There are times when extraordinary circumstances of history present already gutsy teachers with unexpected challenges. This is certainly true of the intrepid Etta Schureman Jones, an elementary school teacher and trained nurse from originally from Vineland, New Jersey.
Etta Schureman was over forty years old when she and her sister, Marie, ventured into Alaska Territory to teach Native American Eskimos in primitive rural schools. After one year, Marie returned to the Lower 48, but Etta, who had met the love of her life and married, settled permanently in Alaska. The picture here is the happy couple on their wedding day.
Eighteen years later, Etta and her beloved husband, C. Foster Jones, were working together in the remote Aleutian island of Attu when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Empire of Japan on December, 7, 1941, “a day that will live in infamy.” The couple and their students were slated to be evacuated by the U.S. Navy when the island was invaded by Japanese troops. Although the couple were in their sixties, Japanese soldiers killed Foster and removed Etta to an internment camp in Japan, where she was incarcerated with a small group of Australian nurses who were also prisoners of war. The Attuan natives, about three dozen of them, were also taken to Japan, with the apparent intention of assimilating them into the Japanese population. Although Etta was rescued buy American troops after the war, and she and the surviving Attuans were eventually repatriated after the war, Etta never saw her students or their families again.
Etta’s intriguing tale of survival is told brilliantly by Mary Breu in her book Last Letters from Attu: The True Story of Etta Jones: Alaska Pioneer and Japanese POW. A fascinating read, to be sure. You can find this book at amazon at the following link: Last Letters from Attu. I have also included a chapter about this courageous teacher in my recently published book, Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve Courageous Teaches and their Deeds of Valor, also available at amazon at this link: Chalkboard Heroes.