A true story of the Christmas I spent at the North Pole
|In another story, I wrote about my greatest Christmas of all - TOOPSA-TAWA - when I was eight years old. Now, I would like to share my worst Christmas of all.
You might think that I’d write about the Christmas days I spent in combat in Vietnam, for surely those were the worst of all. Admittedly, they were not the best days of my life, but the very worst was the Christmas of 1971.
I was stationed with Company O, 75th Rangers at Fort Richardson Alaska. A few days before Christmas we received a DEFCON-TWO ALERT notice and ordered to report immediately for operational deployment.
Since we all lived within a few miles of our company headquarters, our entire Ranger company was assembled, equipped, and ready to go within half an hour, and within two hours we were on deuce and a half trucks on our way to Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage.
It took us several hours to board the C130 troop transport planes because the amount of equipment we were carrying was horrendous.
In addition to our arctic wear, we also had arctic gear which included rope, ice axes, skis, ski poles, ice boots, climbing gear and other necessary items.
In addition we had in our equipment bags extra ammo, LRRP rations, water, de-icer tabs, extra battle dress uniforms, gloves, strobes, grenades, more rope, Mickey-Mouse boots, several pieces of ‘secret’ equipment, and other items.
We also had our M16A1 rifles, navigation equipment and other items. To top it off, we each wore a main parachute. We did not have a reserve parachute because it was to be a combat jump and none is worn for that type of jump. All in all, we each were loaded down with around 200 pounds of equipment and our Pathfinder unit would drop tons of extra equipment down to us once we hit the ground.
Our destination, as in any combat related jump, was unknown to any of us except the Company Commander and higher staff.
For many hours we did what is called contour flying. This is where the plane flies about one hundred feet off the ground and goes up and down, left and right, to avoid hills. This type of flying is done to stay under enemy radar and to maintain the element of surprise.
Naturally, this up and down movement is like a roller coaster and more than one of the Rangers had eaten a heavy breakfast or was suffering the effects of the night before. Therefore, barf bags were in serious demand.
After about seven hours of flight time the plane climbed to jump altitude and the doors opened. The pilot advised us on the intercom that it was 121 degrees below zero at jump level and 82 degrees below zero on the drop zone. Ours would be the first parachute jump in history onto the Polar icecap.
It took us a while to exit the C130, in fact, it took several passes before the whole company was out. When our parachutes opened it was agonizingly cold. Our drop zone was located 100 miles south of true north (the North Pole) and we had a bitter wind gusting at thirteen knots.
Even after we hit the ice (no ground here) we were drug for hundreds of yards until we could remove our arctic mittens and hit our parachute quick releases. It took us hours to chase down some of the guys.
We spent five days on the bitterly cold ice fighting off polar bears and frostbite and conducting combat patrols out towards the North Pole, in some cases no more than eighty miles away. I swore then and there that I would never complain about hot weather again so long as I lived, and I have kept that promise.
On the sixth day we were picked up by Chinook helicopters and ferried to Point Barrow Alaska, where we again loaded into C141 troop transports and flown to St. Lawrence Island in the Bearing Straight where we again parachuted in to conduct individual patrol operations for several days. At least it was warmer, averaging only 47 below zero and the natives gave us fresh seal blubber to suck on as a treat.
No. These were not combat operations but Special Forces Operations training. Anyone want to be an Airborne Ranger/Special Forces soldier?
Actually, when it was all over, we had incredible stories to tell the rear echelon soldiers and we loved every minute of it. Of course, the next Christmas I was once again back in the sweltering jungles of… guess where?
Rangers lead the way!