From the Personal Papers of ADCS James Landy, USN (Ret)
Original Story by: Lieutenant Stephen Mraz, USN
As Retold by: RMC Billy-Ace Baker, USN (Ret)
He peeled off one thick fur-lined mitten and dug around inside his parka for a minute or two, looking for a pack of cigarettes. His fingers weren't numb yet. He found it, took one out, and stuck it in his mouth, a Winston.
This is pretty stupid. It's a waste of time and breath and will probably give me lung cancer to boot, he thought as he watched his hand moving slowly and deliberately to light it. Fuck it. I need it. He sucked the warm smoke into his body and held it. He exhaled a thick cloud of smoke, his eyes closed.
Three hours ago Jack Handy had been sitting in the warmth and shelter of the dome at the Pole, waiting for the last month and a half of his tour to melt into memory. A far cry from the isolation of the last 18 years he had spent at Brockton Station, all but forgotten by the Task Force Handy had spent more time in Antarctica then any other person on Earth. But, that's another story. Now he was getting short and the last thing he had wanted to do was to chauffeur some congressional fact finding team. It was all so stupid.
"Petty Officer Handy, the most experienced and knowledgeable person in Antarctic terrain we have, will be your guide sir." Lieutenant Mel Munden, the Deep Freeze Public Affairs Officer, said.
Congressman Williams, a career politician and senior member of the team, nodded towards Handy, barely acknowledging his existence.
"Before you go," Lt. Munden continued "It's mandatory that you attend a safety brief. It'll only take forty-five minutes.
"Oh come on now Munden," Congressman Williams said scoffingly, "You must be kidding. There can't possibly be any danger. I've been snow mobiling in my own district up in Michigan many times and there certainly can't be that much difference. Just have your man give me a quick run through on how your snow mobiles work and we'll be all set."
"Sir, it's regulations that anyone going out on the ice has to attend the safety brief," Lt. Munden repeated. "It's for your own safety."
"Captain Nordbrook?" Congressman Williams ordered more than asked the Task Force Commander standing quietly behind Lt. Munden.
"I don't think it's really necessary for the Congressman to sit through the safety brief," Capt. Nordbrook semi-whined. "I'm sure he's quite capable of handling things down here. After all, he is from Michigan."
"With all due respect, sir," Lt. Munden said, "I feel it would be a serious breech of SOP."
"Shut up, Munden," Capt. Nordbrook whispered to the lieutenant through tightly clenched and smiling teeth. "Petty Officer Handy, show these men how to handle our little snow mobiles."
"Yes sir," Handy replied.
So one Congressman, an Assistant Secretary of Defense, and two all-purpose high-Level aides set out to go and find some facts in the total cold whiteness of the South Pole. They'd go in a small convoy of three snow mobiles; Handy and the Congressman in the first, the Assistant Secretary and an aide in the second, and the remaining aide and Dean bringing up the rear. Dean was a young but cautious Third Class Petty Officer. Although still a FNG who had not yet had the dubious honor of being packed and thereby initiated into the exclusive circle of OAEs, Handy was grooming him for survival and fun in the Antarctic sun, and in the Navy.
"Hey, Congressman, sir" Handy said while they were all in the dressing wanigan, "I think you've got that on backwards."
"Oh? Do I," Williams asked. "If I can't put this thing on correctly, I really don't see how you under-educated military types around here can manage."
"We try sir. We try," Handy said quietly.
Eventually they were dressed and ready to go outside. As they passed through the airlock like door of the wanigan, Handy handed them each a survival backpack. Each man took one until it came to the Congressman. "This is ludicrous Petty Officer Handy. I fully intend being back here within four hours and have absolutely no need of this. If I'm not back here, believe me, you'll be in big trouble. Let's get on with this. I can't wait to get out there on that virgin snow and rip it."
Handy stood beside one of the snow mobiles and proceeded to give the standard familiarization brief. "Never get out of sight of the snow mobile in front-"
"Skip it Handy," the Congressman said, "We don't need your BS. Let's go."
Captain Nordbrook, his head sticking out of the door, and, like the wagging tail of a lamb, nodded, 'yes, do what the man says.' Handy shrugged his shoulders and went along. "I'll drive the lead snow mobile with the Congressman. I don't care who drives the second. Dean'll drive the third." Handy said.
"Try again sailor," Congressman Williams said, "I'm going to be driving the lead snow mobile. And the second's going to be in loose trail. I learned that little term when I flew an F-14 at Top Gun. Blafgot is going to be videotaping me as I drive this sucker around. Right Blafgot?"
"Yes sir!" Blafgot, one of the aides, said.
"Congressman Williams," Handy said, "Believe me, this ain't no joyride on the snow covered golf courses of Michigan. There are chasms and crevasses you can't see till you're right on top of them. And we're not talking ten, twelve feet. I 've seen drop-offs down here that make the Grand Canyon look like an irrigation ditch. With all due respect, sir."
"Read my fucking lips Sailor. I am a United States Congressman. You are a low ranking Naval Enlisted Man. You will do what I say! Got it?" Williams said. "Blafgot, are you set?"
"Yes sir," Blafgot repeated.
For three hours Handy rode in back of the Congressman as he cut sharp figure eights and went jumping over every small hill or wavelike sastrugi that he could find. When he went for an outright speed run down through a soft white plain, Handy began yelling at him. "No! Fuck you! Turn! Stop!"
Handy jumped from the snow mobile and landed flat on his ass in a foot or two of snow. From there he watched as all three snow mobiles arched up, over, and down into a crevasse in the snow.
Handy finished the cigarette and stuck the butt into one of his many pockets. He knew what had to be done. Before he put his mitten back on, he got out his survival radio, and began transmitting a Mayday call on the SAR frequency. While waiting a reply, something he didn't really expect since they were so far from base, he undid his backpack and spread his things out on the ground.
He took the can of orange spray paint and started crunching his way across the snow. As he walked, he sprayed the outline of large triangle on the snow, something the rescue helo which he hoped would soon be on the way could easily spot from the air.
We've been out three hours or so, he figured, and we were supposed to be back within four. So they'll start gearing up the SAR effort in an hour, plus the hour it'll take them to find us, gives me two hours at best, four at the worst if the weather holds. Jesus, I hate this shit.
He set his transmitter on beacon, hoping its continuous SOS signal would attract some attention and that the batteries would last. He took the half meter stake and jammed it as far as he could into the ice and snow about twenty feet from the crevasse at an acute angle. He hooked a D-ring onto the stake, pushing it down as far as possible, then set up his rope and built-in harness to rappel down into the crevasse if he had to.
He walked cautiously towards the edge, expecting to fall into it at any time. Luckily, the crevasse didn't have an overhang. He leaned out over the crevasse and looked down into it. It was about twenty feet wide and barely narrowed as it went down. It had no bottom. But it did have a series of ledges jutting out from the walls.
One smudged and freshly dented spot on the far wall looked like all three snow mobiles had hit it dead on. just below that spot, on a ledge that was little more that two feet deep and three feet long, one of the aides lay face down. His hands were gripped tightly on what little slippery handholds there were, his legs moving slowly in space to keep himself balanced there. He was alive, conscious, and unhurt. He's number one, Handy thought.
The Congressman was on a ledge on the near side, forty feet down. It was fairly large, large enough to allow the Congressman to walk around a bit if he was dumb enough to do so. And he was.
The worst off was Dean. He was wedged at the waist between an ice stalagmite and the far wall sixty feet down. One leg was twisted impossibly behind the other. He was motionless.
There was no sign of the other two people or the snow mobiles. Handy winked at the sky. "Okay God, I'll play you the best I can," he said quietly. "But I still hate this shit."
"Hey you, Bigfoot, or whatever your name is," Handy yelled to the aide, "you with your belly down. Move your head to the left if you hear me."
The aide tilted his head left.
"Good, good," Handy said. "I'm gonna throw a line to you. When it lands on your back, and I mean lands and just lays there, reach around, take it, and hook the ring onto your harness. Whatever you do, don't jerk around. You do and you'll be just another unexplained fossil a hundred years from now. Understand?"
"Good, good" Handy said, "Don't worry, I've done this hundreds of times, it's the easiest thing in the world. I'll have you up here before you know it." Handy hoped his voice wasn't as shaky as his legs were.
"Hey you up there. Landy is it?" Congressman Williams yelled, "Get me up and out of here. Now! My damn arm is hurt and I think I'm bleeding and I'm cold and I think you better rescue me first if you know what's good for you."
"Would you just be quiet, sir?" Handy said as he got the rope ready to throw, "You'd be better off if you sat your ass down with your back to the wall and quit moving around so much on that ledge. It could give way any time." Williams quickly backed up against the wall and looked up.
"You ready Bigfoot?" Handy asked. "Just nod if you are." The aide nodded. Handy lobbed the rope towards the aide. It missed. He pulled it up quickly.
"You can't be serious about saving that mother fucking civil servant instead of me!" the Congressman screamed. "Forget him. He's a dime a dozen. Save me first."
Handy slow pitched the rope down at the aide. It landed on his back. The aides hand snuck around, grabbed the ring, and quickly latched it onto his own harness.
"Yeah, yeah," Handy yelled, "Now pull for all you're fucking worth." Handy leaned back on the rope, his hands wrapped around it, every bit or strength and determination concentrated on pulling at least one out or that crevasse. His forearms knotted and his heavily booted feet did a quick jig in the snow looking for footing. Handy hauled in barely six inches of line at a pull. Each pull felt like it was going to be his last; his arms and back felt like they were going to break. And each pull seemed to last forever.
Finally the aides hooded head and desperately clawing arms came up into sight, his eyes and mouth wide open in fear and exhaustion. Handy manhandled him the rest of the way out of the crevasse and sat him down over beside the triangle.
"You okay? Anything feel broken? You bleeding?" Handy asked.
"Thanks, thanks, oh God thank you-" the aide went on. His eyes were glazed over and Handy figured he was pretty far gone in shock.
"Okay. Fine. You just sit your ass down here and don't move," Handy told him, not that Handy thought he'd even be able to stand on his own. He looked all right; didn't seem to be anything wrong with him besides being really shook up. So Handy got the space blanket out of the aide's backpack, wrapped it around him and then went back towards the crevasse. He also grabbed Bigfoots rope. Handy checked his watch. It had taken him forty five minutes to get Bigfoot out.
Maybe I should just sit it out, he thought. After all, the helo and the Para Rescue Team should be here in another hour or so. And they really are set up for this kind of thing. They even get special pay for this stuff. I could screw it up and get one or two of those guys wasted, not to mention myself. And wouldn't that be the fucking shits?
No matter how rational the arguments for not doing anything were, deep down Handy knew he was going to have to do something. It was just not in his nature to ignore somebody hurting or dying, even if it was due to that somebody fucking up, especially when one of those somebodies was a shipmate and a friend. And Dean was a friend of his. Sure, he was young, cocky, arrogant to a fault, and not too respectful of seniors in rank or time, but he was smart enough to shut up and listen more often than not. He reminded Handy of himself during his first tour on the ice.
Handy stood a few feet from the crevasse and gathered his wits and strength for what was coming. He bent over slightly, his hands on his knees, and his eyes closed. God, he prayed, just pretend I'm saying all those prayers Sister Mary Ignatius taught me and I forgot. Hell, as long as we're pretending, pretend I'm saying them all a couple of hundred times each. Okay? I'm going to need them. Good, I knew you'd understand. Amen.
He spent a few minutes straightening out his lines, making sure they weren't tangled. Then he walked gingerly over to the edge. He planned on throwing and securing a line to the other side of the crevasse, hooking onto it and pulling himself over to the far side. Then he would lower himself down to Dean, pounding pitons in all the way. If the cross crevasse line held, and the stake in the ice held, and he could mange to get Dean hooked to himself without tumbling him into the crevasse itself, and if he had enough strength left to pull both of them back up, over, and out of the crevasse, it'd be a piece of cake. That was the limit of 'ifs' his mind could handle; he knew there were a hell of a lot more.
"Hindy? You up there?" The congressman yelled.
"Yea, I'm here," Handy said. He leaned a little out over the crevasse to be able to see the congressman. "What do you want?"
"I want you to goddam get me out of here, what the fuck do you think?" "Just take it easy sir. I'm going to try and get Dean out first," Handy said. "He looks like he's hurt pretty bad. He needs first aid. Once I get him out I'll get you. It'll be real simple to get you and if you just hold still you aren't in any danger or anything. Okay?"
"That guy down there looks deader than a doornail to me Hendy. He hasn't moved yet. Face it, he's a corpse, a goner, bring on the body bag."
"Look Williams," Handy said, his jaw torqueing, "I'm going down and try to get Dean up here and see how he is. No matter what you say."
From a pocket, Congressman Williams pulled his pride and joy, a limited edition John Wayne Memorial .45 caliber automatic pistol, complete with a gold inlaid autograph of the Duke himself along with a hand grip made of polished, certified authentic Viet-Cong thigh bone. He pointed the barrel down at Deans head.
Handy was confused. He knew what he was looking at but his mind refused to accept it. He heard himself say, "Don't you know guns are totally illegal in Antarctica?"
The congressman looked up at Handy, sneered, and shook his head no. Then he looked down the sights of his pistol. Handy tilted his head to one side and watched wide-eyed as the congressman pumped six rounds into Deans head.
"Now I know he's dead," the congressman yelled up at Handy. "So get my ass off this ledge and out of this frigging crevasse!"
"Roger that sir," Handy numbly said. Dean was probably dead long before Williams ever shot him. A sixty foot plunge into a wedge like that would kill anyone. Williams just did what he had to, shock me into reality. So, on to getting Williams off that ledge. It was going to be a fairly simple matter of lowering a line to him.
Handy slid a line with a D-ring on the end down into the crevasse. "Tell me when you've got it sir," he yelled over the edge.
"I've got it. Now what?" the congressman yelled back. "Hook it onto your harness, sir." "Okay, it's hooked on."
"All right then. Pull for all you're fucking worth."
The congressman firmly gripped the line and pulled down with all his might. He was more than a bit surprised to see a space blanket filled with snow come hurtling down passed him plunging out of sight into the crevasse below. He barely noticed he was connected to it until it yanked him over and down into the darkening blue depths.
Handy sat cross-legged next to Blafgot, his space blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He wondered if they would make him spend another ten years at Brockton for this FUBAR. He shrugged his shoulders, clutching the space blanked against his chest, while he waited for the helo and watched the ice.
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