Fort Rosseau Causeway builder returns to Sitka after 72-year absence

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SITKA, Alaska — Marion Kirkham returned to Sitka last week after a 72-year absence.

The country has had 12 presidents since the days Kirkham was here as a construction worker on the Fort Rousseau Causeway.

He's now 92, and, his daughter Marilyn Kirkham said, wanted to see the town again.

Kirkham was born in Oregon in 1922. Before joining the military during World War II he ventured up to Alaska, which led to driving dump trucks during the construction of the causeway linking the string of islands offshore from Sitka's present-day airport.

"I was young and, hey, it was a job," joked Kirkham, who now lives in Corbett, Oregon..

The job was the early phase of the construction of the Sitka harbor defense system, as the threat of war loomed. Now the old Fort Rousseau site is a State Historical park.

Kirkham was one of many truck drivers hauling the rock to build the causeway. He said it was exciting work, even if the conditions didn't meet all of today's safety standards.

"After we got the causeway built they had to put armor rock on the side - huge boulders. One time they put a huge boulder in (my truck) and when I raised the bed it stuck," Kirkham said. "So this was a whole lot heavier than the engine, and I was up in the air and it was a long way down. Then they came out with a piece of equipment to pull the rock out and you know what happened."

The cab of the truck, with Kirkham still in it, came crashing down. The fall likely ruined the suspension of the truck although nobody noticed because there was a bigger problem.

"It ended up the motor went right through the motor mounts," Kirkham said.

Kirkham was in town for six days but was unable to make it out to the causeway because of the rainy weather. But he did get to visit with Matt Hunter, a local expert who from the time he was in Sitka High School has researched the history of the World War II military installations in Sitka and the surrounding area.

Kirkham came up from Bellingham, Washington, on the Alaska state ferry Columbia to Ketchikan, and took the Taku up to Sitka.

The town looks a lot different from how he remembers it, he said.

After his construction work in Sitka, Kirkham went back south for his impending service in the army.

"I came up in 1941 and worked in '41 and '42, and then I returned (to Oregon). I was 20 and I was going to get drafted and I didn't want to be registered up here because I didn't want to be out on the Aleutian Islands," he said.

Kirkham ended up completing his military service without leaving the country.


Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, http://www.sitkasentinel.com/

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