The Westernmost in the Agency
The Story of FS Shemya
Courtesy of Dave Shively
(from the December 1969 edition of The Hallmark)
Want to get away from it all? Want a life of peace and tranquility far
from the maddening crowd? You can do it with a tour at FS Shemya.
This flat, treeless chunk of rock is situated on the 174th meridian -
1,400 miles from either Anchorage or Tokyo. The island is next to the last
island in Alaska's Aleutian Chain. It is the home for more than a dozen
organizational activities charged with the defense of the United States.
Almost in "tomorrow" - Shemya is actually past the 180th meridian which is
normally the demarcation line for day change but international agreement
bends the line to the west. It is the home for more than 1,000 men.
A tour on this island is not as grim as it may seem. The host unit - the
5073rd Air Base Squadron - provides all the comforts of home. Every
facility normally found on non-remote posts are at Shemya. Included is a
120-watt AFRTS TV station serving the inhabitants of Shemya, the Coast
Guard and Air Force units on Attu, an island 35 miles to the west. A unit
newspaper, THE GLASS BALL, has now been in print for more than a year.
The crafts shops provide ceramics, woodworking, photography, leather,
lapidary, and electronics for the off-duty man's pleasure. A new NCO club
- dedicated in 1968 - the bowling alley and gym, the 500-seat theater, and
the new chapel are all within easy walking distance of the main building.
And weather permitting - "The Black Pearl of the Aleutians," so named for
her black sand beaches - offers beach-combing, fishing, fox hunting, and
glass ball hunting. The glass balls come from Japanese fishing nets and
find their way to the island via the Japanese current.
The history of the island dates back to her discovery by Vitus Bering in
1741. Bering was commissioned to find new lands rich in resources for the
Czar of Imperial Russia. All of the Aleutian Islands were abounding with
fur-bearing animals at that time, particularly the seal. As a result,
Russia claimed the islands and the mainland of Alaska.Many years later
during the Crimean War, Russia was in danger of losing her western
territories and decided to sell the land to the United States.
Thus, in 1867 the U.S. became the owner of the territory.
Later in the 1800's the "Gold Rush" started the population explosion on
the mainland. Although the people flocked in droves to the mainland, the
Aleutian Islands were inhabited only by a few native Aleuts.
The real importance of the islands was realized during World War II when
the Japanese landed on the island of Attu in hopes of gaining a foothold to
invade North America. But by that time Japan was at the end of her
conquering advances.The 4th Regiment of the 7th U.S. Infantry landed on
the island of Shemya.Air strips and barracks were built. From then until
the end of the war with Japan, Shemya served as the home base for B-17 and
B-24 raids on the northern island of Japan.
After the war, Shemya, no longer considered strategically important, was
deactivated. Reactivation came with the "Korean Conflict." Shemya's
airfields were needed for the transports flying the "Great Circle Route"
from the U.S. to Japan.
With the end of the Korean "police action," Shemya was abandoned. An ASA
technical team arrived in 1956 to conduct tests to determine the island's
suitability for a permanent field station.A year later, Det A of HQ, USASA,
Alaska at Clam Gulch on Adak Island,arrived to start the field station.
Since then it has been reorganized and redesignated many times.
Today, Shemya, an Army-Air Force Joint Operation,has an important role
in America's defense program.This then is Shemya the westernmost
field station in the Agency.