JL Salter is talking Greenland and his new book

Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to Astraea Press author JL Salter. He’s recently released his novel The Overnighter’s Secrets and is currently busy “blogging” away in this “web world”.  Through FB and his very interesting posts on his website he shares with other Authors, I’ve become to appreciate Jeff’s knowledge, but also his witty nature. So there’s no doubt in my mind, that his new novel is well worth the read – but I’ve decided to dig a little bit deeper into Jeff’s past! He mentioned that he was stationed in Greenland, and that tickled my fancy!

Welcome to my humble blog, Jeff!

JLS ANSWER: 
Thanks, Iris.  We’ve been razzing each other, for several months, across 4 or 5 time zones.  It’s good to finally meet you in one spot.

First of all, congratulations on your current release. Well done! But before I ask you about The Overnighter’s Secret, tell me about your time in Greenland.


JLS ANSWER: 
I should begin by HOW I got there.  It was a standing joke in the Air Force at that time -- during the Vietnam Era -- that if you screwed up, you were often warned, "You wanna get sent to Thule?"  In other words it was a very UN-desirable location ... and it had a reputation along these lines:  if you were sent there, you either screwed up really badly ... or you ticked off somebody very ‘high up’.
So, with that as the background --- I was assigned to the Information Office (i.e., Public Affairs) of a Tactical Air Command base in New Mexico.   In my very small 'shop' (within the info office) of FOUR enlisted men, two had already been sent to Da Nang and one to Thailand.  [This was in 1971-72, when S.E. Asia was still quite 'hot'.]  We got replacements, of course, but I was the only guy left (of that original quartet) who had not received a remote tour assignment.  Naturally I assumed I'd go to 'Nam --- or thereabouts.
  One of my primary assignments was working on the base newspaper, of which I eventually became editor.  For part of that time, I wrote a satirical column called "Poor Kodac's Almanac" and one of those columns made fun of the base Civil Engineer Squadron ... which was sort of a running joke on military bases at that time. [You know, like how long it took for them to show up, and whether they’d fix it the first time, etc.]  Anyhow, to make a long story short (too late), the full colonel in charge of that C.E. Squadron complained bitterly to my boss -- a Captain -- and vowed to get even.  Within a few months, I had orders to Thule.  True story.  Those initial orders were cancelled.  But later I got a new set of orders to Thule, for a different time period.  I've always said that I was sent to Thule because I ticked off a colonel in the C.E. Squadron at Cannon AFB NM.
Despite the horror in everyone’s faces when my destination was announced, I was pleasantly surprised to be sent to a place with no bullets or mortars or rockets being fired at me ... as it had been with my buddies.  And I'm a pretty "solitary" guy anyhow ... so being in an isolated place didn't really bother me.
Now, that's more than you wanted to know, since your question was about my TIME at Thule.  To answer this question, I should explain that the base was run by Danes, who outnumbered the American military by some 3-1.  The Air Force personnel rotated in for their 12-month duty, but many of those Danes stayed there for years.  It was clear who ran things and to get anything done you needed to get along with the Danes who held all the key positions.  I wish I could remember how many military were there, but it's a dim picture now, after some 40 years.  Let's say it was 248 AF guys (and TWO WAF – i.e., female -- officers) ... amidst some 750 Danes. 
The weather was atrocious for most of the year, as you can imagine, being 930 miles from the North Pole, and about 700 miles above the Arctic Circle. 
The chief "entertainment" for most guys was getting drunk and/or doing drugs.  Let me say, quite honestly, that I did NOT do any drugs and most of those guys thought I was pretty square.  But I know how they got a lot of their stuff, like hash --- it came over from Copenhagen with the Danes who rotated back home for leave.
I did drink a bit here and there, but for the most part, I just went to movies at the base theater nearly every time the show changed ... and played a lot of ping pong.  I also wrote a LOT of poetry.

I like the story about you “ticking” off a Colonel. Not sure why, but an image of “Hawkeye” comes to mind. ;-). For someone who has an ignorant knowledge about the US Military and related matters, why would they station US troops in Greenland? What was the significance?


JLS ANSWER:
We had troops in northwest Greenland as part of the Distant Early Warning System, known as the DEW Line.  It was primarily a ring of radar stations which were supposed to allow us to alert Washington of incoming ICBMs (missiles) coming from the Soviet Union over the polar cap.  I’ve never seen this in print, but I was told that even if our Thule radar detected an approaching missile, Washington would have only a couple of minutes of warning before the ICBMs hit their assigned targets.  In fact, on the day I landed at Thule, I was informed that the DEW line system was obsolete.  Not at all the comfort I needed at that point.
To create this base, America needed a treaty with Denmark, which owns Greenland.  That treaty was very specific – no nukes, for example – and in order to get the most advantageous spot, inside a cusp of North Star Bay, an entire village of Eskimos had to be relocated.  So the spot where Thule was created was formerly Qanaq ... and its native inhabitants were all relocated some 30 miles farther north, along that coast.
Remind me later to tell you about the nuclear disaster near Thule just about three years before my arrival.

Don't tease! Tell us now  J

JLS ANSWER: 
Sometime in 1969, about 3 years before my tour of duty there, a B-52 flew out of Thule on a routine training mission.  Against the treaty stipulations, they had LIVE nuclear weapons on board.  I think it was 6-8 total, but I’m not sure.  Anyway, there was a fire in the cockpit or some other emergency situation and the B-52 crashed, just about 10-12 miles from the base.  Some of the nukes were recovered intact.  One or two – that were NOT intact -- were scraped off the floor of North Star Bay with a midget submarine.  Contaminated debris from the bay (and some from the nearby permafrost, I think) was bulldozed into numerous specially-lined cargo containers and shipped to the U.S. for disposal.
Besides being caught breaking the treaty protocol (and contaminating the bay and coastline), at least one – maybe two – of the nukes were allegedly NEVER recovered.  There are still scientific papers and legal papers about this affair, which I’ve seen described as the worst accidental American military nuclear disaster ever.  Some of the on-going concerns include:  contamination of the animal life which those Eskimos rely upon for food, rumors of birth defects among some of the natives, residual health issues among some of the Danish crews who helped with the clean-up.



Yes, cold indeed at those places. My daughter interviewed her uncle a few months back who went several times to the Antarctica for a year, and he told her a few interesting bits. Tell us, were you fortunate enough to see the Aurora Borealis? Did you get to swim in the cold water? I believe it’s tradition in the northern countries to have a quick dip.


JLS ANSWER: 
We never saw even a hint of the Northern Lights.  The way it was explained to me was that we were too far north to see them.  That makes sense when you learn that these ‘lights’ are actually reflections off the atmosphere, and you have to be farther south to see where the reflection ‘bounces’.
Let me tell you about the water.  We were given numerous safety briefings, of course, about the severe weather and conditions.  One detail which sticks in my mind is that if you were ever unlucky enough to fall into North Star Bay – in the parts of the year when it was not frozen over – that you would last approximately TWO minutes before you could no longer function.  And after you could no longer function, you’d just sink and drown.
But during the spring thaw, I did see some water running toward the bay from a melting glacier at a higher elevation.  I thought I at least ought to FEEL how cold it was.  So I did.  I thought my hand would freeze solid and shatter into a thousand pieces!  Gosh that was COLD.  I still can’t fathom how water that cold could still be liquid.

I can’t believe you missed out on the Northern Lights!
Yes, I have heard about the danger of“dipping” into the water. Brother in law was game enough to do it, and I can remember him saying that the guys at the edge constantly warned him of not“swimming” out of reach.
Tell us about Thule. About any difference to your “hometown” or where you had lived at the time.

JLS ANSWER: 
I’d been a southern boy for most of my life (except for a year in Iowa) ... so I was pretty accustomed to warm weather and humidity.  Very little of either at Thule.  Also we were told that there were NO insects at Thule, because they couldn’t survive in that climate.  I think that was a myth, however, because I got bitten all over by SOMETHING when we were sunbathing on a glacier one adventurous summer afternoon.
The ground up there was frozen solid, called perma-frost.  So there was no ‘soil’ such as we’d know it.  No trees in that part of Greenland either, so the tired old joke about “a girl behind every tree” was doubly sick.  The only plant life was some tufts of (what I’d call) weeds which somehow managed to grow in the perma-frost.
The only wildlife near our base was the Arctic Foxes, which hung around the Chow Hall, hoping for treats.  We were warned not to feed them, but lots of guys did.
When I get time, I can tell you about my ascent to the top of Mt. Dundas, the annual Eskimo Sledge Race, Operation Julemand, my flight to Point Alert, my flight to the Coast Guard station at Cape Atholl, my climb to the crow’s nest of a gigantic icebreaker ship, and the base exchange facility which stayed open only long enough to be completely renovated ... and then was closed.

 

No polar bears?
Living across the road from Dundas Place – tell us about your ascent! No doubt an achievement in this kind of territory, but are we talking about a “high” mountain here?


JLS ANSWER: 
We never saw any bears, but I know they had seals and narwhale up there because I purchased some of the hand-made artifacts at a tiny store which featured products from the nearby natives.
For that region, the 600+ foot Mt. Dundas was a prominent feature.  As Spring weather hit, it was tradition for the Base Commander and a safety team to ascend Mt. Dundas to replace the rope (for the final 35 ft up the steep part) and generally check out the place.  My CO, a captain, was invited and I was allowed to tag along.  We also had a few security police and other interested parties.  Later in the season, I went back up with a few buddies for my second ascent.
There was a rock on top which had been carved like a woman’s torso ... that was the closest I got to a woman for the entire time I was there.

Considering that you were stationed there a few years back. Tell us about the communications to the “mainland”, family, friends, wife (?).

JLS ANSWER: 
Great question.  A big plus was that each person stationed there was allowed a full 30 day leave at some point during the year ... to go home.  I had that leave and was also given a Temporary Duty (TDY) to go to the Pentagon and receive a newspaper award from the Air Force Chief of Staff.  Interestingly, both the paper I’d left (in NM) and the paper I went to (Thule’s) won in their own divisions for that year.  I went as representative for Thule, but I think I may have actually won for my work on the NM paper.  Anyhow there were only 8 or 10 of us there, so it was quite an honor.
Communication:  I wrote, and received, a lot of letters.  At one point my wife sent me about a dozen small cupcakes, individually wrapped.  Apple cake, as I recall.  They were sealed so well that they lasted several days after they made that long journey.  Best apple cake I’ve ever tasted.
We were allowed to place FREE long distance calls through some sort of military phone network.  They were called “Morale Calls”.  But the reception was terrible, you had to schedule them in advance, and then wait for the operator to call you, and then hope that happened to catch your loved one at home.  I found it way too cumbersome.  So the several calls I made to my wife were placed collect:  from the Thule operator to the operator at Cornerbrook Newfoundland ... and then to Louisiana.  It went on my in-laws’ phone bill.  When I was home on leave before my next assignment, I gave my F-I-L a check for those collect call charges, but he refused to take it.

 
Does the military station still exist nowadays?

JLS ANSWER: 
I believe Thule AB is still there, though it’s no longer with Aerospace Defense Command ... and most of the other units are different.  It was in 21st Air Division when I was there.  I bet they still have that mysterious “detachment” which (I believe) was present solely to check radiation levels ... but I can’t prove it.

[Side note:  I was one of three nominees from 21st Air Division for 1972 Outstanding Airman of the Year and the only nominee from the 21st Air Division for 1972 Information Technician of the Year.  I was also decorated with the Meritorious Service Medal for my work at Thule.  At that time the MSM was quite rare for buck sergeants.] 

CONGRATULATIONS !!!


Okay, finally … tell us about your book, which has been released by Astraea Press.
 


JLS ANSWER:
I think The Overnighter’s Secrets is a great story (romantic suspense) with memorable down-to-earth characters ... plus some cool action scenes.  But I’m still awed by how it began.
In April last year, I was in the garage of my friend, who thought I’d be interested in the contents of an antique overnighter (suitcase) which he’d acquired about 16 years previously from some dumpster divers in CA.  I thought, “Why not?” and we looked through those items.  My friend swears I was only the second person who’d ever seen those belongings.
At first, I assumed it was just whatever clutter happened to be in that particular dumpster.  But soon, we perceived there were groups of items: programs and playbills from Vaudeville productions all over the country; an elaborate family album with very large photographs; a diary from 1955; photos from an Asian country; photos of what looked like stage plays or silent movie sets.  Plus many other things, like legal documents and newspaper clippings.
With the deductive skill of detectives, we began to find threads which connected a name from the diary to a child’s name on the back of an album photo, to a different name on the back of a silent movie ‘still’.  Then the Rosetta Stone — a legal document which connected all those name variations to a single person!  The actress Lizette Thorne, who starred in some four dozen silent films and was in the same movie company with Charlie Chaplin during 1916, was the common factor among all those mementoes.
Fast forward several weeks.  After I’d conceived of a fictional plot which could USE such a find (and had written over 70,000 words on that new novel ms.), I came into contact with Lizette’s granddaughter!  We corresponded extensively ... and my friend readily turned over Lizette’s personal items to that granddaughter.


Blurb:


When Beth left suddenly, it broke two hearts ... but she’d had no choice. Shane, a rugged, ex-Airborne biker, handled it badly ... but so had she. Three years later and 2000 miles away, she desperately needs her ex-lover’s protection from a violent menace with ‘bad history’ who’ll do anything to reclaim a mysterious suitcase Beth possesses.

Long before Shane acquired that overnighter, a ‘silent movie’ actress kept secrets there ... and now several lives are in jeopardy. An ambitious female state senate candidate hires a ruthless investigator to eliminate potential campaign ‘problems’ like her dark family secret — a bizarre 1889 murder.

Is Beth’s terrifying ordeal simply because she unwittingly possesses the overnighter’s secrets? Or is it due to the meth-fueled dumpster-diver’s ‘unfinished business’?

Shane will likely return to California after he resolves this Tennessee ‘situation’ ... so Beth struggles to resist her reawakened feelings. But before she can sort out their renewed relationship ... Beth is kidnapped! To rescue her Shane enters an obvious trap in a dilapidated hotel. Only with Beth’s help can both survive the violent struggle against her kidnappers.
Thank you so much, Jeff, for taking your time recounting your time at Thule. It was indeed very interesting to read! And again, congratulations on your Meritorious Service Medal! And your book sounds just as fascinating! I look forward to reading it soon.
 
 
Jeff's Book "The Overnighter's Secret" is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and from Jeff's Publisher Astraea Press.
PS - and only 99c until the end of this month at Amazon ;-)
 
 
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12 comments:

  1. OH MY... NO TREES!!!! I would never have survived. Congrats on your awards, I bet you deserved them!! And what a cool experience! I see a story in all that, start writing!!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. I think it takes one very strong-willed person to 'live' there. Even more so during times when there was no internet.

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  2. OH MY... NO TREES!!!! I would never have survived. Congrats on your awards, I bet you deserved them!! And what a cool experience! I see a story in all that, start writing!!

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    1. Meg, I've often wondered if I could squeeze a novel out of some of my Thule experiences. Nothing, so far, but I do see the potential.

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  3. You've led quite a fascinating life - and this post only covers part of it! I think you have enough material for several more books. Thanks so much for sharing, Jeff. And thanks Iris, for digging all this out of him!

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    1. Thanks, Patty. Truly, I did have some terrific experiences up there. For example, I incorporated a live news feed about one of the moon landings into a radio broadcast during a shift I was working.

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    2. Thanks Patty. Yes, I agree. I reckon this is only the surface of a very interesting life!

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  4. Thanks again, Iris, for hosting me ... and for your interest in my Thule experiences.
    Two more items I'd like to mention:
    1. During the spring, after that part of the Bay had thawed, we went out into the Bay on a WW2-era Landing Craft, which had a school bus parked in it. The bus was for warmth if we decided to stop sight-seeing from outside. We got up close and personal with miniature icebergs, which had broken off of the glaciers that slowly moved down a natural slope into the Bay.
    2. Things were a lot more relaxed at this remote base than would have been allowed at a stateside base. There were two officers assigned as Chaplains ... and they shared a vehicle (station wagon) --- one of the relatively few vehicles assigned to American military. [Most were driven by the resident Danes.] For a good part of the year, one of the Chaplains -- first the Catholic Captain and later the Protestant Lt. Col. -- would swing buy several of the small weather-tight barracks and pick up a crew to go to Midnight Breakfast at the Chow Hall. It was actually only 9 p.m., but it was probably breakfast for some Danish shift workers. Anyhow, we'd pile into that station wagon and go eac a sumptuous meal nearly every night. Yep, our fourth meal of the day. I gained about 21 pounds that year at Thule.

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    1. It was an absolute delight having you. Thanks for your patience answering the questions! I'm sure one day I'll be bothering you with more questions ;-)

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  5. This is a great interview and I see a great number of stories here! I can't wait to read your book!

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    1. thanks, Lisa.
      It's a "cool" (ha) setting and lots of anecdotes ... but presently I lack a plot to carry it.

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    2. Thanks for stopping by, Lisa!

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