- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Charlie’s Dozen

In a war that claimed the lives of more than 400,000 American troops, the deaths of 12 soldiers in a construction accident building the Alaska Highway was hardly a footnote in World War II until the U.S. ambassador to Canada dedicated a memorial to those who drowned on remote Charlie Lake in British Columbia.

“It is a day nearly seven decades in the making for the families of those servicemen lost on Charlie Lake,” said at the dedication ceremony last week in nearby Fort St. John. “Twelve families forever changed by the horrific accident that happened here May 14, 1942. Those were dark days in a dark war.”

Mr. Wilkins recounted the courageous story of 11,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who built the highway during subzero temperatures over mountains, rivers and lakes from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Delta Junction, Alaska, just south of Fairbanks. The military supply road served a chain of airfields critical to defending Alaska from Japanese attacks.

“Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Battles were raging in Europe, and keeping North America safe was a top priority for both the U.S. and Canada,” the ambassador said.

“The young American GIs, who found themselves in places called Beaver Creek, Fort Nelson, Whitehorse and Fort St. John, were just starting out,” Mr. Wilkins added, referring to Canadian towns along the highway route. “Some were only weeks into their marriage or left newborn babes behind when they headed out to build the highway.”

Construction of the highway began on March 8, 1942, but tragedy struck on Charlie Lake two months into a project that would be finished by that October. The 12 soldiers were ferrying construction equipment over the lake when a sudden storm sank their vessel.

“These soldiers died during wartime,” Mr. Wilkins said. “They died answering freedom’s call, and they contributed to the greatness of our two democracies at a time when tyranny was on the march. Their hard work is evident today and benefiting our nations in a very tangible way.”

Friends on the Hill

Kurds often say they have no friends but the mountains. However, the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government found many friends on a hilltop in Washington.

last week met with , and several administration officials, but his contacts on Capitol Hill seem to please him the most as members of the House inaugurated the Congressional Kurdish-American Caucus.

“This is a historic day,” Mr. Barzani told caucus co-chairmen, Democratic of Tennessee and Republican of South Carolina. “We Kurds often like to say, ‘We have no friends but the mountains,’ but today in Washington we have many, many friends.”

“We have come a long way,” Mr. Barzani added, referring to the peace and prosperity in the northern Iraqi region. “But we all know we still have along way to go.”

Mr. Davis called the caucus a “symbol of continued friendship and cooperation between the United States and Iraq’s Kurdish people in our effort to bring peace and stability to a federated Iraq.”

Press time

A special envoy to the president of Kazakhstan today plans to announce an initiative for promoting religious tolerance between the Muslim world and the West.

will hold a 3 p.m. news conference at the National Press Club to discuss ‘s proposal to extend the religious freedom associated with his Central Asian nation. Although human rights reports cite deep problems in Kazakhstan, many observers agree that different religions are widely practiced with little government interference.

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