By John Simeone
When an Eskimo falls through the ice, his friends gather around the hole, there is a moment of silence and that is it....
The best job in the Military Police at Fort Richardson, Alaska was federal game warden on the vast range, including the Chugach Mountains and the Cook inlet. I was cut out for the job, that many didn't want due to the inherent danger involved. Everything could kill you up there, the animals, the insects, tidal changes, and of course the bitter cold. Never the less the Game Warden job appealed to me, but be careful what you wish for.
My first day on duty they flew me across the Cook Inlet in a chopper to see about a wounded grizzly. They handed me a Winchester Model 70 in 300 H&H magnum, don't ask me where they got it, along with the Game Wardens exclusive handgun, a Smith and Wesson Model 29 44 magnum to “Make My Day.” Of course they only let us carry six rounds in the pistol as such a powerful gun was not politically correct by Army standards in 1978. So this began only the first of the many suicide missions they sent me on.
Evidently a spring black bear hunter got between a grizzly chasing a moose and became the meal of opportunity. The hunter hit the bear all 5 times with a Remington 742, in 30-06, and it ducked into the Alders after it charged him. He was lucky and I was too, that day the bear was already dead. But the short trailing in the Alder thicket woke me up about a few things. If I was going to survive this hitch, the only person I could rely on was myself.
I have never seen so many “Paper Tigers” in one place in all my life, but I found one man out of all of them I could trust, CSM George Chaney, after I left Lou Ellison the Cherokee medicine man, CSM Chaney became my new Karate Instructor, and he was a good one. He had every medal except the Medal of Honor, and the only reason he didn't have it is because he was still alive. Serving in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam he became quite a roll model.
I trained every day I wasn't in the bush, and Master Chaney kept us in shape like no other. I was already a Black Belt so I began coaching the US Army Karate team under Chaney. We use to win a lot to say the least, but winning is not what you train for I would later find out.
There were three of us, Dave Williford, Dan Brown and myself. We were such friends we never wanted to hurt each other so we would go down to the Pines Club in Anchorage to watch Hank Williams Jr. and test our Karate skills. It went something like this, Dan who looked a little out of place as a Black guy in a country western dance hall, would ask the best looking gal in the place to dance. He looked good in his Pink Cowboy outfit, and was an exceptional dancer. Of course Dan had that special charm that could sway any woman something all us Black Belts have to this day. Of course this would piss off who ever she was with, so Dave would take him into the Men's room and beat the shit out of him. Dan would get the girl, Dave got to test his skills and I drove the get a way car. Those were the good old days.
Of course word would always leak back to the Sergeant Major who would allow us to do extra knuckle push ups for our sins. He never did go down to the club with us, but I know he wanted to.
Out in the bush was different, I had to deal with some pretty ruff characters. Got myself in one good Mexican Standoff, and damn near slid off a cliff checking a road for black ice, yep it was icy alright. A strange cloud of mosquito once totally engulfed my patrol truck while I was stuck in the mud. I sprayed some good old Army bug spray around the edges of the truck windows and as luck would have it they didn't eat me.
Now when a bear eats a man he starts at the head and works down, leaving the bones to bleach white in the sun. This goes for both black bears and grizzlies, which I have seen first hand. One peculiar observation is they will roll down the socks but they wont eat the feet inside the boots. If you can find the actual results of what finally happened to the famous moron known as “The Grizzly Man” you will observe that he too was wearing his bear proof boots.
I had some security checks I had to make in some of the outlying areas and once found an old retired Army sergeant from the Korean War stuck to the steering wheel of a “Duce en a Half” truck in the motor pool. The old homeless GI had gone to his maker thinking he was driving his favorite old Army truck, frozen in time at 30 below.
As I write this there is still a numbness in my feet associated with what I'm about to tell you. The worst thing that ever happened to me that completely disenchanted me for the Army and commissioned officers. After this I continued my service as I was use to it, but I didn't trust an officer for years thereafter.
It was the winter of 1978, about 30 below zero at the Claxton Drop zone, right at the foot of the Chugach Mountains. It is all still there, the mountains, the little pond, and the drop zone where Army paratroopers jump and land. The 172d Arctic Infantry, at the time connected to 10th Mountain Division. It was a prideful unit even if you were attached as an MP like me, but I had to learn all the Arctic survival training along with them.
My Karate buddy Dave had the smartest golden lab I ever saw and would fetch just about anything you told her to, had Dave and Goldie been around what I'm about to tell you would have never happened.
I was only an E-4 Specialist at the time, a good rank for an adventurous young man but nothing special. Yes, I did have my packet in for CID warrant officer, and they were about to make me a Sergeant.
I noticed a group of people out on the drop zone on a Saturday, it was a field trial for retriever dogs.
I looked for Dave but I found out later that us second class citizens were not invited, no not for the worker bees, this was for officers only. Never the less I stopped and decided to check out the fun even though it was at least 30 below zero, something you get use to if you are properly dressed.
A magnificent black lab was up for trail and they shot a device that propelled an artificial duck about 50 yards out on an iced over pond. The dog gave chase and the little three year old girl ran after her dog. All very cute as about 30 field grade officers looked on. That's when things went ballistic.
All of the Anchorage area is an earthquake zone as tremors are constant. This caused the ice on the little pond to thin layer instead of freezing solid, well we didn't know.
The little girl made it out about 20 yards and fell through. When a soldier says out loud “Jesus Christ,” it is not swearing, I was asking for help. I knew instantly what to do as I knew the water wasn't that deep. I called to the officers and said “Military Police” OK lets form a human chain and get her out. But instead all these Paper Tiger heroes, just stood there like dumb founded idiots. Call it mass hysteria if you want to, but to me it was just plain chicken. Then they started heading for their vehicles vacating the area, and confirming my suspicions.
I instinctively reached for the 44 magnum, as I started to force them at gun point to help me, but the mother's hysterical screams snapped me out of it. The father who was a Major, said something like wait a minute and I will find a stick. That was it, I had to do something drastic, remembering the Eskimo ice funeral I went into the water breaking the ice in front of me any way I could. I made it to the little girl and forced my way back, she was turning blue and I was feeling the cold pain in my legs.
I remember telling them to get to the hospital, and I remember making it to the patrol truck about a hundred yards away. By that time I was in excruciating pain in my legs from the cold. I was able to call a back up but I lapsed in and out of conciseness.
Well they got me back to post and thawed me out, and I filed a report. For three days no one came forward to verify what had happened, making me look like a liar among my peers. Then the Provost Marshal called me into his office and called me by my first name. “John, what you have done warrants the Soldiers Medal, the highest peace time award.” “You will be promoted to sergeant immediately and your warrant officer packet has been approved.”
I told him I no longer felt qualified to be an officer, clearly meaning I did not want to associate with them. Of course there was no medal because the investigation would have exposed the cowardice of at least 30 field grade officers. I did find a few good officers later on but there was always a mistrust ingrained each time I thought back a bit. I wore sergeant stripes until I retired in 1993, and never looked back really, as one tin soldier road away..........Pass it on