Supporting Units

Alaska Highway Quartermaster

The Quartermaster provided food, clothes, shoes, mosquito nets, parkas, washing machines, tools, trucks, tires and toilet paper – you name it and they supplied it.

Colonel Johnson, 93rd commander, wanted a Post Exchange at each of the company headquarters. He appointed Lt. Donald Schmitt 93rd regimental PX Officer, because Schmitt had taken bookkeeping in high school. Schmitt ran seven PX’s spread over 400 miles of the Highway.

Capt. George Egge, “Smitty’s” boss, had an even bigger job. Egge was in charge of ordering and delivering materiel to seven full companies spread out along the highway.

Topographic Engineers Survey the Route of the Alaska Highway

Among the Corps specialized topographic units, the 29th was the oldest. Company D had detachments with all of the regiments in the Northern Sector. Knowing that the tribes of the First Nations had followed trails through this wilderness for a millennium, the lead elements of the 29th turned to them for help.

375th Port Battalion Unloaded Supplies for Building the Alaska Highway

The Army Transportation Corps even supplied stevedores in the form of the 375th Port Battalion who unloaded cargo from the ships and barges in Skagway harbor and loaded it on trains that would carry it the 93rd, 340th and 18th engineers.

Unloading ships meant jumping into the holds and assembling materiel into loads for crane operators to hoist out and onto waiting railroad cars. Skagway harbor offered daily tides that changed sea level by as much as 30 feet – making it, arguably, one of the world’s most difficult harbors.

134th Quartermaster Truck Company Supplies to Build the Alcan

The 134th arrived in Skagway with the 428th. Like those of the 428th their trucks remained in Seattle. Worse, the 134th arrived without even more essential equipment – arctic clothing, kitchen equipment, tents or bedding. The stockpiles their commander had been told to expect in Skagway did not exist.

Heavy Dump Trucks on the ALCAN

Four officers and 118 enlisted men arrived at Skagway on 22 July 1942. They were to be attached to regiments to haul gravel. Unfortunately their trucks and supplies remained in Seattle so the 428th cooled its heels in a hangar at the Skagway airfield.

58th Medical Battalion Medical Care for Alcan Road Builders

The 58th Medical Battalion supplied one platoon to the effort in Yukon Territory. Stationed at Whitehorse, they took care of troops, construction crews, First Nations and Canadians – whoever needed them. Medics stayed in the field following the road work, working out of aid stations housed in tents. By June, the 58th had set up more permanent dispensaries in fixed locations.

73rd Light Pontoon Company Bridge Alaska Highway Rivers

The men of the highly specialized 73rd maneuvered strings of pontoon rafts across waterways and connected them to provide temporary bridges. In water-logged Yukon Territory their services were essential to the road builders. The men of the highly specialized 73rd maneuvered strings of pontoon rafts across waterways and connected them to provide temporary bridges. In water-logged Yukon Territory their services were essential to the road builders.

Radio and Telegraph and the Engineers

Sixteen young radio operators landed in Skagway on 18 May. One of them, Bob Rapuzzi was actually from Skagway and he took the opportunity to visit family prior to boarding the WP&YT. The 843rd distributed operators, two per company through the 93rd and the 340th regiments. Rapuzzi and his partner, Tom Whitsett, wound up with the 93rd Regiment.

Bush Pilots Helped Route the Alaska Highway

Les Cook, a “cracker jack” bush pilot amounted to a one man support unit for the 93rd and 340th. He ferried food, supplies and mail to their camps, landing on water with his pontoon plane if he could or flying low over a clearing, dumping cargo out as he passed.

This didn’t always work out. On one occasion Les, his plane loaded with 25 pound boxes of drift pins and cases of canned vegetables – mostly beets, made a ‘pass and drop’ delivery to the 340th. Drift pins from burst boxes scattered everywhere, even impaling trees, and the trees looked especially macabre with gallons of blood red beet juice dripping from their limbs.

Regimental Motor Pool in Yukon Territory

Some support activities were actually part of the regimental organization. A prime example was the regimental Motor Pool. An engineering regiment’s standard equipment included twenty D8 Caterpillar bulldozers, ten D4 Caterpillar bulldozers, three half cubic-yard shovels, six LaTourneau 12-yard carry alls, six Adams leaning wheel graders, six Rooters, three Galion road graders and six additional caterpillar leaning wheel graders. They also received sawmills and pile drivers.

Civilian Allies, The Public Road Administration

The PRA coordinated and supervised road construction in the United States. They worked through contracts with large construction companies – experienced in road building, equipped with the necessary heavy equipment and staffed by people who understood the complexities of the process.

Sawmills Provide Timber and Lumber for the Alaska HIghway

A platoon from a regiment or a pontoon company would operate sawmills. The sawmills made three foot long firewood for Welling or Sibley stoves. More importantly the sawmills turned logs into boards and planks for barges and bridges.

A sawmill for the 93rd was located at Tagish and Teslin Rivers. The pontoon company built a dock, bridge and ferry to transport men and equipment over these large rivers.

Whitehorse Liquor Store

Arguably the single most important support function in the Northern Sector was the government liquor store in Whitehorse. When the store was open, an endless line of people wound from its door.

Gertrude Baskine, famed Highway Hitchhiker, described this line as “the snake-trail that wound around the corner and up the block and all but bit its own tail coming back.” The liquor store opened when a shipment arrived and closed when it sold out. Booze cost $35.00 a quart.

For the 93rd, Lt. Frank Perrin’s Saturday night poker games featured liquor as much as cards. Lt. Squires remembered that any officer who went to Whitehorse was expected to return with a case of Canadian whiskey.

Ordinary Men Build A Legendary Road