I just read about the proposal by the Alaska-Siberia Research Center and our well-known Alaska sculptor, R.T. "Skip" Wallen, to erect a memorial in Fairbanks to honor the men and women who served our nation in the Alaska-Siberia Lend-Lease Program during World War II. I support the project for several reasons.
When I arrived in Fairbanks 40 years ago, many residents still had vivid memories of the Russian pilots who were in Alaska from 1942 to 1945. Nancy Baker was my very good friend. She had been one of the elite group of women pilots who ferried airplanes for the program. When I became a professor at the University of Alaska in 1968, many of the faculty and staff were still telling stories about the Russians and U.S. pilots and the program that brought them together.
The memorial and small park that have been proposed will be a permanent, physical reminder to future generations of the important role Alaska played in World War II. More importantly, the memorial will remind Alaskans and the thousands of tourists who visit Alaska each summer of the strategic importance of the 49th state. The shortest and safest route to Russia and the Far East has always been by way of Alaska.
The people with whom I talked 40 years ago had warm, happy memories of the years of the program and the people they came to know. I am convinced that a beautiful memorial created by an exceptionally good artist will help preserve and promote the feeling of brotherhood which marked that period of Alaska's history.
For thousands of years, the people of Alaska have been the living link between the Old and New Worlds. I support the efforts of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center to erect this memorial not just as a tribute to the men and women who served in World War II, but also as a way of reminding all those who see it that Alaska has been, and always will be, the northern bridge connecting the continents of North America and Asia.
Wallace M. Olson