Mary Jackson contacted us via our Facebook Page and honored us by sharing her father's story.
According to Ms. Jackson, "My father, Charles Edward Ulrich born April 14, 1918 was a master sergeant and weather observer for Ladd Airfield during World War 2. He absolutely had the best time anyone could even imagine during World War 2 and it was his dream to go back and visit [Fairbanks]!"
Ms. Jackson related that her father had enlisted in the Army Air Corp in March of 1941, before the United States had officially entered World War II. She told us that her father was a graduate of the Chanute Weather Observation program in Illinois and was assigned to Ladd Airfield to help set up weather observation stations after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Mr. Ulrich's job as a weather observer was a vitally important one, as Ladd Field (now part of Fort Wainwright) was an important base for sending aircraft to the USSR via the Lend-Lease program. These aircraft were sent to the Eastern Front of the European Theatre of the war. Aircraft were flown by Americans from their factories in the Lower 48, through Canada to Fairbanks. Here in Fairbanks, the aircraft were inspected and handed over to Russian control for their trip across Western Alaska, the Bering Strait, and Siberia.
Ms. Jackson told us that her father developed a special affection for the type of furry hats the Russians wore, and favored them throughout his life. She said that as he was a dairy farmer in Texas, Mr. Ulrich got a few curious looks for his choice of head gear!
He said he was terrified during a personal weather report he gave to a 5-star general and was relieved at the warm: “Well done, sergeant” he received.
As sadly happens too often, many of the photos and letters providing details of Mr. Ulrich's story were lost in a house fire and on his passing in February 2017. Ms. Jackson said, "I would look through them as a child and the sense of unity and camaraderie just shown through! Of course the military has a specific ranking system but Ladd Airfield really seemed like a place where all parts, big and small, pulled together equally as one!"
Thankfully, she was able to talk with her father about his experience at Ladd. She related interviewing her father for an elementary school project for Veteran's Day and discovered that the only injury her father suffered during his service was when he broke his leg skiing during a weekend pass.
Thanks to the combined effort of skilled weather observers like Mr. Ulrich, construction personnel, aircraft maintenance and service technicians, translators, pilots and so many other support staff that often go uncredited, Lend-Lease at Ladd Field was a successful contribution to the war effort. Nearly 8,000 aircraft were transferred to Russian control at Fairbanks, and made it to the Eastern front. Their efforts are memorialized at the Lend-Lease Monument in Downtown Fairbanks, and in our museum.
Thank you to the Ulrich family and Ms. Mary Jackson for sharing MSG Ulrich's story with us.