Memorial remembers World War II pilots

Artist Skip Wallen has designed sculpture for planned memorial

Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2001

The Juneau-based Alaska-Siberia Research Center is spearheading an effort to erect a memorial to honor the World War II Alaska-Siberia Lend-Lease Program and the veterans who were part of it.

The wartime Lend-Lease Act designated Alaska as the exchange point between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1942 to 1945. Nearly 8,000 aircraft shuttled tons of supplies from Montana, across a series of North American bases to Fairbanks. There, Soviet pilots took the planes and supplies across Alaska to Siberia and to the Russian war front with Germany.

"Without the Lend-Lease Program, the war would have been very different. We could have lost the Battle of Stalingrad," said Alexander Dolitsky, who heads up the research center. Russia's victory in the Battle of Stalingrad is generally viewed as the turning point of the war.

Juneau sculptor R.T. "Skip" Wallen has designed a 16- to 18-foot-high sculpture to commemorate the program. The sculpture features statues of an American and Soviet pilot, the propeller of a P-39 Airacobra airplane, and a map of the lend-lease flight route from Great Falls, Mont., and across Alaska to the Russian battlefronts. About 5,000 Airacobras were supplied to Russia through the Lend-Lease Program.

The sculpture will be installed in Fairbanks, with subsequent casts to be sited in Nome and other points along the route in the United States, Siberia and the Russian Far East.

"The sculpture is intended as a tribute to Alaska's part in the war effort and to the people on the home front," Wallen said.

Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Rhonda Boyles, The Alaska Geographic Alliance and the city of Nome have all expressed support for the project. Earlier this month, the Alaska Legislature passed a resolution supporting the monument.

"The design is approved," said Dolitsky. "Basically, everything is a go."

Dolitsky estimates the cost of the project to be about $500,000.

"We are in the budget of $48,000 for a legislative grant. We anticipate $400,000 from the federal government, which we will receive this year in August or September," Dolitsky said. "The final work will be done in August 2003."

In addition to being the transfer point in the Lend-Lease Program, Fairbanks was also the site of the Ladd Field Air Corps Test Station.

"There's a lot of aviation history in Fairbanks," said Randall Acord, a veteran who worked at Ladd and is now curator of the Alaskaland Pioneer Air Museum in Fairbanks. "But this monument is important for all of Alaska."



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