Adak Alaska

I left knowing that I did my best at what I knew how to do, I had 30 days of leave and then I was off to my next duty station which happened to be Adak Alaska. I was going from 110 degree days to 48 below days.  The 30 days in Erie were interesting from what I remember, I mean we were trained in such and conditioned in such a way that if we heard a loud pop or bang we were under the table.  I really remember the first one or two days were sitting having dinner at my house and whether it was the fourth of July or a car backfire or something I was under that table in a flash and my parents were absolutely stunned. I remember them saying what is wrong I go you know what after I tried to explain to them I go every time we heard a pop or a bang or a thing we were we were under attack so it was just a natural reaction for me. to do that and also I 

I’m being picked up at the little, tiny airport by a van that that said AFRTS Armed Forces Radio and Television service on that side. well I had no idea so I got in the van and they escorted me to the Bering building which was the location of the radio and tv station.  They had a little bunk house down there that had four bunks and we would be sleeping there and not in the barracks.

I had a chance to  kind of calm down and recover a little bit and then I boarded my flight to  Adak, you go by jet to Seattle and then to anchorage then from anchorage to Adak island which is the very end of the Aleutian chain, that was on a prop plane Reeve Aleutian Airlines. It was a long flight I think that was six hours in a prop jet.

I started doing radio shows and the nightly news at six o’clock then I would host the 10 o’clock million-dollar movie which was really about a dollar 35 but we called it the million dollar movie. I came out from a curtain and I’d do a couple jokes and I’d sit down and introduce the movie and then in between reels I would talk about the movie or about something or order a pizza from the pizza shop.  

\Two weeks after my arrival my lieutenant calls me in to the office to speak to me because in that office is a Navy commander from the NAVSTA (Naval station Communications Station) and is a little upset that I did not report for duty at the naval communications station on Adak. I was really supposed to go to the naval station, but the armed forces guys literally kidnapped me because they knew I was coming and got me.  The Navy commander agreed to let me stay with armed forces radio and television.

We had a good audience it was only a thousand watt AM station, later we added an automated FM station, but it didn’t need to be much longer the island wasn’t all that big.  

Adak was a naval supply station, there were a lot of Russian freighters that would be traversing the Bering sea and we found out that the Russian freighters allowed women on their on their boats so some of them would be having babies or having  medical things so they would ask the Coast Guard or the Navy would send out a boat to the ship and we would climb this rope ladder to get on the ship and take care of either the pregnancy or whatever it was.  

 I would go along to do a news story on it just to cover the fact that we were doing service, we would always remember to bring some silver dollars or some maybe belt buckles or whatever to trade. On the Japanese freighters they offered us Sake.

Mount Sikka volcano when I was there and could see almost daily some venting. One day a guy said  “you want to go skiing?” I go sure where are we going to go skiing well we’re going to go off the volcano , yeah okay, so the helicopter took us to the of the top of the volcano and we had two days to ski down.  Halfway down we would camp up on the side of the volcano and then they would pick us up on a boat when we got to the bottom, so skiing down the side of a volcano was there was an interesting experience for me, that was the last time I ever skied by the way.

I was there for supposed to be only there for a year and the time for me to move on to the next duty station which was probably going to be Guam or Midway or some other place where I did not want to go.

I was having a good time in Alaska, I had a girlfriend who was a teacher so I had company she cooked meals for me a lot, can I stay here? They said yeah, but you have to go see a psychiatrist.  The Navy said because anybody who wants to stay here more than a year has got to be  said crazy, so I did see a psychiatrist and I gave him all the reasons why I wanted to stay first of all I was comfortable in what I was doing.

I was doing a lot for the island,  we decided to do a couple radiothons to help benefit the school to let them buy books and all sorts of other things so we would raise money. Mike Lynch and I would go down and broadcast from the school for 24 hours straight, we have some of the people do some funny serious stunts. Like how much will you pay to see your commanding officer walk through the muddy swamp or that kind of thing and we raised a lot of  money.

I extended my whole tour the rest of my Navy career I spent on Adak island and it was for me one the best jobs.  It really prepared me for working in commercial radio and television after I got out of the out of the navy because I had a chance to experience all sorts of things plus I was an engineer so I could I could fix things that were broken. We didn’t have the best of equipment and the navy.  

 One of the advantages of bring in Alaska is we could get on a plane and go down to AFRTS headquarters in Los Angeles and they let us come down and pick out movies.   We had no idea what these movies were because we had never seen any of these things before. They weren’t like Gone With The Wind, so we would go down and we’d go to a room and they had a card catalog like we’re used to having in old libraries and you’d look through that card catalog and the card would say what the movie was ,who it stared in it and maybe a little synopsis.

Then we would go into the film vault and hand load all of these reels of film, you know most of the most of the movies were three reels which is about 90 minutes, so we would load those into a cart and take them over to the shipping department and they would pack them up and then in about three weeks they would arrive at the TV station.

I’m sure you’ve heard the chicken man, he definitely was everywhere, so we decided that we should come up with our own version of chicken man. Since this is radio in the theater of the mind we could create anything, so we created Ptarmigan Tim. The ptarmigan is a species of bird that’s found in Alaska and other places. 

 Ptarmigan Tim and his wimpy wonderer Willy Wah, now a Willy Wah is a complete white out in Alaska but we called him Willy Wah, they owned Ptarmigan Tim’s tundra tours. There was no such thing but we created this fictitious duo who would come up with all sorts of problems, anyhow it was just like chicken man it was more related to Alaska. (pictured at left is Mike Lynch, one of the co-creaters and voices)

The mail office was “downtown” but the remote office was on Finger Bay which was an old submarine base by the way back in World War II so we had all these people come to the island, John Vain (he sounded a lot like John Wayne) came to the island.

The whole series, 87 episodes, was sarcastic and we got a little bit of trouble with some of them like over the wedding of Willy Wah who was getting married to Laney Lou which was his longtime sweetheart. I found a song called “Here comes the bride on a pinto pony” perfect wedding song , the setting was in the chapel and the bride comes down to the wedding song and then we played “here comes the bride and the pinto pony”   and of course Willy Wah faints when he sees Laney Lou riding on the pony and the minister goes “we are gathered here today” and that’s where it ended.  A minister on the island said we were being making fun of the institution of marriage and the commander came and he was he was mad. We played the tape for him, and he agreed we didn’t make fun of a wedding ceremony. I still got the navy accommodation medal when I left.

We organized a dog sled race, okay so there were no dog sleds, people had dogs but we decided to have the dog sled race and it was a Saturday. On the street outside of our studio studios we were in the basement so we kind of had windows where we could look out onto the ground level.  

 We promoted as this create your own sled and bring your dogs and we’ll have a race and it was down a hill so they was really didn’t have to worry they probably didn’t even need dogs to get down.  So we told the street department whatever you do don’t plow the street because we need the snow on the street for the dogsled race.  We put the cameras outside we strung them outside through the windows and cable, so it was like our first remote broadcast.  We could only go as far as the cable connected the camera; we were going to be interviewing people going to be in the race.  

In the morning we got up and we looked outside the damn street department came and plowed the plow in the street literally removed all the snow off the street and I go how are we going to have a dogsled race now. I called up the streets department and they said okay, so they went down to the airport and they loaded up these trucks with snow from the runways and brought it up and were dumping on the main street. I can just see these guys in the barracks getting up looking out and seeing trucks dumping snow on the street. The race went on and was a success.

I did a dance at the teen club they had because there were families were there it wasn’t just military guys it was their families could also live there. I can’t think how many people they were living on the island at the time but they had they had families there and they had a team club which was a place where the teens could go to keep out of trouble. They had pinball machines and things, and I did a weekly record hop. I played the music, and the kids would dance, and we decided let’s put this on the radio so I actually was doing my I was doing a record hop live on the radio. About 10 years ago I found two reel to reel tapes of the of the actual record hop and it was funny to kind of listen to.  They were doing dedications for tom and Mary Lou and things like that so we did record hops  

I showed movies on Sunday afternoons, they had a movie theater there but what we would do at the at the enlisted men’s club we would get some of those films I would show them at the club The Navy gave us money to not eat in the mess hall. The mass hall wasn’t bad, it was probably a little up step a little down step from what they serve on submarines, so it was good food what On the base they had restaurant type food places called the Geedunk, which was basically a snack bar there’s was also a pizza place.

We also had a swimming pool; everything was connected by tunnels so you did not physically have to go outside of the building but you could go through these tunnels from building the building so they had a swimming pool there.

I loved to swim, I got to know the manager of the pool he gave me a key to the swimming pool and actually that’s how I that’s how I met this young lady who was a schoolteacher,  she had come in at midnight one time evidently he gave her a key so the two of us had keys to the swimming pool and that’s how we got to know each other and there’s a whole other story. 

The connection with her would to be very fortunate that I met this young lady. The day before I was supposed to leave the island go to Seattle for my discharge from the Navy, I got a note from my lieutenant saying the commanding officer wants you to be in his office. We wore civilian clothed most of the time, all of the time, I have no idea where the uniform is, probably in the sea bag somewhere, and there was it was in the bottom of the sea bag there was my dress blues. They were really wrinkled I took them into the shower, and we turned the showers on and we steamed them so we got all the all the wrinkles out. I went down the commanding officer’s  office to find out they were giving me the navy commendation medal for all the work that i had done for the for the people on the island of Adak and that was that was to me it was like wow. 

I was going to fly it into Seattle but the my girlfriend said her brother lived in Seattle and was going to pick me up at the airport at a Volkswagen bus of all things, one of those little buses he was going to pick me up and I would check in at the base but then I would tell them that I’m staying off base

. The reason why I want to stay off base is because you won’t have to do any of the work, they’re going to make you do like scrub the floors or stand duty from midnight till 6 and all that other stuff.  You just go in, sign the papers do whatever you have to do and then you’ll be discharged.

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