Kanaga Diary: Lost in the Aleutians, 1938 by Estelle Lauer

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MWSA Review

Kanaga Diary—Lost in the Aleutians, 1938 by Estelle Gibson Lauer is a moving tribute compiled and written by a daughter in memory of her father. Lauer’s father, Navy Chief Pharmacist's Mate Royce Rainey Gibson, unexpectedly and inexplicably disappeared into the wilderness after setting out for a hunting trip on January 18, 1938, while serving on a remote outpost in Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain.  Relying primarily on her father's letters and his diary entries, she documents the details associated with her father's final days and months.

A combination of Lauer's observations, as well as her father's various writings, provide an interesting look into the pre-World War II time frame in general.  The book also provides a thorough accounting of Gibson's experiences—both during his years of Navy service and while braving the barren wilderness in the middle of the Aleutian Islands.  The author’s description of how her mother, sister, and she came to grips with the loss of a well-loved husband and father are particularly poignant.  

Although the specifics of Gibson's disappearance will likely never be unraveled, the reader will certainly get a detailed look at one man's struggle to deal with the elements, boredom, and the challenges of family separation.  Perhaps more importantly, you’ll appreciate how one family learned to cope with loss and move on with their lives.

Review by John Cathcart (August 2018)

Author's Synopsis

It’s the winter of 1937-’38. World War II is brewing. At a remote duty station on Kanaga Island, Alaska, in the middle of the Aleutian chain, eight men are engaged in a U. S. Navy mission whose aim is secret even from them. Six of the men record weather data and monitor radio communications between Japanese fishing boats. A seventh is the cook. The eighth man, the medic, Chief Pharmacist’s Mate Royse Gibson, has little to do — no one in this small contingent gets sick, no one is injured. There will be no mail in or out for months, and radiograms, the only other means of communication with home, are expensive and difficult to arrange. So Gibson keeps a diary in the form of letters to his wife and two young daughters, to be mailed if ever it’s possible. Then one day Gibson and the cook go seal hunting, and disappear without a trace. Gibson’s letters, finally delivered to his family months later, comprise half of "Kanaga Diary," detailing his daily routine and his far more interesting spare-time activities on the island. The other half of this “double memoir” is his daughter Estelle’s story of the family, struggling, eventually moving on, but keeping his memory alive. In 1995, fifty-seven years after the loss of her father, Estelle and her husband set out on a long-planned visit to Kanaga, to investigate her father’s disappearance and to finally say goodbye.

ISBN/ASIN: 978-0-99700-328-4
Book Format(s): Soft cover
Genre(s): Memoir, Nonfiction, History
Review Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir/Biography
Number of Pages: 132