The 1st Alaskan Combat Intelligence Platoon, also known as the Alaska Scouts, was perhaps one of World War II’s most unusual and unique American military units. Formed just weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the sixty-six men who made up the unit were a veritable rouges gallery of characters. And almost every one of them came from the lands they were defending.
Created by Colonel Lawrence Castner, the team was filled with a collection of Alaskan trappers, miners, hunting guides, dog sledders, commercial fishermen, prospectors, loggers, and many Alaskan Indigenous Natives. Recognizing that his men would have to operate in the rough and rugged terrain of the Aleutian Islands, he knew that he needed men well-versed in the wilderness skills needed to survive.
"They all have one thing in common...They're tough."
Castner handpicked every man under his command, and all of them shared a common trait. “They all have one thing in common,” he said. “They’re tough.” They had nicknames like Bad Whiskey Red, Aleut Pete, and Waterbucket Ben, and they wore a hodgepodge of military and civilian gear when deployed. This ruggedness quickly earned his men a nickname from the press that stuck, “Castner’s Cutthroats, though they preferred Alaskan Scouts.
Each of the men in the Scouts had the skills to thrive in the Alaskan backcountry. Heading out with a Trapper Nelson hunting pack filled with all their supplies, a hunting knife, and weapons, they would disconnect from the outside world and observe the enemy without being detected. There was no such thing as resupply drops. They were on their own. They would catch fish, crabs, and game for food as they traversed the craggy volcanic islands perched on the edge of the Pacific.
When the war ended, most of the surviving men melted into the landscape they loved. The last Alaskan Scout passed away in 2013; now, they only exist in memory.