Gerrit spent the first half of the ’60s in Greenland working at the BMEWS base, one of the coldest parts of the world. You can read more about him in part 1, the earlier blog about him. The second half of the ’60s he spent in tropical Vietnam working official US (Army) related contracts. Probably 5 years in total between 1965 and 1970 but exact starting and ending dates are unknown. Only one passport survives has his 1969 Vietnam dates in it and some other paperwork from around 1969 survives but not much.
As he passed away I am not sure I will ever know what he did there exactly. He worked in some capacity for RMK-BRJ the largest building conglomerate active in Vietnam during the war. You can read more about their history here: RMK-BRJ wiki
He had some form of medical education in the US (he stated to be an MD but I found no actual proof for this though) and he worked in some medical capacity it seems, probably in the line of Health and Food safety for RMK-BRJ.
Below a photo of his kit-bag (his original Dutch one, not a US version!): GHM Medical Department / Facilities & Operations RMK BRJ / 6th Division Vietnam
His late war MACV ID Card (Military Assistance Command Vietnam)
As he spent a long period in Vietnam he witnessed most of the war and not always from a safe distance! On several occasions he risked his life in the line of duty. As can be read on the Wiki regarding RMK-BRJ more than 52 employees were killed in those years.
I’ll share here some of my favourite pictures from his collection (these are mainly prints I took from the slides he made) there are many more!
Some local forces:
Driving a river boat, he went with the river forces (riverines) on patrols on several occassions, just for fun and he spoke French fluently so he could help out in communications too.
After a request on the US Militaria forum I learned the ship must have been part of River Patrol Section 532 based on the patch visible on one of the pictures!
Above shooting a M-79 grenade launcher and below driving the boat himself.
With the Marines he had a Dutch friend there too, recently emigrated to the US.
And some random photo’s. A forget me not club, location unknown and with a Tiger Stripe boonie hat.
Some of the items he collected during this period:
The Marbles pilots survival knife he already got in Greenland and brought to VN.
The Rolex Datejust he bought for his Birthday during R&R in Bangkok in 1967! It can be seen on the stairs of a friends house in Saigon. He is guarding the house with his M1 with double (taped together) banana magazines.
A relatively rare item among his military gear are these: Military Survival Kit – Hot Wet environment. Mainly issued to Special Forces in Vietnam. For more info see this page
You cannot hide your heritage, reading a newspaper from Deventer, the Netherlands, in Vietnam!
Missiles in Greenland, war in Vietnam, problems in Persia…..
During my teens in the early ’80’sof last century I got to know Gerrit. He was an acquaintance of my parents. He had stories and photo’s of countries and places where nobody else I knew had ever been. He was a bit of an adventurer so there was much to tell. Being only a kid much of this information was lost over time. After Gerrit passed away I helped his widow some years later to sell some of his collections and I got many of the photo’s and items which had interested me so much in my youth.
In this small series of blogs I will share some of these photo’s and items from his travels in the 60s, mainly his life in Greenland and Vietnam. In both locations he was working as a civilian contractor for the US military.
Gerrit was born in 1929 in Deventer, Holland. In the early 50s he studied Hotel Management in Switzerland and soon after emigrated to the US where he became a citizen, after his retirement he returned to Deventer in the Netherlands our mutual home town. During his period in the US he studied medicine but it remains unclear if he actually became a MD as he later claimed.
To be honest much of his life remained unknown which probably added to the “mystique” around his travel and activities abroad. He always seemed to work in troubles locations. After Vietnam came Persia and after that Congo just before the local revolutions happened that ended in changing the names of these countries.
The Cold War
In the ’50s and ’60s of last century the tension between the western world and the east, especially the Soviets was building up. The war in Korea, the Cuba crisis and later the Vietnam war were al very visible examples of this. The cold war was also one of fear for a Nuclear war with Ballistic Missiles flying over the oceans. If you could stop the enemies missiles you could win this potential war….
BMEWS – Ballistic Missile Early Warning System
In order to find and after shoot down enemy missiles the US started the BMEWS project in 1959 which was completed in 1964. The main contractor for the entire project was RCA, short for Radio Corporation of America. The contract was close to 500 million USD initially. They were building enormous radar sites with linked computer systems. There was a total of 12 radars at several sites, Thule being the biggest with 5 of these radars the location was known as the J-Site. Next to the Radars there were jets for interception and NIKE missiles but I will get back to that later.
Gerrit in front of the BMEWS Radars in Thule
In the years that Gerrit worked in Thule (63/64/65) everything was aimed at completing the project as soon as possible in order to guarantee the USA a higher level of safety against the Soviet threat….
As mentioned he worked for RCA in the field service, probably in the role of facility manager (he later had several more of these type of roles in other locations).
Here his address at the time as stated in the postcard also seen at the top of this blog.
And here a folder for new RCA arrivals at the Thule BMEWS project. On the inside he describes the location of his sleeping quarters in spring so this is probably from 1963. The location of the dot on the inside corresponds with the map on the outside.
Thule Air Base – 4683rd Air Defense Wing
Obviously Thule was an Air Base next to the BMEWS radar station. In the period Gerrit lived here (’63/’65) the 4683rd Air Defense Wing was stationed there. This unit was formed in 1960 and discontinued in 1965 so Gerrit witnessed most of its lifetime.
Thule Times of 1964 with the Wing Commander and the Base commander
They flew with the Convair F-102, Delta Dagger as pictured below in Thule.
NIKE Missile base
I am not sure how secret these things were back in that period but Gerrit was always proud of his Security Clearance (he said the highest a civilian could get). I did not see any of the NIKE missile pictures until after he passed away and I received his box of Greenland pictures….
Several pictures of the NIKE Hercules missiles, ready for action…
Next to the Jets and Missiles there were other planes….
People had to be brought, supplies had to be brought so plenty of other planes on the Air Base like these:
DC3 and it’s big brother, a C137 Stratoliner
Or Danish visitors:
And of course the Fire Brigade in case of problems….
And there were helicopters too!
A HH43 – Huskie Helicopter
Prized possessions of an Arctic Traveller
Gerrit lived as a civilian on the Air Base. It seems that in his role he had acces to military supplies and also to the military shop, the so called Base Exchange (BX). A place it seems were also luxury items like Omega watches could be bought or ordered.
Next to the photo’s I have some of his most prized possession of that time, his parka, knife and watch. I will discuss them here as they are quite unique…at least to me!
In most photo’s he can be seen wearing his N3B US Air Force cold weather parka. Next to the Parka I have the matching trousers and a pair of aviators fur lined boots…
He also had a Marbles Jet Pilot survival knife that he kept on using in the Vietnam war. Marbles designed the knife but they did not get the Defense Contract. So probably this is a private purchase from the Base Exchange. In any case it is a rare knife by now.
And here is Gerrit wearing and using the knife! First in his dormitory with the parka on the chair, the knife on the table, used to open a can? And plenty of Kodak films in the drawer…
And here worn on the belt during his trip to Dundas
And my personal favorite, as it can still be used, his Gold Omega Seamaster. Bought January 1963 on the Base Exchange!
Gerrit somehow got the opportunity to make a trip with the local inhabitants, the Inuit or as they often were called in that time Eskimo’s. Today there are companies offering dog sled tours in that area but looking at these photo’s it was not a commercial business yet in the 60s. Dundas mountain is quite near to the Thule site so it appears on many pictures. As the picture below show the trip started from BMEWS itself, four of the five radars can be seen here and of course the dog led sled!
As I have no details on the trip itself from Gerrit it was good te see that on some pictures he made captions of what we can see!
The caption reads: An Eskimo from Dundas with gun and screen for the seal hunt
He mentions one of the dogs by name and says he often took it into his truck
Two photo’s of “locals”, really love these, they could be in a period National Geographic…
Also during his time in Vietnam Gerrit always had good relations with local people. Not being in the military himself probably gave him some more possibilities for this.
The family that took him on the trip?
Dundas from the seaside…
This wildlife booklet must have helped, he studied it well. He brought even some items with him that are no longer here like a Narwal tooth, from the unicorm of the seas…
Life on the base
In the years Gerrit was in Thule the base was still quite new and still being built. It was not a place of luxury but of a very simple life, work, eat, sleep, repeat….
Here some pictures of that simple life in the harsh conditions of the Arctic.
Construction still ongoing!
As on any base there was also a Chapel for the churchgoing part of the staff. And of course Xmas specials on the menu.
Dormitories were quite simple with small rooms. Not sure if private rooms were available to all personnel?
Outside of the dormitory and inside.
Just enough place for a bed, a small table and some personal belongings…
Weather conditions were very harsh, even in spring and summer
Describing weather conditions and leaving his Jeep near the other Barracks for better protection against the snow.
And of course US Mail!
Later after the 1968 accident with a B-52 there was radiation but no idea what the radiation could have been before 1965?
And the ubiquitous sign post found on every base far from the States!
Raadsel. Deze groep is nog steeds een beetje een raadsel. Een set van drie persoonsbewijzen en wat foto’s van dezelfde man als een officier (in opleiding) voor de oorlog.
De foto’s van hem als officier zijn de sleutel naar zijn naam. Hij is een deelnemer aan de internationale militaire vijfkamp en de bijbehorende medaille helpt om de juiste man te vinden.
Het is G. Struijs en hij is geboren in 1911. Voor de oorlog wordt hij opgeleid tot officier, reserve 1e Luitenant der Artillerie per 1 januari 1937. Na de oorlog doet hij wederom dienst, dit keer in Indonesië. Zijn laatste rang is die van reserve Majoor der Artillerie per 1 november 1949.
De oorlogsperiode zelf blijft een raadsel. Geen van de PB’s bevat zijn echte naam alhoewel er één wel in de buurt komt.
Alles roept actief verzet maar verdere informatie is er niet. De rechter variant (Gemeente Smallingerland) heeft een controlezegel die bij Amsterdam hoort en is daardoor herkenbaar als een vervalsing. Ook het watermerk is zwakker dan bij de twee andere PB’s. Of de andere twee “origineel” zijn met alleen een “nieuwe” persoon of dat het volledige vervalsingen zijn is nog niet duidelijk.
Tijdens zijn dienst als officier kreeg hij de volgende medailles:
– Vijfkampkruis NOC – Bronzen NOC medaille – Oorlogsherinneringskruis met gesp ‘Nederland Mei 1940’ – Ereteken voor Orde en Vrede met 3 gespen – Officierskruis XX
Verder is er nog een G Struijs die het Verzetsherdenkingskruis gekregen heeft maar dat blijkt niet om dezelfde persoon te gaan!
Met dank aan John Stienen en Theo Schalke voor de input!
Voor mij is de speurtocht hier doodgelopen maar als er mensen zijn met meer info dan houd ik mij aanbevolen!
The Dutch Campaign or Expedition medal (ereteken voor Belangrijke Krijgsverrigtingen) in context. A clasp was added to the ribbon for specific campaigns (all colonial). Next to this a Honorable Mention (MID) could be added in the form of a crown.
In this case the claps for the Expedition to the Gajo- en Alaslanden of 1904. A rare clasp ( with only around 350 awarded) for one of the most notorious expeditions in the Dutch colonial history. This was mainly caused by the book in the background which in detail describes the horrors of the expedition but on top is the first description with photo’s made by one of the participating officers. These photo’s also include the images of many native casualties.
The Gajo region was brought under Dutch Government control during this expedition. It is a remote region in the North of the Island Sumtra. It is connected to Atjeh but without the strategic (military, civil or trade) importance hence the very late moment of this action.
Most etnographical items from this region only came into Dutch collections during and after this expedition but are relatively rare like this keris with a typical Gajo ivory handle. A similar kris handle was used by the freedom fighter from Atjeh (Aceh), teukoe Oemar (teuku Umar) which is part of a Dutch museum collection (Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden).
Left a kris in Minang style with Gajo ivory handle and a loose ivory handle in the same style both from my collection next to the kris of teukoe Oemar from the collection of Museum Volkenkunde.
The significance of the stars are described in the Kris Disk by Jensen and he links them to the importance/status and role of the owner.
The campaign medals are generic and not named so cannot be traced to the original owner. This one is of the typical local style of mounting on pigskin and with a privately purchased crown for the MID (the official version had a very poor system for attachment on the ribbon). Both are typical of the period.
See for some more etnographical arms from this region my earlier blog!
Krisdisk (2007) by Karsten Sejr Jensen
Museum Volkenkunde Leiden (photo of kris of Teukoe Oemar)
These are pictures of an officer from Trautenau who volunteered (1 year volunteer) and became an officer in BH2 together with several of his friends or familiy members. The earlier pictures in this blog came from the same album!