The Kodiak Military History Museum in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park is on the cusp of acquiring a 1941 searchlight. Volunteer Chuck Meitle, who has flown up from Oregon for the last five summers with his wife Nancy to volunteer at the park, says Ft. Abercrombie used to be active in Navy defense, and searchlights served as part of that defense strategy against the Japanese.
“During WWII, it was very important to protect our Navy base and the landing strips over here on Kodiak, so these searchlights were placed on small islands and cliffs all around waterways coming in and passing Kodiak for harbor defense.”
He says the bunkers on the cliffs at Ft. Abecrombie would have housed huge searchlights. Meitle says he remembers standing next to one at a movie premier as a child.
“Those were all surplus army searchlights that were used for other purposes after the war. But as an 8-year-old kid standing next to this hissing, smoking monster of a machine powered by a truck motor with smoke coming out of it and this light going seemed like miles up into the sky. Left an impression on me.”
He says the searchlight making its way to Ft. Abecrombie has a 60 inch diameter and, including its other parts, stands nine feet tall.
He says he and his wife had been in contact with a man in Oregon who collected searchlights and now donates one a year to military museums for a tax write-off. He says they joined the wait list and finally received the machine, which Meitle explains he’s been busy repairing for the last few months down in the Lower 48.
“Welding broken axels and welding up sheet metal and stripping all the paint off. It had been used in circuses and carnivals and god knows what. It had all these different colors, orange and white and metallic blue paint on it. It had more paint than, say, your corner fire hydrant would have.”
With the help of Matson, free of charge, they shipped the searchlight to Kodiak and it arrived Wednesday. The Meitles say they still need to unload it, but any day now, residents and visitors will be able to view the searchlight in its natural habitat.