The Soul Of A Dog – New Book Available Soon

The Soul of a DogHere are the true accounts of the lives of six extraordinary canines with whom my family and I were blessed to share our lives. These dogs were never considered to be pets, but full fledged contributors to our family’s life and growth. Their lives were celebrated daily by each of us in our own ways.

The first dog was enlisted to protect us from crime on Okinawa. He became a solid member of our family before serving as a scout dog for the Army in Vietnam.

Second was a Viet cur who adopted me and saved my life in combat on more than one occasion. The others were a half wild Malamute-wolf mix, A German shepherd, and two golden retrievers, gentle and kind where the others were more forceful. One still lives and serves the family.”

My latest effort/December 1027

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.

Old Soldier

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.

Norway, Part 5

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?”

“His men.”

(finale)

Norway, Part 4

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)

Norway, Part 3

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)

Norway, Part 2

Join award winning author, Richard AM Dixon, each week and experience a new chapter of Norway, a serialized story

Norway 2

(cont. from Norway, part 1 Winter in the Arctic with the Norwegian Army)

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.”

“Righto.”

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)

Norway, Part 1

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.”

“What?”

“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)

Touring Finland on Skis

The three of us were holed up in a resort hotel in the middle of the winter, somewhere in Finland during the winter of 1979. We were on the shore of what must in summer be a beautiful lake. Now it was frozen and covered with snow. Ski trails traversed it for miles. It was beautiful. It was cold, but not forbiddingly so. And the dry air gave everything a crisp feeling.

We three were on a state department visit and tour of military facilities in Finland. We had flown in to Helsinki several days before and had toured several locations by van before being taken to the hotel for the weekend. Leader of the group was Colonel Spalding from Headquarters Department of the Army at the Pentagon. He was in the Quartermaster Corps, a REMF, but a pleasant man. The second of our trio was Major Waldenburger from Training Command Headquarters at Fort Monroe, Virginia. He was a German born, naturalized American. I immediately disliked his know everything attitude. I suspected both men were on a boondoggle.

As an infantry major, I was assigned to the Army in Alaska to write doctrine for fighting in winter. As such, I was the only one who qualified for the trip as having winter expertise. My mission was to discover how the Finnish Army fought in the snow. Oh yes, I was on a boondoggle, too.

We were to spend the weekend at what can only be describe as a posh hotel, catering to those who enjoyed water sports in summer and ice and snow activities in winter. As with most of the country, it was jam-packed with gorgeous women and old frost-bitten men.

While I was settling in, the phone rang. It was Colonel Spalding. “Want to join Major Waldenburger and me in the sauna at 1700?”

We finished every day with the sauna in one form or another. The previous day we had participated in a regimental sauna at lakeside. We plunged into a hole that was chopped through the twenty-four inches of ice on a lake. The experience was totally invigorating. We rolled in the snow, naked as jays, (though I must confess I’ve never seen a live jay bird with no feathers), and then taken a hot shower before participating in drinking vodka. I said, “Certainly, Sir. I’ll see you there.”

At the appointed hour, I found my way to the sauna which proved to be a private lounge with sauna room and shower overlooking an olympic sized pool. All was white marble and clean as a hospital. We seemed to have the place to ourselves. What a fine time we had. The attendant took our orders for appetizers in between or after sauna. As was customary, we first showered, then sat naked, sweating in the sauna as long as we could stand it. Then we showered again, and clad only in towels, like Romans, sat about in the lounge eating wurst and a kind of crumpet. When we were completely rested we again enjoyed the heat of the sauna. When I’d had enough I ran out of the sauna, completely naked and plunged into the pool.

When I surfaced I realized the pool was surrounded by several sauna suites, just like ours. Surrounding the pool I saw windows, behind which were Finns, men and women, all applauding my performance.

Abashed, I beat a hasty retreat, attempting to protect the family jewels from more exposure than they’d already endured.

Later, I visited the sumptuous bar. The bartender asked in faultless American English, “What’ll it be for you, sir?”

“I’d like a screwdriver, please.”

“I’m awfully sorry sir. I don’t know what a screwdriver is. Can you coach me?”

“You don’t know what a screwdriver is?” I started to tell him that it was the national drink of Ballard, but knowing he’d not know Ballard, I said, “Just throw a shot of Finlandia into a whiskey glass with ice and orange juice.”

As the bartender followed my instructions, I noticed several people in the bar, following these proceedings intently.

“Try this, sir and tell me if this is what you intended,” said the barkeep.

Noticing that I had an audience, I theatrically took a sip. Raising my hand, I closed my eyes and said, “Ah-h-h. Fantastic. Best screwdriver I’ve had all day!”

Immediately every one in the bar ordered a screwdriver. Thus it was that I lay claim as the American who introduced the screwdriver to Finland.

Next morning as we three Americans were enjoying a fine breakfast, our Finnish Army guide, Major Daljorrg, joined us and asked, “Gentlemen, do you know how to Ski-jor?”

Each of us answered, “yes, sure.”

I had ski-jored in Alaska and in the previous year while on winter maneuvers with the Norwegian Army. Ski-joring was a way of moving a group of soldiers across the snow, holding on to a rope and being pulled on skis behind a tracked vehicle. I was accustomed to speeds of up to fifteen miles per hour. The Norwegians could sustain this speed for up to four hours and eat their lunch on the move.

“Very good,” said Major Dahljorrg. “You’ll be picked up at lakeside this afternoon at 1500. From here you will ski-jor across the lake to an assembly area where you will join one of our units for a three-day exercise. You’ve been issued skis, boots, and poles. If you need anything else let me know now. Any questions?”

“Will we return here?” I asked.

“Yes, you may leave everything you won’t need for the exercise in your rooms. It will be safe, I assure you. Any other questions?”

When there were none, the major stood up and said, “Good. I’ll see you in three days.”

I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the luxury of the hotel and making notes for my report.

We spent the first evening in Helsinki at the Hotel Intercontinental. Our guide told us it was his duty to introduce us to the ritual of the sauna. The hotel had an entire floor dedicated to sauna. We stripped down and took a shower. Then wrapping a towel around me to protect my modesty I entered the cedar sauna room. All was as I had experienced at home. Then, when we had perspired enough, Major Dahljorrg led us to a large swimming pool. After a short cooling swim, we repaired to a lounge where we enjoyed beer and wurst. After that we reentered the sauna for another sit-and-sweat. When we’d had enough, we showered once more and donned our clothes.

Later we all gathered in the dining room for dinner. There was a sizeable crowd, several people dancing to a big-band sounding orchestra. I said to our guide, “They seem to really enjoy the dancing. I notice that both the men and the women seem to choose dancing partners other than the persons they came with.”

“Oh yes,” said Major Dahljorrg. “We Finns enjoy our dancing. Every restaurant has its orchestra. And in this country the women are truly emancipated. They do as they like.”

Watching the dancing, I saw a foursome enter the dining room. One, a particularly stunning young woman, caught my eye. I watched the group as they were shown to a table. Without even sitting down, the young woman left her husband, escort, whatever, and walked over to another table and asked a man to dance. I related what I had seen to our guide. “If that had happened in the States, I’m afraid there’d be a fight.”

Major Dahljorrg smiled and said, “There are some things worth fighting over. Finns believe women is not one of them.”

We enjoyed a fine dinner. The menu was very meat-and-potatoes oriented. I was happy to find that to be common throughout Finland.

Our first stop the next morning was at the Finlandia distillery. Each of us was presented with a bottle of this very clean-tasting potato vodka.

From the distillery we went by van to the Finnish Army National Headquarters for a briefing on the national defense.

During our briefing, I was most impressed by the fact that Finland’s national defense strategy seemed not to have changed since World War II. It consisted primarily of a dependence on dismounted light infantry defending in the woods. I was also surprised to hear that Finland had a national conscription policy.

The general staff appeared proud of the fact that while Finland had considered itself in league with the Axis during the war, they were they only country in the pact not to declare war on the United States.

That Finland had a mutual defense pact with Soviet Russia was interesting, particularly during these latter days of the cold war. Their attitude about that was expressed dourly by one officer who said, “We don’t like to have our farmers work too close to the border for fear one might trip and fall. We expect the entire Soviet Army might rush across the border to help him up.”

Later in the day we visited the military academy and the home of General Mannerheim, Finland’s national hero and their version of our General Washington. Approaching the academy, I noticed an antique piece of artillery placed so as to point directly at the front door of the building. I said to our guide, “It’s very unusual to see a cannon pointed essentially to the rear.”

“Well,” said major Dahljorrg, “If we turn it about so it’s facing away from the building, it will point directly at Soviet Russia, a violation of our treaty which might well be considered provocative.”

The next day we traveled by van northward to the town of Lahti. I was impressed by the flatness of the terrain. There were no mountains in sight, just miles of forest and thousands of lakes. There was a firing range near Lahti where they were practicing firing at tank silhouettes. We were shown about by the local infantry battalion commander who was quite outspoken in his disdain for the Russians.

I said to him, “I notice that the silhouettes look a lot like Russian T-34s.”

“Indeed they do,” replied the Finnish light colonel, “but when the Russians are visiting we change the silhouettes to look like American M-48s.”

That evening, while enjoying cocktails at the regimental mess in Lahti, I continued the discussion I had begun earlier on the range with the Finnish colonel. “So I notice that many of you Finnish speak almost perfect American English. Do you also speak Russian?”

“I can only speak for myself,” he replied with a wry smile. “I only speak one word of Russian but I find that one word is all I need to get by.”

“Really. What word is that?”

“Rookyvaar!” he answered.

“Rookyvaar? What does that mean?”

“Hands up!” We had a good laugh together, but I’ve never been sure he was joking.

Later, after dinner, we three Americans attended a reception for the regimental commander and his wife in the room where Mannerheim had held meetings with Hitler and his cronies. I felt strange sitting in an overstuffed chair and looking up at a picture of the same grouping of furniture, seeing Hitler, Goering, Goebels, and others. Goebels had been sitting where I sat now. I remember thinking, I hope they’ve at least changed the upholstery covering.

After the formalities a young man appeared pushing a wheeled cart holding bottles of liquor. The colonel’s wife, with whom I was speaking at the time, smiled and said, “May I offer you a drink, Major?”

“Certainly, Ma’am.”

“What would you like?”

“Vodka with a little ice would be nice.”

Searching about the cart and finding no vodka, she immediately gave orders to the young man who sped away, returning with a bottle of Finlandia.

“Ah, my favorite kind,” I said.

“I must apologize, Major. We didn’t think you Americans drank vodka.”

“No apologies needed, Ma’am. Americans drink most anything,” I said raising my glass to her.

I woke suddenly, not realizing I’d dropped off. The clock showed twenty minutes before we were to leave. I dressed hurriedly, grabbed my skis and poles, and went outside. Waiting at lakeside were three snow mobiles. I went over to shake hands with the drivers and introduce myself. Only one of them spoke English. My two American partners showed up and after introductions, we each paired up with a snow mobiler.

Colonel Spalding led off, followed by Major Waldenburger (I’d taken to calling him

Shicklegruber, the rumored real name of Adolf Hitler. He didn’t appreciate it, but the Finns saw humor in it). I brought up the rear, hanging on for dear life and limb, as the machines were traveling at top speed, better than thirty miles per hour. Fortunately the lake surface was very smooth. We were wearing Finnish Army issue skis. They had no metal edges, so we couldn’t steer them on the frequent bare patches of ice. The driver looked back frequently to see how I was doing. Each time he did, I’d give the water-ski signal to slow down. He read this as a signal to go faster.

Soon we passed Major Schicklegruber who had taken a tumble. I worried that he might be hurt. A little farther on we passed Colonel Spalding attempting to get to his feet. Now I was in the lead and determined to keep my footing. We sped on across the lake, stopping only after we had reached the wood line on the opposite shore. I’d been saving my bottle of Finlandia for an occasion. That it was still in its original condition seemed as good an occasion as any, so I broke it out and passed it to my driver. We shared several snorts before the others arrived.

Two soldiers appeared, skiing out of the trees, to guide us to the assembly area. They set a fairly fast pace as we set out. The snow was hard-packed at two or three feet deep with about two inches of new powder on top. There was no wind, overcast skies, temperature in the twenties; ideal for touring.

The secret to traveling comfortably on foot over the snow, is the layering of clothing so it can be donned or doffed so as to regulate body temperature and prevent over-heating and resulting perspiration. If you get overheated, when you stop and the sweat turns cold, you risk becoming a cold casualty. At best you’ll be very uncomfortable.

I was wearing woolen long-johns with a woolen sweater and a nylon windbreaker over all. In a day-pack, I carried another woolen sweater and a heavy canvas parka. I waited for a rest stop to remove my windbreaker. When I realized that, like the Norwegians, the Finns weren’t much for rest stops, I doffed my jacket on the move.

We skied for about two hours over level ground through deciduous forest. The going was fairly easy on foot, but I began to understand how tanks and other tracked vehicles could be canalized by cutting abatis. Defending thusly, the tanks would be forced into single file and could be defeated one a time.

At length we arrived in an assembly area where the battalion had established a defensive line and pitched yurt-like tents. Unlike Americans who, when they stop, are always digging in, the soldiers had taken up positions behind rocks and trees. Also, unlike Americans, they built fires for cooking and warmth. They had a way of building a fire using three logs staked on top of each other to maximize heat while minimizing light. I have tried to emulate this method on several occasions, but failed, probably because I had no access to the hard woods of the Finnish forest.

We enjoyed wurst cooked over the fire and vodka, another difference from the American Army which never drinks alcohol in the field. A highlight of the evening occurred when the battalion commander called a private soldier over to the fire from his position behind a nearby rock outcropping. The soldier dropped to one knee by the fire, pulled a paper from his jacket pocket, and began to read a poem in Finnish. the battalion commander translated. The colonel told us the soldier’s grandfather had written the poem while occupying that same position during the Russian War (their name for the Russo-Finnish war in 1940).

That night we slept in the relative comfort of a heated tent with a soldier on fire-watch.

The next morning we moved out through the quiet of the forest, the only noise was the swish of our skis through the snow. I had no idea what our mission was. Where we were going or what we were going to do when we got there, remained a mystery. We skied for three days and nights without a single stop. The only remarkable thing about the whole experience was the unchanging aspect of the wooded terrain. At the end of our trek we found ourselves back near the hotel. We enjoyed a sauna, after which we dressed and were driven to the headquarters of the unit with which we had maneuvered, for a fine dinner.

The next morning we loaded up in the van and headed back to Helsinki and the Hotel Intercontinental. After checking in I walked to the elevator and stood among a group of strangely silent men and women. I was joined by Major Dahljorgg. The elevator arrived and the crowd of silent guests crowded into the car. There was barely room for Dahljorgg and me. As we were boarding I asked him, “What was that Russian word the colonel taught me?”

Dahljorgg whispered in my ear, “Rookyvaar.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Rookyvaar.”

Suddenly, the silent occupants of the elevator backed away from us, squeezing toward the back wall of the car. “What’s the matter with them?” I asked.

Major Dahljorgg said, “They’re all Russians.”

The Time Machine

“Grandpa, what was it like when you were my age?”

My Grandson, Matt, was just turned ten. He had been caught texting when he was supposed to be doing something else. His punishment was to spend some time with his grandparents.

“Well, Matt, things were a lot different then. It’s kind of hard to explain. Maybe I can show you. Step into my time machine.” I put my hand on Matt’s shoulder and guided him into my office. Chloe my old Golden Retriever followed. As usual it was messy. Scraps of unfinished manuscript were strewn about. There was lots of desk space, none of it uncovered.

“This isn’t a time machine,” my grandson scolded.

“Oh yes it is, young man. From here I can go anywhere, any time, see anything, do anything I want.”

Matt didn’t say anything. He cocked his head and looked at me with unbelieving eyes.

We sat down in the two comfortable office chairs I keep there; one for working, one for dreaming. I offered Matt my dreaming chair. Chloe plopped down between the boy and me. Behind us the wall was lined with books. There were cases filled with mementos against the other walls. Hanging all around, were my many “brag rags” from glory days in service of Her Majesty of the United States, Queen Liberty. I wasn’t sure I could claim that my exploits were for Democracy or for the United States. Those words had fallen into disrepute of late. Lots of words I had held in respect were gone to hell. I had no way of knowing what the boy held dear.

“Matt, I want you to empty your pockets.”

He reached into his right pocket and took out a cell-phone and some coins. In his left pocket he removed a plastic box that he identified as a WII. I didn’t ask him what it was used for.“Grandpa, you’re kidding me again. This is not a time machine.”

“Well, we’ll see about that. Tell me what the greatest adventure you’ve experienced lately is. Close your eyes and think.” Matt closed his eyes and leaned back in the leather chair. “Relax . . . Just relax . . . I want you to put yourself back where you were when you were experiencing your most thrilling adventure in the last year.”

After a few moments of silence I said, “Where are you Matt?”

“I’m remembering being at Wild Waves.”

“Good. Now I want you to place yourself more into the adventure. Don’t just remember being at Wild Waves, be there.”

Matt opened his eyes. I placed my hand in front of his face and said, “Keep your eyes closed and think about how it was in the water. Now be at wild waves. Feel how it was coming down the slide. . .Feel how it felt when the waves began to pound gently on your body.”

We were both silent for a few moments. I was beginning to think Matt had gone to sleep.

“Matt. What’s happening?”

Matt opened his eyes wide. He looked at me and smiled.

“Oh, Grandpa, I really was at wild waves. I see what you mean. This really is a time machine.”

“You asked me what it was like when I was your age. Now I can tell you and you will understand. I had a time machine called my imagination. With it I could go anywhere, do anything, be anybody. You can do the same. You don’t need my time machine. You have your own, right here,” I tapped the side of his head with my finger.

He was quiet for a moment. Then he looked at me and spoke very seriously, “Grandpa, when I grow older I want to be just like you.”

“Well, my boy, you flatter me, but when I grow older I want you to be just like you.”