23 October 2017

Navy Memories #14: Adak Life

Previous installments:
  1. Boot Camp Memories
  2. About Those Navy Memories
  3. First Orders
  4. Anchor's Aweigh
  5. Man Overboard!
  6. Reflections of a Black Shoe
  7. Destroyer Life and Ports of Call
  8. Warships vs. Big Waves
  9. The Accident, and More Ports of Call
  10. The Black Sea - Operation Silver Fox
  11. 1975, A Year of Change 
  12. North to the Future
  13. Adak Outdoors
Note to readers: sorry for the delay in posting this. Life, as usual, gets in the way.
Summer on Adak was a predictable season, or so it seemed. The tundra turned green right around June 15, and turned brown again on September 15. I know it sounds funny, but it was that way for both summers for which I was there.
Even though my first summer and winter were spent driving that old Ford Galaxy (picture in previous post), I drove as far as the roads permitted a sedan to go. I watched the various CJs, Land Cruisers, pickups and other 4x4 vehicles heading gleefully into the old Jeep trails, and have to admit to a certain longing.
My first winter on Adak was an adventure in deep snow, and how to get around in it. We'd get three feet of snow, it stayed on the ground for a day or two, and then a warm-up which quickly melted most of the drifts, turning unpaved roads and parking areas into mud pits.
(chinook: a warm moist southwest wind )
Then at night, cold air settled back in, and we awoke to another three-plus feet dump of snow.
(williwaw: a sudden violent gust of cold land air common along mountainous coasts of high latitudes)
The day after another snowstorm
I managed through that first winter, driving that Ford, and putting on chains every time it snowed. That got old pretty quickly, and I determined to buy something - anything - with four-wheel drive as soon as I could.
Choices were limited by budget, then as now, and an E-4 with two years of service only got paid $459.30/month at that time. So I started saving my pennies, with high hopes. :)
I mentioned in the previous post that I selected one of the old Quonset huts as a home-away-from-home. A large bag of 6-penny nails, a three-pound hammer, a fanny pack, and big dreams of a "cabin in the tundra" were in my future.
It turned out that another sailor who had also been stationed in Athens arrived on the island soon after I did. We struck up a friendship based on that shared experience, and he thought a cabin was a good idea, too.
I described, last time, what we actually accomplished ... as opposed to what we thought we could do. It was a shell, with a 55-gallon drum for a wood stove, and two metal cots. We didn't even have chairs.
Mike seemed to lose interest thereafter (I can't blame him) and I only stayed there a few times, myself. It was warm enough, once the old metal drum and galvanized pipe got hot enough to send smoke vertically, instead of through the sides. I learned to light a fire, then go outside for 10 or 15 minutes before re-entering.
As long as dry wood was fed into the "stove" every 60 to 90 minutes, it heated okay.
* * * * *
But the heavy snows prevented me from a lot of winter travel, so I looked for things to do indoors.
The barracks were located on Bering Hill, above the base, and there was a huge recreation building and chow hall. All of the buildings on Bering Hill - and there were a lot of barracks - were connected with tunnels. No one had to go outside to get from one place to another, unless they wanted to.
Rather a nice idea, in a place with heavy snows and 100 mph winds.
The Hall had a pizzeria, a hamburger joint, movie theater, swimming pool, and other such things. Adak got McDonald's, eventually, but not during my time.
The local outlet of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS, or A-Farts, if you'll pardon the military expression) was in the basement. I had a friend who had a friend, and found myself hanging out at the radio station frequently.
The broadcast booth TV control console.
Most of you won't know this unless I tell you: I have a deep voice which sounds good on the radio, so I'm told. So I wound up filling in for the morning D.J. when he suffered a back injury.
"Good morning - it's time for the Dawnbuster!" rang the mellifluous, pear-shaped tones of the early a.m. jocks, and I did the same. Mostly, it consisted of playing tape carts of theme music, the Paul Harvey radio program which was relayed via telephone from Anchorage some 1,350 miles away, and various public interest announcements and military news. Honestly, it wasn't nearly as big a deal as it sounds.
I recorded some faux spots as well. One which comes to mind consisted of a spectacular orchestral fanfare, building to a crescendo before ending suddenly ... to wit:
(Cue music)
The 1976 Annual Pillsbury Bake-off begins next week from lovely midtown Manhattan...
(music gets louder)
.. as housewives, homemakers, and cooks from all over create their most delicious, creative cakes, cookies, pies and desserts.
(music ends with tremendous flourish)
(in silence) ... Yum, YUM!
I guess you had to hear it; it sounded better than it reads. :) 
But that also lead to hanging around the TV station with my friend Bob M., and talking to folks, and expressing interest, and ... see where this is going?
Bob and I were Star Trek geeks, in those days. TV shows were sent out by the Navy on very large, reel-to-reel spools. Typically, the station would receive 8 episodes in each shipment.
In the spring of '76, Bob and I decided to put on the First Annual All-Night Westernmost Star Trek Film Festival. The powers-that-be approved, and ... well, the rest was history.
Make-up test, early in the day.
In make-up, in front of the backdrop which served as the set.
I make a couple of opening remarks, in the best Vulcan voice I could offer, and introduced each episode.

We'd ask folks to call in after each episode, just to see if anyone was watching. A few managed to stay with us, so we ran all 8 episodes.

And no, there's no footage, or recording, or any other evidence beyond what I've reproduced here.
That's probably a good thing, for all involved.

* * * * *
That's how my friends and I occupied our time during that first winter. It was radically different from shipboard life, and I loved it. The wild, undeveloped Aleutians, the wild weather, the wide-open spaces ...
What's not to like?


drjim said...

A completely different routine than shipboard life!

At least you didn't have to chip, scrape, and paint....

Rev. Paul said...

Different? Oh my, yes indeed. But to be fair, as a Personnelman, I never had to chip, scrape and paint. The deck crew (i.e., Boatswain's Mates) did that.
However, I do have some hearing loss from being on the wrong side of steel bulkheads from chipping hammers & grinders.

Murphy's Law said...

These are epic. Keep 'em coming!

Rev. Paul said...

ML, I very nearly stopped these. "Who could possibly be interested?" I asked myself. Then a friend said, "Everyone who's never been there."

Schooled I was, and write I did.

DAH Global Solutions said...

And it's a good thing you did and continue to... (but you know that...) :D

Rev. Paul said...

Yes, Bro, you're correct. But you knew that, didn't you? :)

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

A budding radio DJ and Star Trek Vulcan? You, sir, have been holding out on us!

Rev. Paul said...

TB, I figured after 40+ years, the statute of limitations has expired.

Old NFO said...

Heh... Yep, one made their own 'fun' at Adak... At least you had continuity. We bounced from Adak to Misawa, to Guam, to... Elmendorf, Kodiak, and Eielson were our diverts. :-D

Rev. Paul said...

I knew that flyboy stuff wasn't ALL glamour. :)

JayNola said...

Wow.. Rev, you've the humility of a saint. Posting those pictures is awesome!

Rev. Paul said...

Jay - welcome back! Regarding the pictures, it was so long that ... well, why not? :) But I'm glad you liked it.

Ed Bonderenka said...

I'm enjoying these.

Rev. Paul said...

That's good to hear, Ed, especially when my own interest in telling the old stories begins to fall off. Thank you.