ANCHORAGE — Dennis and Christine McClure’s book ‘We Fought the Road’ is not the first to be written about the building of the Alaska-Canada Highway.
But it may well be the first that does justice to speak to the sacrifice and maltreatment of the black soldiers who carried the load of the labor in laying the 1,400 miles of roads in just days as the U.S. military sought a strategic foothold against an emerging Japanese threat after the bombing at Pearl Harbor.
The germ of the idea for the book began merely as a scrapbooking project for Christine, who was going through family stuff around the house after her mother died in 2009, found letters written by her father, who died in 2001, to this woman he’d just met before being shipped out with the Army to the Alaskan wilderness.
A white officer of an all-black unit, Turner “Tim” Timberlake wrote back to his love — later Christine’s mother — about the conditions and the stories of 1942 construction of what would come to be known as the Al-Can. Somewhat strangely, Tim’s accounts never mentioned the suffering or degradation experienced by the black soldiers. But as Dennis, a Civil War-era historian from his days at Cornell, and Christine, a lover of all things archived, pursued the story of how and why the Al-Can was built, that became the focal point of their research.
“Tim carries us through it, but it’s important for readers to know it’s not really about Tim. The obsession for us became about the way those black men lived. They were made to build barracks for the white officers… while they lived in tents at 40 or 50 below (zero),” said Dennis at Wednesday night’s book signing at Barnes and Noble in Anchorage. “As we traveled through this thing, that became the obsession. Tim’s story is the thread that holds it together.”
Armed with knowledge from…