During the first week in February 1943, Staff Sergeant Marion Algernon "Al" Cole, on leave, spoke to the Rotary Club of Philadelphia about the hardships that he and his comrades-in-arms endured in the Territory of Alaska while constructing the Alaskan Military Highway.
The son of Wilbur Davis Cole and Maude Franks Cole first informed the group of the severe changes in temperature - highs of 95 degrees in the summer to winter lows of 40 degrees below zero.
Sergeant Cole also reported: "The men bunk 22 to the hut, which is heated by three stoves using birch wood as fuel. The houses are very compact and hold heat well. Sleeping bags are used, but are uncomfortably warm until the fires die out in the stove - then they felt mighty good. For recreation, the men do a little hunting. There are rabbits - "snowshoe" rabbits they are called because of their big feet - black bears, grouse, squirrels and other small game. The Northern Lights are really beautiful and strange to behold. It looks as if about 200 searchlights are prodding the sky. They can be seen far south, even as far as the Dakotas, under proper conditions. While the road was being built, the men worked on a 24 hour schedule, while the six months day-light period was on, and during which there was "no night."
A most peculiar sight is the curious orbit of the earth around the sun up there.
Here in Mississippi, we are accustomed, of course, to seeing the sun rise in the east and set in the west in an arc, as it were.
But in Alaska, at certain times, one can see the sun as it makes a full circle as the "top of the earth" moves about it."
Lastly, Cole addressed the question most frequently asked of him, "What do you wear?"
"Believe it or not," Cole stated, "we wear summer underwear, but make up for it with heavy outer clothing, fur lined and wind-resistant.
"The other winter-wear included parka with hoods, chin and nose protector flaps, and goggles," continued Cole, and "three pairs of socks and felt shoes covered the workers feet."
A few weeks before Sergeant Al Cole's speech to the Rotary Club, Motor Machinist's Mate First Class Aaron Briggs Brantley, son of another prominent Philadelphia family, wrote home about his experiences in an area thousands of miles from Cole's Alaskan Base.
The son of Will Davis and Gertrude Brantley, Sr. wrote: "I am 8000 miles from home and the time here is sixteen hours ahead of our time. The seasons are reversed and the summer weather is very hot. There are millions of coconut trees and also cocoa beans. There is not much wildlife here but there is an overflow of flies, mosquitoes and ants. The food and living quarters are much improved since we landed last August. I had my first drink of cold water about a month ago. The drinking water comes from the sea and has to be run through a distillery to purify it. The water comes out hot and the men have to wait for it to cool before drinking. However, refrigeration has recently been set up and cold water can be had almost every day."
Briggs Brantley also stated, "We are having picture shows twice a week. They are striving to make us as comfortable as possible here."
Almost as a side line, the Neshoba sailor opined that he expected to be moved to either Australia or New Zealand sometime within the month.
Civil War Veterans
McDonald, Archibald M. - Private; enlisted on March 1, 1862, at Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Company D; age twenty-nine; farmer; nick-named "Arch;" wounded at Gaines' Mill, June 27, 1862; probably wounded at Sharpsburg, September 17, 1862; hospitalized with a gunshot wound in the foot at Howard's Grove Hospital, at Richmond, Virginia, September 19 to 23, 1862; admitted to General Hospital #12 at Richmond, October 31 to December 11, 1862; wounded in the leg and captured at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863; hospitalized at the U.S.A. General Hospital at Chester, Pennsylvania; transferred to the provost marshal, July 19, 1863.
Imprisoned at the U.S.A. Hammond General Hospital at Port Lookout, Maryland, January 5, 1864; exchanged, March 6, 1864; wounded at Spotsylvania Court House, May 12, 1864; hospitalized with a gunshot wound in the right arm at Howard's Grove Hospital, May 15, 1864; transferred to the General Hospital at Danville, Virginia, May 17, 1864; wounded at Bethesda Church, June 2, 1864.
Hospitalized with a gunshot wound in left hand at the General Hospital at Petersburg, Virginia, June 3 to July 27, 1864; captured at Hatcher's Run, April 2, 1865; had $12.00 on person when imprisoned a second time at Point Lookout; released at Point Lookout, June 29, 1865; transportation furnished to Marion Station, Mississippi; described as five feet eleven inches tall, dark complexion, dark brown hair and gray eyes; the five-time wounded Rebel soldier died eleven years after the end of hostilities in August 1876 and is buried in the Hester Cemetery in southeast Neshoba County.
World War II Veterans
Martin, Raymond - Private to Private First Class; enlisted in October 1941 in the United States Army; age twenty-one; nicknamed "Marty" (after St. Louis Cardinal shortstop Marty Marion); served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations at Camp T. Robinson, Arkansas, and Camp Hood, Texas; served also in the European Theatre of Operations with a field artillery unit in France, June 1944; participated in the campaign in Central Europe;
Killed in action in Germany, April 20, 1945, (just ten days before Adolph Hitler committed suicide in Berlin, effectively ending World War II); awarded the European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the Purple Heart; buried in the Holy Rosary Cemetery in the Tucker community of Neshoba, County; was the brother of Edmund Joseph Martin and Phillip Martin, both of whom also served in World War II.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350 (601) 656-1284