My Thule Tour

Voorhees, NJ

This story takes place back in 1952. I had recently returned to my squadron; the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Walker AFB in Roswell, New Mexico; from a six-month tour at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Ill., where I had attended and graduated from the Aircraft Instruments Repairman Course. A C-124 cargo plane landed at Walker AFB and I was handed a work order to repair a problem with and engine temperature system on that aircraft.

I repaired the problem in due time. The crew chief ran the engine and signed off the work order as completed; then he asked me if I would like to go to Thule AFB in Greenland as a flying mechanic. I had no idea where Greenland was but, you know young people, they will do anything that sounds like an adventure. I had no idea what I was volunteering for but that same afternoon I was directed to the base clothing store where I was issued some strange clothing.

At the clothing store I received; among other items; a huge Parka, a pair of leather pants with suspenders, a pair of overshoes called Mockloks or something like that, and a pair of gloves that resembled a catcher's mitt. Next day I boarded the C-124 and was on my way to Thule AFB, Greenland.

On that plane, in addition to the flight crew and seven flying mechanics, there were huge wooden boxes which contained Reciprocating Aircraft Engines. No other personnel nor other military items were carried in that plane. The aircraft landed at two different AF bases and the flight took a total of 16 hours. After flying for so long I could but ask how long was the tour of duty and I was told that we would be there at Thule for only a couple of days.

The aircraft made its approach to the landing field at Thule and all I could see was snow and more snow. Before landing we donned all that heavy clothing and prepared to get off from the aircraft. We were told not to take off any of our clothing until we were inside the hangar but one of us removed one his mitts and slipped on his way down from the aircraft. He grabbed the stair railing with his bare hand and his hand instantly froze to the railing. The railing was cut off with a hacksaw. Once inside the hangar the metal was thawed with a torch and removed from the airman's hand. The airman's hand was so badly burned by the cold metal that he had to be taken to the hospital.

The airplane was towed into the hangar as we stood around looking into a sea of fog. Mechanics walked on the hangar floor and all we could see of them was their head floating above the fog. It took around eight hours for the fog to dissipate and for the plane to warm up enough to the touch so that we could perform the necessary maintenance on it.

Next day after the landing we were allowed to come out of our Quonset huts and take a look at where we were. The place looked desolate; only the top two floors of the hospital showed, and I was surprised that although it was noon time the sun hadn't yet come out. The sun never came out during the six months we were at Thule.

Back in our Quonset hut we had plenty of soda and beer; and they were free. All the food was powdered stuff; powdered eggs, powdered milk, powdered potatoes; nothing fresh until that one and only day when we were assembled at the dining hall and were surprised with fresh steaks. Once in six months is not bad at all. Besides soda and beer we had drinking water for those who preferred it but for bathing we were allowed only a helmet full of water per person. After the sponge baths we placed the remaining water in a container for recycling.

We all put on our gas masks when using the toilets because the toilet water was recycled water and it stunk worse than the worst stink in this world. We didn't have regular work hours; instead we were given work orders whenever something had to be repaired and the rest of the time we either slept, drank beer or played cards.

Time went by slowly during our six-month stay until finally a transport plane arrived to take us back to civilization.

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