This was sent recently from Australia to a friend of mine: “Thank you again for the parcel. I’ve really been enjoying ‘The Crickets of Hiroshima’ and have almost finished the book. The author brings the story to life with an interesting perspective and a fine ear for the vernacular. He manages to convey the messiness of war and the continuing emotions of Ken with sympathy and understanding. Have you read it? Please thank the author when you see him, and tell him that his book has much to say far beyond the United States. It is well worth reading.”
I’ve started an alternate historical fiction. Working title is “Britons.” It’s about the discovery of North America. Here’s the working introduction:
The continent that would become known as North America spread her bountiful body across the great expanse between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and waited expectantly for the so called civilized peoples of the European continent to notice she was ripe for exploitation.
The year was 980 A.D. The pilgrims landing at Plymouth was an event waiting for its place in history. Christopher Columbus and Americus Vespucci were to be born some three and four centuries hence. Leif Erikson and his Viking marauders were beginning to settle in Iceland and Greenland, but they had yet to discover this new land and plunder it for its timber, sorely needed by the Norse settlements along the west coast of Greenland.
When Erikson finally showed up in what is now called Newfoundland on the shores of North America, he and his Norsemen were greeted by Celtic Briton settlers who had preceded him by nearly a decade.
This is their story.
Covenant Books has picked up The Soul of A Dog. It’s in production as I speak. Hurray!
I’ve just finished my latest manuscript The Soul of a Dog and have begun hunting for an agent. The book makes the case for dogs having souls or spirits like we humans. Imagine that we could prove that our dog has a soul. We can no more prove that than we can prove humans have a soul. We take it on faith, but observation is a powerful convincer. After some years observing and living with six extraordinary dogs I am convinced they possess a spirit that lives on after they have finished their short sojourns on earth.
The old man woke in the night. He was sweating. He was briefly gratified to have been freed from his dreams. He rolled in bed, feeling pain throughout his body, struggled up and went into the bathroom to pee before returning to his bed. This had been a particularly bad night because, fire as he might, his rounds could not take down the attacking Viet Cong. He lay gazing at the ceiling fan, waiting for daylight. Toward morning he started to fall asleep, but feared going back to the jungle, so he arose and, walking haltingly into his small office where he wrote his adventure stories and kept his bottle of Costco Vodka, he took a long swallow of the colorless liquor.
Awake now, he struggled through pain to rise and put on a pot of coffee and sat down to write.
He knew he suffered the disease shared by all veterans of combat. These days they had a name for it—PTSD. He noted that it took only one finger of the right hand, but three fingers of the left hand to write PTSD. He had been writing about the war long enough to understand his problem. While the general public referred to it as PTSD, Post Traumatic Syndrome Disability, he thought of it merely as PTS. He knew now he had it, but he didn’t think of it as a disability. All veterans of every war suffered from it and were not disabled. It was what it was. Nothing more. Whenever a veteran didn’t want to talk about his experiences, you knew he didn’t want to talk, because he was suppressing his feelings. This was a common symptom of what I call PTS. He knew he wasn’t disabled by his Post Traumatic Stress. It went with the trade.
Only lately could the old man relate the word “disability” to his condition. During his annual physical examination at the Army hospital he had been referred to a hematologist for vastly increased platelets in his blood. It was discovered that he had been a victim of Agent Orange in Viet Nam resulting in an unpronounceable disease of his bone marrow.
He was given medicine and a monetary award of four hundred dollars which was subtracted from his retirement pay, but was tax free. Whoopee.
The old man’s dog, Sandy, joined him in the kitchen as he waited for the coffee to be finished. His back ached as he bent over to scratch behind the ears of the dog sitting beside him. Sandy, some ten years old now had little time to share with her master.
“Well, old girl, we’re a pair, aren’t we. I love you girl.”
The old man’s wife had died the year before. They’d been married more than fifty years. Brenda had followed him all over the world on various duties and had mothered their three children. He had not known how to survive her death.
He rose with pain in all his old war wounds and walked haltingly out into the yard where he sat by his fish pond. He watched the gold fish, most of them more than fifteen years old, swim about the pond he had built many years ago. Sandy, came and lay down beside him in the grass.
He heard the wind causing the flag that flew in his front yard to billow. Standing, he saluted the stars and stripes. Then he sat and closed his eyes for the last time. Sandy whimpered and lay beside the old soldier.
We formed up to move by ski jor to attack our second objective, high ground held by the Italian Alpini (ski troops). I was anxious to see how the Italians would fight in the snow. Two ropes each of twenty or thirty soldiers on skis were pulled behind a file of band wagons at about fifteen miles per hour through the mountains. We carried our lunch in our packs and ate it on the move. I hadn’t been moving long near the front of my rope when I looked up and was surprised to see Colonel Hodge, the regimental commander of the Marines, sitting in the back of my band wagon, looking daggers at me. I knew he hated to see me maneuvering with the troops when he and his Marines were unable.
After two days and nights of being transported this way, I marveled that none of the Norwegians fell asleep on their skis. I nearly fell out on more than one occasion. I think the only thing that kept me going was esprit d’corps.
Finally we stopped and formed to move on without the help of the vehicles. The battalion commander gathered his officers around him and issued the attack order. We were to climb the mountain before us and attack to secure a hill ten kilometers beyond.
When the commander dismissed his officers, he briefed me on what he’d said.
“. . . then I told them to get some food. We’d move out in fifteen minutes.”
“Don’t you ever rest?”
“No. We travel at a slow pace, but keep moving. The only time we go to canvas is if it warms up and rains. We know that rain will be followed by extreme cold, so we can’t afford to get wet.”
I can’t remember which night it was—they began to run together in my memory, but late one night we found ourselves circling a mountain above tree line and preparing to attack downhill. We must have been in clouds for there was absolutely no visibility. The darkness was like that of a cave. All I knew was to follow the ski tracks in front of me. We stopped, turned, and skied in a line down the mountain to occupy the hill that was our objective. It was unoccupied.
The next day I learned that the Alpini were occupying the mountain tops and were supposedly calling down artillery on our position. So I learned something about how the Alpini fight. When I got to see their equipment, I marveled at how they could survive the mountain tops in winter.
After ten days the exercise was over and we returned to Bardufoss. I was ten pounds lighter after my experience in the Norwegian northern mountains. I had heard rumblings from the Norwegians that the U.S. Marines had taken quite a few cold casualties.
The Norwegian Brigade North held a party during which they awarded me an honorary commission in the brigade, gave me a blazer and a brigade patch. What an honor.
I learned that the Marines were not flying home for a few days and that Colonel Hodge had invited me to go on an automobile trip with him to visit Narvik, the site of a German invasion of Northern Norway during WWII. I agreed to go. During the entire trip Colonel Hodge pumped me about my “real” mission in Norway and tried to get me to admit my goal was to regain the Norwegian Mission for the army. I had to be careful. I didn’t want to lose my ride home.
“So the Army sent you, one of its most skilled skiers to Norway—merely to observe?”
“Colonel, I’ve told you. I have no orders from Department of The Army. My mission is to write doctrine and requirements for material needed for fighting in the cold and snow. I saw this exercise as a chance to see how other armies fight in winter. I am just here to learn. Nothing more.”
“And what did you learn that could improve the way we fight in the cold?”
“Well . . .” I started to tell him about the mistakes his officers had made, to start leaving the enlisted men out in the cold while the officers and non-commissioned officers were billeted inside, but thought better of it. “I’ll send you a copy of my after-action report.” Of course the colonel got nothing out of me—there wasn’t anything to give.
I returned to Bardufoss to find the aide to the NATO commander waiting to see me. “The General wants to hold a party for the Brigade North officers and needs to know how many to plan for. I’m figuring a case of whiskey should do it. What are your thoughts?”
“One case? That ought to last fifteen minutes. My advice is this: The Norwegians drink only Johnny Walker, Red Label and they’ll drink a fifth apiece in less than an hour. You can expect between thirty and forty at the party.”
“We don’t want to get them all drunk.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. It takes a lot to get a Norseman drunk.”
The party was a flop. The NATO guys stuck to their original estimate of required booze and added a lot of coffee and soda pop. The Norwegians drank all the scotch in five minutes and when it ran out they left the party.
The next day Major Larsen invited me to go skiing again with him.
“I’d love to, only last time we skied cross country. This time I’d like to ski downhill using downhill equipment.”
“Of course. I’ll pick you up after breakfast.”
The next morning we drove a few kilometers to an alpine ski area. Major Larsen and I both had to rent equipment before we made our way to a single T-Bar lift at the area. We leaned against the cross bar, Major Larsen leading, and were pulled up and up the mountain. That lift must have been at least a mile long. We dismounted on top of the mountain in about eight inches of fresh snow—dry powder lighter than I have ever experienced before or after.
We sailed downhill. There were very few others on the mountain. I was pleased to see Lars, Major Larsen, was as adept at downhill skiing as he was at Nordic skiing. When we reached the bottom of the slope, Lars excused himself and went to the car to get his military skis.
“I’m sorry, Dick. I’m just more comfortable in my issue gear.”
We took the lift back up to the summit and I was surprised to see Lars could ski downhill just as well on his skinny skis as I could on my alpine boards.
That evening, my last in Norway, I was invited to an intimate party with several married officers and their wives in Major Larsen’s quarters. We emptied several bottles of Johnny Walker and then, to my surprise, everyone settled down on the living room floor to sleep. I was offered the place of honor to sleep—the living room couch.
“When we have a party,” Lars said. “We dare not drive. If one is cited for drunk driving in Norway his license is permanently revoked. So we camp out wherever the party occurs.”
The next morning I said my goodbyes to my Norwegian friends and joined the Marines on the C-141 at the airfield. I had learned from the Norwegians that the company commander was to be relieved of his command on landing in North Carolina.
I found myself seated next to Captain Grumbaugh. Again I was bombarded with the silent treatment. By now I knew that no marine would converse with me because they were afraid to. Finally, as we taxied for takeoff, the captain turned to me. “Can you tell me, Major, what did I do wrong?”
I thought for a minute. “You forgot that an officer’s prime directive is to protect his major asset.”
“And that is?”
When the brigade quartermaster heard I was going to Oslo, he approached me and requested I bring back a case of Johnny Walker Red scotch and he’d organize a party for the brigade staff.
I left Bardufoss Airfield at night on an SAS jet bound for Oslo. It was a milk run and stopped at places that weren’t even on the map – places I’d never heard of. The stewardess was very kind and though I was very likely the only person on board who didn’t speak Norwegian, called out all the announcements twice, first in Norwegian and then in English.
It snowed heavily all the way to Oslo and there was some consternation over whether we might be diverted to Trondheim, further west. Looking out over a dark, pitch blackness, I noticed each village was well lit up. I soon realized What I thought were the street lights of sizeable towns and cities, were actually the lights along ski trails.
We managed to land in Oslo where I was met by a uniformed staff member from the American Attaché s office. He took me to a hotel and informed me the Attaché, Colonel Rasmussen would see me at 0900 the next morning. He’d send a car for me.
The next day I reported to the attaché. The colonel was a large, muscular not fat, and affable man in his forties. We had a nice chat for about an hour. When I explained my business in Norway he wanted to know all about Alaska. Assured that I was on legitimate official business he explained that his was a matter of routine inquiry into my unannounced presence in Norway, offered to provide me a staff briefing on the military situation and invited me to his home for dinner.
That afternoon I was free to tour the city and shop at the commissary for the liquor I had promised my Norwegian friends. I was surprised to find that minus any taxes or tariffs the scotch was about two dollars a bottle. I picked up a case of Johnny Walker Red Label for the Norwegians, about a fifth for each staff member, and a fifth of bourbon for myself.
I flew back to Bardufoss the next morning via SAS airlines and delivered my booze to the quartermaster. That evening we had a party. The quartermaster provided a garbage can filled with steamed shrimp. The case of scotch was gone within an hour. I was amazed at how well the staff held their liquor.
The next day was Sunday and I was invited to participate in a community ski race. I tried to tell them that I had no Nordic racing equipment and that I wasn’t much of a racer, but they wouldn’t hear of it and came up with a pair of skinny skis, poles, and shoes that were my size.
The entire town of Bardufoss turned out for the race. There were people of all ages, from children to octogenarians. Somebody fired a pistol and we were off. I had no idea where I was going or for how far. I just followed the trail. When I began to tire I found myself being passed by an old woman. This spurred me on. I finished dead last about two hours later, but was congratulated on having participated and finished at all.
The next day I was escorted to a battalion headquarters and introduced to the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Nordstrom, whom I would accompany during the exercise. His battalion was to be the aggressor and would comprise the enemy force.
“Welcome, Major Dixon. Let me show you around the battalion garrison.”
We saw the barracks, I had seen many of them before. “The U.S. Marine company has been attached to my battalion.” He took me to where the Marines were bivouacked, the officers and non-coms in a warm building and the privates in tents surrounding the barracks.
We walked among the tents and when we came upon a marine sitting in one, I asked, “What are you doing here, Marine?”
“I’m guarding my bed role, sir, so it won’t be stolen.”
I was appalled. The officers and non-coms were billeted inside while the troops were in tents outside. Marine enlisted men from North Carolina slept in the snow of winter in Norway. The Norwegian colonel said nothing, but by his expression agreed with me; a commander must care for his troops as himself.
Later in his HQ he briefed me on his first mission. He had been assigned to attack a road junction in the mountains where a British artillery battery was set up.
“We’ll go through the mountains for three days,” he pointed to his planned route on a map. “We’ll arrive above the British positions here, and we’ll attack down the mountain on the British. I have one problem. Perhaps you can advise me, Dick.”
“Of course I will if I can.”
“I don’t see how the Marines can accompany us through the mountains. They have no knowledge of skiing. What am I to do.”
“That’s easy, Colonel. The Marine way is ‘hi-diddle diddle straight down the middle.’ You assign them a frontal attack up the highway. Theirs will be a feint while we will conduct the main attack on their flank.”
“Wonderful, Dick. That’s what we will do.”
We skied for three days up into the mountains. On the third day, Colonel Nordstrom called me forward on a high peak overlooking the objective.
He pointed down toward a road junction far below in the valley. “There’s our objective, Dick. Do you know what that place is called?”
I shook my head. I had been moving on skis day and night through the Norwegian mountains. I was feeling a bit fatigued, though the fresh mountain air kept me energized.
“That place is called Bunker Hill. This time the British will lose.”
We laughed together before moving down the mountain toward our objective. The British never expected us to attack from the mountains. The referees pronounced us the clear winner of the battle.
(to be continued)
After breakfast Major Han Larsen took me to Brigade North Headquarters to meet with Colonel Stromstadt, the brigade commander.
“Ahh, good day Major Dixon. Please sit down. Tea?”
“No, thank you sir.”
“Yah, yah. Welcome to Bardufoss. What brings you here?” The colonel had gray hair and was tall like most Norwegian men. Unlike most, he was heavy set with broad shoulders.
“I came over with the Marines to participate with NATO in their upcoming winter exercise. Major Nielsen, a friend from the American Command and General Staff College. Offered me a room in your officer’s mess until the NATO HQ contingent arrives.” I explained my duties in Alaska. He asked me a lot of questions about how we operate in the cold and snow.
“Perhaps you’d like a briefing on our Army and how it works.”
“Oh, yes. I’d like that. Do you mind if I take notes?”
“Not at all.”
The Colonel informed me that Norway imposed universal subscription on its men. Each man who was fit went into the active Army for two years upon reaching the age of 18. After two years he was given a test. If he passed he was offered stripes as a noncommissioned officer with two more years’ service. If he failed the test or if he declined the offer, he was placed on inactive reserve and sent home with his gear and rifle. He would be in reserve until age 65. During those years on reserve, he’d be called up twice. He was expected to report in uniform with rifle and duffle.
If he chose two more years’ active service as a sergeant, he was given another test. If he passed this one he was offered a commission and sent to the military academy. His commission was effective until death.
The active Norwegian Army consisted of only one infantry brigade, The Brigade North, headquartered in Bardufoss. Its mission was to defend the borders with Soviet Russia and Finland.
“I hope you enjoy your stay with us. Major Nielsen will see to anything you need. Good day.”
The next day was Sunday and Major Nielsen invited me to go skiing with him. The day was sunny and around 20° Fahrenheit. We started off behind the mess and climbed up a mountain following a well marked trail. I was glad I had dressed lightly with a cotton Norwegian military tunic over U.S. long-john undershirt, because Hans set a brisk pace and I soon broke a sweat.
After about an hour we climbed above the tree line and followed the trail along a broad ridge. The going was easy. The snow was light powder. I was to learn that at this time of year, at least in the very north of Norway the snow was always light powder.
We approached a couple skiing from the opposite direction. As they drew near, I recognized the Brigade Commander. He introduced me to his wife. We passed the time of day and then moved on. I realized this little jaunt was a test to see if I really knew how to ski.
I was to learn that the Norwegians didn’t distinguish between Nordic and Alpine skiing. It was all just skiing to them. In Norway there is little level ground—one is always traversing either up or down. I soon learned that first hand.
I was invited to go on a two day exercise with a Norwegian rifle company in preparation for the upcoming NATO exercise. I had passed the test. This was where I would learn what I had come to find out, how the Norwegians operated in the snow.
I was taken to the top of a mountain in the back of a “band wagon,” a fully tracked and articulated over-snow vehicle made by Volvo and used for resupply and ski-joring troops. Later we field tested and adopted this vehicle for use in Alaska.
I dismounted the vehicle in pitch black night and was introduced to Lieutenant Knutsen who would act as my guide to the company start point. We started off down the mountain on skis. It was scary. I couldn’t see the lieutenant ahead of me. I could only follow his tracks and the sound of his skis through the powder. I had never experienced this almost complete darkness before – like the inside of a closet. We entered a band-wagon track and began to shush straight down the mountain. I feared we might meet the band-wagon somewhere ahead. After a while I heard the sounds of skis ahead of me leaving the track and stopping in deep snow. I Christied out of the track and stopped in time to just bump into my guide.
“Good job, Major. We are here.”
I found out later that my guide was the Norwegian Brigade ski champion.
Ahead, he pulled back the flap of a tent and I stepped into a “cold hole” (like the entrance to an igloo) and up into a yurt-like tent about five feet high where several soldiers reclined (they couldn’t stand in the tent).
“Yah, yah. Good evening Major. I am Captain Johansen, company commander.” He introduced me to the members of his command group and showed me to the highest and warmest spot in the tent where I was to sleep.
While we slept on just the canvas floor, a stove hissed in the dark. By lantern light, the radio man made sandwiches of canned meat and sardines and stored them in the cold hole. They’d be our food for the next day’s “march.”
The next morning we moved out on skis. We moved all day without rest, eating our sandwiches on the move. After a time we formed up behind a band wagon and, grasping a long nylon rope, began to ski-jor in a line some thirty or so soldiers long. When night fell, we left the vehicle and climbed up a mountain. I had not taken my skis off for more than twelve hours.
Around two in the morning I found myself skiing down the mountain, through the trees. Fortunately it wasn’t as dark as the night before. Some of the soldiers pulled sleds carrying crew-served weapons and ammunition. I noticed they placed their ski poles between their legs and sat on the shafts to provide braking as they moved downhill amongst the trees.
Two days later I was back in the mess and received an invitation to meet with the commander of Northern Norway, Brigadier General Ingebritzen.
I reported to him at the announced time.
“Major Dixon.” He stood and shook my hand. He was Norwegian tall and quite handsome. He had a general’s gracious air about him and spoke like an Englishman. “Please sit down. I’ve been briefed on your mission and informed of your Nordic skills. I wish you would share with me your impressions of us so far.”
I told the general I had been made to feel at home and was quite impressed by his soldiers’ winter skills.
“I am told your orders are to join the NATO headquarters forces when they arrive in Norway.”
“I have no orders, General. I’m acting by invitation only.”
“Good. Our brigade has been asked to participate in the exercise as the Orange Force, aggressors if you will. You are invited to maneuver with our forces. I would like it if you would choose to do so.”
I thought about what the Marine Commander had told me. I believed there was some political game going on here.
“That’s an invitation I can’t refuse, General. Of course I would love to work with your guys.”
“Good, then it’s settled.” The general stood and shook my hand.
I returned to the mess in time for dinner, whale stew and a note that the military attaché in Oslo would like to see me. Accompanying the note was an airline ticket. I noticed it was a one-way ticket.
(to be continued)
Join award winning author, Richard AM Dixon, each week and experience a new chapter of Norway, a serialized story
I faced the ride to Cherry point with dread. At any moment I expected the bus to be stopped and I would be taken off. We rolled onto the Marine Air Base and up to two C135 airliners which I understood to be our transportation. There was some delay and I took it to mean Marine Regimental HQ was taking steps to prevent my trip to Norway.
We were ushered into the flight terminal to wait for our flight to load. I sat in trepidation of orders from Marine HQ forbidding me to fly. A sign in the terminal forbade us from visiting the cafeteria on the second deck. I wandered among the marine infantrymen trying to evoke a conversation. No one would speak to me. I thought they must be intimidated by my rank of major. I sat alone among one hundred other humans from another world. After a time I realized none of the company officers was present.
I looked around, perplexed. Then I walked up the stairs to the cafeteria where I found the company commander, Captain Grumbaugh, and his lieutenants sitting around a table drinking coffee and eating hamburgers. They looked up at me with hostility. I turned and returned to the lower deck filled with infantrymen.
This was not the Army way. As officers we prided ourselves in sharing the hardships of our private soldiers. I saw this as a boding of ill things to come above the Arctic Circle. These may be marines, but they were Americans after all. They would not stand to be treated as less than equal to their officers.
The order came to board the aircraft and I breathed a sigh of relief as I took my seat on the plane. My guess had been correct. The separation between ranks in the Marine Corps was so great they could not catch up to me before I took off.
I found myself seated next to the company commander. I was still trying to make a mission for myself. “Where you from, Captain?” I said smiling my best condescending smile. I was still in search of a mission that would provide me with food and housing for the remainder of the exercise.
“I’m from Virginia, Major.”
“Good. Your troops all oriented for winter warfare?”
“My Marines have their orders, sir. They will accomplish their mission as directed.”
“Good. They know how to ski. Right?”
“We have practiced on grass and know how to snowshoe.”
“That’s fine, Captain, but if you intend to maneuver in the snow with the Norwegians, you must know they know nothing about snowshoes. They will expect you to ski with them.” I clammed up for a several minutes, letting my message sink in.
“I have written the manual for military skiing. I can teach your men how to keep up with the Norwegians. I only require a few days with them.”
“Thank you, Major. I have my orders.”
The captain kept his silence for the rest of the flight. In fact no one spoke to me except the Air Force Crew Chief during the fourteen hour flight to Bardufoss.
I knew my chances of working with the Marines were nil.
We landed at Bardufoss, several kilometers above the Arctic Circle, around 1000 hours. I expected it to be extremely cold when I dismounted, but was surprised and pleased to find it a fairly warm twenty degrees Fahrenheit. The sky was cloudy. The ground was covered with a fine bed of new snow.
Duffel in hand I left the aircraft, not knowing what to expect. I knew only that I had no place with the Marines. The first person I met up with on the snow covered tarmac was Major Nielsen, a Norwegian friend from Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
“Dick.” He shook my hand heartily. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“I’m looking to hook up with the NATO Field HQ. I’m supposed to take part in the upcoming exercise. Good to see you, Old Friend.”
“The NATO people won’t be in for several more days.”
“Oh, then I guess I’ll need to find a hotel in town until they show up.”
“Nonsense. You’ll come with me to the Bardufoss Officers Mess. We can put you up for whatever time you need.”
“Oh, God Bless you, my friend. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”
I climbed into Major Nielsen’s jeep and was taken to the Norwegian Brigade Officer’s Mess where I was billeted in an officer’s room; eight by twelve feet with a single bed and writing desk with chair. More like a monk’s cell than officers’ quarters. Out the single window I could see the ski trails lit up as they lead into the darkness.
I racked out for some hours of needed sleep. I was awakened by a knocking on the door. I opened it to a Norwegian officer, “Beg Pardon, sir,” He said in excellent English. “The Brigade executive officer requests your presence in his office.”
“Of course. Give me a few minutes to square myself away.”
I dressed and washed at a sink in my room. I needed a shave, but would forgo it to follow the Lieutenant to the XO’s office. I was shown in and reported to Lt. Colonel Andersen.
“Please sit down, Major . . . Dixon. We are so pleased to have you with us.”
I was surprised to be welcomed aboard with such warmth.
“Our commanding officer, Colonel Stromstadt, would like to meet you, but he is not free until the morning. He has asked me to make you comfortable and learn why you are here.”
I spent a half hour explaining my mission and why I was here.
“What can I do for you?”
“You could issue me some Norwegian field equipment and skis to evaluate in the morning.”
“Of course. Our quartermaster will contact you in your room shortly.”
After receiving a full kit of Norwegian Army gear, I turned in to my room to try to get some sleep. I lay for some hours, suffering from jet lag, and got up to fit my boots and skis and go outside where I found a well marked and lit ski trail. Through light powder snow I pushed my way through the dark forest alone. The boots and skis worked well and I skied until dawn when I found myself back before the officer’s mess.
I doffed my ski gear and went into the mess for breakfast. Some of the officers looked at me strangely. I walked along the breakfast line seeing different kinds of fish and cheese with little else to eat. I made do with pickled herring, cheeses, and other seemingly exotic offerings.
A Norwegian Major stepped up and asked in excellent English, but with a British accent, if he could join me for breakfast.
“Of course, Major.” I stood and shook hands with him. “My name is Dixon. You can call me Dick.”
“Thank you, Dick. My name is Andersen.” He smiled as he placed his finger on his name tag. “You can call me Hans.”
We sat, and as I dug into my smorgasbord breakfast, Hans said, “I understand you will be spending a few days with us. I am the Brigade Operations Officer. I have been placed at your disposal.”
I understood this to mean they were going to baby sit with me to make sure I didn’t get into any trouble. I looked him over. He was of medium height, brown hair, and had those glacier blue Scandinavian eyes. He was a bit chubby, but appeared to be in good shape. He dove into a plate of sardines.
“The brigade commander will want to see you at 1000 hours, if you’re available.”
“Of course I’m available. If you’ll just point me in the right direction.”
Hans laughed. I was to become fast friends with him and learn he had a well developed sense of humor. And he was a great skier. I was to learn that the Norwegians didn’t distinguish between Alpine or downhill skiing and Nordic or cross country skiing. To them there was only “skiing.”
“Hans, perhaps you can tell me why the officers were staring at me out the mess window when I skied up this morning.”
Hans smiled again. “They were staring because it was too cold for us to be out skiing. Besides they had never seen an American on skis before.”
(To be continued)
Winter in the Arctic with the Norwegian Army
Join award winning author, Richard AM Dixon, each week and experience a new chapter of Norway, a serialized story
Winter of 1978 I worked with the United States Army Alaska to develop better ways and means of fighting in the snow. Our office was invited to participate in a NATO exercise to be held in Norway, above the Arctic Circle. I saw this as a great opportunity to see how other armies maneuvered in the snow. Participants were to be British, Dutch, Italian, U.S. and Norwegian.
I went to see my boss the Commander of Combat Developments. “What a great opportunity we have to study the other nations to see how they operate in the snow and cold. I must go.”
“I agree, but we haven’t got the money.”
I was astonished to hear my boss say we hadn’t the money to do our mission. That night I thought about it and figured because he was on the O6 list to be promoted, he wouldn’t want to rock the boat.
I went to the office the next morning and did some research. I learned the Marines were sending a company from Camp Lejeune to Bardufoss, Norway to work with the Norwegian Brigade North garrisoned there. I made a call to Marine Headquarters in North Carolina and was connected with a cooperative major there. I explained my mission and situation. I offered to work with his Marines and help them train for winter warfare in exchange for a ride to and from Norway. He agreed.
I went back to my commander. “. . . and I can catch a hop from the air base to Cherry point which is very near Lejeune.”
“Where will you stay?”
“Either with the marines or wherever NATO field HQ is set up.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Counting travel time about a month.”
“You’re really set on this trip, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir. We can learn a lot about winter fighting from the Alpine countries. I’m particularly interested in what they know about how the Russians deal with winter.”
“You better come back with a full report of your findings.”
“Yes, sir.” I smiled. I knew I had convinced him I should go.”
One February morning I caught a hop on a DC10 headed outside from Elmendorf Air Force Base to a base in Northern California. Four hops and three days later I made it to Cherry Point. My marine major friend sent a sedan to take me Camp Lejeune to link up with the company that was bound for Norway.
At the regimental HQ I met the major.
“Our regimental commander, Colonel Hodge wants to meet you. Please follow me.”
He knocked on a door labeled simply “Hodge” and, when a voice from inside bade us enter. The major opened the door and waved me in. I reported the Army way to the colonel. He waved me to a chair and said, “We don’t salute in the Marines unless we’re covered. Coffee, Major? You’ve had a long trip from Alaska.”
“Thank you, yes, sir.”
He walked to a sideboard and poured two cups. “Sugar? Cream?”
“Just black, please.”
When he’d handed me a cup and sat down, he said, “What’s your business here, Major?”
I told him what my job was and that I was thumbing a ride to Norway.
“I don’t believe you for a minute.”
“We took the Norway mission away from the Army last year. I know you’d like to have it back.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Colonel. I’m here only because I need a ride. I report to NATO HQ as soon as I arrive in Bardufoss.”
The colonel looked skeptical. I was worried I saw my mission going down the tubes.
“Alright. The plane leaves tomorrow morning. That’ll be all, Major.”
My Marine friend took me to dinner at the officer’s club that evening. I was anxious to share experiences with the Marine officers, but they were none too friendly. I wondered why.
The next morning I met the young captain who commanded the Marine rifle company bound for Norway. I sat in on his briefing of his officers as they prepared to board buses for Cherry Point. There was a sedan waiting for me. I watched the marines load the buses waiting outside the barracks. As I was about to board the sedan with my overseas bag, another sedan drove up. The driver got out and hurried up to me. He saluted and said, “Sir, Colonel Hodge requests your presence in his office as soon as possible.”
“Thank you, corporal.” I returned his salute, picked up my bag and mounted the bus I’d seen the company commander board. “If you don’t mind, Captain, I’ll join you for the ride to Cherry Point.
(To be continued)