Iceland. The name conjures up scenes of glaciers slowly moving across a craggy wasteland. It was my thought as I flew over Nova Scotia on my way to Keflavik Naval Base. Two months married and I got my orders to Iceland. My brand new wife was back in the states working for Ma Bell as I was on my way to my first overseas base. Iceland. Who ever thought I’d be going to Iceland?
A friend of mine had been stationed there while I was at the College of Charleston and I had laughed out loud when he told me. I wrote letters to him rubbing it in that he was in some remote part of the world while I was drinking and enjoying my days on campus. He sent back letters I had to burn lest my mother accidentally find one of them. The language he used was so typical of a swabby. They made me blush. He was not happy about being there or my making fun of his being there. It was a joke. He sent me the bird through the US Postal Service. A Stuffed Puffin. He knew I would understand his meaning. I did.
Now the joke was on me.
I dozed on the plane. The stewardess woke me as we were descending onto Keflavik’s airstrip. It was the base I would be serving my year overseas duty. It was gray down below. It looked as cold and uninviting as I had imagined. The huge building just off the runway was to be my new workplace. I would come to know it as the OPCON.
The plane bounced once, the wheels screaming their pain, and we settled into a smooth ride up to the receiving station.
“Is it cold?” I asked the stewardess.
“It’s nice for Iceland,” she said.
“I’m from South Carolina. Does that mean yes or no?” I asked, being leery of her answer.
“Ah,” she said. “For you it might be cold. I’d put my coat on if I were you.” She smiled and handed me my black London Fog which I slipped on quickly as the other passengers began moving along the aisle toward the doorway. I pulled my bag from the upper compartment and slipped into the aisle behind another Airman.
The wind was whistling into the cabin as I reached the doorway. She was right. I buttoned the top two buttons to keep in my body heat. Out in the open I looked up into a crystal clear blue sky. The cold embraced me causing a shiver beneath my unlined coat. Then I looked down to the tarmac as I took my first step on the ladder. My cap with my bright shiny second Lieutenant’s bar began to shift as the wind circled round me. Reaching to pull it back in place I noticed a guy standing in a line looking up at those of us walking down the steps. He looked very familiar.
I noticed he was looking at me as if he recognized me, too. I switched my bag to my left hand as my foot hit the pavement. I continued to look at this guy trying to figure where I had seen him before. He was a lieutenant also. His cap sat at an angle as mine did. He was wearing a black London Fog, I realized. Then it struck me that he had a mustache exactly like mine. His lifted in a smile as he began to walk over toward me. He was eye level with me. He offered his right hand which I took. We shook hands without a word. The he spoke.
“Hello, my name is Marshall. Welcome to Keflavik.”
“Thank you. Have we met before? You look so familiar,” is all I could say.
“Hey!” someone shouted.
I looked over to the greeting crowd. One of the officers was on his way over.
“Are you two related?” he asked. “Marsh, you never said you had a brother.” The new guy was looking back and forth at the two of us.
“Hello,” I said. “My name is Rick and I don’t have a brother.”
The light bulb went off in mine and Marshall’s head at the same time.
“That’s what it is. We look like we could be twins. Man, that’s crazy!” I said.
“And you want to know the craziest part?” he asked me.
“I’m your sponsor.”
“Sponsor? What’s that?”
“When a new man comes to the base he is given a sponsor, someone who can show him the ropes on the base. This is a Naval Base not an Air Force Base. We have unique position here and our commander wants his men to be top notch. To do that he feels we can break new men into this environment with a helping hand.” Marshall took my bag. “Come on. I’ll take you around the base then to the BOQ.”
We walked over to his car. He threw my bag in the back then climbed in.
“That’s really weird,” he said. “That we look so much alike and I’m your sponsor. It’s going to be interesting.”
The wind was picking up and buffeted the car as he drove around pointing out different buildings. At last he arrived at the BOQ. He parked near the front door.
“Why don’t you go get some shut eye and I’ll pick you up in the morning to get your papers in order. Then we’ll have breakfast and I’ll take you to the OPCON and get you into the schedule.”
I was a newly graduated Weapon’s Controller out of Panama City, Florida. My only question was, “What are the scopes like?”
“Yeah, at my last assignment we worked with radar scopes one on one with the pilots.”
“Um, they didn’t fill you in?”
“I guess not. Why?”
“You won’t be working with a radar scope. It’s so far from radar scopes that your training won’t be of any help.” He looked at me almost in laughter.
“What? Well what will I be doing then?” The journey was beginning to catch up with me. I was feeling the effects of the jet lag.
“Let’s wait until tomorrow. I don’t think you are in any shape to talk about it today. Let’s get you checked into your quarters.”
He got out and grabbed my bag from the backseat. As the back door slammed I heard him laugh and say, “Scopes! Ha.”
Through the door and up to the barracks’ head he led me.
“Hey, Harry. Got a new officer for you.”
He dropped my bag at his feet.
Harry looked up from his Playboy. He looked at Marshall then at me. He dropped his Playboy. His feet slipped off the table. His chair snapped into the upright position as he slipped forward looking at the two of us.
“Your twin brother?” he exclaimed.
“No,” laughed Marshall. “We do favor one another, though, don’t we?”
“Man! I’ll say. What’s your name, buddy?” He had his roster open.
“Alfred Croucher, second Lieutenant.” I sounded off.
“Yeah, yeah. No need to yell. I can see you’re a looie. Croucher, you say? Ah, yeah, here you are. I need you to sign in right here.”
Marshall watched as I signed my name.
“It’s uncanny, Marsh. You two could be twins.”
“I wonder if they knew that when they assigned me to be his sponsor.”
“It’s the Air Force you’re talking about, Marsh. You should know better.”
“Yeah, I should but it is strange though.”
I handed Harry his pen. He flipped the book around looking at my signature.
“Just call me Rick. Long story, but I answer to Rick.”
“Yeah? Why’s that?” They both looked at me.
“It was my mother. She thought Rick was the name for a football player. She insisted I be called Rick.”
“So are you?”
“Am I what?”
“A football player.”
“Nope. I tried but I was lousy at it. So, no.”
They both looked at each other and laughed.
“OK, then, Rick. You got the room down the hall, two doors on the right. Don’t forget to check in with the base commander tomorrow.”
“I’ll see you bright and early in the morning to take you over there,” Marshall said.
“OK. What time is it now so I can set my clock?”
“Midnight.” Laughed Marshall.
“Midnight?” It’s like noon out there now. How can it be midnight?” I had walked to the door and the sky was still blue and bright.
“You are near the arctic circle in the middle of summer. The sun will dip just below the horizon in a couple of hours and pop right back up again around four. Don’t forget to set your clock for six. I’ll be by around seven. We’ll go to the O Club for breakfast and then to headquarters. Get some rest, Rickey the football player.”
“Yeah, yeah. Thanks, Marshall. Guess I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“Take care, Harry. You be here at seven?”
“Nah, man. Got the night shift for the next week. See you later though.”
“Good night.” With that he walked to his car and left.
“If you’re hungry or anything, there’s a snack room to your left down the hall. There’s snacks and drinks in the machines.” Harry called out as I lumbered down the hall lugging my bag.
“Thanks,” I said. “I think I’ll just go get in bed.”
The room was tidy, a bed, a dresser and a night table. The windows were closed with yellowing curtains hazing the light coming through. The bathroom was next to the window. I dropped my bag, opened it up and retrieved my kit. On the sink counter I placed my razor, shaving cream and tooth brush along with the toothpaste.
I looked at the light coming through the window as I made my way to the closet.
“I’ll never get to sleep with that light,” I said out loud.
I hung up my coat and took off my clothes. The floor was ice cold. There was a thin gray blanket at the foot of the bed. I crawled under the covers pulled the blanket up and dropped into a deep sleep.