Few people know that Japanese forces invaded and occupied American soil during World War II, resulting in a series of battles that claimed the lives of nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers.
Mack Collings, a Hesperia resident and a veteran of the Battle of Attu, wants to change that by telling as many people as he can about his experience and stressing the importance of those battles to the American people.
"The important part is that the government did not let the people of the United States know that we had enemies on American soil," Collings said. "To this day they have never admitted we had enemies on American soil since the War of 1812. That's what upsets me."
In what is now called "The Forgotten Battle," the Aleutian Islands Campaign began in June 1942 when the Japanese occupied the arctic islands of Attu and Kiska, part of the chain of islands extending southwest from what was then the U.S.-controlled Territory of Alaska. It took U.S. forces nearly a year to remove the Japanese.
Collings, who was 23 at the time, played the trumpet as a member of the 4th Infantry Regiment Band. Collings did not actually fight in the Battle of Attu, as he didn't have a battlefield ranking because he was a member of the signal corps, but said he still saw combat firsthand.
He said he would run supplies and messages across the snow- and ice-covered battlefield between the commanders and his comrades as well as helping medics transport wounded soldiers off the field.
"The generals said the battle would only take three days," Collings said. The Battle of Attu actually lasted more than two weeks and many U.S. and Allied troops died not only from enemy fire but from friendly fire, diseases and the bitter cold.
The U.S. forces were not as prepared or equipped as the Japanese. Collings said his regiment had been trained for desert warfare, not for arctic conditions, and that they initially didn't even know why they were being shipped to Attu.
Collings said the 14th Infantry Regiment had crude tents and trenches, and every morning they woke up with everything submerged under six inches of water.
Collings said it is important for the American public to realize that a foreign enemy invaded America's backyard.
"I would like someone in the government to tell me why no one has talked about Attu," Collings said. "I've pushed a lot over the years. It isn't just here in Hesperia. I've pushed it for years, but nobody can give me an answer. It's something that I just can't get over."
The Battle of Attu ended in May 1943 when Japanese forces attacked near Massacre Bay in one of the largest banzai charges of the Pacific Campaign. In the brutal fight, most of which was hand-to-hand combat with bayonets, only 28 Japanese soldiers survived out of more than 2,000.
Shortly after in August 1943, Allied forces invaded Kiska for almost three weeks only to find that the Japanese had abandoned the island before the Allied forces even landed. Despite there being no enemy force present, 313 Allied soldiers died from friendly fire, booby traps, disease and frostbite.
While the Aleutian Islands Campaign kept enemy forces from invading farther into U.S. soil, it is still basked in obscurity and plagued by many preventable U.S. and Allied deaths.
"There's more to the story than you can possibly realize, and nobody in America knows of it," Collings said. "That's what I want to change."