Thursday, October 28, 2010



In 1963, I was transferred to Alaska, for assignment. I had been there before. On arrival in Anchorage, I found out that I was destined for a "remote", and unaccompanied tour, on Shemya Island, almost at the tip of the Aleutian Islands, and closer to Russia than it is to Alaska. I had been on that little "raft" for a year tour, in the middle forties, and, did not look forward to a re-run. Try as I might, the Air Force would not relent. (I must have made friends in high places, to suffer such a fate.)

Since there was no choice, I flew on out to Shemya, aboard a Reeve Aleutian Airway airliner, and set up housekeeping there. My job was to be the Line Chief, and the Senior Non- Com, in Base Operations. The job was interesting, but remote tours are boring, so we tried to have a sense of humor, and take each day with a smile. Most of the smiles were about little things, but now and then, we'd be party to an event, which became Island legend.

In winter (which was a good part of the year), there was plenty of snow, and our young GI's would ski, using old boards for skies, they'd get out on the ice covered taxiways and run like hell, to "skate" on the ice. They built igloos, they made snow forts, and they had great snowball fights.

One winter day, our crew went to an old abandoned Mess Hall, which was just sitting there, decaying since WW2, and amongst the treasures they salvaged was a huge stainless steel pan. It resembled a Wok, but was large enough for a man to sit in. A few hours later, I heard laughter outside the Base Operations Building, and when I investigated, there was my crew. They had made a "sled-run", down the hill behind the parking ramp, and now they were taking the Flying Saucer, (as they dubbed that stainless steel pan), to the top of the hill, and one at a time, they'd come hurtling down the slope, spinning, laughing and, seemingly, out of control.

Our Commanding Officer was an energetic, but somewhat deaf old gentleman, who was here on Shemya, due to some Personnel Section's, "sense of humor". Was he being awarded for all the years of service, by heading up the operation on far off Shemya?

The Colonel, showed up, unannounced, and sat in his Staff Car, watching the kids, sledding down the hill. He was a wonderful fella, and often joined, in a dignified fashion, our games. Having been invited, he trod to the top of the hill wrapped in a dress overcoat, and, climbed onto that Saucer. One of the kids had a red and white striped wool scarf, which he wore to keep the snow from flying into his face, and down his collar, so he offered it to the Colonel, and they wrapped the scarf around the “old man’s” face and bald head, as they prepared him for launch.

I had heard an aircraft land, while we were watching all this, and sent a man into Operations, to see who had landed. Just as my man came back out, and reported to me that "It is the IG Inspection Team", I looked up the hill, to see the Colonel "launched". Faster and faster he came down the hill, screaming like a ten year old as the snow flew into his face, and he spun from side to side, and bounced off one side of the track, and then the other. The Aircraft full of Inspectors taxied onto the Parking Ramp, at the same time as our Commander made the plunge down the slope. And came to rest not thirty feet from the aircraft.

The Colonel had not told me about the coming of the "Inspectors", because it was supposed to be a secret! When the Colonel was helped to climb out of the "Saucer", and they unwrapped the red and white scarf, from around his neck and face, he became aware of the group, just arrived, who were staring at him in stunned silence. I must give the Colonel a great deal of credit, because, he squared away his clothes, and marched right up to the boarding ladder, to greet those "Washington Weenies", with a proper salute. By this time I had all my men smartly standing at attention, and as the Staff Cars full of dignitaries departed, we gave them a smart salute.

When the Inspectors had left, I worried about how we had done, and when the Colonel came in with the "report", I was, quite honestly, nervous. When I read the report, I had to smile. At the end of all the official stuff were two handwritten notations: Morale is Superior + Flying Saucer Maintenance is Excellent.

Bruce L Salisbury
Msgt. USAF Retired
© 2002

Thank you Bruce for this great and humorous story!

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