An Average Alaskan Boy
By Heinie Snider | from his book, “So Was Alaska” originally published in 1961
This story is about one such boy, just an average Alaskan youth. It was in the year 1917 and Anchorage was just starting to be a town—Fourth Avenue was the only street—Fifth, Sixth and Seventh were still partly woods. One young couple, who were working for the Alaska Engineering Commission, now the Alaska Railroad, lived in a tent house near where the Ketchikan Spruce Mills yard now stands.
The couple had a small daughter, and as there was going to be an increase in the family, and it was January, the husband was ready, at any moment, to bring his wife to the hospital. It was on January 26, in the early morning hours, that the wife informed her husband a new citizen was about to arrive. After making some coffee, he went out for his dogs. A regular blizzard was blowing and the snow was piling up fast. Losing time in trying to locate one dog who had taken “French leave,” the husband finally started with one dog pulling while he pushed on the handle bars.
It was hard going, especially for the woman in the sled and wrapped in warm blankets. There was little sign of a trail. After floundering through the snow, they got as far as the foot of “C” street, and there, dog and man were completely played out. The hospital stood across from the newspaper office overlooking the railroad yard. It was not far. He told his wife that he was going for help, but she maintained that she could easily walk. Slowly and cautiously, with him breaking the trail, they finally reached the hospital. The nurse on duty was surprised, to say the least, to see two people coming in, looking more like snowmen than people. She made the woman comfortable and immediately called the doctor—who came over in his pajamas and bathrobe. At twenty-five minutes past five in the morning, the father was informed that he was the father of a boy.
Later, this couple and their family moved up the line. Their home was located on a lake and because of the wind, most of the snow was blown off the lake in the winter time, making it ideal for skating. On a Sunday morning in early spring, the young husband was going to visit and bring the mail to a fellow known as “Ten-day Wilson,” who was trapping six miles away. Although it was nearly spring, the ice was still solid and strong enough to carry him.
After walking awhile he began to wonder if it was wise to make this trip. Maybe Wilson is not at home—maybe he’s out on his trap lines and will come for his mail tomorrow? He sat down, smoked his pipe for a time, got up and was determined to see “Ten-Day Wilson.” Soon the urge to return home again came over him. He felt like some unseen power was telling him to go back. He sat down again, got up and started walking, but now he was facing in the direction of his home. The wind had come up and when he came to the shore of the lake, he noticed something blue way out there where the snow had drifted.
He stood still and he heard something strange and yet familiar. He listened closely, and above the blowing of the wind, he heard—and his heart almost stopped—the faint crying of a child. “Help, help,” came the cries from the direction where he first noticed something blue. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him. Reaching the end of the lake, he found his two children. The girl, five years old, and the boy, age four, were both up to their arm pits in the snowbank.
Unable to move or crawl out, and with their waists under the water which underlay the snowbank, the boy was exhausted, laying with his head on his arms, while the girl was still able to cry for help.
Picking the kids up, he took them home and with baths and hot milk, brought them out of shock. While all this happened, the mother assumed the children had gone with their father. How long the children were trapped in this snowbank is hard to tell, but if the father had continued his trip to Wilson’s—instead of listening to an inner voice—his children would have been lost.
The following year in May it was the mother who saved her boy from the lake. She was upstairs in the house which is about five yards from the lake when the oldest girl shouted, “Oh, Mamma, brother is in the lake.”
She ran to the edge of the lake, but she could not reach him. Unable to swim, she waded in the ice cold water, her feet sinking into the muddy bottom. The boy was floating and splashing away from her. With the water almost up to her chin, she was able to reach out and grab him by the heel and drag him to shore. Incidentally, this young mother was expecting a new baby in August.
On another occasion, the boy was saved by his sister. It was early winter and ice was forming on the lake—but it wasn’t strong enough to hold anyone. Trying the ice by throwing stones to see if it was strong enough to hold him, the boy ventured onto the ice. It cracked, and, about one hundred yards from shore, he fell through.
Trying to climb back onto the ice was impossible. Every time he got hold of it, it broke off. Partly swimming and breaking the ice in front of him, he was nearing the shore when he became exhausted. Just at this crucial moment, his sister found a long stick and holding it out towards him, she had him grasp it while she pulled him back to shore.
This boy, now grown to manhood, was an excellent athlete, the fastest runner in this section of Alaska, as healthy a boy as could be found.
In 1940, with war clouds gathering over Europe and the rest of the world, newspapers were predicting that before long we will have a second world war. The Army and Navy will need men and soon there will be conscription. One evening, this young Alaskan asked his parents for permission to join the United States Navy.
He reasoned that, if he volunteered, he could choose the branch of service he wished. His old dad, who had been an old salt himself, was proud to have his son join the United States Navy. Even his mother consented. The Navy had a strict examination—a boy had to have at least a high school diploma, and it was necessary to be nearly physically perfect. At the recruiting station in Seattle, out of the 23 applicants in this group, only four were accepted, of which the young Alaskan was one. He received his first training at San Diego, California, and in a letter to his parents he wrote how proud he was because the outfit he belonged to won the coveted pennant for training.
After ten days of leave, the Fleet put out to sea, its destination Honolulu. Every week or so this boy wrote a letter telling about his great battlewagon, the USS California, about the good food, the kindness of the officers and the men on board this warship.
When they found out he came from Alaska, he wrote, the gang called him Sitka. Being an amateur musician and having learned to play the piano accordion, he was much in demand by the blue jackets when they gathered around to sing and dance.
“Never, mother and dad,” he wrote, “have I felt better. I’m happy and glad I joined the United States Navy.”
And then … like lightning from a blue sky, someone brought a telegram which read:
“The Secretary of the United States Navy regrets to inform you that your son gave his life in the performance of his duty. The remains may be buried in any Navy cemetery in the United States or be sent back home to Alaska.”
Upon the request of his mother, he was buried in the Anchorage cemetery under the auspices of the American Legion. He was buried with all Navy honors. Before the body was entrusted to mother earth, the Stars and Stripes were removed from the coffin. This flag and his uniform were given to his mother. The boy I have written about was just an average Alaskan boy, but I knew him better than anyone. You see his name was Lincoln Peter Snider—our only son.
“Average Alaskan Boy” printed with permission from the family of Heinie Snider. Originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Last Frontier Magazine.