Extensive modern geological surveys were not completed until the US Department of Defense funded the US Geological Survey specifically for the project in 1946. For by the beginning of World War II, the Aleutian Islands were conceived as strategic location for the US military. In fact, by the war's end, the islands would have hosted over 500,000 troops; military presence began in 1940 as part of the defense of Alaska. The Aleutians represented a vulnerable entry into North American soil by both the Japanese and the Soviets, and the military constructed bases at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, concurrently with the bases in Anchorage and Fairbanks. By the end of the war, major military activity took place (from east to west) on Amaknak, Unalaska, Umnak, Atka, Great Sitkin, Adak, Tanaga, Amchitka, Kiska, Shemya, and Attu. Nevertheless, the geography of the Aleutian Islands was troublesome for the military; the weather postponed invasions and caused more casualties than actual combat. Windstorms could tear up tents and cause pilots extreme difficulty. The Japanese bombed both Dutch Harbor and Adak, and occupied Attu and Kiska; the United States engaged in battle with the Japanese at Attu to take back the island. Kiska was abandoned, but in a thick fog US soldiers did not realize that the men they were shooting at were their own.
Meanwhile, Aleut communities from Attu had been captured by the Japanese, while the US government relocated Unalaska Aleuts to inadequate shelters outside Juneau. High death rates resulting from disease and abominable living conditions decimated the older population, and the Aleuts suffered a great loss of cultural knowledge. Those who survived displacement from their homes, by both Japanese capture and US military relocation, returned to the Aleutians to discover their utter destitution due to pilfering and disrepair. Natives of Attu were returned to Alaska, but the US government relocated them to eastern Aleutian settlements. Military presence continued on numerous islands. Shemya Air Force base, for example, closed in 1999.
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