National Geographic : 1946 Oct
Americans Stand Guard in Greenland BY ANDREW H. BROWN «" TELL, this is it! Here's what Makes it all worth while!" S The pilot shouted at me over his shoulder as he pulled the B-25 out of its dive and leveled off a hundred feet above the dozen waving men on the ground. Foreshortened figures stood beside the cluster of buildings and antenna poles at Walrus Bay, remotest U. S. Army weather-radio station in Green land. The plane banked sharply to line up for the first "bomb run" over the camp. Our "eggs" were 16 bags of mail, gifts, fresh food, and technical supplies. I crawled back through the narrow tunnel to the body of the plane to help drop them out of the belly hatch to the eager men below. This was March, 1945. They had received no mail here since before Christmas. As the plane "dragged" the camp, just above the tips of the radio poles, the pilot shouted "Let 'er go!" over the interphone to the radio operator, who, earphones in place, straddled the square opening in the floor. One at a time we pushed the fat sacks through the small hatch. We both jumped on each bag, holding tight to the sides of the plane, until it dropped out, like a cork from an upturned bottle. If we looked quickly, we could see the boys grinning up at us from the snowy ground. This was the pay-off, for all of us. The pilot was right. What a reward to see the look of joy on those upturned faces! A Spectacular but Lonely Land Here was a tiny outpost of U. S. military society, 500 miles north of the nearest Ameri can base at Ikateq, almost cut off from the world. Here a handful of men had to get along with one another for 12 to 14 long months in a spectacular but lonely land. They took pride in their job, sending out vital weather reports to make North Atlantic flying safer and to hasten the European vic tory. Nonetheless, we knew they counted the days and hours until the annual supply vessel should nudge through the bay ice to unload the relief party and carry the old crew 1,200 miles south to "the base," at Narsarssuak, and home to the United States. Ice-capped Greenland held no glamour spot in the recent war. Press notices of D Day for American troops on the huge Danish island (months before the United States was at war) were slim, for friendly forces went ashore by agreement without let or hindrance. The blond Danes and tawny Greenlanders who watched the gray "invasion" ships steam up their fjords in July and August, 1941, were mighty glad the masthead breezes flapped the Stars and Stripes and not the black swastika of Nazi Germany. Comdr. Donald B. MacMillan worked in Greenland during the war on Navy air sur veys. The late Capt. Bob Bartlett, mourned by all devotees of the North, took his famous schooner Effie M. Morrissey up both coasts of the island on inspection and maintenance voyages for the U. S. Army.* Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and Gen. Carl Spaatz were in the vanguard of famous ad visors and visitors to Greenland. Bernt Bal chen, Admiral Byrd's chief South Pole pilot, commanded the big airbase at S0ndre Str0m fjord, above the Arctic Circle. I spent 25 months in Greenland, most of the time at the main base, Narsarssuak, as an officer in the Army Air Forces Weather Service (map, page 459). To GIs It Was "Groanland" Despite Greenland's startling medley of jagged peaks, ice-jammed fjords, crawling glaciers, and cold blue seas, most of the thou sands of soldiers and sailors stationed there found the duty pretty dull. GIs were quick to seize on the aptness, from their point of view, of the Danish spelling for their colony, "Gronland"; with feeling, the homesick soldier called it "Groanland." A few of us had a better time of it, because our work allowed us to learn something of the real Greenland, away from the military in stallations. Most soldiers who went to Greenland were keen to see the icecap, certainly one of the wonders of the Arctic world. I was lucky to get my first air view of the appalling spectacle soon after I arrived. It looked exactly as I had imagined it, only more so. The icecap is like the Grand Can yon: you can't believe it until you see it, and then you can't believe it! An hour after taking off from the base, I glanced around the horizon and saw nothing but ice and snow. It was a weird feeling. I knew the cap covered four-fifths of Greenland. Still, I kept thinking, "It can't be. There just isn't that much ice!" But there was. The frigid waste stretched off endlessly, a gently rolling, utterly empty sea of white, * See "Servicing Arctic Airbases," by Robert A. Bartlett, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1946.