Friday, August 31, 2012

My Teddy Bear Story

I was stationed in Sondrestrom Greenland as an Armed Forces Radio and Television (AFRTS) broadcaster in 1979.  It was like being thrown on an island for a year with 1000 people - 800 of which spoke a different language.  Only 10% of the population were women.  When the series MASH came out later, I could really identify with many of the situations and characters on the show, especially Klinger.
Military bearing was pretty lax.  We weren't required to be in uniform, didn't salute and usually called officers by their first names.  What are they going to do to you - send you to Greenland?
We could make one phone call a week back to the states via MARS - Military Affiliated Radio Station - which was routed through McConnell AFB in Kansas.  From there it was a collect call so you didn't just call anyone.  And it wasn't always the best connection.  There was no Internet and of course, no cell phones.
Besides a few USO shows, a gym, a theatre, a bowling alley, the club and our own shenanigans, AFRTS was the main entertainment.  We actually broadcast the shaving of someones head when they lost a bet.  Radio broadcasted 24 hours a day and we did about 12 hours of television broadcasting each day.  I was first assigned the night shift doing a 3 hour radio show in the wee hours, a few hours of canned shows and then the wake up show 6-8. 
"Big Jim's Country Hour" followed, hosted by Colonel Gallaway with his long deep Texas drawl.  He was like everyone's favorite Uncle with a great sense of humor and calm manner.  Greenland was his last assignment before retiring.
We had to drive across the fjord and 3 miles up a dirt road to the station which sat overlooking a beautiful, deep, clear glacier lake.  The only other building up there was the Danish row club which was, of course, inactive most of the year.
The landscape was rather barren - glacier cut and tundra.  At the time, the longest paved road in all of Greenland led from Sondrestom base to the port.  Nine miles with a speed limit of 35 mph.  A runway split the American side and the Danish side.  The only civilian air carrier there, even today, comes from Denmark.  The nearest town was 4 hours by plane and I'm not sure how long it would take on dogsled.  I saw a few but didn't think to ask.
When I arrived in Greenland in October the days were already growing short.  By Christmas, there was almost no sunlight at all.  Besides a few evergreens flown in for the Holidays, the only tree around was in a pot in the backyard of the Danish Royal Air Force Commander's residence.  These were dreary days, a long way from home.
Then I heard that someone before my time had been sent back to the states on psychiatric evaluation.  That set my mind in motion and I hatched a plan.  I began to carry my Teddy Bear - Little O-Veee - everywhere I went.  At the dinning hall, I collect meals for us both and scolded her for not eating.  'There are hungry children in Greenland...' I said.  We danced together at the NCO club where many ordered her favorite drink - Fuzzy bears.  She did not drink them and they lined the table.  I took her to the radio station and put her in a chair with a mic - morning after morning - she refused to speak.  People began driving up to the station to look into the window to see if she was really sitting there.  I was VERY serious about Little O-Vee.  She was always with me and often scolded for making me look foolish.
After a month or so I received notice to report to the Commander - Colonel Gallaway's office.  I happily polished my shoes, dusted off my dress blues, put Little O-Vee under my arm and promptly reported in - for both of us, of course. 
With his long Texas drawl, Big Jim said, "Linda, I really want to thank you for what you have done for moral in the last month.  This time last year, there were 4 attempted suicides and this year there were none.  I think it is directly attributable to you and that bear.  I'm recommending you for the Air Force Commendation Medal."
And sure enough, he did.  At my next assignment in Torrejon, Spain, my Commander pinned me with one of the highest peace time honors.  When he read the citation, Little O-Vee was not mentioned.  Later that day, I pinned her with medal and she has been wearing it ever since.


  1. I still love this story 27 years after I heard it for the first time! Still waiting to see if O-Vee will speak on the air!

  2. LOVED your story Linda! I just missed ya at Sondy! I was there Dec. 77-Jan. 79! Everything you experienced.....I did too! Even got a Comm. Medal for my work at the you did! Those truly were...the good ole days! Stu