FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Highway is an adventure filled with unrivaled scenery and exotic wildlife for many who travel it.
But for 97-year-old Leonard Larkins, of New Orleans, the highway is less memorable. With a shovel in hand, Larkins spent eight months carving a section of the 1,700-mile highway out of the mountains and muskeg in the Yukon.
Larkins is traveling through Alaska with members of his family for the first time since his stint in the Army. On Tuesday, he was honored for his work on the highway by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Carlson Center.
The Alaska Highway was completed 75 years ago, so Larkins said it’s difficult to remember much. He admits he tried to push the memories away because the work was brutal.
“The work was hard and the mosquitoes were large — the cold,” Larkins said. “It was negative 72. I didn’t like it.”
Alaska Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey gave a presentation at the luncheon about the work Larkins took part in. Larkins is one of more than 11,000 Army engineers who worked on the highway. He is one of two surviving members of the 93rd Engineers Regiment — one of three black engineer regiments that worked on the Alaska Highway — when the Army was still segregated.
Larkins and his regiment were assigned to the Yukon portion of the Alaska Highway, and they made camp at Carcross, between Haines and Whitehorse. Corduroy roads were built in the boggy areas by laying the fallen timber on the roads.
Before World War II, he worked as a sugar cane cutter in New Orleans. He volunteered for the Army in 1941 to get a raise, earning $20 per month as a private first class. After Pearl Harbor, the Alaska Highway became a national security priority for the U.S. and Canada.
Larkins, who is sharp and…