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mcgrew's Journal: The coldest Night

Journal by mcgrew

It wasn't in the nineties when we had a series of very cold winters in central Illinois. Not even that frigid day when the high temperature was ten below (-23C) and I was trying to replace a heater hose in my old car. I finally wound up taking it to a mechanic, because my fingers were too cold to work.

No, the coldest I ever was was in the month of August, forty years ago sometime this week; I don't remember the exact date, although I'm pretty sure it was today or tomorrow.

Two days earlier I was in Thailand, where I'd been stationed for a year. Four of us were scheduled to go home the next day and decided to celebrate our upcoming trip on top of a large hill, where we could overlook the base for a final time and have a little "going home" party with wine and that great Thai ganga.

The bottles were empty and the weed as gone, so we got up to start down the hill, which was a pile of dirt and rock they had excavated to build some new barracks. A voice yelled "freeze!" and we all froze like statues; you could tell from the tone of voice there was a firearm involved. It was just like in the movies.

A guy came up the hill carrying what appeared to be a huge automatic pistol, and he was shaking like a leaf. "G-G-G-G-GIs?" he stammered.

"Yeah, man, don't shoot!" someone said.

He yelled down the hill, "Hold your fire! Hold your fire! For Christ's sake hold your fire!" and then asked us for I.D. After showing our IDs the five of us walked down the hill, where we were met by what looked like a whole army, with jeep mounted fifty caliber machine guns, rocket launchers, M-16s, all of them pointed at where we had been at the top of the hill. If one round had been fired we'd have all been MIA, because there wouldn't have been anything left of us.

That was certainly not the coldest night, though. The low that night, usual year around in that tropical jungle close to the equator, was well above 80 (27C). We all left for the US the next morning.

We reached Alaska (I don't remember if it was Fairbanks or Anchorage) about ten PM for a connecting flight to San Fransisco and got off the plane, and damn but it was cold. It had been over a year since I'd been in a temperature lower than 76 (25C), which was a record low, and they had been keeping records for thousands of years. The thermometer outside the terminal said it was 60 (15.5C). I was wearing a uniform designed for the jungle.

We got bumped off the flight so they could carry a fire truck somewhere and were all going to spend the night in the terminal.

I walked inside, the cold wind blowing through its open doors, as cold inside as it was out. I thought I'd succumb to exposure.

All the headlines on all the newspapers in the newspaper racks screamed "NIXON RESIGNS!"

It was the first I'd heard of it. Being stationed in Thailand, the only news I'd gotten was the Stars and Stripes and the Armed Forces Radio Service. Rent Good Morning, Vietnam to see how badly our news was censored; there had been no news about Watergate, streakers, or the Arab Oil Embargo whatever.

I was outside the Base Exchange, shivering and covered with goose bumps when it opened the next morning. I bought a blue jean jacket that I still wear, not caring a bit about uniform regulations or an Article Fifteen, I was freezing!

Nobody complained about me wearing it, though. I sure was glad to get the hell out of Alaska, with its tiny, weak sun.

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The coldest Night

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