Iceland, July 1974 to July 1976.
Iceland, July 1974 to July 1976.
My sponsor met me at the terminal of the Keflavik International Airport in Iceland and greeted me with a comment on how glad he was to see me. I would learn later the appropriateness of the greeting.
We left the airport and briefly toured the confines of the Naval Air Station Keflavik.
He took me to the command quarterdeck at the barracks housing Naval Security Group Activity, Keflavik sailors. I checked in and was assigned a room in the barracks.
Anxious to have Lori join me, one of my first actions at the command was to apply for base housing. She couldn’t join me until I had a place for us to live.
Time has dulled some memories. I think it was September when I got a place to live, and Lori joined me in October. We lived in a Quonset hut converted to living quarters just outside the fence surrounding the base, near the ”take-off” gate.
The take-off gate was where Americans with commissary goods or articles bought at the exchange store had to go through Icelandic customs. Americans had a dollar limit on what we could take off base each month. The gate agent examined what we took off and noted the dollar amount. There were penalties for exceeding the monthly allowance. Lori and I never had the problems some did going through the gate. Our little beetle didn’t have a place to hide contraband, not that we would violate the rules. LOL.
I bought a faded baby blue Volkswagen Beetle to transport us in anticipation of her arrival. Later, we invested in (bought) a gold Beetle after the other gave us some issues. We parked the blue beetle beside the hut until we sold it. It showed us a moment of merriment after a significant snowstorm. The falling snow and blowing snow piled up around the blue beetle, leaving just the top of the roof visible.
Lori and I had to transverse a road that passed near the town of Keflavik and enter the base through a different gate. After one snowstorm, the road was barely passable in the beetle. We were on our way to the base when a large SUV approached. I pulled over, and it passed. By pulling over, I caused us to become stuck in the deeper snow. I wasn’t sure what I would have done if the SUV hadn’t stopped. Several men emerged from the SUV, lifted the Volkswagen with us in it, and sat it back on the road. After digesting what had just occurred, we waved thanks and completed our trip to the base.
We entered and left the base through a customs gate that was different from the take-off gate. Iceland worried about smuggling American-made goods, requiring everyone to go through the take-off or this gate. We could take food, used clothing, camera film, and drinks through this gate, but that would not count toward the monthly allowance.
However, what we took through this gate was limited to what was appropriate for a site-seeing trip or a day or two working at the Hafnir or Rockville operational sites. Icelandic officers at the gates did the inspections. If they considered we had too much of an item, we could take it home or leave it with them. I don’t remember ever taking anything home.
I arrived at the command as Petty Officer Second Class. After the next rating test, I was promoted to Petty Officer First Class.
Initially, I worked in the maintenance shop at the Hafnir location. The UYK-3 computer and its associated extra memory cabinet kept me busy. Besides routine weekly maintenance, I quickly learned it was a problem baby and the reason for the greeting my sponsor gave me at the airport. He battled it for almost two years and was ecstatic to have someone to leave it to. He soon transferred.
I soon found the computer would fail, most of the time, after I left work, requiring me to return to the site. I often discovered the problem had disappeared when I drove out. Sometimes, a new change tape from operations solved the problem; other times, I had to troubleshoot the solution. Usually, I only needed an hour or two of troubleshooting, but once, I worked the issue for over twenty-four hours. I came to hate this #$%^& UYK-3.
Lori was tired of having dinner interrupted or woken in the middle of the night by calls from Ops. She often threatened to refuse to answer the calls but never did. One time could have led to violence when a Navy Duty Officer refused to believe her when she told him I was in class. He pushed past her to check the house for me. (I was taking a University of Maryland business class then.) I raised the issue with my supervisors, and it never happened again. Though even today, the memory irritates us.
After my promotion, my Department Head reassigned me as the Rockville maintenance shop supervisor. The Rockville shop was about 14 miles from the Hafnir operations site.
I have memories of my time at Rockville. Three stand out to this day.
The first was the command held an open house for our dependants. Remember that this was a unique opportunity for them since the operations floor was off-limits to persons without the proper security clearances. So, there were restrictions on how close dependents could get to the equipment, but it allowed them to see where their spouses worked. One of the petty officer’s wives kept trying to enter the operations floor. She created a scene for a time but ceased after a firm warning, but she was extremely frustrated.
The second thing was riding the bus to Rockville in the winter. The command used front loaders to clear the road of snow. Sometimes, the bus traveled between two piles of snow taller than its height.
Third. It was winter when the Navy decided to conduct an antenna site survey at the Rockville site. Two men performed the study, and I was their point of contact and escort. The surveyors wore tweed suites while I ventured forth in my cold-weather parka. They showed no discomfort while I shivered and prayed for them to finish. It was the coldest I remember being until I was stationed in Adak, Alaska.
One day in our first winter, a friend who worked the airfield offered us a pup. It was from a litter dropped by a stray. We picked a female and named her Sandy. She traveled with us to Italy, Pensacola, Panama, and Maryland before we lost her to a tumor.
Sandy was not house-trained when we got her. I remember seeing her looking for a place to pee and picking her up as I headed for the door. I almost made it before Sandy peed on me. Angry, I opened the door and dropped her into a snow bank, where she finished her business. It wasn’t long before Sandy became house-trained and picked her places outside to do her business.
Sandy had a quirk we couldn’t explain. She had an issue with Icelanders. Sandy liked to look out our on-base apartment window. She barked her head off if an Icelandere walked by. It was the same when an Icelander pumped our gas. She barked at them incessantly until they finished.
Lori and I moved into quarters finally. It was a one-bedroom apartment, one of four in the building. We became friends with Sammy and Darryl, who lived across the street. The four of us spent many, many hours playing Pinochle. We estimated we had played some half million hands by the time Lori and I transferred.
Sammy and Darryl had a Jeep and a custom van. Weather permitting, we packed food, drinks, and film for a sightseeing trip. We checked out through the customs gate and began another adventure.
We made one trip to Hvalfjordur Whale Bay, where we saw some men harvesting a whale. We watched for a time but didn’t interrupt their work. Until then, I hadn’t realized how large whales can be.
Lori and I loved the sights at Gullfoss Falls and visited it several times, some in the Summer when it flowed freely and some in the winter with it partially frozen. The falls have two drops. One is 36 feet, and the second is 69 feet ( from https://guidetoiceland.is/travel-iceland/drive/gullfoss) .
We took a camping trip to Mt. Hekla over a July 4th weekend. Darryl drove the van, and I drove their Jeep. We found a place to camp before taking the Jeep and exploring the slopes of the active volcano. There were no indications it might erupt during our stay, having last erupted from May to July 1970.
Our campsite was below a power plant high on the slope. After dinner, Sammy and Darryl settled in their van for the night. Lori and I had a tent, sleeping bags, and lanterns we rented from the command morale, welfare, and recreation.
The ground was mainly lava, and driving stakes to secure the tent wasn’t an option. Darryl and I relocated the Jeep and secured the tent between the van and it. It was fortunate we did.
Lori and I were settled in when the wind began to blow. It gradually grew in intensity until the tent rose off the ground with us in it. Quickly, we left the tent and joined the other couple in their van for the night.
Other trips were to uncover beautiful sights while on long drives around the island. We saw flocks of sheep, unique rock formations, and, on one trip, a tall waterfall that we walked to and under. To reach it, we climbed a ladder over a fence and walked the tundra until we reached the base of the falls. It was such a sight, the view of the water coming off the cliff (and avoiding getting wet.)
Many of our friends complained about Iceland. They couldn’t wait to be reassigned and depart the island. Lori and I found our time enjoyable, and I, with her support, requested to remain for an additional year. We were disappointed when my request was denied (for the good of the Navy.)
The day to leave Iceland neared. The Navy picked up our household goods for shipment, and we moved into guest quarters. Sandy, our dog, wasn’t allowed to be with us, so Sammy and Darryl let her stay with them.
Two days before flying out, Sammy called. She was crying, and we could tell she was scared. I hurried over to find that Sandy had gotten her paw caught in Sammy’s dog’s choker chain. The chain wrapped around Sandy’s paw, and her effort to get free was choking the other dog.
I tried to grab Sandy’s snout to keep her from biting me as I worked to free her paw. I missed it, and Sandy bit through my thumb. Surprisingly, Sandy stopped struggling once she tasted my blood, and I was able to free her. Both dogs were safe, but I had to get my thumb treated.
I learned a dog was to be quarantined anytime it bit someone. Base Animal Control wanted to lock Sandy up for two weeks. I begged, pleaded, argued, and almost cried before convincing those in charge to let my dog leave with us.
So goes the two years spent in Iceland. Well, I could find other stories to tell if I tried. Maybe I will, but it will be at another time.