The 18th Engineers
In April 1942, the residents of Whitehorse were startled to find that the White Pass and Yukon Railway was transporting a new payload. Train after train pulled into the station, crammed with the 1400 soldiers of the 18th Engineers Regiment. This was the first of several United States Army regiments that were sent to Whitehorse to build the pioneer road that would later become the Alaska Highway. Most of the soldiers were gone by January 1943, but in those nine months the Yukon had been changed forever.
The members of the 18th Regiment were responsible for the section of road from Whitehorse to the Alaskan border. They hopscotched westward in a series of tent camps, opening a supply line for the civilian workers responsible for the permanent road. During this time, they built over 300 miles of road, bridged four major rivers, constructed scores of smaller bridges, and installed hundreds of culverts. They marvelled at the spectacular scenery and cursed the arduous conditions. When they moved on to the Aleutians, they were seasoned workers, experienced in the rigors of northern life.
The presence of the Alaska Highway has had a lasting impact on the social, political and economic history of the territory. In later years, there has been much criticism of the highway construction and its impact on the land and its indigenous peoples. It is easy to forget the sense of wartime emergency in which rapid construction of a road to Alaska seemed to be a military necessity. The Yukon assignment was best summed up by Fred Rust in the regimental history: "Perhaps the best thing of all was that we had shared a rich and comradely experience. They couldn't take that away from us, however much they damned the road."
Lieutenant Small Memorial
The United States Army soldiers, working on the Alaska Highway, never came under enemy fire, nonetheless, many lost their lives during the Yukon posting. In the 18th Engineers regiment, there were five fatalities due to accidents and natural causes. The men who lost their lives were George Wolters, John R. Morrison, Gene Wolford, George W. Biles, and Roland Small.
First Lieutenant Small was born in Canada in 1913. He earned a degree in civil engineering from New York City College. On August 9th, 1942, Roland Small died in a jeep accident near this site, leaving behind a wife and infant son. He was buried in Whitehorse and his passing was marked by an unusual memorial service. According to one report, this was a Jewish service in the Anglican Church led by a Lutheran chaplain. This monument was erected by the men of the second platoon of "F" Company in honour of the officer they had served.
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