Monday, August 28, 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 July 3 I was moved into my room in the trick barracks. I cleaned before moving in. Then I arranged all my things neatly in the room. I still had to bring my hot plate, coffee pot and curtains from my former room, but it was time to get ready to go to work. After I got off work, I brought those items to the new room before going to sleep.
I had completed 185 days of my overseas tour. I had 181 days to go. It seemed like I had always been on Shemya and that it was forever before I would be allowed to leave. I was midway through my tour; I had made it “over the hump.” The rest of the time should seem like rolling down a mountain, but it didn’t.
For the first time, I began to experience homesickness in gut-wrenching pangs. I had a baby son that I had never seen. So far, I hadn’t even received any pictures of him. I also had a baby sister I had never seen. I worried about how my mother was doing. Childbirth and taking care of a baby must be taking its toll on her. She is frail and has had a lot of medical problems even while I was still at home.
I had received invitations to my sister Beverly’s wedding and to the reception afterward. She was marrying Raymond Baker. The wedding would be this month and I would miss it. Lorraine told me that they had found an apartment on Dartmouth Road near Jim and Ruth’s place. My Grandfather and Grandmother Pritt, my Uncle Don, and my Aunt Delania from West Virginia would be there along with a host of other relatives, but I wouldn’t be there.
I received pictures of Donna when she was three weeks old. Paul was four weeks old when I received them. From the pictures of Donna I could judge about what size Paul was then. Paul was still sleeping a lot during the day and then keeping Lorraine up half the night. Reverend Wylie from Lorraine’s church and Rev. Dr. Reed from my church both came to visit Lorraine and to see the new baby. Lorraine’s mother was beginning to warm up toward Dr. Reed. From the influence of the Catholic neighborhood in which she lived, and her mother who was raised Catholic, she was uneasy about waiting until I returned to have the baby baptized.
There had been a powerful earthquake off Andreanorf Island in the Aleutians. There were fears that it would cause a massive tidal wave. Marshall had heard a story about it on the television newscast. The family all thought that I might be in danger because of it. Lorraine wrote and asked me about it. I told her that 1.) not all earthquakes produce tidal waves and this one had not caused a tidal wave. 2.) Even if it had, we are a long way from Andreanorf Island. 3.) Our barracks are located a mile from the ocean. 4.) There is a deep valley between us and the ocean.
The weather was rainy with fog as thick as pea soup. Everywhere you went it was muddy and sloppy. That meant more time shining our boots and washing and ironing our fatigues. There were still planes landing and taking off, but they had to rely on the Ground Controlled Approach man to guide them down with his radar and other instruments.
The air strip had a control tower and a GCA shack. The man in the GCA shack had ultimate authority over whether a plane could land. The control tower decided if and when a plane could take off.
One foggy afternoon, the GCA shack received a call from a military plane carrying a USO troupe to Japan. They were supposed to have refueled at Dutch Harbor but were denied landing because of high winds and fog. The pilot begged to be allowed to land and refuel.
“Please. It’s an eight-hour flight back to Anchorage. I have a USO troupe on-board. That would throw their schedule all off.”
“Well, I don’t think I can let you land. Regulation says that I have to be able to see three landing lights. I only see two.”
“O come on, good buddy, you know that planes land there all the time when only one light is visible. This is Alaska, not Chicago!”
“I’ll make you a deal. The government built a brand new theater here for all these G.I.s. All it has ever been used for is for some officer or sergeant to stand up in front of a bunch of men and give them a class or a bawling out. There has never been a USO show here. They hardly ever send movies out here to us. Tell that USO troupe if they’ll put on a show, you can land and gas up.”
A few minutes later the pilot radioed that the troupe had agreed to put on a show, but they had to be back on board the plane two hours after it landed.
A thousand details had to be ironed out in the hour before the plane was scheduled to land. Buses were sent to the air terminal. The theater was opened and heated. Food for the troupe after the show was prepared in the mess hall. Officers to escort the troupe assembled at the terminal. News of the USO show went like wild fire to all the barracks buildings.
We heard a plane land. A half hour later buses driven by Filipino drivers were coming down the road which went through the barracks area. The drivers had taken off before the officer escorts could board the buses. With horns blaring and the interior lights on so we could see that most of the passengers were young ladies the buses came slowly down through the barracks’ area. Soon each bus was being escorted by a crowd of yelling, shouting, excited men.
The theater was filled to capacity. It was hard to believe that anyone was working, but some unlucky “trick” was on duty. The USO show started, as all USO shows begin, with a half dozen or more beautiful, barefoot young women dressed in grass skirts, bright colored halters, and flowers in their hair carrying a handful of leis. They would come to a man in the audience, put a lei around his neck, and plant a kiss on his cheek or forehead. A noisy group of men came surging down the aisles toward the young women. Several of the girls were frightened and ran out the side exit door only to find their bare feet in icy mud and their bare skin whipped by chilling wind. They ran back inside. Order was restored and the show went on.
At first, the acts were perfunctory, reflecting the impatience of the troupe to fulfill an obligatory performance, return to the plane, and be on their way. Then they began to sense how enthusiastically the men laughed at the lamest jokes, loudly applauded even half-hearted musical pieces. At that point the troupe began to pour their hearts into their performances. They willingly returned for encores and extra songs and routines. The show continued well past the usual length of their shows.
Afterwards whenever I watched a Bob Hope USO show on television, my eyes filled with tears and my mind brought up memories of that unscheduled USO show on Shemya Island. I recalled how much it meant to hundreds of lonely soldiers and airmen, and what a boost in spirits it was for me. 
Sometimes my dual volunteer duties at the radio station and as trick mailman became a heavy load. On one of my breaks in July, I put in twelve hours at the radio that night, ate breakfast and found a huge pile of mail in the mail room for men who had already rotated off the Island. It all had to be re-addressed with their new address. It took me two and a half hours of steady work to finish that pile of mail.
One of the exceptions were heavy catalogs. We sent a change of address card to the sender and either gave the catalog to someone who wanted it or tossed it in the trash. Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogs were always in demand. That day one of the catalogs was a Sears catalog. I kept that for myself.
I was discussing furniture with Lorraine in our letters. I hoped that we would be in a position to buy some furniture when I returned. I would cut out a picture of the item of furniture that I liked and enclose it with the letter or I would tear out a page and circle the item. I already had a Montgomery Ward’s catalog that I had been cutting and tearing. Now I could do the same with the Sears catalog.
A week after I received the pictures of Donna, I received the first pictures of Paul. He looked very alert and I decided that he must be very intelligent. A week or so later I received some pictures of the two babies lying together on a bed. I couldn't tell from the pictures if they were taken at my parents’ house or at Lorraine’s parents’ house. I felt good about the fact that I could tell which one was Paul.
The day that I received the first pictures of Paul, I had just come in from working nine hours. I had four loads of wash that I absolutely had to do before I could lay down to sleep. I just couldn’t tear myself away from staring at those pictures. My mind was racing a million miles a minute.
I wrote a number of times with proposed budgets. I remember one that I made up that looked pretty good until I realized that in it I had not allowed anything for food for Lorraine or formula and diaper service for the baby. Before she quit work, Lorraine had managed to put $325 in the bank. Now that she wasn’t working, she had been forced to withdraw money from savings more than a few times.
Lorraine began writing about going back to work when she was able to do so and if her mother would take care of the baby while she was at work. She asked me if that would be all right with me. I told her that I wasn’t crazy about her going to work now that we had a baby. On the other hand, I wouldn’t forbid her. Again, what a jerk I was. My repeated letters about budgets and how tight it was going to be were almost forcing her to decide to go to work. I was only 22 and she was still 19. That was awfully young to be facing grown up decisions and challenges.
There were a lot of abandoned buildings, shacks, and Quonset huts on the Island left over from World War II, which had ended fifteen years before the year I was there. Shemya was probably the largest scrap yard in the world. Thousands of vehicles, airplanes, rifles, machine guns, artillery pieces, ammunition, bombs, machinery, tools, etc. were dumped into the ocean offshore of Shemya Island. It would have been too expensive to fly it back to the continental United States, and it wasn’t feasible to ferry it out to ships.  
The Base Exchange sold pizza, hamburgers, beer and soda at a sort of soda fountain affair. Most of the men would bring the food back to the barracks. Only the officers were allowed to drink liquor or wine. Some of the men had the idea to create an unofficial Enlisted Men’s Club in one of the abandoned huts. They spent a lot of time and effort carrying tables and chairs to this hut, decorating its walls with pin-ups and a couple dart boards. They even managed to construct a bar.  They stocked it with beer and someone was able to get bottles of various whiskey, gin, vodka, etc. There were a radio and a recorder for music and some decks of cards. For about a month or more they had their own rowdy house tavern. Then their hideaway was discovered. It was burned down with their hooch still in it. No one was punished, but that was punishment enough.
I don’t know where it came from, but one of the trick barracks had a pet dog. It was a hound mixture and looked pretty ragged. They had a name for it, and they brought it scraps from the mess hall. Before winter it disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared.
The Japanese and Filipino mess crews lived in separate buildings. There was no love lost between them. One night there was a big fight between all the men in each building. It went on for a couple hours. I don’t know who broke it up. I know our medics were called upon to treat some of the worst injuries. The next morning the mess crew on duty all had bandages on their hands or arms or neck and face.
There was an active program at the chapel. Because we were on shift work, it wasn’t always possible to attend the Sunday morning worship service. Often there was a Sunday evening service which would be singing hymns and Gospel songs, reading the Scriptures, and a time of prayer. There occasionally were attempts to have a midweek Bible study. They were not steady though.
Back home, my sister was married in the Inverness Presbyterian Church on July 24. My uncle drove my grandparents and his wife to Baltimore from West Virginia. My grandad had him stop at Lorraine’s parents’ house before they went to my parents’ house. Lorraine’s grandparents lived on the first floor. Lorraine and her parents lived on the second and third floor.
Grandad Pritt, age 76, climbed the very steep steps to the second floor and sat down in the living room. He wanted to see and hold his first great-grandson. Lorraine said that he just sat there holding Paul, looking at him, talking so softly to the baby that no one else could hear what he was saying. She said he had the biggest smile on his face and tears in his eyes. After about fifteen minutes he handed Paul back to her, thanked her, and said they had better go.

When I was eight years old, the same four people drove from West Virginia to the housing project where we were living in Baltimore. It was just after the War and bicycles were just beginning to be made. They were not yet in the stores. My Grandad and Uncle Don decided that I needed a bicycle. They found an old one made before the War. They sanded and painted it royal blue. It looked like a new bicycle. When they drove up to Baltimore to see us, that bicycle was strapped onto the trunk of the car.   

Tuesday, August 22, 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 the end of May, the warm summer temperatures were taking hold. By warm, I mean daytime highs in the fifties and nighttime lows barely above freezing. With them they brought fog as thick as soup. Fog made walking or driving on the Island treacherous. You couldn’t see six feet in front of you at times. This made it impossible for planes to land, which meant also that mail became irregular. Lorraine told me about my new sister being born on May 4. The letter in which she told me the news didn’t arrive until May 15. My new sister was named Donna Delania. The name was derived from my father’s only brother, Donald, and his wife, Delania.
We had two noteworthy visitors at the end of May. The first was the Air Force General who was Commander of Air Force Security Service to which all of us (except the Army personnel) were assigned. We enlisted men saw little of him, but we had to do a lot of extra work to make the Black Pearl look like a spit-shined boot.
After the General left, we had a more noxious visitor – a large, very dead, sperm whale washed up on the beach. While it rotted away, its putrid smell was wafted by the wind across the Island. Those who went near enough to take pictures did not stay very long.
I was thinking more and more about going into the ministry. While I was on Shemya and thinking about it, the Air Force issued a regulation which, in essence said, that if I completed my overseas tour and had fulfilled three years of my four year enlistment contract and had the endorsement of my denomination as a candidate for the ministry that I could be discharged in time to begin the Fall semester of seminary in 1961. That was really good news to me.
In the barracks there were three other men who were committed Christians, attended chapel, studied the Bible, and enjoyed getting together sometimes to talk about the Lord and their faith experiences. When I first arrived on Shemya the chaplain was a Methodist. He came once a month, held a Sunday worship service, stayed for several days, then left. The other Sundays, Master Sergeant Malcolm Donahoo preached and led worship at the chapel.  In June, the Methodist chaplain was to be replaced by a Cumberland Presbyterian chaplain. We heard that he would be stationed permanently on Shemya.
One of the three men was having a real emotional and spiritual crisis and, for a while, I spent a lot of time talking with him about it. Before he was sent to Shemya, he was involved in a romantic relationship with a girl who was instrumental in bringing him to a saving knowledge of Christ. As the time of his departure for Shemya neared, their relationship became more intense and more intimate until finally it resulted in having sex.
For the first four months he was on the Island, she wrote to him every day. Then for two weeks she didn’t write at all. He kept writing to her. When she began writing again, it was only once or twice a week and she was very cool in what she wrote. He was emotionally distraught over the sudden change in their relationship. Spiritually he was filled with guilt over having sex with her. She had been a virgin and he used the fact that he was going to be away for a year and lonely for her to coax her into doing it. Now he felt that God was punishing him and he was even doubting his salvation.
I tried to guide him with various Scriptures. I told him to confess his sin to God, ask forgiveness, then to write to the girl, tell her that he had asked God’s forgiveness and he was asking for her forgiveness.
Before I enlisted in the Air Force, I was being discipled and mentored by an Englishman, Dr. Verna Wright, who was doing graduate work in rheumatology at John Hopkins Hospital. He said repeatedly, “Principles, principles, principles, Bro!” One of the principles was that in personal evangelism and personal counseling there should always be a man working with another man or a woman counseling with another woman and never a man with a woman or vice versa.
It also made me think that chaplains ought to be enlisted men, living in the barracks. The chaplain was far more qualified to help this young man than I was. Being an officer raises a barrier to being able to talk to an enlisted man the way this man opened up to me. The chaplain was also not accessible. We never saw him except at chapel services.
Men would occasionally come into the radio station with reel-to-reel recorders. They would use the station’s records and turntables to record a reel of music by their favorite artists. Whatever records they played and recorded went out over the air as part of the broadcast. They would do this after midnight when the DJ had six or seven hours to play or say whatever he wanted. When they finished, I would ask them to let me make a tape to send home. I would either make a tape of me broadcasting or I would play a program that wasn’t scheduled from the records AFRS sent to us. While the program was being broadcast, I could talk to Lorraine on a mailable one-hour tape. The BX sold these tapes.
The BX was running out of many things. One of these was Brillo pads which were a vital necessity for cleaning the floor before inspections. I asked Lorraine to please send some Brillo pads and also some Air Mail stationery. The BX was also out of stationery.
One day when I was at lunch in the mess hall, I hung up my parka on the row of hooks on the wall by the door. When I was ready to leave, my parka was gone. I was frantic. If you lost a parka, the Air Force took several hundred dollars from your pay in installments for replacing the parka. They were special made with the dog fur hoods. Several days later, the parka appeared on the floor of my room like someone had slung it in the room from the doorway.
In one of her letters in the second half of May, Lorraine mentioned having a lot more energy. That should have alerted me that the birth of our baby was coming soon.
The mail was coming only once or twice a week and outgoing mail was only going out about once a week. Since I was getting mail so infrequently, my imagination ran wild about what could have happened or gone wrong. I was sure the baby must have come by the first of June, but I heard nothing. Then someone told me that they heard that Western Union was going on strike. I didn’t know if the birth notifications had to go by Western Union or not.
One night our trick was on break and we were to see a movie that had been sent out by Anchorage. We all crowded into a room, sitting on the floor. The man running the projector said, “You know how they have short subjects before the feature film in the movies? Tonight, I have a short subject to show that I think you’ll like.” When the film began, it was soon apparent that it was a “dirty movie”, pornographic. I wanted to get out of there. Men were crowded all around me. Then someone opened the door and switched on the lights. “Airman Pritt, you are wanted in the Orderly Room.” When I reached the Orderly Room, the sergeant on duty said, “Congratulations, Pritt!” and handed me the following message from off the teletype:
“A/2c PRITT – Telegram received from Red Cross at Elmendorf 1325, 6 June. Congratulations to Service Man. Wife delivered baby boy, Paul Troy, 7 1/2 pounds, June 6, both fine. From Baltimore.”
After I received the message I was so nervous I could hardly put the blue “It’s A Boy” stickers on the cigars.
There were a million questions I wanted to ask. How long was the labor? What color hair does the baby have or is he bald? A week or more later, my sister wrote and said that she and my parents visited Lorraine in the hospital the next day. When they were ready to leave, they said that they would go by the nursery to see the baby on their way out. Lorraine said, “I’ll go with you.” She climbed out of bed, put on her robe and slippers, and walked down to the Nursery with them.
Lorraine’s letters which followed had a lot more details about the baby. When she went into labor, Lorraine and her mother went to the hospital in a taxicab. Jim, the husband of Lorraine’s sister, took Lorraine and baby Paul home from the hospital. Lorraine’s sister, Ruth, came to stay several days when Lorraine and the baby came home. She showed Lorraine how to handle the baby, how to wash him, how to change his diaper. He would flail with his fists clenched. Ruth nicknamed him “Joe Palooka” and called him by that name until he started school.
At first Lorraine was breast feeding Paul, but he always seemed hungry and was not gaining weight as he should so the doctor told Lorraine to stop the breast feeding and start feeding him formula. After she made the change, he started gaining weight at the normal rate.
The pediatrician came to the house. Paul had early developed a habit of peeing when he was being changed. He had peed on the curtain and on a chair. The first time the pediatrician came to the house Lorraine thought, “My goodness, he wears shabby clothes for a doctor.” While he was examining Paul, when he took off his diaper, Paul shot a stream of pee onto the doctor’s sport jacket.
Lorraine’s mother had been ill for a month before he was born. She was feeling some better, but was not back to full strength. After he was born, she went out and bought a baby carriage that converted into a stroller and into a car seat. The sidewalk came up to the front of their house. There was a bench against the house where they sat on sunny days. Now Paul could take afternoon naps outside while they sat on the bench.
The mail situation took a strange turn in June. Northwest Orient Airlines began bringing our mail three times a week. Reeves Aleutian Airlines still brought it once a week. But Northwest was only bringing Air Mail. One day in late June Reeves brought 2 ½ tons of mail. We had not been receiving newspapers and magazines. In that delivery there were magazines and newspapers as much as a month old and every week in between.
I had been living in a barracks with men from all the tricks and some men who worked only days unless they were called out at night. Master Sergeant Donahoo was one such person. I was notified that on 1,2, or 3 July I would be moving into my trick’s barracks. That was going to be a major job. I would have to clean the new room, then carry my gear from the barracks where I had been living to the trick barracks. It was a walk of probably three city blocks.
I was still enrolled in the Greek course and was making slow progress. I was also taking a course in Air Force Personnel Management by correspondence. In addition I was reading an impressive list of literary books, as well as theology books, and daily Bible reading. In addition to “Arizona Highways,” I was subscribed to “Saturday Review”, “Harper’s”, and “The Sword of the Lord.” The latter contained several sermons in each issue, many by famous preachers of bygone years.
Lorraine was doing very well with our savings account. She had accumulated $325 before she quit work. When she sent me the baby’s birth certificate, I applied for an increase to the quarters allowance. That would increase the quarters allowance by $40/month. She obviously had her hands full caring for our newborn baby, but she managed to write long letters telling all the details of what he was doing. One time she said that the baby was smiling while she was writing to me.
David Brannon is the man who sat with me in the snack bar at McCord AFB and played “Georgia on my mind” on the jukebox over and over. He came in the barracks one evening at the end of June. He had a peculiar smile on his face. “It is the second wedding anniversary of Vanda and I. We have been strolling on the beach together for the longest time. We were talking and laughing, acting silly. I really hated it when I had to say goodbye, but it was starting to get dark.” All the time he had that peculiar smile on his face.
When the weather was nice and we were on break, I sometimes borrowed Jon Boettner’s bicycle and rode around on the roads on the Island. It was very generous of him to let me use it.
The Island was obviously going to be quite different for the men who would follow after us. The theater was almost complete and a USO show was scheduled in a couple months. They had already opened a four-lane bowling alley. On the other end of Shemya they were building a large barracks building which would contain the mess hall, orderly room, offices, and chapel all in that one building. One benefit we have they will lose. At the present our mess hall is run by Northwest Airlines. The Japanese and Filipino mess crews are contracted by the Airlines. We do not have KP duty. In the new barracks building, there will be Air Force cooks and there will be KP duty.
My sister, Beverly, seems happy and excited about her baby sister and about our baby. She is going to be married in July, so she may be thinking that someday in the not too distant future she will have babies of her own.
I told Lorraine in every letter that I was standing beside her supporting her in my thoughts and prayers and with my love during these first few months with a new baby. I said I knew how weary she must feel having to get up during the night several times, changing diapers almost every hour, wondering why he was crying this time, wondering if you were doing things right. I believed what I was writing to her, but I really was a jerk. I would read things in books or magazines. Then I would contradict what the doctor told her or what others told her. I would complain if she didn’t write to me every day.
I told her she should continue breast feeding because babies needed things that were in breast milk that couldn’t be duplicated in a formula. When she said something about buying cleansing cream for when she changed Paul’s diaper I said she should use soap and water and if it caused a rash, that was good because his skin would adapt to soap. When she mentioned wanting her figure to go back in shape, I told her to start doing sit-ups until she could do one hundred. When the doctor said to give the baby vitamins, I told her only to give him cod liver oil, that if she gave him vitamins his body would not be learning to extract vitamins from food.
At the same time, as though she could walk the six blocks to Broadway (where the stores and post office were), I was telling her things to buy and send to me – a three ring notebook with filler paper, for instance. Like I said, in hindsight, I was a real jerk.

In the latter part of June we had a visitor who might have been as unwelcome as our dead sperm whale – a DENTIST. He came out on a plane with the chaplain and held his own kind of services. Every military man stationed on Shemya had to attend. He gave each of us a thorough exam. We didn’t get a toothbrush. Anyone who had a loose or broken filling or a cavity had to sit in the chair while he made repairs. I commend him for his integrity and devotion to duty. He worked twelve or fifteen hours a day and stayed on the Island until he had seen and attended to every man.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Monday, August 14, 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.

May 1960 began with the U-2 incidents followed by threats of war. Toward the end of May, I was walking along the beach. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining on the ocean and our Island. The water was calm and waves were lapping gently against the shore. The sky was blue with white puffy clouds. I hadn’t seen many days like this in Alaska. I guessed that the tundra would be greening soon if it wasn’t already. The birds were flying overhead. Where did they come from and where were they going? At least on this side of the Island they wouldn’t be burned to a crisp if the radars were turned on.
I kept looking up into the sky and out over the ocean. I should have been watching where I was going. I tripped over something solid on the beach and pitched head forward. I was knocked out - for how long I don’t know. When I came to, I was being carried on a litter by two men of the cave dwellers. Tatyana was walking alongside the litter. When I came to, I thought in my mind that she said to me, “I’m so glad that I found you, but not like this. Starshij needs to see you on an urgent matter.”
When we reached the cave entrance, the men carried me down the slope into the great room. An elderly man came into the room carrying a bag. He handed a little leather pouch to Tatyana and snapped his fingers. One of the men took off my boots. When he removed the left boot, I screwed up my lips and frowned in pain.
The old man grunted, then went around to my left foot. He ran his hand up and down my leg, then grunted again. He pulled a jar out of his bag and smeared some dark ointment around my foot where the ankles are. He took out a packet of gauze bandage and wrapped the strip around my ankle and then tied it off just like I had seen the medical corpsman do.
Tatyana had returned with a cup. She gave it to me and communicated, “Drink all of it. It’s your medicine.” I drank the cup of hot herbal tea. It had a peculiar, but not unpleasant taste. Soon, I relaxed, was drowsy, and dozed off to sleep. I don’t know how long I slept. When I awoke, the old man was removing the gauze from my ankle. He motioned to me to put my socks and boots back on. There was no pain in my ankle at all. I thanked him profusely. Although he didn’t know English, I think that he understood me. He smiled and left the room.
Starshij came into the room after I had put my boots on. He brought Gretchen, our English interpreter with him..
“I have asked Gretchen’s assistance because we have a matter that is             urgent and important to discuss. I don’t want either of us to misunderstand because of our language differences. Our community is in danger.
“Yesterday, some Russians came ashore near our cave entrance and came down into our cave without an invitation. They demanded to see me. There must be someone who has told them all about us. However it was they obtained their information, they know that our forefathers were Cossacks who fought for the Czar in the Russian Revolution. They know that our people assisted the American forces stationed here during World War II. They know that there are now American forces on this Island. In fact, they know of our relationship to you. They assume that the U.S. military’s purposes here are directed against the Soviet Union and that we are helping you just as we helped American forces fifteen years ago.
“They left ten knapsacks containing C-4 explosives with elaborate detonator wiring. They have demanded that one week from today we have all of these planted where they will blow up the Operations Building, the radar shack, the Comm Center, the huge radars, and the airport control tower. They will detonate them from a ship anchored several miles away from here. If they see these targets explode, they will leave us alone. If they don’t see these targets blow up or if they see the explosives blow up harmlessly on the tundra, they will send some men onto the Island who will toss explosives down the tunnel and blow our cave complex to smithareens.”
“What do you want me to do?
“I want you to go to your officers. Make them aware of the threat.
“We cannot remain in our cave because they could do what they threatened at any time. We are American citizens since we and all of our parents were born on Shemya Island. None of us have papers, but someone in government can fix that. I would like for them to move us to some place in Alaska where we will be safe and can rebuild our community. I want their demolition experts to remove these knapsacks!”
“Okay, Starshij. I’ll relay your message. I hope they believe me.”
“Do you want to take one of the knapsacks with you?”
“N-o-o-o thanks! I’ll do the best that I can. Do I have your permission to bring one or more military personnel back here with me?”
“Yes, but please try to protect us.”
When I returned to the barracks/mess hall area it was lunch time. I went in and filled my tray and got some coffee. As soon as I had eaten, I went to the Orderly Room. I told the First Sergeant that I had to see our Commanding Officer immediately on a matter that involved the security of the base. He looked at me quizzically.
“Suppose you tell me first.”
“I don’t mind if you are present when I talk to the Commanding Officer, but I don’t want to risk that you might decide not to let me see him.”
When I was taken into the office, I saluted.
“Airman, what do you have to tell me that is so urgent?”
“Sir, please hear me out even if this is hard to believe at first.
“There are people who have been living on this Island for several generations or more.” I told him how their forefathers came to Shemya and about the cave in which they dwell.
“During the Second World War, they helped the American forces stationed here in many ways. Before that, they helped rescue our soldiers and marines who were casualties in the battles on Attu. They have several letters of appreciation from military commanders.
“All of them and all of their parents were born on Shemya. That should make them American citizens. A couple days ago, some Russians dressed in black rubber suits landed on the shore near their cave. The Russians brought ten knapsacks filled with C-4 explosive. The explosives are wired to be detonated remotely from a ship that will be anchored several miles away.
“The Russians demanded that the cave-dwellers (as I call them) plant these knapsacks close to the Operations Center, the Comm shack, the radar building, the large radar antennas, the mess hall, and the airport control tower. They told them that if they did not see these places blown up the night they trigger the explosives, if for instance they were just placed out on the tundra where they would do no damage, or if they notified the American authorities of what they planned, these men would come back and throw explosives into the cave and wipe out their community.
“They want the government to give them documentation of their citizenship and allow them to settle someplace on the Alaskan mainland where they would be safer from Russian retaliation than they would be by moving to another island. They want military demolition personnel to take charge of the ten knapsacks. They must move out of the cave before the Russians can carry out their threat of blowing it up.  There are fifty-two people.
“Their leader thinks there is reason to believe they have a traitor in their group who has been giving information about Shemya to the Russians.”
“Airman, there are going to be a lot of questions you will have to answer about your association with these “cave-dwellers” as you call them. I am temporarily suspending your clearance until those questions are satisfactorily answered. However, giving you the benefit of my doubts, let us go to the cave and meet with the man you say is their leader.”
The Commanding Officer, CPT Goetz, followed me as I led him out across the tundra to the beach and then to the cave’s entrance. We descended to the cave’s great room. There was tumult inside the cave. Starshij was lying on the floor, his head bloodied. People were milling about. Some of the women had their hands over their heads wailing. I looked for Gretchen, Starshij’s interpreter. I didn’t see her. I saw Tatyana and beckoned to her. She shook her head. I asked her by thought, “What happened? Where is Gretchen?”
“Gretchen and Ilya took two of the knapsacks and fled after Ilya hit Starshij over the head with a whale bone. Starshij tried to stop Ilya and said, ‘So you are the traitor.’ Gretchen replied, ‘You are the traitor wanting to save the Americans who are spying on our Russian brothers.’ Then both Ilya and Gretchen fled, each of them carrying a knapsack with them.”
Captain Goetz said, “Great! We have two Communist collaborators running around this base with enough C-4 to blow up Operations and some other sensitive target. Have eight of their men to follow us out of the cave carrying the remaining eight knapsacks with them. We will put them down on the rocks at the end of the runway. They won’t hurt anything if they blow up there. I’ll post a guard to watch them day and night through binoculars at a safe distance.”
The men followed us to the end of the runway and placed the C-4 packs between the rocks. Captain Goetz thanked them, though they couldn’t understand him.
“Sir, the lives of all the people in that cave are now in danger. If Ilya and Gretchen contact the Russians, those knapsacks could be triggered at any time. I feel sure that no matter what the Russians tell Ilya to do with the knapsacks, he will throw one of them into the cave and kill all the others whom he believes collaborate with the Americans. Let me go back and lead the rest of them out.”
“All right, Airman. Take them to the makeshift barracks until we decide what to do with them.”
I returned to the cave, found Tatyana, and communicated to her that it was very important that everyone leave the cave and take with them only what they could carry. I was certain that the Russians would blow up the cave. No one could know when they would do it, so they must leave now.
Two of the men carried Starshij on a litter. He was not conscious. I didn’t know if that was caused by the blow to his head or the effects of the medicine man’s herbal tea. The people obeyed Tatyana’s instructions. There were women carrying babies. Others had clothes in bundles on their back. One of the men filled a wheelbarrow with tools. Tatyana and I led the group. She knew her way across the tundra even though it was dark.
The makeshift barracks no longer had any military residents. The stoves had been left in place, but there were no cots. However, soon after we arrived, a truck pulled up with fifty racks, mattresses, pillows, blankets, and bed linens. The truck driver told me to report to the Orderly Room. The First Sergeant and CPT Goetz were waiting for me.
“I have been on the phone to Elmendorf for almost an hour. They have a bomb squad on its way. Also on their way out here are an agent from the CID and another from the FBI. They will initially question you and the people here. Then you and the people will be sent to Elmendorf for further questioning. Go to your barracks and get some sleep, you will have a busy day tomorrow. As soon as you have breakfast come back here.”
The next morning, when I entered the Orderly Room, I could tell something had gone wrong.
“The bomb squad arrived, but the eight knapsacks we put at the end of the runway are MISSING! The guards were found bound and gagged; their rifles and ammunition are missing. We have men searching all around the Operations Building, the radar building, the Comm center, the airport control tower. No one has yet found any of the ten knapsacks.”
“Sir, has anyone looked on the roofs? Someone with a strong arm could stand outside the fences around those buildings and toss the knapsack onto the roof.”
“First Sergeant have the men check the roofs of those buildings. As soon as anyone finds a knapsack, call us here and we’ll send the bomb squad to them.”
It turned out that my guess was right. Eventually nine knapsacks were found. I was sure the tenth was inside the cave. The nine were disarmed by the bomb squad. Next morning there was a tremendous explosion that rocked every building on the Island. The cave was destroyed. The earth on top of it sank down leaving a depression ten feet deep.
The cave people and I were flown to Elmendorf Air Force Base. They were temporarily housed in some old barracks while all of us were being questioned. I told them about coming to Elmendorf with Tatyana, about the “friend” who met us at the airport and let us sleep overnight at his house. I was able to show them his house. He was taken away by the FBI for questioning. The man whose address in Takoma was used was also picked up by the FBI for questioning. With Gretchen writing the letters for Tatyana, I could see the possibility that Gretchen was using the letters to supply information using an extra sheet enclosed with Tatyana’s letter.
The questioning was an investigator’s nightmare. The only interpreter of their language into English was Gretchen and she was one of the two spies for the Russians. Also, her whereabouts were unknown. They had to rely on Tatyana and I. They would ask someone a question, Tatyana would understand it from my mind and would ask the question in their language. Their language truly was unique. It began as the Kazakh language, picked up Russian words, then words and expressions from native people in northern Siberia as well as words from the Alaskan native people with whom they traded.
When a person answered the question, I understood the answer from Tatyana and relayed it to the investigator in English.
Meanwhile, someone heard of their plight and it was carried in a television news story on the Anchorage television station with pictures of poor, displaced people who had only the clothes on their backs being housed in a couple of old, run-down barracks. National news picked it up. Veterans who had been stationed on Shemya in World War 2 remembered how these people had helped them.
Soon, bureaucrats were working under pressure from above to issue birth certificates to each of them. The Agriculture Department sent a team of men to find a suitable area for them to start a new community. Trailers that had been purchased by FEMA for disaster use were moved onto this territory. The Interior Department designated it the Shemyites Reservation so that no one else could settle or hunt and fish on that land.
I was cleared of wrongdoing, given my clearance back, and was sent back to Shemya. Before I left Tatyana gave me a kiss.
“Tell your wife she found a wonderful man.” 

Monday, August 7, 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. 
In early April, I became very ill with a sore throat and fever. The medic told me to gargle with warm salt water, and take aspirin every four hours. He gave me a bottle of the coveted terpinhydrate with codeine. Still I did not get better. At night, I was running fevers. I had nightmares and fantastic dreams. One night, Tatyana came to me.
“Hurry. Get your Class A uniform and shoes and carry them with you. Starshiy has an assignment for you. Follow me.”
In my condition, wearing a fatigue uniform and carrying a duffel bag with shoes, overcoat, Class A jacket, trousers, and dress shirt in the cold night air was a gold embossed invitation for pneumonia. I struggled to keep up with her as she walked confidently across the tundra. We came to the cave entrance and walked, bent low, down the steep incline. By then I was dragging my duffel bag behind me.
Starshij greeted me mentally as we entered the room.
“Greetings, Airman. I understand that you have been ill. Sit down here. we have some medicine that will bring your illness to a speedy end. Let me have that duffel bag.”
I warily handed him my duffel, afraid he would read my thoughts, “What if they keep it? The Air Force would take from my pay all the money I have allotted to Lorraine to reimburse replacing my Class A uniform.” He took my duffel bag and came back with a cup of tea. I drank the tea greedily; the walk from makeshift barracks to the cave had made me weak. My sore throat was hurting me big time.
Soon after I drank the tea, I fell asleep. I did not have any nightmares or dreams. I slept more soundly than I had since coming to Alaska. I don’t know how long I slept. I would be on the first day of Break so my absence would not be noticed for the next two days.
When I awoke, Starshij was standing beside me holding my Class A uniform and dress shoes. They looked like they had just come back from the dry cleaners. My dress shoes had a brilliant shine.
“You and Tatyana will get on the Northwest flight leaving this morning for Anchorage. Everything has been arranged. I’ll give you money for your assignment. When you arrive in Anchorage there will be a friend of ours waiting for you. It will be time for supper. He will take you both to the Enlisted Men’s Club. Anyone you meet, you will introduce Tatyana as your sister who is visiting from Tacoma, Washington.
“The purpose of the trip is for Tatyana to meet a young man whom she likes, whom she can continue a relationship with by mail and with maybe a subsequent visit months from now. She won’t leave the Club, but you make yourself scarce if there is a young man  with whomshe seems to be connecting. About midnight, our friend will pick you up at the Club, and take you to his home. The next morning, he will see to it that you are on the Reeves flight coming back to Shemya that day.”
I was amazed by everything that was happening. I no longer had my sore throat. No one batted an eye when we got on the Northwest flight or the Reeves flight coming back. No one asked who I was or what unit I belonged to or who Tatyana was when we went into the Club.
Tatyana knew all that was riding on this two-day trip. She had about six hours to meet a young man who would love and cherish her for the rest of her life. Tatyana was an orphan. If she did meet an ideal young man, and she married him, she would have to leave the community and would never be able to return. For now, how would she overcome the language barrier?
Despite my misgivings, Tatyana carried it off. A couple hours after we arrived at the Club, Tatyana was sitting at a table, stroking the hand of the most bashful young man I’ve ever seen. They just sat there smiling and laughing. I knew she was conversing with him in thoughts. Did he even realize it? After a couple hours, I saw him writing on a piece of paper. Tatyana, put the paper in her handbag. Then she took out a photo of herself, wrote on the back of it, and then placed a lipstick kiss on the back of the photo before she gave it to him. He blushed as red as a beet. Tatyana had batted a homerun!
On the plane going back to Shemya, I asked her what address she had put on the back of the photo. She gave him the address of another “friend” in Tacoma. That friend would forward the letters to my P.O.Box at APO 736 and I was to bring the letters to her. One of the women, Gretchen,  married a man in the community she met when he was on a trading trip. She knows English and will translate his letters and write Tatyana’s answer. I am to mail Tatyana’s letter to the Tacoma friend, who in turn will mail it to the unsuspecting Airman in Anchorage. Brother! Even the Russians don’t have a network as efficient as my friends the cave-dwellers.
I don’t remember walking from the Reeves plane to the cave, if I did. The next morning, I woke up in my bed in the make shift barracks. My sore throat was completely gone. My Class A uniform was wadded up in the duffel bag. My fatigue uniforms needed to be washed and ironed. (I will use the sore throat as an excuse. That excuse will just last for today.) It is time to go to breakfast and then to work.
Did it happen? Did I go to Anchorage and back on my Break?

Two weeks later I received an envelope from Takoma, Washington addressed to me. Inside was a letter for Tatyana from Bashful Boy in Anchorage.