Veterans Voice: Charles A. Comstock
Charles Albert Comstock grew up on the family farm near Deerfield. He graduated from high school in Fort Scott, Kansas. After graduation he worked at a gas station in Fort Scott along with working on the family farm.
He was inducted into the U.S. Army at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, then went for basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He received additional training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi where he was assigned to the 502 Ordinance Company (HM) (FM). From there he was sent to Adak in the Aleutian Islands due to an emerging threat in that region.
The Japanese had invaded and captured the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska. The American public was stunned that the Japanese had captured American soil and insisted that they be removed. Military analysts now generally agree that the capture was a diversion for the attacks on Midway Island, although that was uncertain at the time.
The two captured islands were sparsely occupied, and the small military outposts were quickly overrun. Our military was slow to respond since there was no viable military installation in the Aleutians. It was recognized that a military airfield must be established, and the island of Adak was a strategic location.
Corporal Comstock arrived near the beginning of the build-up. Comstock and his unit began constructing housing for the expected build-up of military personnel, along with plane hangars and other needed buildings.
The vast majority of their work was the construction of Quonset building and insulating them against the bitter cold. Eventually a chapel was built—again in a Quonset hut.
Working conditions were extremely difficult with the snow, rain, mud, and stinging wind. Frostbite was a constant worry. The terrain on Adak was barren with virtually no vegetation, including trees. Comstock mentioned that the only vegetation were a few clumps of yellow flowers in the summer months.
There were few opportunities for recreation, although a few ball games were organized. Most men spent their free time drinking and gambling. As a non-drinker, Charles was often entrusted with the money of colleagues to assure they wouldn’t waste it on drink and gambling. For his part, Comstock’s military life was one of work and rest.
Charles made the acquaintance of a soldier from Sedan, Kansas, named Claude Bryant. Bryant knew a young woman in Sedan who asked him for the name of someone she could write to in the military, and he put Charles in touch with Jean Denick. They corresponded the entire time Charles was in Adak, and the two of them were married following the war.
While this building of a base was being completed, eventually reaching 90,000 men, the Japanese forces on the two captured islands had an opportunity to acclimate to the harsh weather. This became a factor in reclaiming the islands.
When U.S. troops eventually moved onto Attu they found the Japanese had moved to the higher ground and were heavily entrenched. The invading U.S. forces did not have adequate clothing, and many of the 1,000 men lost succumbed to the weather. The Japanese were trained in the banzai tradition and fought to the bitter end, with the few remaining using grenades on themselves. Over 2000 Japanese lost their lives on the island.
When the U.S. troops moved on to Kiska, they found the Japanese had abandoned the island. As an important side the battles in the Aleutians were the only sea battles of the war without the backup of submarines or aircraft. It is known as the Battle of the Komandorski Islands in which the Japanese inflicted heavy damage on the U.S. ships, but the Japanese Admiral, expecting the arrival of American aircraft, decided to retreat.
After their removal, the Japanese never again attempted to recapture American soil.
While Charles enjoyed carpentry work, he could never full adjust to the harsh conditions. Working with one’s hands brought the constant threat of frostbite and hypothermia. After more than two years in Adak, Charles applied for, and was granted, transfer to Paratrooper training. He went back to Fort Benning, but the war ended before he could complete training.
He returned to Missouri, taking over the family farm, and maintaining correspondence with Miss Denick. They felt like they knew a lot about one another from their letters and were soon married. They purchased another piece of land, and using his carpentry skills, he built their own home where both lived the remainder of their lives. He was always proud of his role, and that of his men, in preparing living space for 90,000 U.S. troops.
Charles was active in the Deerfield and Nevada community, belonging to several civic organizations. Charles and Jean raised four children, including Nancy Hanrahan of Cameron.