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WW II U.S. Army veteran returned to Takla Landing

U.S. Army weatherman revisits Takla Landing, where he was stationed during the Second World War.
Lee C. Pooler leans against a cabin door frame at Takla Landing during the Second World War. Pooler was stationed at the remote outpost as a U.S. Army weatherman to help predict weather for pilots flying on the Pacific Coast.

His sons have dreamed of this trip since they were young boys.

“He’s such a good storyteller … Mark and I for all our lives have been hearing these stories,” explained Gary Pooler.

At 96 years old, they have brought their father, Lee Pooler, back to visit some of the remote locations where Pooler was stationed as a weatherman in the Second World War.

One of those locations was Takla Landing, even more remote in those days, it was reached by float or ski plane.

Lee Pooler is sharp and alert and can recall many of the details of his days as a weatherman for the U.S. Army during that time, even if he isn’t as mobile, getting around with the aid of a walker and his two sons to help him.

From California, Pooler enlisted on Jan. 6, 1942, after he received his draft letter in the mail the day before.

Rumour was, if you enlisted instead of showing up on your draft day, men would have more choices in where and what they did, so Pooler enlisted.

During the war, on the Pacific Coast, pilots fighting to keep control of North American air space desperately needed up to date weather information for flying in the wild and unforgiving north coast and Bering Strait areas.

Without satellite technology, the system relied on a vast network of weathermen, further inland, taking readings and tracking the weather systems as they moved towards the coast.

For these jobs, the army only selected the most hardy and resilient of men, so they could withstand the long periods with little contact from the outside world and in strenuous conditions.

When Pooler was in training, out of 42 weathermen they had trained, 12 were specially selected for the job, and from those 12 they created two teams of six men.

With knowledge of everything from cooking to codes, animal husbandry to survival, the men deemed the most apt for the job were put on a train, given unmarked gear, so if captured they could not be traced immediately to the U.S. Army, and shipped north.

“We were prepared for a Japanese invasion of that part of the country,” said Pooler.

From California to Washington State, then to Vancouver and Edmonton, Pooler and his fellow weathermen were loaded onto a plane and flown to the Yukon.

They were dropped with supplies on the shores of Aishihik Lake, in the Yukon, and from there they built a camp, and set up a weather station.

While they were there in their rough cabins built by hand, the men recorded a temperature of -58.2 degrees Celcius. The radio was limited, and the men could listen to Tokyo Rose at night, a sultry voice the Japanese transmitted over the airwaves trying to convince U.S. men to give up.

Water was a precious resource, as it had to be brought up from the lake, after a hole was chipped open again each time.

For the rest of his life, Pooler drank only half a cup of coffee at a time, something his son Gary said his father had learned from the harsh winter in the Yukon.

If a man were to take more than half a cup in those cold and frozen conditions, it would be frozen before he could finish it, so a person drank half a cup at a time.

Even after all the years, he still speaks with sensitivity to the characters in his story.

Though most of the men he speaks of would now have passed away, Pooler continues to insist “don’t print that” to some of the more sensitive parts.

Like the name of the man in the story about how he had to slip a note into the hand of the pilot supplying their remote camp on Aishihik Lake in order to have one of the men under his command removed because he was getting mentally unstable from the isolated and difficult conditions.

But after starting out in a few different places, Pooler ended up at Takla Landing, with three men under him, they took over the weather station from two families Pooler said had been running it.

His crew was housed and fed with Canadian Air Force men who operated the radio and telephone system. The crew was stationed at Takla Landing for almost a year during the war.

The Canadian men kept the radio going in order to get the weather information back to Edmonton.

While in the remote location, the team also offered what medical help they could to the First Nations communities in the area, providing medications and what medical expertise they had from their training.

After Takla Landing, Pooler returned to California, and was scheduled for reassignment to the Philippines. He was at Merced Air Base in the U.S. when he heard the atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan and the war was over.

Pooler returned to his pre-army job at Westinghouse in California and later married and had four children.

Pooler returned at the end of August of this year to see Takla Landing with his two sons, and a potlatch was held in his honour.