Interview With Arthur E. David

From the interview with Arthur E. David of Fort Wayne, IN conducted by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on June 30, 2005 by Clio Ward. Mr. David served in the 369th EASR from 1951 to 1953. He was stationed at Fort Worden, Thule Airbase in Greenland, San Diego, CA, and Panama.

Complete transcripts and recordings of this and all interviews conducted for the Fort Worden Oral History Program are available at a nominal fee to cover duplicating and shipping. Inquire at info@fwfriends.org or 360.344.4481 for details.

Here Mr. David discusses his Greenland experience:

“ We left Fort Worden in April. We had got there in February and we took our basic training. Then we were sent down to Fort MacArthur at San Pedro, California, and we were there for more training. We left from there in May took a troop train from Fort MacArthur to Norfolk, Virginia. We left for Greenland in the latter part of May, first of June.

It wasn’t bad weather. It was summertime. It got up to 30 above and we had 24 hours of daylight. We had trouble getting there though. We were on the USS Deuel APA- 160. They carried landing craft. We got frozen in by the ice.

A Coast Guard Icebreaker, the West Wind came in and broke us loose, got the ship loose, but it damaged the propeller shaft on the Navy ship so they had transferred us to another ship. It was a big 5000 man troop ship and then that’s what we stayed on while we worked in Greenland building this airbase, Thule, Greenland.

We unloaded supplies. Supplies were brought into shore and we unloaded all the supplies being taken there for the Air Force base.

If you fall in the water up there, you’ve got about five minutes. We lost five men out of our company section. There was a major and the captain, a sergeant major, a couple lieutenants, another sergeant. They fell, over the July 4th weekend they were traveling in these Army weasels and they fell through a glacier lake. They never got out.”

In answer to how he stayed in touch with his family, and what happened when he didn’t during his time in Panama:

“ I would just write letters and let them know where I was going. There was nothing top secret, so I just would let them know. When I was out on Gatun Lake I hadn’t written a letter for a while. A J-boat came out to get me off my boat and said, ‘You got an emergency call from Fort Wayne.’ I got a little concerned. I thought maybe my mom or dad, something was wrong. They took me back to the Gatun Dam where an Army truck picked me up and took me back to the barracks and the company clerk told me I had this message from home. I was supposed to call. I said, ‘Can I use the phone here?’ And they said, ‘No, you have to go into town.’ I had to change clothes and get on the ferry and go across to Colon and I got that phone. I had to reverse the charges, call collect. I talked to Mother. I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And she goes, ‘Oh we were just worried about you and we thought we’d try and find out how you were.’ And I said, ‘Mom, you don’t know what I had to go through to get here to call you.’ After I talked to them and told them everything was fine, that there just wasn’t time for me to write, working out in Gatun Lake. Then I had to go back to the base, change my clothes, get on the truck and go back to Gatun Dam and the J-boat picked me up and took me back to my landing craft.

When asked about entertainment in Panama:

“ We went to a lot of the shops. Everybody had something to sell and things were pretty cheap. We went to the Manhattan Bar on 10th Street cause it was real nice atmosphere, it wasn’t a dump. We’d just go in there and have a few drinks and visit and listen to the music. So that’s about all we could do. You had to stay within the Canal Zone. There were off limit places– you didn’t go to off limit places, if you valued your life, let me put it that way.”

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