Roland (Pat) Jasmin's Arctic Adventure


I received the following from Roland (Pat) Jasmin November 9, 2014:

After basic training, they gave us our orders. My orders were to report to Fort Belvoir VA, to PR & DC (Polar Research & Development Co.) and my MOS. (military occupational standard) was heavy truck driver so I thought I would be driving a semi. Given a 2-week leave before reporting to PR & DC and not wanting to be late, I reported a day early. When I returned to Ft. Belvoir and reported into the company, I found out that they had left for Greenland 2 days before. I was the only one in the barracks for about 2 weeks doing odd jobs just to keep me busy. Because the company would be gone for four or five months, they decided to transfer me to another outfit. This time it was the 588th Engineers also at Fort Belvoir. They put me in the motor pool were I stayed there for the remainder of the year. However Because I was transferred from another company, it put me on the bottom of the list for promotion.

Early in 1960, they gave me orders to go to Korea. I was to have a 30-day leave then report to California to catch a boat. Two days before it was time to take my leave, they changed my orders again, much to my delight, and decided to send me T.D.Y. (temporary duty) back to PR & DC. That was leaving again for Greenland. Only this time being T.D.Y. from the 588th Engineers, I was again not eligible for promotion in the PR & DC Company. We flew into Thule air base in Greenland, it was cold and when we left VA, we were wearing summer tans; it did not take me long to put on my long johns. As soon as we landed, we drove to campTuto, short for Thule take off. When we arrived, there was nothing but snow and ice. The Quonset or living quarters, where we were to live, filled to the roof with snow, and we had to dig them out before we could move in. As we looked around, we saw sticks with triangle flags sticking out of the snow. We later found that these were 20-foot poles; they put in the exhaust stacks of the 20-Ton Euclid trucks that we were to drive. It took quite a while to dig them out and get them started, being about 40 ft. down. All we they told us at the time were that we were to build a road up the side of the ice cap... The trucks were old, warn and slow. Some of the drivers would take them out of gear coming down the side of the ice cap to get up some speed. Unfortunately, most of the trucks could not handle the speed and caused the drive shaft bearings to give out. After a while, the company commander said the next one to drop a drive shaft would be Court-martialed, guess what, you got it, mine was the next. The only thing was, I knew the shafts were weak and I never tried to make the trucks go any faster. When the truck was being repaired, the mechanic did not have the correct part and was trying to install a bearing from another truck by drilling out the bolt holes. This may have worked but in his hurry to get the job done, he left the burrs from the drilling on the back of the holes. This made the bearing not fit correctly, when I made a comment on this to the mechanic, he told the sergeant in charge. The sergeant told me (in so many words) not to bother the mechanics. Moreover, he sent me to the company commander. I told company commander that I was a mechanic and knew what I was talking about I also told him that the new insulation would not last a week. He told me said he had the utmost confidence in his mechanics, and I said (just so you know).

A week later, to the day coming down the side of the ice cap with the company commander behind me in a jeep the drive shaft fell out. When I stopped, he pulled up alongside looked at the drive shaft lying on the ground looked at me, hesitated, waved at me and drove off. I never heard about it again.

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The purpose of the Greenland trip was to install a portable Atomic reactor at an Army Base called Camp Century. This was located about 130 miles from Camp Tuto out on the ice cap. It was a secret base built under the ice to monitor the Russians. When the portable Atomic reactor came in I was on the crew that transferred it form the flatbeds onto the sleds that were to carry it to Camp Century. We worked for about a week without much sleep.

We were using wide track D-9 caterpillar tractors to haul the sleds carrying diesel fuel and the reactor to Camp Century. We heard that the cost of a gallon of fuel was about $7.50 per gallon, by the time they got it to Greenland. This was in 1960. It came in 55-gallon drums that they had lying down and stacked in two rows four high. Some rows were more than 100 ft. long. When the Commanding Officer decided to build, living quarters in the area were the drums were, he sent men out with pick axes and had them dump the fuel on the ground and put the empties in the dump. A few days later, he changed his mind and did not build anything, because the ground was saturated with diesel oil, It seemed to me that for a man who was in charge and was supposed to be smart, he would have Realize that by dumping oil on that ground, it would cause the ground to smell.

At another time, in order to save space they built a large fuel tank on sleds at the base of the ice cap, with the intention hauling it up with a D-9 Caterpillar. After they filled it full of diesel fuel, it was too heavy for the D-9 Caterpillar to pull up so they added a second D-9 Caterpillar and still they could not pull it up. As I watched, they drained all the fuel onto the ground and pulled the empty to the top of the ice cap where they filled it again.

During summertime in Greenland, the sun never really set and it is daylight 24 hours a day. One night around midnight, we heard airplane engines, which was unusual because the only large airport was in Thule. At that time, camp Tuto had a short runway used only for small airplanes. It turned out that there were two Canadian twin fuselage airplanes supposed to land at Thule airport and could not because the area fogged in. Camp Tuto, being a little higher in elevation was clear and the pilots decided to land on the small runway. While we watch the planes try to land, we could not see the runway from our vantage point, so just before they landed they were out of view. The first one landed without incident. However, the second one was not as lucky. We heard the plane crash and almost immediately, we all got into the sergeants Jeep and went to the airport. We were the first to arrive by only a couple minutes. The plane nosed over and veered off the runway into a ditch. The cockpit was destroyed and after being thrown out, The pilot was sitting in the middle of the runway, however before we could reach him to help, the emergency vehicles showed up to help him. From our vantage point at that time, we could see that Thule was fogged over and it look like a big cloud had covered the ground The story that I got was after the first plane had landed, the pilot of the first plane told the pilot of the second plane that there was a strong downdraft at the beginning of the runway, this cause the pilot to touchdown too far down the runway and did not leave him enough room to stop.

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