The Harbor Mountain Interpretive Project
Tongass National Forest, Chatham Area, Sitka Ranger District, Alaska, 1997
by Rachel Myron, Sitka District Archaeologist
During late summer 1997, six PIT volunteers participated in a project designed to document the World War II history of an area thought to have been an “observation post” near Sitka during the war. Through the course of the project, volunteers, archaeologists, and historians working together discovered that the “post” located near the summit of Harbor Mountain, a 3,160-foot peak on the west coast of Baranof Island, had actually been the site of a little-known but strategically important radar installation in 1941.
Volunteers consulted all available literature sources, including U.S. Army and Signal Corps files, museum photo archives, and FS files, and then completed an on-the-ground surface inventory for archaeological remains. Project participants interviewed local Sitkans and veterans who had served in Sitka during the war to gain an understanding of the workings of the radar installation and to gain a sense of the “mood” of the times. They discovered that the installation had been “top secret”; few Sitkans even knew it had existed. Don Lookingbill, a key informant who resides in Paradise, California, provided a firsthand account of the installation of the system. Another key informant, Richard Pettinger, left a letter and a series of photographs that document his tenure in Sitka as a radar technician for the Signal Corps during the war years.
After completing background research and site documentation, project participants designed an informative brochure as well as a museum display in order to make the fruits of their labors available to the local and visiting public. The brochure has been published, and it contains many historic photographs as well as descriptions of Sitka’s role in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
Project volunteers included Kermit Edmonds, a military historian/schoolteacher from Missoula, Montana; Dorrie Farrell and Paul Oehler, both retired teachers from Sitka; Paul Converse, a University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau, student studying communications; and Jonas Parker and Matthew Hunter, both Sitka High School students. Paid staff included District Archeologist Rachel Myron, and Archeologist Mike Willman, both of the Sitka Ranger District, and Elisabeth Shafer, then collections manager at the Isabel Miller Museum in Sitka.