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A meeting at a San Diego wedding captivates Front Royal guest

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An overhead view of Camp Century under construction. / Photo Wikimedia Commons

(Message to readers from our Contributing Writer: This is not a local story. It came from a fellow guest at my god-child’s wedding reception in San Diego a few weeks ago – many miles from the Royal Examiner’s ‘circulation’ area. I offer it to our readers because, since the July wedding, I have asked a score or more FroRo residents if they are aware of what was happening at the North Pole 50 years ago, and, moreover, its lasting effects in future years. None were. If you feel you might enjoy pieces of formerly classified history, read on.)

At age 22, Robert Michele of Phoenix, Arizona, told me he was drafted into the U.S. Army 52 years ago (Sept. 9, 1964) anticipating a Southeast Asia assignment as the Vietnam War began gathering steam.

Instead, he was sent to an American military base close to the North Pole!

Now 74, and retired after 21 years with the Nassau County, NY, police department, the former police sergeant (and Army Spec.4) exchanged police and service stories with me over the wedding celebration dinner table. I asked about his military service (I did a three-year hitch in the Royal Air Force from age 18 to 21) and his police work (early in my journalism career I’d covered police beats in England, Canada and the United States) he surprised me with the statement that he’d spent his two-year army stint at Thule Air Force Base in Greenland – about 800 miles south of the North Pole.

Thule itself was, well, despite 30-to-40 degree below freezing temperatures, 125 mph winds and blinding snow, your regular air force base (I know a few since our son recently completed 10 years of USAF service) but Bob’s duties occasionally took him to a nearby covert base dubbed “Camp Century” where scientists supposedly did studies of a non-military nature. According to the U.S. Defense Department, the official purpose of Camp Century was to test various construction techniques under Arctic conditions.

Wrong!

As my table companion discovered long after he completed his two years of service, Camp Century, was actually a system of tunnels beneath the ice sheet that would be used, if necessary, to deploy nuclear missiles on the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. I asked Bob to describe what he saw when on his first assigned task at the “camp.”

He said he entered a “main tunnel, 30 to 40 feet wide” then descended about 50 feet down to an array of structures including Quonset huts, a movie theater, mess hall, and other accommodations consistent with a military base. “The only things visible above the ice sheet were exhaust stacks,” was Bob’s recollection. I gleaned other information from Wikileaks that indicated Camp Century had its own nuclear power plant, scientific laboratories, a library, a chapel, and a barber shop.

Bob said he “wasn’t thrilled in going to the Pole.” He questioned “Why me? One in a million…” then volunteered for duty in ‘Nam. Denied, said his senior officer. His was considered a “hazardous duty” assignment that one cannot volunteer out of, the officer told him.

And so began his two-year experience traveling to and from the ice cap. Four months was the maximum for soldiers at the ice cap. Then they would be returned to the U.S. (in Bob’s case, to Virginia’s Fort Belvoir) for four months duty stateside. He was rotated three times.

74th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron F-89s, Thule Air Base, Greenland, 1955 / Photo Public Domain; Image source listed as United States Air Force

What Bob drew to my continued attention over dessert was the discovery he made well after he began his career with the Nassau County PD (he was actually born in Queens, NY). While he was unaware of Camp Century’s actual mission while at Thule, he did become aware of what was left behind after the Pentagon closed the facility in 1966, and what is now a continuing concern to our government and the country of Denmark, to which Greenland belongs.

According to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., advancing climate change could uncover toxic and radioactive waste at Camp Century as early as 2090. A paper reported on by a Ben Panko of Smithsonian.com two years ago was titled “A Radioactive Cold War Military Base Will Soon Emerge From Greenland’s Melting Ice” and subtitled: “They thought the frozen earth would keep it safely hidden. They were wrong.”

Bob was familiar with the dilemma but told me to go to Wikipedia for details. I did, which is where I found the Smithsonian story. The bottom line of this is that when Camp Century was closed 50 years ago, no one had figured there would be a change in the world’s climate so severe that the 115 feet of snow and ice would eventually disappear, leaving exposed an estimated 9,200 tons of toxic materials and 53,000 gallons of diesel fuel to be exposed and carried toward the ocean by meltwater, along with radioactive water from Camp Century’s nuclear power plant, and carcinogenic toxins and other dangerous materials.

It wasn’t until 1995 that the Danish government discovered the true nature of Camp Century, and perhaps well after that what the future held in store. This story will be continued well into the future.

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LifeSavor

Boy Scout Troop 52: Christmas tree sales history

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Boy Scout Troop 52 has been selling Christmas trees for 49 years; it is the main fundraiser for the troop. It is estimated we have sold over 15,000 trees over the years; many Scouts have learned the basics of salesmanship, marketing, and commercial forestry through the Troop’s Christmas tree sales program.

Christmas tree sales were first introduced to the troop by the efforts of Ken Fortune, Assistant Scoutmaster and Ken Bovard, Scoutmaster in December of 1968. The troop purchased trees from a farm in Bentonville that first year and shortly after that we branched out and purchased some of our trees from the Rudacille farm.

During the first 20 years the troop bought the Christmas trees from various tree farms in Virginia and as far away as Pennsylvania. In 1979 Dr. Craig Zunka, a long time member and Eagle Scout from the troop, agreed that the Troop could plant trees on his farm in Browntown.

Depending on the variety of the tree it takes from 6 to as much as 12 years from the time a scout plants a Christmas tree and it is ready for sale.

Since then, Dr. Zunka has overseen the planting and care of the trees on his tree farm for the Troop. The number of trees the scouts plant every year as well as the number of trees harvested depend largely upon the weather and the type of trees.

The Scouts learned how to plant the seedlings, how to properly trim the different variety of trees and the need to keep the weeds from growing around the bases. Dr. Zunka maintains the mowing between the rows and spraying to reduce insect or disease damage to the trees in the summer.

The first tree sales were held on the “Weaver lot” across from the old Front Royal Volunteer fire station that was beside what was then our town hall. Peyton street now runs through where the Troop had its first tree sales lot.

It was just after the 1969 tree sales that Bill Ollinger, manager of the Safeway store in the Royal Plaza shopping center invited the troop to set-up the 1970 tree sales next to his grocery store and we have been selling trees somewhere on the property of the Royal Plaza shopping center ever since. The Troop has enjoyed and appreciated the support from the merchants in the shopping center that we have received for all these years!

All of the profits from our tree sales goes into the Troops operating account to pay for advancement awards and activities of the troop. We also pay for some of the Scouts cost towards summer camp.

This past year the troop covered just over $200.00 for each Scout to attend Boy Scout Camp and in addition the Troop covered the cost for the Scouts trip in June to a “rope course” in the southern part of Virginia. The Troop covers the cost of camping trips and other activities for the Scouts.

100% of all funds from tree sales go towards the program and equipment replacement.

See where & when you can purchase trees here: Troop 52 Christmas tree sales.

Submitted by Ronald “Hoss” Feldhauser, Warren County.

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LifeSavor

Chewbacca Miracle: Mom laughs her way to prayers answered

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You probably saw the video: A young woman sitting in her car, dons a Chewbacca mask and laughs. And laughs. And growls. For about five minutes.

It was a moment so silly and fun that Candace Payne decided to upload the video to Facebook. Her friends got a kick out of it. Then their friends. And their friends and, by the next day, 24 million people were laughing along with her — a Facebook viral video record.
Payne told Guideposts that she hadn’t intended to put on a Star Wars Chewbacca mask that day. In fact, she was just going to buy some yoga pants. But when she saw the mask, she couldn’t resist buying it.

What she didn’t know then was that a silly mask and video would be the answer to prayers.
A stay-at-home mom, Payne spends most days making a home for her husband and their two children. He works as a warehouse manager and the kids are in grade school.

They were overdue for a family vacation and Payne’s own happy memories of Disney World loomed large in her mind. They just couldn’t afford to take the kids to the Magic Kingdom, not that year. So she prayed for this big thing: That God would make a way for her and the kids to go to Florida and visit Disney World.

A week later she was Chewbacca Mom and a week after that she got a call from, where else?…Disney World. They offered her an all-expenses paid trip for her family.

She burst into tears and so did the caller from Disney.

Her big prayer received a big answer and, later, sailing through the Small World ride, she tried not to laugh in amazement.

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LifeSavor

Disability doesn’t deter local volunteer

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Thomas Arsenault believes “Everybody should do something in public service,” and if there is someone who could sit back and avoid becoming involved in helping his community, it is Thom.

Awaiting a heart transplant after a major heart attack forced him into retirement eleven years ago, Thom isn’t letting his disability limit his effort to serve his neighbors and friends. He is an active volunteer with Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department (FRVFRD), where he spearheads the membership committee and assists with fundraisers.

Thom was not aware of the need in fire and rescue services for someone with his expertise until Harry “Junior” Kisner, asked him what he was doing with his time. After thinking about it, Thom realized he wanted to get out of the house and become involved in something meaningful.

Throughout his professional career in quality assurance with government contractors, he has developed an extraordinary skill for managing details, which helps support the administrative work of the volunteer organization. As an associate member of FRVFRD, Thom is reaching out to volunteers to facilitate participation in the company. Whether people are interested in responding to emergency calls, or just helping out with everyday tasks, he believes it is all a means for providing vital service to the community.

Thom serves because he “needed something to do,” and he would not let his devastating health situation “destroy” him. He noted, “I do it because who else is going to do it? I can’t think about my illness, if I’m doing something.” His public service ethic is lived out through his monthly volunteer schedule, and he shares this desire to help with others. Thom and his wife of 37 years, Glenna, must have made public service a family value as they have raised three children who all serve their communities in some capacity. Their son, Jeremy, and daughter, Stephanie, have both chosen careers in law enforcement, while their son, Andrew, is a marine.

Warren County Fire and Rescue’s motto echoes Thom’s sentiments: “If not me, then who?” “It takes more than just a few first responders to keep our local volunteer fire stations operational,” said Chief Richard E. Mabie of Warren County Fire and Rescue Services.

“Certainly, each of Warren County’s eight volunteer departments need additional EMS and firefighting personnel, but there are also ways to become involved that do not require rescue certifications,” Mabie added.

Volunteers like Thom assist with programs such as Bingo and fundraising dinners which help supplement available resources for emergency response. “If enough volunteers step forward to manage the fundraising and other non-emergency activities in local volunteer fire and rescue departments, firefighters and EMS volunteers can focus on responding when the community needs them most,” Mabie concluded.

For more information about volunteering, visit warrencountyfire.com/join-us, or call Recruitment and Retention Coordinator Brenda Diehl at 540 636-3830.

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LifeSavor

She Brought Peaches

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Today we kick off LifeSavor with an essay by Cathy Wolfe-Heberle. She is the C.E.O. of Blue Ridge Opportunities, which is a private, non-profit agency serving individuals with disabilities in Warren County and the surrounding areas since 1992.

She Brought Peaches
I don’t often write of my work, I usually keep the quiet joys to myself, but… He’s challenging, actually quite a bit more challenging that we have been used to, but the moment I met him I was hooked to the glimmer he has in his eyes. He’s spent the last 23 years being shunned and ignored and kicked out of program after program… or they just stopped showing up to provide services with no reason… His family has been struggling on their own for quite some time now that he is an adult and school age services are no longer available, desperate and tired. Very tired. They haven’t been able to keep staff and have been abandoned in most directions they turned. I doubted and I worried. I worried a lot if we were capable to meet his needs. He is rather intense, medically fragile and very dependent upon supports for all of his daily living skills. I told his mom after their walk-through interview… “I honestly don’t know if we can do it, but I am NOT willing to say NO because I have no idea. I’m willing to try.” I’m willing to try. I have to be willing to try. At the end of his first week, his mom talked to one of our staff with tears in her eyes talking about our program with the words “and they actually LIKE him.”

Yesterday, she came to pick him up and brought us a box of peaches. PEACHES. She was so excited that she was able to pick and can PEACHES. A task that she could have NEVER accomplished without our care and attention to her son… a task she hasn’t been able to do in ages. Peaches. I actually LOVE him. I see him down to the core of his soul and he is so pure and innocent trapped behind a mountain of behavior that most people find off-putting… Today was day 7… and I ate peaches for dinner with joy and gratitude in my heart and the reminder that this is exactly WHY I do what I do. And it was they VERY BEST PEACH I have ever eaten. Thank you to all my crew for being willing to take the ride with me. We will not regret it.

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