... Daylight 24 hours a day
I was finishing up a three-year tour of shore duty at Paducah, KY as PO in Charge of the Electronics Facility, and was due for sea duty. Had made Chief during this assignment. I called my detailer at the Assignment desk in Washington a few months before my tour was up, to see what was available on the East Coast, and where. My preference was DD's (destroyers) as most of my Naval career was on DD's. I was told not to worry, there were plenty of billets in cans (slang for destroyers).
About three months in advance, my wife began sorting things she would need after moving. When you have to move every two or three years, you learn to prepare in advance. The family would be living in whatever we could find until our household goods arrived at whatever area we were sent to.
I received a call a short while later from the detailer, asking if I would be interested in going to Iceland. The Navy had a Naval Station there, and the Chief was retiring. Said it would be good duty, my family could accompany me, and after spending a couple of years there, I would be assigned another tour of shore duty in the States. Told me it would be counted as Sea duty.
I talked it over with the wife and after some lengthy discussions, talked her into going with me. It would give me at least four years shore duty, which was better than being on a can riding the waves.
Just after World War II ended, I was offered Shore duty at Pearl Harbor but my wife said no. I missed out on that one.
In the early 60's I received orders to the Naval Station, Keflavic, Iceland. I went alone. The wife and kids went to Malden, rented an apartment near her family and waited. As soon as I arrived, I put in for Naval Housing on the base. There was a long waiting list and no telling how long we would have to wait. Chances were good that I would never get to the top of the list.
Iceland is an unusual place and there were many restrictions on the military stationed there. There were classes, attendance mandatory, laying down the rules we had to follow. This included everyone, military, dependents and civilian workers.
Some rules included:
1. Do not drive after having anything to drink. The Icelandic police would take you to jail, and the U.S. Government could do nothing to help you.
2. Take no food off the base. You would be classified as a smuggler, and this would be put in your service record. The Black Market thrived there and food was expensive.
3. Leave the women alone. If you got one pregnant, the U.S. Government would garnishee your pay until the child becomes 18 years old. This included after you left the Military. You paid.. period, civilian or not.
There were lots of other things, but this will give you an idea of how strict the Icelandic Government was.
I took over the Communications Department, 16 radiomen working for me. The Radio Shack, as we called our work space, was part of the Operations Department located at the airfield, just across from the hangers used by the Navy. The Icelandic Airlines used the field for commercial traffic, in and out. The terminal had the usual facilities located at airports; a customs office, duty free store, restaurant, just like any other airport. We shared the spaces with them.
I checked the housing office frequently about housing, but no luck. At the flight operations desk one day, I heard a Commander talking about getting orders. He was a pilot in the patrol squadron and their six-month tour was ending. He lived off-base. I asked if he had found anyone to rent his house yet and he said plenty, but none had the cash to pay for the food supplies he had accumulated.
I had him explain, which is something like this.
He had about $600.00 worth of groceries stored in his attic. Whoever had the money would get the house. I was at a loss, did not understand what he was talking about. He told me those living off base could make commissary runs every three months. You were allowed so much cash value to buy groceries for each person in the family. After you made your purchases, you had to stop at the gate and an Icelandic Policeman inventoried everything you bought, checking against your register receipt. If an item was not on the receipt, you lost it. It took hours, but they were thorough.
It sounds weird, but it's true. He took me out one night to see what he had. I had my first experience with leaving the base. The IP had a mirror on a long pole which he shoved under the car, looking under it. While one inspected outside, the other checked inside and he answered any questions asked.
The gate was at the top of a steep hill leading to Keflavic. The house was maybe a mile from the gate near the school. The attic was full of canned food. It was actually better stocked than some small stores. We had a beer and I told him I would call my wife, let him know tomorrow. The wife agreed and I called him at his office. He said he had just over a month to go, his wife was leaving on the Admiral's plane on Sunday, and he would pick me up at 4pm to introduce me to the landlord to get their agreement. It went off okay, I paid them the month's rent in advance and the place would be mine when the Commander departed. I called Lil, told her to start getting things organized.
I made arrangements to have my household effects put in storage. The family got passports and when the furniture was picked up, they moved in with her mother. They stayed just over a month with her family.
I had been there about three months when I met a Chief in Intelligence who lived the next block over and we became friends. Learned a lot from him also.
The Commander left, I gave him the $600 cash and he gave me the keys and I began cleaning the house. Rode the bus back and forth daily. As you may know, at times there are 24 hours of daylight in Iceland. All windows are covered with heavy, light-proof drapes. The bedrooms are covered with aluminum foil plus drapes to prevent light coming in.
With the 24 hours of daylight, it wasn't unusual to see a baseball game at midnight. Activity all the time.
Also, it wasn't unusual to be watching a ball game and suddenly the wind picks up, it starts snowing, and you have to run for cover. Living in Iceland was an experience, but all of us enjoyed it.
My VW arrived a week later and I moved into the house. The landlord came over and we had a few beers together, got friendly. Before the wife came up, I would visit a little bakery outside my door and get hot bread, open a canned ham and different vegetables and have my landlord and his wife over. They really loved it. From time to time, after the family came up, they would come over with Icelandic pastry for us. It was delicious, and she taught Lil how to make some of it.
Keflavic is a fishing village with a fish processing plant which made the area have a fishy aroma all the time. In addition, there were racks, several hundred feet long around the city, that the residents used to hang fish to dry. This didn't help the smell any either, but you eventually get used to it.
The Admiral's plane was making a trip to the states, Rhode Island, I believe. I stopped in on the Chief of Staff to find out about getting space for three people on the return trip. The Admiral was going to be there a week. He said he would check it out and give me a call. I called the wife and told her about the Admiral's plane. She said okay. A couple of days later the COS called, gave me instructions for Lil.
Three weeks later I was waiting for the Admiral's plane to land. Sure was nice to see them come down the ladder. After clearing customs, I stopped by the Radio Shack and left word where I would be. Drove the family around the base, pointing out everything, then to the Chiefs Club to eat. Finally, home.
It sure was nice to be a family again.
With that, I will bring this part 1 to a close.
Click here for Part 2 Iceland Part-2
Mar. 3, 2000