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Lend-Lease brought cooperation, confrontation to Fairbanks

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Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012 9:40 pm | Updated: 12:09 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — I have been asked to talk a little about the Lend-Lease program Thursday evening, marking the 70th anniversary of the operation, under which 7,926 aircraft were handed over to Soviet pilots in Fairbanks during World War II.

My presentation is set for 7 p.m. in Pioneer Hall in Pioneer Park. I’ll have more later this week on some of what I’ve recently turned up through research in the National Archives outside of Washington, D.C. My brother, Terrence, who is just back from a trip to Yakutsk, is to speak as well.

For Fairbanks, the Lend-Lease program of international aid to Stalin was marked by cooperation and confrontation.

Hundreds of visiting Russians occupied portions of Ladd Field, now Fort Wainwright, for much of the war. Stalin had refused to allow U.S. pilots to cross the Bering Strait, so Fairbanks became the transfer point, with American crews ferrying planes here from Great Falls, Mont.

The co-existence with the Russians in Fairbanks was not without lasting controversy. There was an unsolved murder that angered the community, as well as allegations of espionage that led to bitter post-war hearings in Congress.

The main event of the celebration is an anniversary ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Lend-Lease Monument downtown along the banks of the Chena near the state courthouse. That is to be followed by lectures, films and discussions about the program from 2:30-5 p.m. in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center.

The Saturday symposium will feature Brian Kassof, a UAF history professor; Pete Haggland, curator of the Pioneer Air Museum; and Lisa Graham and Natalie Loukianoff of the Fort Wainwright Cultural Resources Office.

The celebration is sponsored by the Fairbanks-Yakutsk Sister City Committee in conjunction with the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society and the Cultural Resources Office at Fort Wainwright.

•••

REMEMBERING: If you have lost a friend or a loved one this year, a gathering at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center this evening will be a good opportunity for reflection.

The first community “Service of Memories” is to take place from 6-8 p.m. in the auditorium of the center. The gathering is open to the public, not just to those who have suffered a recent loss.

It is sponsored by Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Hospice and Denali Center. Denise Foot, the manager of the hospice center, is to offer some words of inspiration. Foot, who plays the guitar, is to sing a song for the occasion. Hospital volunteer Cathy Curby, a harpist, will play as well.

•••

TICKETS AVAILABLE: Nancy Hanson is an excellent choice for the Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award, presented by the Midnight Sun Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Her steadfast work on behalf of the Catholic Schools of Fairbanks and her service to Fairbanks as a teacher and spiritual leader should be recognized. She is the kind of person who would never seek this attention, but she is a great role model and she should be honored.

If you haven’t done so already, make plans to attend the Dec. 12 banquet when she will receive the award. Tickets are $100.

Proceeds benefit scouting programs in the Interior. Call 452-1976 for tickets.

•••

FEED THE DUCKS: I admire and respect Marv Hassebroek, a longtime Fairbanksan and community-minded guy who is trying to help improve conditions for the 300 or so ducks on the Chena River.

In years past, Bill Stroecker was a big contributor to the duck-feeding program, but Stroecker is gone now and Hassebroek is hoping to expand his range of donors.

He doesn’t do anything to feed the ducks until November. In fact, he discourages people from feeding them in the summer and fall, knowing that is the best way to get the ducks to migrate. Most of the ducks don’t stay.

But some won’t go for various reasons. For years, Hassebroek has spread grain for the ducks in the winter, because he doesn’t want to see them suffer and starve.

By this time, the ducks are here for the duration. Their major landing and feeding spots are frozen over, so they couldn’t leave if they wanted to.

Hassebroek says that because the ducks are here and living in the open water downstream from the power plant, the only humane thing to do is to feed them.

So as in years past, he’s collecting funds to buy feed for the ducks. If you want to help him, call 456-3066.

Or send a tax-deductible donation to: Feed the Ducks, 518 Slater Drive, Fairbanks, AK 99701.

Dermot Cole can be reached at cole@newsminer.com or 459-7530.

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