I read Charles H. Norchi’s commentary about Thule/Pituffik Airbase with great interest (“Commentary: Maine will be a valuable partner to an independent Greenland,” Oct. 10). I spent a year there with the 12th Missile Warning Squadron from June 1967 to June 1968, running a shift of scope operators and reporting directly to NORAD/Cheyenne Mountain. We never saw a real ballistic missile, but we tracked satellites to be sure the radars were working and to pass data to the Space Defense Center.

We were hardly pioneers because the BMEWS system had been built within three years of Russia’s Sputnik launch and handed over to the Air Force by 1964. Although primitive for its size, with four football-field-sized antennae, it was a technical marvel at the time. So, to suggest that the Pituffik Space Base is a “new U.S. space base” is a little misleading. There have been redesigns, rebuilds, and name changes since the 1960s. The mission has probably not changed, but the equipment may be far beyond my ability to understand. Looking at the location on Google Earth, one can make out the outline of the huge antenna bases and see a small building that now houses the whole operation, still 12 miles from the main base where we lived.

There was always a B-52 circling over us, keeping frequent radio contact to be sure we were still there. Were we the canary in the coal mine? Maybe.

We had very little contact with local Greenlanders. Although we outgrew the word “Eskimo,” we weren’t yet using “indigenous” for anything other than vegetation and wildlife. Greenlanders were either indigenous semi-nomads with sealskins, dog teams, and ice shelters moving with the seasons, or multi-racial families living over a ridge somewhere. Dundas Village was off-limits to American military and civilian personnel, although they often visited our Officer and NCO clubs for entertainment.


John Nichols


Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.