Profiles in local courage and service

Posted: Friday, March 26, 2004

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

I met Paul Moreno downtown recently. He showed me a model of a boat he had made, about 10 inches long, of the New Anny, a well-known seiner, owned by Willie Marks and his family. Paul has been working in wood on model boats for about 10 years.

Paul was born in Petersburg, and in May he'll be 75 years of age. He lost his mother and father when he was 5, and was sent to the Pius X Mission in Skagway, where he lived for the next 12 years. It was a boarding school run by the Catholic church. For many years, Father Gallant was the director.

Starting when he was 14, during the last years of the Second World War, Paul worked at the Todd cannery along with many of his fellow students. He spent the summers there for three years. The cannery at the time was owned by Nick Bez. Paul said that it was situated on Chichagof Island, midway between the Chatham cannery and Sitka. Now it is just the remains of old pilings rising out of the shallow water.

When Paul was in high school at Pius X, the mission was totally destroyed by fire. All was lost - the church, school and boarding facility. But the kids pitched in and did most of the work in reconstructing the buildings under the direction of a contractor and two carpenters. Paul said that he can still see the places in the walls of the church where he drove the nails.

After graduating from high school, Paul joined the Army and was sent to Japan. This was an unlucky time for a young volunteer. Soon afterward, the North Koreans invaded the South. Paul was sent to Korea as a member of the 25th Infantry Division. He fought back to the Pusan perimeter and then north to the Manchurian frontier.

After the Chinese attacked, all the men in Paul's unit, in the icy chill of bitter wintertime cold, were told by their officers to take off their boots so that they could check the condition of their feet. Paul couldn't get his boots back on, so he was sent back to Pusan and from there to Japan, where he remained in a hospital for two months. When he got out of the hospital he volunteered again, and served a second tour of duty in wartime Korea with a 40th National Guard unit. He now has a 60 percent disability pension from the Army.

When he came back to Alaska, he fished commercially from Seattle to Bristol Bay.

He has a 48-foot boat called the Chief Weah. In a week or so, he is going to go over to Sitka to get a load of herring roe on spruce branches and kelp to bring back to give away to friends and neighbors.

A nephew wants him to come down to Bellingham so that he can take it easy, and with family around him, reach toward 80. All he will have to do is help with the cooking. Once a writer used an expression to extoll the humanity and sacrifice of ordinary people. He said, "Let us now praise famous men." This applies to many in Alaska.

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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