A stash of letters from Christine McClure’s father to her mother during World War II prompted research and, ultimately, a book on a little-known piece of American history. Christine and her husband, Dennis, both U.S. Army veterans, began to uncover the story of forgotten black soldiers who braved terrible conditions to help build the 1,600- mile road that became the Alaska Highway.
Christine’s father, Tim, dubbed the letters the “three-cent love affair,” in reference to the price of stamps. He was a white officer in a segregated black regiment. “The letters and photos launched Chris into Alcan history,” says Dennis, “and we discovered that the Alaska Highway, a fantastic tourist destination today, was, in 1942, a vital part of defending the United States from Japan.”
The authors learned that more than one-third of the 10,607 soldiers who built the Alcan “over mountains, through muskeg, in bitter, subarctic weather in just eight months in 1942” were black. “Three of the [seven] regiments were segregated regiments,” Dennis says, “but the Army effectively hid them in the wilderness and they got no credit. That not only surprised us; it also infuriated and ultimately obsessed us.”
The McClures’ extensive research even netted three living veterans whom they interviewed. They have driven the highway twice, in 2013 and again last year. “We absorbed the geography,” Dennis says, “mingled with the ghosts, white and black, at key points along the way and combed archives and museums.”
We Fought the Road, September, 2017, history, softcover, $19.95, by Christine and Dennis McClure, and published by Epicenter Press, Kenmore, WA. A book signing will be held Sunday, January 28, at 3 p.m. at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Café.