Monday, October 9, 2017

ICE DREAMS - CHAPTER H (the last chapter)

I have posted one chapter per week of my latest book, ICE DREAMS. Please note that the numerical chapters are autobiographical. The alphabetical chapters are pure fiction. If you would like the complete book in .pdf format, send your request to and I will send it to you as an email attachment.
         After Lorraine left, I had two big projects for the month of August. The salmon would be running that month. The men had been busy building a big fishing wheel, going by pictures and drawings in books which the Department of Interior sent to me. They had also built some salmon smokers. I warned them that both the fishing wheel, when it was spitting fish into a barrel, and the salmon smokers, when there were fish on them would attract bears. Therefore, we needed men on guard at the fishing wheel during the times when it was catching fish and at the smokers anytime there were fish on them.
Also during August, I needed to be planning school classes for the coming year. As Mrs. Wallace observed, I am just “winging” it, but I think that is harder than if I had a set curriculum to follow. I probably will have to introduce mathematics and science for the older children.
I was puzzled about Tatyana. Will she be willing to help again this school year? One day as I was walking out toward the woodline, she fell in step with me. In my mind, her thoughts came as clearly as if she were speaking to me in audible sounds.
“You may be wondering why I acted the way that I did while your wife was here. When we first met, the Starshij told you that I am a virgin – I do not have a husband. I brought you into the cave because I thought that you could be my husband. It was not until you were talking to Starshij that I found out that you are married.
“I was crushed, because I like you so much. It is only because our souls are so close, that our minds can converse like this. I tried to deceive myself into thinking that you really weren’t married, that you were shy or reticent about giving your heart. I thought that eventually you would allow yourself to feel about me the way that I feel about you. When I saw Lorraine, I perceived what a wonderful person she is. When I saw you with her, my self-deception collapsed. Yes, I’ll help you in school this year. But I had to tell you how I feel.”
We continued walking. I didn’t know what to say.
The day after Labor Day (I was the only one who knew or had ever heard of Labor Day), we started school. I divided the class into those who were almost 12 or older. I started them with arithmetic with the intention of going on to algebra after Christmas. While I was teaching them arithmetic, Tatyana worked with the younger children helping them review the alphabet, the colors, and numbers and then having them color. I asked Mrs. Wallace to buy some coloring books and crayons in Bethel and send them out to me.
I had also rearranged the classroom. The younger children were behind the older children and were facing the rear of the trailer. The older children were facing the front so that I could use the whiteboard. I also had a table on which I could put similar objects to illustrate simple addition and subtraction problems. I also had a map of the world, a map of the United States, and a map of Alaska.
Since coming to the Shemyite community, I had been more serious about doing the University of Kentucky correspondence course on classical Greek. I had finished the first course and received a grade of A- and three semester hours credit. I was now working on the second course. I have almost completed it and I will be sending for the final exam in a couple weeks.
The gardens produced an abundance of produce. The women were finding ways to preserve it. They were using the roofs of the trailers to sun dry many things. They dug root cellars in which to keep potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips. I remembered reading about the Korean women making kimchi by cutting up cabbage, hot peppers, and fish and burying it in jars in the ground. All through the winter they dug up one jar at a time. Some of the women decided to try that.
The women already knew how to make bagels. Every trailer kitchen had two or three strings up near the ceiling with dozens of bagels hanging there.
For their part, the men were already going through the woods looking for dead trees which they would saw out in the woods, then drag the pieces back to their trailers. There they split the sections of logs into useable sized pieces. The women’s cook stoves were wood-burning. When it became really cold the pot belly stoves in the center of the trailers were lighted.
I couldn’t help thinking that if I had turned down this assignment and stayed at Fort Meade, I would be in college now. Had I made a mistake? Am I throwing away a year of my life? I cannot deny that the Shemyites need me. Before I came, they were dependent on whatever the Department of Interior would dole out to them. They knew that it wouldn’t go on for long. What I am doing is helping them to become self-sufficient. That will preserve their dignity and self-respect.
The children are being prepared to go to school or at least to earn a G.E.D. diploma. The adults can now defend their community from wild animals, buy food and other necessities with earned money, harvest enough fish and garden vegetables, and gather enough wood for fuel to last through the coming winter.
Also, the storekeeper had sold every one of their crafts and was begging for more. He made it clear that it is only during the summer that he can sell crafts to people who are just passing through. That is perfect because it is during the winter that the Shemyite people work on crafts.
I’m sure that I can get the Department of Interior to set some program in place wherein they will take the crafts to shops in Anchorage. Now that the people have been shown that they can sell their crafts here just as they did when they were living in the cave and now that they have received money for their crafts, I believe they will produce many more crafts this winter.
I am also going to suggest that a teacher be sent to take my place when I leave next fall and that Tatyana be sent to the University of Alaska to work with a linguist who can document the Shemyite patois. At the same time, she can learn English, (and maybe meet a young man whom she can marry.)

Life is about giving others what you have already been given. God leaves us on this earth after we become His children through the Gospel of Christ, in order that we can tell others about Him, and also in order that we may continue to serve others as Christ would have done.   

Monday, October 2, 2017


I will be posting one chapter per week of my latest book, ICE DREAMS. Please note that the numerical chapters are autobiographical. The alphabetical chapters are pure fiction.

On Tuesday, March 12, 1961 two soldiers drove into the community in a M561, a large six-wheeled vehicle called a “Gamma Goat.” I couldn’t believe that they could drive up into our community. There was not even a dirt road from Tuluksak. Despite its size the Gamma Goat can go over terrain that would not be passable for a Jeep. In the vehicle there were twelve rifles and that many cases of ammunition.
“Sergeant, you sign for these. From now on you’ll be responsible for them.”
“Thank you.”
“We’re cold and hungry. Can you give us some grub? You wouldn’t make us eat these cold C-Rations would you?”
“Tell you what. I’ll make you some hot chili with soda crackers, some hot chocolate and some applesauce in exchange for your C-Rations.”
“You’ve got a deal, good buddy.”
They carried a whole case of C-Rations into the trailer.
By then a half dozen men had gathered around to gawk at this large six-wheeled vehicle which had managed to drive up into the community. I showed them the rifles and ammunition. Boris looked at the soldiers and pointing to his stomach he rubbed it and then pointed to them questioningly. I didn’t have to explain the meaning of his gestures. They enthusiastically accepted his invitation. He gestured for all three of us to follow him.
In Boris’ trailer he barked a few commands to his wife. She scurried into the kitchen and began preparing a hot meal whose tantalizing odor was driving us crazy. While we were waiting, Boris served us hot sweetened chai in glasses.
Then his wife began putting the food on the table. When we were seated, Boris clasped his hands in prayer and motioned to me. I prayed for the Lord Jesus to bless the food and to bless the home of this generous couple. When I finished the two soldiers joined us in an enthusiastic Amen.
The next day, I had the children busy drawing pictures of brown bears and moose – copying from pictures I found in hunting magazines. When the men came, I took a rifle, some ammunition, the pictures and some thumb tacks. We walked to the back edge of the clearing. I motioned for them to stay there. I walked out about 100 paces and tacked a picture about chest high on a tree. I walked another 50 paces and put up another picture on a tree. Going another 50 paces I did the same.
Going back to the men, I demonstrated loading the rifle, cocking it, taking the safety off, and firing it. I managed to hit some place on each of the targets, but I didn’t hit any of the animals pictured on them. I then had each man do the same. It was very difficult teaching them, especially gun safety, without words or language. The men, however, were very enthusiastic. Not all of them hit a target, but this was just their first time. I decided to have the men devote their class time to target practice every day.
By the end of March, the men were hitting the animals pictured on the targets. They had also learned to clean the weapons. I issued a rifle to each one who had been in the class.
Spring was coming. I drew up a schedule of these men, two per night, to stand guard over our community. One man would be on duty 4pm to midnight; the other man midnight to 8 am. They were to watch for bears and moose and to shoot the animal before it could get into the clearing.
A month went by. The men were grumbling about the watch duty. Then on the first night in May Boris spotted a brown bear about 75 yards from the trailers. He aimed for the chest, but shot the bear in the head. It roared and fell over dead.
That morning I rode down to the general store and asked if someone would show us how to skin the bear. A Native American man, grizzled in appearance, rode back to the community with me. He skinned and gutted the bear, then told me a few things about butchering it. He asked if he could have the heart and paws from the bear. The men were glad to give him those. He also told me that we must bury the guts in a deep hole and drain the bear’s blood into the hole, then cover the hole in dirt. That might keep wolves from catching the scent of the bear and coming to look for it.
The women butchered the bear and every family was given a share of it. Bear meat was strange to them and each of the women cooked it in different ways. Some roasted it, some fried it, others made stew of it.
The men were more alert now that they knew the possibility of a large and dangerous intruder was real. The possibility of another bonanza of fresh meat was also an incentive. In the next month the men killed a caribou, another bear, and then a moose.
We had no plows and the clearing behind the trailers had many stumps. All the men used spades to dig up garden patches for their own family. At the general store they were able to buy seed potatoes and packets of seeds. They planted the seeds and every day members of the families would carry water in buckets for the garden. They had already been carrying water for use in the home.
The children were making very good progress in basic English. I could sometimes tell one of the children something that I wanted to say to one of the adults and they could interpret it for me. The school district sent a woman to our school to see how much progress they had made, what teaching materials I was using, what my qualifications were as a teacher.
Mrs. Wallace came on a “dirt bike” motorcycle. She had the twelve children come to her one at a time. She asked them the numbers, the alphabet, the colors. Then she asked them questions using simple English. I was afraid at first and then embarrassed at how well they did.
“Sergeant, your methods are unorthodox, probably making it up as you go along. You have no ESL training, probably haven’t even read a book on the subject. Yet somehow, you are doing a great job. If there were a school within reasonable distance, these children could all start in school next fall. Keep it up. You are doing a great job. I’ll see if I can gather up some books for the children and some teaching aids for you and ship them out to you.”
I thanked her and one of the mothers tugged at her arm, took her to her trailer, and fixed Mrs. Wallace a wonderful lunch with hot sweetened chai. When she was leaving, the mother hugged her.
All winter the men and women had been working in the crafts they had used in the cave. They had quite a collection of dolls, throw rugs, wood carvings (including Orthodox crosses), scarves, gloves, and other items. Some of the men put them all in bundles, and carried them on their backs. I went with them to talk to the storekeeper. I had made two copies of an inventory of all the goods. Beside each item was the name of the person who had made the craft.
When we reached the store, I explained to Mr. Harriman that they had some crafts that they would like to leave with him on consignment. Whatever he did not sell in three months we would take back and send it elsewhere to be sold. I asked him to check the inventory against the crafts they had brought with them and to sign one copy of it if it was correct. I would leave the other copy with him. He could sell the crafts for what he judged to be a fair price and then write the price beside the item on the inventory. In three months he would return the unsold crafts, total the amount of sales, keep 20% for himself and pay us 80%. He agreed those terms were fair.
The gardens were coming up. As with all first gardens they were flourishing and there was a minimum of weeds. However, some animals were discovering the gardens and foraging there. We had to drop everything and build fences to keep the wild animals out.
I sent for some books about the way native Alaskans fish for salmon. They would be running in August and September. We only had a couple months to learn to build the wheels and nets they use to catch the salmon. We also had to learn to smoke and preserve the salmon.
It was summer now. The days were long. The sun was warm. The dirt path out to Tuluksak was firm enough for a four-wheel drive vehicle to traverse. I asked Lorraine if she would like to come here for a visit. I would like to see Paul, who was now one year old, but bringing him might be too much for her to manage in these primitive conditions. She agreed with enthusiasm.
Next, I had to make arrangement through the Department of Interior office in Anchorage. They would have to arrange to fly her from Anchorage to Bethel and then for a Ranger to drive her from Bethel to the Shemyite community. I knew that I was asking a lot, but I figured that they owed me a lot.
I sent a letter to them with a copy to the Ranger at Bethel. The Ranger called Anchorage, read the letter to them. They agreed without hesitation. The Ranger answered me back by mail three days after I sent the letters. I promptly sent Lorraine a letter telling her that she had permission to come and I gave her the phone numbers of the office in Anchorage and the Ranger in Bethel.
Lorraine arrived the evening of the Fourth of July. Even though it was evening, it was still light as if it were afternoon. The people of the community all gathered around her and took turns hugging her. Tatyana was on the edge of the group and did not come up to greet her. She had a strange look in her eyes. While everyone was still greeting Lorraine, Tatyana walked away and went to her parents’ trailer.
Lorraine was very tired from her trip. I’m sure that she would have liked to take a shower. All I could offer was a washbasin into which I poured hot water from the tea kettle on the stove. I told her to save the water with which she washed so we could use it to flush the toilet.
We both had to sleep in my single bed. We didn’t sleep a whole lot. The next morning, I got up first and made coffee. I fixed her a fried egg and warmed the bread on top of the egg after I had turned it over. We went out and I showed her around the compound. There were already women and children working out in the gardens. Before long Lorraine was working alongside them.
She saw that some of the beans were pole beans but they were running along the ground. She went looking for some discarded tree branches and pushed them into the ground. “Go get me a hammer and some rags.” She hammered the poles in the ground and then picked the bean runners off the ground and tied them to the poles with strips from the rags. The women watched her and began doing the same.
The families in the community paired up in hosting us each evening for supper. It was heartwarming to me to see the genuine affection the women displayed to her. She oohed and aahed over the food, played with the children, admired the carvings or tapestries on the walls. They may have expected her to treat them with the lack of respect and dignity that other city people had displayed toward them. She admired their crafts, their homes, their children, and their food. They could not have loved her any more.
When we went to the home of Tatyana’s uncle, Tatyana’s parents and the other children were there. They said Tatyana was not feeling well. There was a stiffness in Tatyana’s mother’s manner to us. The uncle’s wife noticed it and frowned. When the meal was over, she excused herself and left the trailer. Tatyana’s father looked puzzled but he stayed. Lorraine helped the uncle’s wife clean up after supper. When the wife started washing the dishes, Lorraine picked up a tea towel and started drying. The wife talked softly to Lorraine. She couldn’t understand the words, but the meaning was one of friendship. When we left, the wife hugged Lorraine a long time with tears in her eyes.
Lorraine was supposed to leave the next day. She was ready in the morning. I walked down to the general store with her, carrying her suitcase. She hadn’t been able to pack all of her own things because many of the women had gifts for her. There was a doll for Andrew, an elaborately carved Orthodox cross, a necklace, wooden toys for Paul, a scarf and other mementos of her visit.
We waited until 3 pm. Then I called the Ranger station. The Ranger who had been coming for Lorraine had run off the road and was taken to the hospital. They were sending her home tomorrow, but she wouldn’t be able to work for a while. That left only one Ranger at the station so he couldn’t leave the station to go out to Tuluksak and back. He would have to make some other arrangement. He said to call him back in a couple days and he’d let us know what he had arranged.
When I called Ranger Thompson a couple days later, he said, “I made arrangements with a man here in town. He is on his way out there now. I hurried back to the trailer and got Lorraine and her suitcase. We hurried back to the general store. When we got back to the store, the storekeeper said, “This man said the Ranger sent him out here to take your wife back to Bethel…But I don’t know…”
The man was drunk, very drunk. I said, “I’m sorry but she has changed her mind.”
“Wha’s wrong. Ain’t I good enough to drive the prin..cess?”
“No, you are not. Thank you.”
“Whad’da ‘bout the money Ranger Thompson promised me?”
“You see Ranger Thompson about that.”
After he left, I called Ranger Thompson and told him,
“The man you sent to drive Lorraine to Bethel arrived here very drunk. She still needs a ride to Bethel.”
“I’m sorry. He was sober when he left here. Look I’ve got more important things than to find taxis for you.”
With that he hung up.
Lorraine started to cry. I remembered that Mrs. Wallace had given me her card when she left. I looked in my wallet for it. It had her home telephone number on it. I called her,
“Mrs. Wallace? This is Sergeant Pritt out at the Shemyite community near Tuluksak. My wife came from Baltimore to visit me. The Ranger brought her here from Bethel. When she was ready to return, the Ranger had a vehicle accident on her way out here. Ranger Thompson made arrangements with some man to pick up Lorraine today. When the man arrived, he was very drunk, so we sent him back. Then I called Ranger Thompson several minutes ago and he was angry and said that he had better things to do than be my taxi service.
“Lorraine is stranded here. If you can find someone who will pick her up and take here to Bethel, I can pay them $30.”
“Tell your wife that someone will be there in three hours. I will call Ranger Thompson and straighten him out.”
Three hours later Mrs. Wallace herself arrived driving a four-wheel drive Dodge truck. I found out later that she took Lorraine to her own house, called Ranger Thompson and told him that she had Lorraine at her home and she would expect a call from him the next day telling her what time to expect the plane to fly Lorraine to Anchorage. She fixed a delicious supper for Lorraine and her own family – a husband and two teenage children.

The next day a plane arrived to fly Lorraine to Anchorage. She was met by a very apologetic secretary from the Department of Interior office. She made all the arrangements for changing Lorraine’s reservations to Baltimore. Lorraine discovered her seats had been changed to First Class!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Monday, September 25, 2017


I will be posting one chapter per week of my latest book, ICE DREAMS. Please note that the numerical chapters are autobiographical. The alphabetical chapters are pure fiction.

I arrived at Elmendorf AFB on January 19, 1961. My new stripes got me much nicer quarters (at least while I was at Elmendorf). The next day I rode the bus into town and found the Department of Interior offices.
“Sergeant, we have been expecting you. I suppose you are wondering why you have been given detached duty with the Department of Interior and what your duties will be.
“We are putting another trailer in the Shemyite community. It has been modified to provide a large classroom area. It is equipped with a whiteboard, a movie projector, a slide projector, a typewriter, a mimeo graph machine, and a reel-to-reel recorder.
“You gave a very insightful report. Now we are acting on it. We will leave it to you how you will proceed with basic English education for the children and the adults. We want a weekly report from you. You will give us a report of your day-by-day activities, by the hour. You will give us a weekly report of how well the children and adults are learning basic English. You will be honest about any problems you are having. You will tell us what you need and what the community needs. We are placing our confidence in you. Don’t let us down.”
On January 23, 1961 I signed out of the Casual unit and went to the airfield. As before I was flown in a small plane to Bethel, Alaska. There Ranger Thompson met me with his four-wheel drive truck. In the back was a shiny yellow SnowCat snowmobile.
“I see that you won’t have to borrow a snowmobile in Tuluksak.”
“Oh, I’ll have to borrow one. That one is for you. Do you know how to ride one?”
“At least you are honest. I’ll show you. You’ll find that they are a lot easier for going through the snow than snowshoes or dog sleds.”
We drove to Tuluksak and arrived earlier than we had the last time.  As promised Thompson showed me how to start the snowmobile, how to make it go forward, how to steer it, and how to stop it. He gave some precautions, but said the best teacher was to ride.
When we arrived, I again went to the first trailer. I said, “Starshij,” “Tatyana?” I was eagerly greeted and pulled into the trailer. The wife again gave me sweet hot chai and black bread with yogurt. Igor was sent to bring the Starshij and Tatyana to meet me.
When they arrived, I told the Starshij through Tatyana that the government had sent me to their community to teach the children and adults basic English. The new trailer had a classroom in the front and a bedroom for me in the back.
I asked the Starshij for permission to hold basic English classes in their community. I suggested that the children come to school 8 am to noon. The adults could come in two groups – women from 1 pm to 3 pm, then the men 3:15 pm to 5:15 pm. I would ring a bell at the beginning of each class. I also requested that the mothers take turns, two at a time, sitting with the children and helping if a child is sick or has to go to the toilet or is crying.
The Starshij frowned.
“It is all right to have the classes for the children in the mornings. About the mothers and the adult classes. I think the adults of the community must meet and discuss how they want to do this.”
I had brought bread and peanut butter with me. I would have to find out about obtaining water, food, and wood from Tatyana. They had stacked a large pile of wood by the stove. I found bottles of water and much food in the cabinets. I didn’t know how to turn on the kitchen range.
The next morning at 8 am I rang a schoolmarm bell vigorously. The children poured out of the trailers. A couple mothers and Tatyana accompanied them.
I had mimeographed a sheet with the letters of the alphabet. We began with the first five letters. I wrote them on the whiteboard. Then I wrote some simple words like apple, boy, cat, dog, and egg. I illustrated each word with a picture. (I had grabbed up all the old magazines I could find and brought them with me.)
Then we sang some simple children’s songs in English.
After that I let them stand, stretch, run in place, and other exercises. When it was snack time, I had some crackers with jelly. That was messy but one of the mothers went from child to child with a wet rag.
After the snack, we repeated the five letters five times. Then I had them sit down and I showed them a series of slides I found among the educational supplies. It had words and pictures illustrating the words. These seemed too hard for the children so I stopped it after fifteen minutes and showed a couple of cartoon films. They laughed even though they couldn’t understand any of the dialogue.
When the women came, I repeated the alphabet lesson. I had cut out pictures of rooms in a house and also pictures of food. I began vocabulary lessons with words like chair, sofa, bed, blanket, skirt, shirt, trousers. When the men came, after the alphabet lesson, the vocabulary lesson and pictures were tools like hammer, axe, saw, wrench, then animals like bear, moose, and caribou.
That night I spent several hours working on the lessons for the next day and writing my day’s report. Afterward, I wrote to Lorraine:
“Dear Lorraine,
“This is my first letter to you from the Shemyite community. It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that it will not be possible for you and Paul to come here and be with me in the near future if ever.
“The situation here is dreadful. I cannot speak the people’s language and they cannot speak with me. Today was the first day of basic English classes. I had twelve children of all ages for four hours. Then I had five women for two hours and seven men for two hours. How long will it take until I can say even simple things to them?
“There is constant danger that a bear or moose could come wandering into the community and do a lot of damage before it left. In Spring that danger will be greatly increased. There is not so much as one rifle in the community and none of the men would know how to use one. But how can we bring someone in to teach them to hunt or how to defend the community against wild animals when they can’t speak English?
“When Spring comes, they should plant gardens. Who can teach them what plants will grow well here? Who and how can someone teach the men what time the salmon will be thick in the river and how to catch them and how to smoke them? It is a frightening thing for them to have been uprooted from a home and environment where they knew how to maintain their way of life. Now they are in an entirely new home and environment that they know nothing about and without the ability to ask people who do know how to survive in this harsh environment.
“I have only a small bedroom and a compact kitchen. The rest of the trailer is devoted to classroom space. If you and Paul came up to Alaska, the nearest place you could find an apartment would be in Bethel. Bethel is a two or three hour drive on dirt and gravel road to Tuluksak. Then you have to travel by snowmobile or dog sled from there to the Shemyite community. The government gave me a snowmobile to use. I don’t know how I will get to Tuluksak when the snow is gone. That is where there is a small store, the post office, and the telephone.
“I have resigned myself to the probability that I will have to stay here until my enlistment expires in September 1962. I will try to get a thirty day leave in September 1961. I would have to pay the air fare from Anchorage to Baltimore, so I will be saving my money.
“Please let me know your feelings about all this.
“I love you and miss you and Paul.
                                                  “ Love,
The next day was Friday. I showed the children a calendar and drew a circle around 27 and another circle around 30. I mentally asked Tatyana to explain that we would have classes on five days then be off two days and start classes again for another five days. I’m not even sure Tatyana understood me. The mental strain of being the only one who cannot converse with the others in the community and yet being their instructor is tremendous. It is exhausting.
The next day I slept late. Then I rode the snowmobile into Tuluksak and mailed my letter to Lorraine and my first two daily reports to the Department of the Interior office in Anchorage.
When I returned to the community, I started making a snowman. Soon some of the children saw me and started helping me. Then I showed them how to make snow angels. They understood the word “angel” because it is very similar in Russian.
For my piece de resistance I told them all to go to their house and get a cup and a spoon. While they were doing that, I put some syrup in a pan, added some raspberry preserves, and brought it to a boil. I turned off the burner, went back out to the children and showed them to fill their cup with clean snow and then line up by the door to my trailer. One by one I poured a little of the hot syrup onto their cup of snow. It became “Eskimo ice cream.” They enjoyed this treat that I enjoyed as a child in West Virginia.
Afterward, I went back into the trailer, took an afternoon nap, washed dishes and fixed supper of fried spam and baked beans with a side dish of sauerkraut. I fixed a cup of chai to drink with my meal. The little store had begun to stock it for the Shemyite community.
On Sunday, Tatyana’s family and her uncle’s family gathered at the home of Tatyana’s parents for Sunday dinner. They invited me to join them. I decided to try an experiment. I took my Russian Bible with me and when the time seemed appropriate, I read a simple passage from one of the Gospels and then began reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Russian. They joined me. In many cases the words they used were different. Nevertheless, they understood enough of the Russian to keep in pace with me throughout the prayer.
We all understood that there had been a breakthrough. The language barrier was beginning to crumble. I had discovered a new tool for my classes with the adults. From now on when I taught them the English word for a picture, I would try to have the Russian word for it. The men came and hugged me.
It became a custom in the community for a couple of families to get together for Sunday dinner. They would invite me and at some time they would indicate that it was time for me to read the Bible and pray. I would read a familiar Psalm or Gospel portion, say a prayer with simple Russian words, and then begin the Lord’s Prayer. They would all join in with me.
One day, one of the men whose name I had not learned, came to the trailer while the children were in class. I heard some hammering outside. When I looked to see what he had done, I saw fastened to the trailer a beautifully hand carved Russian Orthodox cross. Without ordination or installation or any church’s blessing I had become the community’s pastor!
On Monday, February 20, 1961 one of the boys, Stefan, became ill about an hour after school began. He vomited. When one of the mothers took him to the toilet to clean him up, she noticed that he was very hot. She said something to Tatyana who communicated to me, “He is very hot and flushed. She is taking him home.”
The next morning, instead of children, Starshij and Tatyana came to my trailer. Tatyana communicated, “Ten of the children are all sick. Like Stefan, they are vomiting and are very hot. We do not know what to do. Can you go for help?”
I dressed as warmly as possible and started the snowmobile. I rode into Tuluksak. In the general store I asked where there was a doctor and how to contact him.
“In Bethel there is a doctor.”
I asked to use the phone. I called the Ranger in Bethel.
“This is Sergeant Pritt from the Shemyite community near Tuluksak. We have an urgent need for medical assistance. Most of the children in the community are very ill. They are running high temperatures, vomiting. I don’t know any of the other symptoms because of the language barrier. Please call the Department of Interior office in Anchorage and let them know we need help. Then see if you can get a doctor or even a nurse to come out here. Will you bring them?”
“I’ll call Anchorage for you. As for the local medical people here, they are pretty busy already. This time of year always brings a lot of illness.”
“Please do what you can. This community could lose all of its children.”
I drove back to the community with a heavy heart. I went from trailer to trailer visiting the families with sick children. In each one, I would put a rag in cold water, wring it out, and lay it on the child’s forehead (if the mother was not already doing this). Then I would say a simple prayer for the child’s recovery. I would pronounce the name “Jesus” clearly. I would motion for the mother to continue using the cold water rags.
The next day, I returned to the general store and called the Ranger. He told me that he couldn’t find any doctor or nurse who was willing to go out to the community. They had all the sick people that they could care for now. As for the Department of the Interior office in Anchorage, they said to tell me to keep up the good work. I was both angry and discouraged. While I was in the general store I bought some boullion cubes.
Back in the community, I again went to the trailers with sick children. The fevers were gone but the children were weak and listless. I would go to the stove, boil some water, and put a boullion cube in the cup. After it dissolved I would motion for the mother to feed it to the child. I would leave another cube with the mother. Before I left, I would pray for the child and for its mother.
By prayer and bouillion cubes, the children slowly recovered. By Friday, they were out of bed and moving around in the trailers. By Monday, February 27, 1961 the classroom was filled with children who had recovered and were able to learn and participate in class.
I wrote to Lorraine and told her what had happened. I washed my hands in alcohol and put the letter in the oven before sending it. I didn’t want to send the germs of this illness back to them. My precautions were probably foolish considering how many unclean hands would handle the letter before it was delivered.
In my daily report, I told that all the children seemed to be well. I urged that at least a dozen rifles, powerful enough to bring down a bear or moose, and a supply of ammunition be sent as soon as possible. The men of the community should be learning to use the weapons and practicing target shooting now. They need to be ready by this Spring when hungry bears, moose, and other large animals may roam into the community looking for food. If any such animals did come into the community, they would do a lot of damage and maybe even attack some residents.

In my basic English class with the women, I began to include words for parts of the body and symptoms of illnesses – fever, rash, vomit, pain. With the men, I began to include words for the large animals and also for the parts of a rifle.

Monday, September 18, 2017


I will be posting one chapter per week of my latest book, ICE DREAMS. Please note that the numerical chapters are autobiographical. The alphabetical chapters are pure fiction.
The Casual Barracks had open bays on each floor. The bays were divided into cubicles, each of which contained two bunk beds. I was in a top bunk which came almost to the top of the cubicle partition. It had been a long time since I had been in an open bay. I felt uneasy, maybe it was part of the fear that I was feeling. It was three or four hours each night before I could fall asleep.
The Casual Barracks was the “labor pool” for any details on base. There were all kinds of reasons that a person might be on casual status. When a sergeant came looking for a group of men for a detail, they tried to avoid choosing the men who had just come in from a remote site. However, they could not do so overtly without getting in trouble themselves. Therefore, we had to “cooperate” by making ourselves scarce.
That was more difficult for me than for most of the men. I received a letter from Lorraine with $3 and it was gone almost immediately. My shower clogs had broken, I needed socks, I bought some cough drops, a pack of cigarettes, and a cup of coffee. It was gone. Some of the guys make themselves scarce by going into town. The bus used to be free. Now it is 50 cents each way.
The Sunday after we arrived, I went to the evening service of a church just off base. The pastor was Reverend Ivy. It was in a Quonset hut and was  named “Lighthouse Mission.” I wrote:
“The service was quite Pentecostal though more subdued than I expected. They prayed twice and they pray like the people in the Free Methodist Church – all at once, out loud. The preacher and another man played the guitar and a girl played a kind of rinky-tink piano. I’m referring to the way she played – the piano was a nice one. The minister didn’t feel he had a message, so he didn’t preach.”
Fifty years later, in September 2010, Lorraine and I went to a church at that same location. It is now a large church with three campuses. It is still Pentecostal, but now its name is Muldoon Community Assembly of God.
The next day, Monday, December 19, 1960, I requested and received a partial pay. It was an advance on my pay for the first half of January 1961, $15. Because of my allotments, my net pay was only $29/month. Since I was being transferred to Ft. Meade, Maryland, I anticipated that my travel pay would be several hundred dollars at least. I was hoping they would advance part of that to me so that I could buy a plane ticket home. I wouldn’t find out until we processed out. Processing would start Tuesday, December 27. Monday, December 26 was a holiday since Christmas was on Sunday. 
Processing went by in a whirl. We were scheduled to fly from Anchorage to Seattle on the evening of December 30, 1960. I thought that if everything went right I might just be home the evening of our second wedding anniversary. Things didn’t go all right. The weather grounded flights for the next several days. It was January 2, 1961 before we flew out of Anchorage, Alaska.
When we landed, the bus from McCord Air Force Base to Seattle-Tacoma Airport had just left. There wouldn’t be another bus for several hours. Along with a lot of others on the plane, I decided to take a “gypsy” cab to the airport. When the driver led four of us out to his car, my chin dropped. It was a Ford Falcon! He put one airman in the front seat and put a duffel bag at his feet and a suitcase on his lap. He tied two or three duffel bags on the roof, filled the trunk, put three of us in the back seat and put some bags in with us. He drove like a maniac! He charged us each $5.
At Seattle-Tacoma Airport I was able to get a ticket to Washington, D.C. I called my parents and told them when I would be arriving that evening. When I arrived at Lorraine’s parents’ house, I ran upstairs to embrace Lorraine and then I ran up another flight of stairs to see Paul. CHAPTER E
When I returned to Anchorage on my way home, there were fifteen days that I had to wait before I departed for home. I inquired at a number of offices about the people who had been relocated from Shemya. No one knew anything, and most didn’t know who the people were. Finally, I found someone who knew what I was talking about. I was directed to one of the security offices. One of the men recognized me and knew that I had been helpful in ferreting out the various Russian attempts to spy on Shemya.
“I’m glad to see you Airman. I think you can be of help to us. We need a report on how the Shemyites are doing. With most people I could send, there will be a communication problem and a trust issue with the people. I am going to arrange to have you assigned to us for five days, if you are willing that is. We will take you out to where they are to have a short visit with them. When you return, I want a complete report.”
“I’ll be glad to go. However, I am broke. I couldn’t afford a bus or train ticket.”
“We will take care of the expenses. You couldn’t get there by bus or train. Go back to your barracks and pack enough clothes for several days. We will pick you up at noon, so eat an early lunch.”
At noon, they picked me up and took me to the airfield. There a small plane was waiting and it took me to Bethel. From Bethel, a Federal Wildlife officer took me by four-wheel drive pick-up truck to the village of Tuluksak. There was a sort of trading post or general store constructed of logs with no name on the outside of it. We ate our supper there. The ranger borrowed a snowmobile to take me the rest of the way. He told the owner that he would be coming back and would like a bed for the night.
That meant the Shemyites did not live far from there and that I would be staying several nights with them.
“I’m going to drop you off. Then you will be on your own. I’ll give you all day tomorrow. Then I’ll pick you up the following morning. Weather is unpredictable in Alaska. If there is a snowstorm, just wait it out. I’ll return for you as soon as I can.”
We went through the woods on the snowmobile. It was freezing cold riding out in the open. The cold wind felt like knives cutting into my face. Suddenly, we were in an opening and I could see several dozen trailers, placed helter-skelter in the clearing. I got off the snowmobile, shouldered my duffel bag and headed for the nearest trailer. I heard the sound of the snowmobile trailing off in the distance. “Then you will be on your own,” he had said.
At the first trailer, I knocked. I thought my fingers would fall off - I was so cold. A man came to the door. He looked suspiciously at me. He asked a one word question in their language. I said, “Starshij or Tatyana?” Pointing his finger at me, he said, with a questioning inflection, “Airman?” I said, “Yes. Da” He pulled me up into the trailer. Seating me beside a pot-belly wood stove, he said a lot that I couldn’t understand. Then he called for his wife and gave her some commands. Soon I had a hot cup of chai in one hand and a thick piece of Russian dark bread smeared with yogurt in the other hand.
Next, he called the name “Igor” and a boy of about twelve appeared. I heard “Starshij” and “Tatyana.” The boy pulled on a parka and gloves and went out the door.
After a while, an older man and Tatyana returned with Igor. I tried intently to calm my mind so that Tatyana could communicate with me.
“The Starshij you knew in the cave did not survive the attack on him by Ilya. He died in the hospital after they flew him from Shemya to Anchorage.” Pointing to the older man, she said, “This is Mixajl. He is now our Starshij. Why have you come?”
“I am on my way home after serving my year out on Shemya. I cannot leave until December 30. The Air Force asked me to visit with you all and report to them how you are doing and what you need for your transition to living here. They know that I can communicate in a limited way with you and that your people know they can trust me.”
Tatyana interpreted my answer to Mixajl. He grunted.
“There are Russians in this area whose ancestors came here over one hundred and fifty years ago. There is an old Russian mission not far from here. We have an affinity with them but few of them now speak Russian and we barely understand it anyhow. We need to learn English and our children need to learn English.
“Our men have to learn new skills in order to sustain our life here. The government has given us food and money, but surely that will not continue for long. Also, our men cannot have dignity if they are not supporting themselves and their families. We need some native peoples to teach us how to hunt and fish. We need for someone to show us how to farm and what crops and plants will grow well in this area.”
“Those are all reasonable requests and I will communicate them to the government offices. With your Starshij’s permission, I would like for you to take me to as many families as possible tomorrow and let them tell me what they need and how they are adjusting to this move.
“If you have not heard, Ilya and Gretchen blew up the cave. There is now a huge crater on the tundra above where the great room of the cave was located. Then the bodies of Ilya and Gretchen were found on the beach near the cave. They both had been shot in the forehead. Later it was discovered that a civilian contractor living on Shemya was a Russian spy. He had been their boss.”
Tatyana relayed this information to the Starshij. They talked at length. Finally, Tatyana said that I had his permission to visit other families. He said that Tatyana must have her father’s permission to accompany me. Of course, if she did not accompany me, I could not learn anything from the people I visited. The Starshij also said that I could stay in his trailer for the two nights that I would be there.
The Starshij did not seem to be a pleasant person. When we reached their trailer, he said some rough things to his wife. She looked older than him. She screwed up her mouth and gave him a curt reply. She showed me into a small bedroom which had no furniture. On the floor was a long burlap bag filled with straw or pine needles. When she closed the door, it was pitch black inside the room. I kept my clothes on and covered myself with my parka. I was not welcome in this home!
The next morning, I was awakened with some rough, derisive words. When I came out of the room, the woman led me to the trailer’s bathroom. There was a basin of cold water sitting on the sink. I relieved myself, washed my hands and face in the cold water and then poured the wash water into the toilet bowl.
Breakfast was a bowl of kasha and a cup of unsweetened chai.
Soon after breakfast, Tatyana came to my rescue. We went to a half dozen trailers. Then Tatyana took me to her family’s trailer for lunch. Her father and mother were pleasant people and treated me as an honored guest. After lunch, we visited another half dozen trailers. The last trailer we visited was that of Tatyana’s uncle, aunt, and three young cousins. It was a happy family. They were expecting us and the aunt had prepared a special dinner for us.
After dinner, Tatyana’s parents and younger brother came over to visit. We all sat around on the floor on cushions except the aunt, uncle, and Tatyana’s parents who sat on the sofa and only chair in the living room. The aunt kept everyone’s glass filled with hot sweetened chai. I was glad that I didn’t have to go back to Mixajl and his wife until it was time to go to bed.  When I returned to my room in their trailer I could tell my duffel bag had been thoroughly searched. I was also glad that the next morning, soon after a breakfast of kasha and unsweetened chai, the ranger came for me.
I took careful notes at every trailer we visited so that I could write a good report when I returned.
On December 20 – 22, 1960 I visited the community of relocated Shemyites near Tuluksak, Alaska. These people, who formerly lived in a large cave on the Island of Shemya, Alaska were relocated to this place some months ago. They were given FEMA trailers as dwellings and they have received enough food and money from the government to sustain life.
I spoke with their “Starshij” (elder, elected leader) on several occasions through an interpreter, Tatyana. These people are descendants of Cossack soldiers who fought with the White Army during the Russian Revolution. The Bolshevik victory prevented their return to their native lands. They bought a fishing vessel and set sail for Alaska as immigrants, as did many other Russians at that time. Their ship was caught in a storm and wrecked on Shemya Island. Many of them perished. The survivors discovered a large cave which was heated by a large thermal pool. There they lived.
Their language is a patois of Kazakh and Russian words. They were an insular community and never learned English or any other modern language. They understand each other, but not anyone else. When I first met them, they had an interpreter, Gretchen, who knew English. She had not been born in the community and, as it turned out, was a Russian spy.
They developed into skilled craftsmen who made souvenir objects which they sold to native Alaskans and Siberian natives who then resold them as “native crafts.” They had an impressive workshop and design studio in the cave. They caught fish and other seafood from the ocean and learned to garden in the tundra during the brief Alaskan summer. They also bartered for food when they sold their crafts.
Now they are in a totally foreign environment. Here is what they need in order to successfully relocate to this new location.
1. There is an urgent need by both the children and the adults to learn English. The children cannot go to school without a basic knowledge of English. The adults cannot learn to garden, to fish, to hunt, to begin to produce crafts once more until they can communicate with persons outside their own community.
2. The men need powerful rifles and training in how to use them. They never had firearms on Shemya. Now they live in a wilderness where a brown bear or a moose could devastate their community. A trailer is no protection against either one of those animals. Also, they need to be taught how to hunt and trap animals for food.
3. Native Alaskans could teach them many things once they can communicate with each other. The men are skilled craftsmen. The women are excellent seamstresses. For almost a year they have not been able to use their skills.
I recommend that the winter months be used to give both the adults and children intensive instruction in basic English. This should be supplemented with films, records of simple songs in which the words are distinctly pronounced and accompanied with pictures.
Several soldiers could give some of the men lessons in marksmanship, firearms safety and maintenance. These soldiers should have experience working with people whose language they can’t understand.
The weather in the Tuluksak area is different than on Shemya. The people need to be taught how to dress in order to survive in snow and ice and sub-zero weather for months at a time.
These are not difficult measures and these are good people who deserve our help after being torn from a familiar home and being relocated in a strange environment.”
I was thanked for my help and returned to my unit at Elmendorf. Christmas was several days away. After Christmas, we began processing out on December 27, 1960. We were supposed to fly from Anchorage to McCord AFB near Seattle, Washington on the evening of December 30, 1960. Bad weather cancelled all flights out of Anchorage. It was January 2, 1961 before we were flown south to McCord AFB, arriving in the very early hours of January 3. From there we took a “gypsy” taxi cab to Seattle-Tacoma Airport. I was able to get a seat on a plane to Washington (DC) National Airport and my parents met me there and drove me to Baltimore.
I had to report in to my new unit assignment at Fort Meade, Maryland before January 12, 1961. That gave Lorraine and I about a week to find an apartment. We searched the classified ads, drove to one apartment after another. Either the apartment was too dirty to clean, or it was in a bad neighborhood, or the rent was more than we could afford. We resigned ourselves to living in the home of Lorraine’s parents, and continuing our search on the weekends. It is a good thing we didn’t find an apartment.
I reported in to my new unit on January 11, 1961. The First Sergeant met me as I entered the Orderly Room.
“Well, Airman, I see that you liked Alaska, and Alaska liked you.”
I furrowed my brow.
“You don’t know what I mean? You really haven’t a clue?”
“No, First Sergeant.”
“Sit down in that chair and read these orders.”
The first set of orders promoted me to Staff Sergeant. That was two grades above Airman Second Class. It also awarded me an Air Force Skill Category that I had never heard of. This Category had a pay supplement for living in a high cost duty zone.
The second set of orders transferred me to detached duty under supervision of the Department of the Interior in the Tuluksak, Alaska area. I was to report to the Department of the Interior offices in Anchorage, Alaska no later than January 20, 1961. Transportation of dependents and household goods was authorized at government expense.
The First Sergeant said, “I have never seen the equal of either one of those orders. You must have friends in high places.”
“Not any that I know of, First Sergeant. I do have a good idea what they want me to do. It is a wild story involving Cossack soldiers, modern-day cave-dwellers, and Russian spies.”
“Sounds like they are going to have you writing scripts for movies. Good luck to you. It sounds like you have more good luck than most of us.”
“Thank you, First Sergeant.”
I was sure going to need good luck when I break the news to Lorraine and to her parents!
There were tears, then anger, then a day of sullen silence. In the end, Lorraine realized that I had to obey military orders. A week from now I would be going back to Alaska. Once I was there we would have to decide whether she would remain in Baltimore and wait for me or whether she would join me in Alaska.
If I had remained at Fort Meade, as I expected, I could have been separated from the Air Force in September 1961 to go to seminary. Now that I was being returned to overseas duty, arguably another remote site, I probably would have to remain at least a year and maybe until my enlistment ends in September 1962.    

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


I will be posting one chapter per week of my latest book, ICE DREAMS. Please note that the numerical chapters are autobiographical. The alphabetical chapters are pure fiction.

By October I had completed 75% of my tour on Shemya. My DEROS was 31 December 1960. All I knew at this point was that the Air Force would fly us from Shemya to Anchorage, then from Anchorage to Seattle. From Seattle we were on our own to get home. Jon Boettner had already received his next assignment. I had not received my next assignment. Lorraine thought that I had received my next assignment and was just keeping it from her until I thought it was the right time to tell her.
Lorraine had gone back to work at the Maryland State Department of Vital Statistics in the same office where she worked before she moved to Syracuse to be with me.  Again, when I was stationed at Ft. Meade for several months and then was sent to Alaska, she worked in that office until the last six weeks of her pregnancy. Several months after Paul was born, she was hired back into that same office.
Lorraine’s mother took care of Paul while Lorraine was at work. Since she lived in the same house with her parents and grandparents, they all became very attached to him. They didn’t know how they could stand it when I returned and we would “take Paul away” from them.
I wrote to Lorraine about trailers. I told her that if I was stationed in a state west of the Mississippi, we could buy a used 8’x32’ trailer pretty cheap. The federal government had thousands of them built during World War II for housing in areas where housing was scarce. These areas were mainly in the East so many states in the East passed zoning laws to exclude these wartime trailers from being used. States in the West did not have these laws. I pointed out that the advantage of a trailer was that it already had furniture in it.
I lost a friend and gained a friend in October. Mort rotated home. He was one of the married guys. His wife had a baby girl a couple months before Paul was born. We were always showing each other our baby’s pictures when we received new ones. A new man, Keith, joined our circle of Christians. He had gone to Rockmont Bible College.
I would sometimes go to the bowling alley, buy a beer, and nurse it while watching the men bowl. It was pretty expensive to bowl. They probably had to pay for the cost of the bowling alleys. They were nicer than any I had ever seen. There were even automatic pinsetters in the lanes.
One day it rained all day long. One of the fellows said “It is as wet as eating a watermelon while you are taking a shower and soaking your feet.” Winter is trying to take hold. A couple days later, the ground was noticeably freezing. The air was cold and you could feel the frost in your nostrils. It was clear and the sun or moon shining onto the ocean was beautiful beyond words.
I had taken the coffee pot Lorraine and I bought several days after she came to Syracuse. We bought a pot, a coffee pot and a cast iron skillet that day. Our first apartment was one room. It had once been the front porch of the house. There was a wash basin, a narrow stove, a refrigerator, a double bed, a small table and two wooden chairs. The closet was a metal pipe for hangers in an inset in the wall. Lorraine shipped her things to Syracuse by Railway Express in a large trunk. That trunk became a vital part of the “closet.” Later we bought an unfinished four drawer dresser.
A hole had eaten its way through the bottom of the coffee pot, but for sentimental reasons I couldn’t throw it away. I set it on top the dresser.
We were sending reel-to-reel tapes to each other. One day I received a tape from Lorraine. It was supposed to have messages from my parents, my brother, and my sister on one side and a message from Lorraine on the other side. Unfortunately, she had recorded both sides without the microphone plugged into the machine so both sides were blank.
When I asked Lorraine to get a radio for me I insisted that it must be a Zenith with five tubes. I didn’t want a transistor radio. After six months use, a tube burned out. I had to write to Lorraine, tell her what tube I needed, and then wait until I received the tube from her before I could resume listening to the radio. She sent me the correct tube and the radio sounded better than ever or so it seemed to me.
An Army entertainment troupe on its way to Japan stopped over on Shemya and put on an excellent show for us in the new theatre.  It lasted for over an hour. There was a comedian, a pantomimist, a singer, a quartet called The Quarter Notes, and a ventriloquist. It really brightened our day. It was not a USO show. All the performers were Army enlisted personnel and entertaining was their Army duty.
All of us who were “short-timers” had a sheet with the number of blocks as days until we would go home. Each day we drew an X in that box. We called it a “sweat sheet.”
At the beginning of October, I gave up tobacco. No more cigarettes or pipes. Lorraine thought I should have started with beer. I did not drink beer that much, but it did relax me. I could not afford more than a half dozen cans a month. That is moderation by anyone’s definition. I must have felt guilty about it. One evening I went into the Base Exchange intending to buy a can of beer and take it back to my room. Who should come up behind me but Master Sergeant Donavan. Instead of asking for a beer, I bought a pack of gum.
The Inspector General team was scheduled for a three-day visit. The barracks, the radio station, the mail room, our individual rooms, our uniforms and boots, our foot lockers all had to be shining like a new silver dollar. All pin-ups had to be taken down and put away someplace where they were not visible. As usual with Very Important Persons, we hardly saw any of them during the three days but there was an electric charge of tension in the air.
We had been a detachment of a unit in Anchorage. We became a unit in our own right, 6984th Radio Squadron Mobile. More than that, everyone who had been stationed on Shemya before December 31, 1960 was awarded the Distinguished Unit Award. I guess it was for all we had put up with and done without before they opened the new barracks and other facilities.
November was a very gloomy, dreary month. It was cold, slippery and sliding when walking. The wind several times exceeded 100 m.p.h. according to the U.S. Weather Service. The daylight hours were shorter every day. Even during daylight it was gloomy.
I had received my assignment. I would be stationed at Ft. Meade, Maryland. That was good news insofar as we would be close to Baltimore where both Lorraine and my parents lived. All our old friends were in Baltimore. The bad news part of it was that Ft. Meade was in an area where the cost of living was probably the highest of any of the bases where I could have been assigned.
Lorraine was discouraged because, even though she had been working full time, there was no money in savings for us to set up housekeeping. The car repairs had been more than expected. She had to buy car insurance and pay for license tags. She bought a winter coat for herself and a sewing machine. She paid off the car loan. All were wise and necessary expenses. Nevertheless, I got angry for a while until I had reasoned it out. Also, when I talked to some of the other guys who were about to go home, I discovered that most of them were deep in debt.
Lorraine was really discouraged and down in the dumps. I could tell it from her letters and from the sound of her voice on the tapes.
The new service club had been scheduled to open when the new barracks were opened, but they decided to open it ahead of schedule so that we could use it. The lounge was nice with comfortable chairs and a fireplace with logs burning. It was a real morale booster. Life seemed to be getting more miserable by the day on Shemya. Several times the Northwest Airlines flight (which was now stopping at Shemya three times a week – with mail) could not land and had to fly back to Anchorage.
We now had to walk to a separate building to do our laundry. More often than not there was no hot water and we had to wash our clothes in cold water. There was only one dryer working. I had to wait until it wasn’t being used. I would dry my fatigue uniforms in the dryer and bring my socks back to my room and hang them all over the room to dry. Then I had to press the fatigues. That took me an hour and a half for each set.
I had slacked off on working on the Classical Greek course from University of Kentucky. I had to send them a dollar to extend the expiration time to next year. I promised myself that I would work on it when I got back to the (south 48) States.
Our baby Paul now weighs 17 pounds. I wonder what he will think of me. Lorraine’s parents and grandparents will miss him. He will miss them and I will be a stranger who has come into his life. Lorraine said that he took one of his toys apart. Her mother couldn’t believe that that precious baby would tear up one of his toys.
In December, I sent a Santa letter to Paul by way of Eielson AFB. They took it to Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska from which post office it was postmarked and sent on its way to Paul in Baltimore.
I was scheduled to leave Shemya on 18 or 19 December. In the meantime, I was supposed to be clearing the various offices on base and packing my clothes and gear to leave. Everyone who had work to do knew which men had been relieved of duty at work because they were going home. Those people would come looking for us for a “detail.” We spent a lot of time dodging details. If you were clearing offices on base you were exposing yourself to details, so I hadn’t cleared many offices.
On 15 December at 1:00 pm, I received a call from the Orderly Room on the barracks phone. An Air Force C-54 was leaving from Shemya at 3:00 pm and I was to be on it! My clothes were all dirty. I hadn’t cleared base. While I cleared base, my roommate Tom said he would pack for me. I ran around like a tornado and finished clearing base by 2:00 pm. When I got back to the barracks, I made some changes in the packing. I put my clothes and gear in less bags so I could handle them. Just then a truck pulled up to pick up our gear. There followed a hectic hour getting our gear to Air Freight, signing out in the Orderly Room, and getting down to the runway.
We waited alongside the runway for several hours and it began to get dark. Some sergeant came in a jeep.
“Get in. I’ll take you to the chow hall for supper. Hurry up and eat!”
When we arrived at the chow hall, he put us at the head of the line. When we sat down to eat, he was at the table every five minutes telling us to hurry. We were taken back out to the runway and we waited another hour. It was pitch black dark. If there was a moon, we didn’t see it.
Finally, the plane arrived. It had flown a huge load of potatoes out to Shemya. There were three crews of Reserve officers who had to get a certain amount of flying hours every quarter to keep their flight pay. There was also a chaplain. I don’t know what his role was. Inside the plane there was a bench along one of the sides. It was made of aluminum bars with plastic straps woven just like a folding lawn chair. However, the aluminum bars were thin and bent. The bench was broken. There were seat belts which we were required to wear. Since we were, in effect, sitting on the floor, they were ineffectual.
The load of potatoes had left a layer of fine dirt on the floor about an inch or more thick. After the plane took off, every time the plane hit an air pocket and dropped or bounced, the dirt filled the air. At one point in the flight, it became rough and bouncy. I became air sick. The chaplain took me inside the portion of the plane where the officers were all in seats and it was pressurized. He let me go into the latrine to vomit and then wash up.
The second half of the flight involved going over mountains. This was the dangerous part of the flight. There have been many airplanes crash in the mountains of Alaska. The snow can hide the top portion of a mountain. The plane’s engine may not be powerful enough to reach a safe altitude. The thin cold air reduces the power and efficiency of an engine. Also the cold air and wind can affect the movements of the rudder and wing flaps. The plane we were on was old. It was the same as a DC-4
When the plane ascended to higher altitude, we were gasping for air. The portion of the plane where we were “seated” was not pressurized. The chaplain guessed our plight and came back into our section and took one man at a time into the pressurized part of the plane. There were no extra seats. We had to stand by the door. If the plane encountered turbulence, we hung onto whatever we could grab. After ten or fifteen minutes, the chaplain would take us back and bring another man forward. There were only a half dozen of us.
Sometime before the plane reached Anchorage, the pilot had to climb even higher. All of us passed out and we were unconscious or semi-conscious when the plane landed at Elmendorf AFB. It was 3:30 am. We had to wait until 5:00 am before a bus came out to pick us up. Around 7:00 am we were able to eat breakfast. Then we had to wait until 8:00 am until some office opened to be assigned beds in the Casual Barracks. They gave us bed linens. We made up whatever unoccupied bunk we could find and then slept until that afternoon.
Someone, maybe the chaplain, reported that we had passed out on the flight into Anchorage. All of us who had been on that flight had to report to sick call the next day. The doctor saw us without going through the medic who screened who got in to see the doctor. He questioned each of us closely about conditions on board the plane. We all gave similar answers. The doctor cussed and cussed. He checked us over very closely. Then he told us all to come back on Monday morning. He wanted to see us again.
If there was a laundromat, I never saw one. I was told that it took eight days to get your clothes back if you sent them to the base laundry and dry cleaners. I didn’t have the money for that anyhow. As usual, I was broke. I washed my clothes by hand in the sink, wrung them out by hand and laid and hung them on empty bunks.
When we turned in our Arctic gear in a couple days, I would have to turn in my parka. The only other heavy coat I had was my blue overcoat. To wear it, I had to wear my Class A dress blue uniform. I pulled the jacket, trousers, and blue shirts out of my duffel bag and set to work pressing them. I put a blanket on a table for an “ironing board,” and used a borrowed portable iron. I also had to shine my dress shoes.
I was filled with fears. I went to their service club. There were the same comfortable chairs, the same fireplace with a log fire. There were women. I was afraid to look at them, afraid they would think that I was staring. I heard the sound of them talking and laughing and I was afraid they were laughing at me. I was afraid the Air Force would take me to Seattle and I wouldn’t have enough money to get home. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to get a flight. I had been on a little island five thousand miles from home for a whole year. Now that I was back in civilization and would soon be heading home, I was afraid. Where does a grown man go to cry? Who would care, anyway?

The whole point of sending us back on that potato wagon was so we could leave for home before Christmas. The people at Elmendorf had a different idea. They would not even begin processing us out until December 27. We were scheduled to fly from Anchorage to Seattle on the night of December 30, 1960 exactly on our DEROS!