Interview With Harold H. Long

From the interview with Harold H. Long of Fort Wayne, IN conducted by Teddy Clark at the Fort Worden History Center on May 10, 2002.  Mr. Long served in the U.S. Army 369th Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment from 1951 to 1953, stationed at Fort Worden.  Here he describes his experiences during the time leading up to the building of the American airbase at Thule, Greenland:

“”The military had to plan how to get stuff up there. (They) had to use ships.  (They) were training a group of people in Washington for the purpose of getting the material that was to be stored on the ships to the shore.  (They) were training a group of men in some base in the East that were operating what was called “Ducks,” open bodied trucks that would go through the water and on the shore besides.  Their job was to haul all the fuel in.  Fifty gallon drums of fuel were loaded on to the Ducks and the Ducks were loaded onto the ships.  The plan was to drop the Ducks into the water, have them  go to the shore, drop off their fuel and return to the ships.  Then they would go around to some of the other ships and pick up fuel and take that in. That was the only way to deliver the fuel.  Next, they needed to bring in all the building materials that they needed to build the airbase, which was a five year project.  They planned it so that we would be working 24 hours a day, since in Greenland there is 24 hours of daylight.  The shifts were around the clock, noon to midnight and midnight to noon.  All the stuff was transported from ship to shore by the landing craft that we operated.  They only had three months to get this done because then the weather would get bad. Our ships got clear up into Baffin Bay and ran into pack ice.  I think we were there for a week, stuck in the ice.  All the ships were in there, they couldn’t move, so they called in Coast Guard icebreakers out of Newfoundland.  They came up and broke a channel through the ice, then all the ships fell into line and we continued on.  They had lost a lot of valuable time, construction time; but they got everything done that they needed to do, and we left and came back.”

In response to a question about what it was like at Thule, Mr. Long responded:

“ My shift was midnight til noon, but it would have been the same thing from noon to midnight, because the sun just made kind of a circle up in the sky and it was kind of weird to think you were working at night when it was bright sunlight.  The working conditions were fairly decent.  On a good day it would get to 30 degrees.  On a bad day, it would be really cold and the wind would blow at 50, 60 miles an hour and sandblast everything.    We lived on a ship and rode a shuttle boat back and forth to work on the beach.  Should you get caught on the beach, which we did several times, you would be stranded if the wind would change.  We either had wind out of the north or wind out of the south; if the wind came out of the south, the icebergs would go back into the bay and the ships would have to leave to avoid being crushed.  If you were working on the beach and the ships left, you were left to sleeping in the squad tents  that we had set up.  For heat we made little stoves out of five gallon fuel drums and a drip system for some fuel oil.  We were 400 miles north of the Arctic circle, probably closer to Moscow than we were to New York City.  Right at Russia’s back door and they didn’t like that too well.  That was pretty scary, really.  That was the Cold War era, and it wouldn’t have taken much to have been blown away.  We had no air support up there, because there was no facility for that yet.”

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