreds of miles behind them as they used dog teams and sleds over tundra, through woods and mountain passes. These teams not only scouted, but also transferred munitions, firearms and other supplies to remote areas. For his efforts, Marston was recognized as an inductee in the Mushing Hall of Fame in Knik, Alaska.

One of the more colorful joint Native and white Alaskan units to come out of World War II was Castner's Cutthroats, officially the 1st Alaska Combat Intelligence Platoon, or Alaska Scouts.

Led by Col. Lawrence Castner, men of this special unit knew how to live off the land, and by the war's end they traveled thousands of miles to gather intelligence. They did so by means of boat and submarine, on foot, and by U.S. Army-owned dog teams and sleds.

Search and rescue teams were also operated throughout Alaska during World War II, often used to locate and retrieve downed pilots. At Ladd Field, later Ladd Air Force Base, experienced Alaskan dog handlers in the Army were brought in to help train and create policies on dog care and use in the field.

During this time, all dog operations, handling and care were the overall responsibility of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. With regard to policy development, it is believed two privates at Ladd Field were utilized by the Army in particular; Pvts. George Lockwood of Unalakleet, Alaska, and Car Kawagley of Nome, Alaska, who were instrumental in the search and rescue program at Ladd.

It goes without saying that during the entirety of World War II, dogsled racing was severely interrupted. However, it was not long after the war that dogsled racing came back full swing to Alaska.