Strange Holiday, On Ice

My Arctic Christmas

By Jeff Salter

This week we’re blogging about holiday observances which were “totally new and unusual” and the one which stands out (to me) involves my winter during the long Arctic Night cycle at Thule Air Base, Greenland. I can imagine some of you are tired of hearing about my (nearly) full year at Thule during 1972-73, but perhaps you can also see how it remains prominent in my mind.

I had hoped to find my letters from Thule, or at least my copies of the Thule Times newsletter… but I could locate neither. My account would have more of an authentic feel if I could cite the name of the USO group which performed at the NCO Club during the key nights of that holiday season… or if I could remember the feature films which showed at the Base Theater on particular nights of that period. Alas, my memory won’t retrieve those details from 44 years ago.

xmastree

Not from my year at Thule, but this is the base HQ Building. I don’t recall our Christmas tree being that tall, so I’m guessing this was a later year than 1972.

Suffice it to say, for that Christmas and New Year’s, I was alone and away from home — far away. In fact, I was closer to Siberia’s outer islands than to anybody I knew in the states. And while one is not “alone” in a barracks with some dozen other enlisted airmen, one can certainly feel isolated within the Arctic Circle. Back home in Covington LA, were my wife Denise and toddler son David.

I was busy, of course, in our two-person Information Office – just me and the Captain. My primary duty was getting out the bi-weekly newsletter, the Thule Times — and I had to do most of that task by myself.

That particular season, our base Protestant Chaplain, Lt. Col. Bobby C. Black, headed up the annual Operation Julemand — a fund-raiser to buy toys and clothes for the kids of the nearest village of Greenlandic Eskimos. That year, mostly through Chaplain Black’s tireless energy and enthusiasm, our base raised a record-breaking $11,000 from the ( ? 200 ? ) American military and the ( ? 400 ? ) Danish civilians who populated Thule and two outlying radar stations.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I had spent more than my usual holiday budget on gifts for wife and family — purchasing craft items handmade by the nearby Eskimos. To my knowledge, the only surviving piece is a wood carving which I gave to my Dad and later re-obtained (after his death). The things made of sealskin and narwhale bone have long ago disappeared.

Residing some 900 miles from the North Pole, one might imagine that Santa Claus would stop at our remote station early in his route, but I never saw any sign of him (or his reindeer). On Christmas Eve (a Sunday), it’s likely I went with some buddies to the NCO Club for the visiting USO group. Some of these groups were American but others were Danish… and possibly other nationalities (can’t remember anymore). [We (rightly) didn’t get the Top Tier USO acts — they were visiting troops in various combat areas of Southeast Asia.]

On Christmas Day (Monday), I have to believe I was at work in the Information Office. I don’t recall any Thule observance of “holidays” such as you’d see in a stateside military office. [In fact, I had some buddies in the Personnel Office who even had to work on Saturdays.] Maybe I’m mistaken about working on holidays; I’m sure my letters to Denise would clarify.

Unless I have this “care package” mistaken with another earlier one, this is the time that I received a carefully packaged apple cake from my wife. Each of some dozen pieces was individually wrapped in wax paper and I ate from it for a week, sharing only one or two pieces with one or two close buddies (including the captain). To this day, it remains the best-tasting apple cake I’ve ever eaten. How it stayed fresh for the week (or more) it took in transit, I’ll never know. My final piece, which must have been at least two weeks old by that point, was still moist and fresh.

Skip ahead to New Years Eve, also a Sunday. For this evening I have a clear memory: I was at the NCO Club with buddies. There was, of course, considerable noise and drinking. [Except for a couple of times that year, I was a light drinker and don’t recall consuming much alcohol that night.]

The USO group was Danish, singing exclusively American songs, as I recall. Lead singer was a comely young lady.

As the midnight hour struck, most of the guys swarmed the stage to get a kiss — a feminine caress being quite a rarity in a base with only two female officers assigned. It wasn’t so much a queue as a small mob, but eventually I was next in the singer’s view. I simply stuck out my hand, intending to shake hers… believing that the mere touch of a woman might suffice. But she caught my eyes, smiled, and pulled me close enough that she could kiss me… and she did.

I hadn’t really wanted to kiss her, those lips having just touched the mouths of all those other lecherous males… but it happened so fast, I had little choice but to follow through with the momentum. “Happy New Year,” I then said to her. I think she replied in Danish.

One of these days, I’ll find the newsletter for late December and get the name of that band. Maybe her name will be included somewhere.

So I guess that’s my most unusual holiday observance. I know for certain I would not want to spend another holiday alone, overseas, in an ice-bound remote radar station.

Question:

What is your most unusual holiday observance?

[JLS # 309]

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About jeff7salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Twelve completed novels and five completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015, "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015, "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015, "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014, "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014, "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014, "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014, "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013, "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013, "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013, "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012, "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012. Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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16 Responses to Strange Holiday, On Ice

  1. And yet, Denise doesn’t hold a grudge!
    LOL!
    That certainly was…different.
    I rather expected to see more of the type of posts where we have taken part in an unusual celebration, or one of a different religion or culture, but we seem to be low on those in this group.
    And so am I.
    But more about the only real off-rail holiday I remember celebrating tomorrow.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Fascinating post, Jeff!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jbrayweber says:

    I don’t know what happened but I suddenly stopped getting the blog posts. o_O Hopefully, that has been rectified.

    What a wonderful story, Jeff, and a fun memory to share. I was chilly just reading it!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    If people are tired of hearing about your time at Thule, then they’re probably tired of hearing about my trip to Japan and other places. Personally, I enjoy your stories. I imagine my dad and uncle experienced the same loneliness when they were stationed in remote places during the Korean War. As you were describing the shows and movies, I envisioned you in an episode of M.A.S.H. when they had their holiday observances. I wonder if experiences like this make you less inclined to travel.

    Liked by 3 people

    • jeff7salter says:

      A LOT of the guys I knew (and who resided in my barracks) didn’t cope well with the isolation of a remote tour. Those turned to drugs and/or heavy alcohol use.
      Myself — I played ping pong, went to the base theater almost every time they changed the movie, ate “midnight” breakfast each evening at 9 p.m., and wrote a LOT of poetry.
      And, of course, did my assigned job — as well as branching off into the American Forces Radio & Television Station functions (which came under the umbrella of the Information Office.
      My aversion to travel relates more to my stomach issues and body pain than to anything related to Thule.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, no…Thule is interesting.So few of us would ever get there and it is so different from what most of us know.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoy hearing about your time in the Artic. Getting that care package sounds like it was a wonderful highlight to a dark time of year for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post. I don’t have any exciting stories to tell about unusual ways to celebrate Christmas. I will say that this year is beginning to be festive in my heart. For the last 9 years, we’ve been at a hospital with one or both of my parents. Unfortunately, I lost my dad last Nov. 30 and mom was six years ago. I’ve come to dread this time of year, but the last couple of days, something’s changed.
    I miss mom and dad like crazy, but a weight has been lifted off my shoulders this year. Nothing is hanging over my head. I’m not rushing to make it to the hospital to catch the doctor, not following an ambulance to the hospital, not trying to make a sterile room festive somehow, not doing all the things that went with their slow decline.I know this might sound selfish and I don’t mean it to-

    I wish nothing but happy days for you and yours. May the Lord’s blessings fiill your cup to the brim. Merry Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      Glad that holiday weight is off your shoulders finally.
      Certainly we can still miss our departed loved ones, but surely they would not want us to unduly grieve for too long.
      I also extend holiday blessings to you and yours… and may you have a Merry Christmas.

      Like

  7. Joselyn says:

    I think the posts about the Arctic circle are very interesting. I can’t imagine having to be away from family for over a year. The care packages were probably very special.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      indeed they were. I no longer recall the “when” or “what” of the other packages, but I’m sure there were several. Fortunately my year was broken up by two leaves — one was a short TDY to Washington D.C. to get an award and the other was a 30-day leave at home (the standard for all American troops assigned there for a year’s tour). I think mine was in January, about mid-way through the tour, but I no longer recall exactly.

      Like

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