Willie's Arctic Adventure at Thule, Greenland

 

On Aug 7, 2004 I received a message with the following interesting bit of Thule history from Willie L. (name withheld by request) Willie L. had a total of eight years sea service in Navy and Merchant Marine, '43-'51.

(QUOTE)
"If you want to post my story I don't mind but it isn't important to me whether or not I am given credit. In fact I would just as soon you don't give me credit. My intention in emailing was to thank you for the very informative website (especially the photos) and to let you know I had been there. FYI, I am 78 years old and have been living in Norco LA since 4/53.
(UNQUOTE)

Here is his story from his journal:
(QUOTE) "... a 25 year old seaman making his last sea voyage. The following is an excerpt from memoires that cover the Thule trip:

"In June of 1951 I signed six month articles to ship out of Baltimore MD on a sea going tug destination foreign but unknown. Before sailing an Air Force colonel came aboard, checked if our papers had been " validated for emergency service" and wouldn't say where we were going except that it was north. He also said when we returned we should consider it our patriotic duty to not divulge where we had been or what we had seen.

Leaving Baltimore towing two LST's that had been cut down to the tank deck we were told to steer due east after clearing Cape Charles light, our point of departure. At sea our tow was strung out a half mile with 1500' between LST's. We were capable of making seven knots with the tow and twelve without.

After several hours a plane appeared overhead and by blinker light and a specially assigned radio frequency and we were told to steer for the Belle Isle straits then into Baffin Bay. It was here we finally learned we were going 760 miles north of the arctic circle to Thule Greenland.

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Steering almost due north by gyro compass we watched day by day as the magnetic compass north indicator slowly drifted toward the west then southerly as we passed the magnetic north pole.

None of us were prepared for arctic conditions and by default learned the three L theory of cold weather dress. Light, loose and layered. Surprisingly the air temperature never fell much below freezing. We were told however that if we fell overboard we could only last seven minutes before dying of hypothermia. We lost tract of AM or PM since the sun never set. At Thule we learned the LST's, which resembled barges, were to be used as finger piers. A base was under construction here that would be a part of the DEW or (distant early warning) line to detect anything flying over the pole from Russia.

Old demon rum was around; as soon as we anchored construction workers came aboard looking and offering fantastic prices for anything alcoholic. I was able to help out a little, parting with half of my meager stash.

We encountered many problems negotiating our tow between the icebergs and through the sheet ice. Initially our captain told us to give the icebergs a one mile berth when they first started showing up on radar. Before we reached Thule we were banging and shoving on them to make an opening for our tow which we had shortened up considerably.

We came back alone, sometimes ramming and breaking our own way into leads and fighting at least one storm with solid green water crashing against the wheel house windows. To stay on ones feet it took one hand on the wheel and the other on a hand rail. At one point there was only one man on his feet not heaving his last meal.

On the wheel passing through Verrazano Narrows heading for Kill Van Kull and Bayonne NJ none other than Queen Mary loomed ahead bearing down obviously at her cruising speed. I didn't wait for an exchange of horn signals, and made my intentions known early on getting out of her way, later stepping out of the wheel house to return a wave to many of her passengers who were already frolicking on deck.

At the end of this almost three month trip I paid off and headed home. Remembering what the colonel told us at he beginning of the trip, I couldn't help but wonder, did anyone actually believe it was possible to keep the Russians from knowing what we were up to. At any rate I didn't discuss the trip until an article with photos appeared in Life magazine.

This was the most interesting and only trip I ever made that while still at sea one could go over the side and walk around. We did this several times when we were ice bound."( UNQUOTE)

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© Copyright 1999, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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