Photo courtesy of the Brennan Family Collection
This photo of John Floyd King was taken during his U.S. Army service during World War I. Written beneath the photo was “Some soldier, eh!”

Photo courtesy of the Brennan Family Collection This photo of John Floyd King was taken during his U.S. Army service during World War I. Written beneath the photo was “Some soldier, eh!”

The Separate Lives of the Man Who Fell — Part 3

Alec Hardin MacDonald appeared in the census count as a resident of Takotna Village in Interior Alaska

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Alec Hardin “Doc” MacDonald (a.k.a., John Floyd King), an eight-year employee of the Alaska Road Commission, drowned in May 1948 near Soldotna when he fell into the Kenai River from a bridge construction site. Research indicates that MacDonald came into being during the 1930s about the same time King disappeared.

Eight years after her 1932 marriage to John Floyd King in Norfolk, Virginia, Helen Adelia (Mears) King appeared as part of a legal advertisement in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The ad, dated Feb. 24, 1940, called Helen the plaintiff in a lawsuit against her husband, from whom she wished to secure a divorce “on the grounds of willful desertion and abandonment, which has continued for more than two years.”

Floyd, the defendant, was, according to the suit, no longer a resident of Virginia. Where he was living, in fact, was unclear. The ad stated that Floyd was required to appear within 10 days of the date on this legal order if he wished to “do what is necessary to protect his interest.”

Floyd King failed to show. On April 25, Mrs. King was granted an uncontested divorce from Mr. King in the Law and Equity Court of the City of Richmond. The final legal document stated that Floyd and Helen had been “separated” since 1937.

North to Alaska

At about the same time Floyd King’s divorce was finalized, Alec Hardin MacDonald appeared in the census count as a resident of Takotna Village in Interior Alaska, the same place where his next wife, the recently divorced Helen Irene O’Halloran, was living with her youngest children. MacDonald and O’Halloran married three years later.

In Fairbanks in 1942, Doc MacDonald — who had fought as Floyd King in France in World War I — signed a military draft-registration card under the watchful eye of registrar Ralph Soberg, who was also listed as MacDonald’s boss with the Alaska Road Commission. MacDonald was described as standing 6 feet tall, weighing 180 pounds, and having brown eyes and hair.

A few months later, MacDonald joined Soberg’s crew to help erect a cantilever bridge across the Tanana River near Fairbanks. Shortly thereafter, MacDonald enlisted in the U.S. Army as what may have been a civilian construction worker. According to Soberg’s memoir, MacDonald was “drafted” into the military.

During the winter of 1943-44, Soberg traveled to Takotna to inventory the materials and equipment stored there after the closure of a local ARC camp. Since the MacDonalds were still residents of the village, Soberg enlisted Doc’s help with the job. Doc was not on the ARC payroll at the time, but he pitched in, nevertheless, to help his friend.

Despite the friendship between the two men, it is unclear just how much Soberg knew of MacDonald’s past as John Floyd King. It is possible that they were close enough for MacDonald to have confided the truth, but it is also possible that Soberg was unaware of the King connection until after MacDonald’s death — if then.

Meanwhile, Doc’s father, John Thomas King, was entering a miserable stretch of years.

In 1945, the elder King learned of the death of his second-oldest son, Second Lt. William M. King — who had been captured by the Japanese in the Philippines, had endured the Bataan Death March, and had been tortured and brutalized before dying in a prison in occupied Korea.

In addition to then losing Floyd to the bridge-building accident in 1948, John Thomas King also lost his third and youngest son, a pharmacist named Omer, who committed suicide in California by consuming an entire bottle of Nembutol, a barbiturate then commonly used for euthanizing animals. The following year, King lost his second wife, Margaret, when she suffered a stroke.

Residents of the central and southern Kenai Peninsula, at this time, were witnessing unprecedented growth — progress for which Doc MacDonald had been partly responsible because of his work on the bridge, the keystone that united the northern and southern portions of the highway and kept them connected.

In fact, only three weeks after MacDonald’s death, the Anchorage Daily Times was trumpeting the “building boom” underway on the Kenai.

Homesteaders were steadily moving into the corridor of land available along the highway route — land carved out of the original Kenai National Moose Range. Paul Wise, then the U.S. Commissioner in Kenai, professed awe at the progress and seemed excited by the prospects.

Wise noted that on 27 miles of new road between Moose River and Kenai, a scattering of new homes was being erected. “And there’s lots of room for more,” he enthused.

In Kenai, which had finally been connected to the peninsula’s fledgling road system, Harold “Hal” Thornton was building the community’s first service station and an adjacent café (the Terminal Garage and the Terminal Café).

John “Kenai Joe” Consiel, a longtime resident of Kenai, had the materials on hand to build a 20-room hotel; Kay Lemon had opened a new restaurant, and Mal Cole was building a log roadhouse (which became, instead, his family’s new home).

Within the next decade would come the Swanson River oil discovery, followed by the discovery of commercial quantities of natural gas, and the new highway helped ensure that the infrastructure would be in place to take advantage of vastly increased activity. A military presence at Wildwood would also increase traffic and keep things burgeoning.

Aftermath

But life moved along a different path for the survivors of Doc MacDonald. In 1950, his widow was a resident of Fairbanks. She never remarried, although she lived another 38 years, dying in the Pioneer Home in Anchorage in 1988. Her children spread out, with daughter Vida marrying Alfred Wik and living in Kenai. Daughter Helen lived mainly in Anchorage until her mid-60s, when she also moved to Kenai. She died in 2003.

In the end, a retelling of the life of Alec Hardin MacDonald — also known as John Floyd King — has left researchers with frustrating, yet-to-be-answered questions:

How and when did Floyd King’s 1919 marriage to Ethel Anderson in Idaho end? What did Floyd King do in the decade between the census-taking of 1920 and 1930? Why did he go into dentistry? Why did he move to the East Coast? Why did he abandon his dental career and his second wife, Helen Mears? Why did he move to Alaska? And why did he assume an almost entirely different identity?

Although the name Alec Hardin MacDonald was an invention, his paperwork occasionally reveals glimmers of his life as John Floyd King: his early home in Chautauqua County, Kansas; his marriage to and divorce from Helen Mears; his link to Richmond, Virginia.

His break from the past was incomplete.

On the genealogical website familysearch.org is a partial transcription of MacDonald’s death certificate, filed officially by Dr. C. Earl Albreckt on Oct. 21, 1950, at the Office of Registrar of Vital Statistics in Juneau. It contains personal information about MacDonald as supplied by Ralph Soberg, MacDonald’s boss on the bridge-building project where he died.

The last note on the page, supplied by an unknown genealogist, says: “We do not know why John Floyd King changed his name to Alec Hardin MacDonald.”

When MacDonald was buried in Anchorage, the Veterans of Foreign Wars participated in the ceremony. Was this participation related to MacDonald’s service during World War II or to John Floyd King’s overseas service during World War I?

A search for John Floyd King’s military personnel file has thus far drawn a blank. On July 12, 1973, a fire in the National Personnel Records Center, home of such records within the National Archives, destroyed most of the U.S. Army personnel data for soldiers who served between 1912 and 1959.

Other information sources do exist, but none as comprehensive as those in the National Archives.

For now, there’s a lot we still don’t know — and may never know for sure.

Photo courtesy of the Brennan Family Collection
This formal military portrait of John Floyd King—the man Alaskans would know as Alec Hardin MacDonald—was taken during his service in World War I.

Photo courtesy of the Brennan Family Collection This formal military portrait of John Floyd King—the man Alaskans would know as Alec Hardin MacDonald—was taken during his service in World War I.

This April 1940 form from the Law and Equity Court in Richmond, Virginia, lays out the basic details of Helen Mears King’s divorce from her husband, John Floyd King.

This April 1940 form from the Law and Equity Court in Richmond, Virginia, lays out the basic details of Helen Mears King’s divorce from her husband, John Floyd King.

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