Grandpa’s role building an air base at the top of the world

In the early 1950s, a sheet metal worker from Detroit providing for his wife and two kids saw an advertisement for his trade to work in Greenland. He flew there, via Newfoundland, and helped to build a new U.S. air base called Thule. It was built where Inuit had traveled and traded for thousands of years, and still lived. Thule played a key rule during the Cold War as an intercontinental ballistic missile station and air station. This also was the time when the U.S. Air Force continually had nuclear-armed B-52 bombers airborne at all times. During the height of the cold war, these nuclear-armed bombers landed and one even crashed there, to the dismay of Denmark, which includes the vast island in its kingdom as a home rule territory. (I read about this story on my flight to Greenland on a Greenland Air inflight magazine.)

This is how Thule looked when my grandfather took this photo. He described being able to bowl at a bowling alley there and leaving before his contract was completed, as he missed his wife, my grandmother. He never met the locals because the U.S. military had strict prohibitions to prevent the contractors from meeting with the resident Greenlanders. At the time, they wore traditional dress, he recalled. Decades later, he gave me the slides he took.

I still would like to visit Thule one day. I never got that far north, as one still needed special permission to visit the U.S. run airbase when I visited Greenland for the first time more than 15 years ago.

Click on the photography to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.

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