The Adakian was a soldiers newspaper published in World War II that plays a prominent role in the new play Wind Blown and Dripping. Dozens of photos of pages of this historic publication can be viewed online.
The Adakian, a 4- to 6-page newssheet, was published daily for the garrison on Adak Island in the Aleutian Islands. It came into being on January 19, 1944, under the direction of founding editor and former crime novelist Dashiell Hammett. Its first 10 editions were dry runs to allow the staff to get the hang of daily journalism, Adak style. Vol. I, No. 1 was published on Jan. 29, 1944.
The paper may or may not have been Hammett’s idea. But what appears certain is that the commander of U.S. forces at Adak Army Air Base, Brig. Gen. Harry F. Thompson, gave Hammett permission to create the paper and hire the staff he wanted. Among those Hammett hired were two black soldiers, Don Miller and Alba Morris, who shared quarters with the white GIs on his staff. Thus Dashiell Hammett, a socialist and Marxist, took among the earliest steps to integrate the American Armed Forces. The plot of the play Wind Blown and Dripping takes off from that decision by Hammett.
Don Miller went on to become a successful children’s book illustrator and in the mid-1980s created the great lobby mural for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.
Hammett left Adak in April 1945, assigned to Headquarters Company at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, but The Adakian continued to publish into 1946 under the editorship of Bill Glackin, who later became an arts writer and editor for the McClatchy flagship paper, the Sacramento Bee, where he worked for five decades.
Over the course of its brief life, The Adakian’s staff also included Bernard Kalb, who became a journalist for The New York Times, CBS and NBC (and who also served a brief spell in Pres. Ronald Reagan’s State Department), and Erwin Edwin Spitzer, who wrote fiction, humor and poetry and authored a remembrance, “With Corporal Hammett on Adak,” published in The Nation on January 5, 1974.
Another person who contributed to the Adakian was Corporal Robert Colodny, the historian who later made a name for himself as a philosopher of science and who, in the 1950s and ’60s, was harrassed and persecuted for his political beliefs. Colodny did the research and Hammett the writing for an Army-published history, The Battle of the Aleutians, a booklet intended to boost morale among those serving on the Chain.
The Adakian was printed by mimeograph and later lithograph. Its print run was between 3,000 and 6,000 copies daily. It could not be mailed from Adak, yet it evidently got around because it was famous up and down the Aleutians.
The staff, which worked at night, enjoyed the benefit of Hammett’s receiving by mail the latest newspapers and periodicals, up-to-date maps and books (it was said that Hammett received more mail than anyone on Adak, including the highest ranking officers).
For more details about Hammett’s days as editor of The Adakian and his time in Alaska generally, read Shadow Man by Richard Layman and Dashiell Hammett: A Life by Diane Johnson, two biographies published in the early 1980s, as well as Hellman and Hammett (1996), a dual biography by Joan Mellen. His letters written in Alaska, published in Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett: 1921-1960 (2001), ed. by Layman with Hammett’s granddaughter, Julie M. Rivett, convey much of Hammett’s pleasure and sense of purpose as a soldier, editor, teacher and father-figure to his staff. That sense of well being did not last. Whenever Hammett visited Anchorage, and after he was posted there in 1945, he hit the bars and, most probably, the fleshpots and fell off the wagon spectacularly, as Spitzer wrote in his 1974 remembrance.
As far as I’ve been able to find out, there is only one nearly complete collection of The Adakian, held privately. A few libraries in Alaska and one in Denver have photocopies and/or microfilm of the same 5 editions, including the issue that reported on the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy (the state library in Juneau holds the originals). The papers of Robert Colodny held by the Tamiment Library of New York University contain clippings of Colodny’s Adakian columns. Librarians searching from Alaska have found no other library in the country that holds even a single copy. The stack of Adakians in private hands may be the only such collection in the world. The owner has said he would like to have it digitized. When that will happen is unknown. (I was able to view that collection through the help of a travel grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts.)
The Adakian, distributed only on Adak, did not publish exposé journalism, like the news stories that the character Smokie Londregan writes or prepares to write in my play. The real paper’s primary purpose was—as Hammett wrote in the first dry-run edition (Jan. 19, ’44)—simply “to give the Adak soldier—every morning—a paper that he will like to read and that will keep him as up-to-date as possible on what’s going on in his world.”
The staff published war and political news from the Associated Press and the Army News Service. Shortwave radio reception was exceptional in the Aleutians, and the staff—chiefly Cpl. Colodny, who spoke several languages—took advantage of what the radios picked up by listening to Moscow, Berlin, Mexico City, Rome and other major cities.
Reading The Adakian today, I find it has the charm and directness of the era. It was informative, witty, easy to read and frank—yet within the bounds of what was acceptable at the time. It had no rough edges and nothing of the sarcastic nipping—the “snark”—found, let’s say, in much opinion journalism today. Its report of Olivia de Havilland’s March 1944 visit to the islands, for example, treated the screen actress respectfully, even adoringly.
The paper gave the Adak soldier updates from every theatre of the war, relevant political and national news, light news and offbeat items from the States, national sports, news and information about Adak’s sports and recreation opportunities (softball, basketball, etc.), entertainment news, movie listings with capsule reviews, the daily radio schedule (WXLB) and the cartoons.
Just before he left Adak, Hammett collected 150 of those cartoons–50 each by Pfc. Don Miller, Cpl. Bernie Anastasia and Pfc. Oliver Pedigo, selected by the artists–and published them in a booklet on his own dime, possibly with contributions from the staff. Hammett and his boys came up with the name “All Wet and Dripping,” derived from a caption for one of the cartoons. But the Army–which played no other role in publishing the booklet–nevertheless decided to come up with its own title, Wind Blown and Dripping. The little book of cartoons (which was reprinted around 1980) gave me the title for my play.