Lost in Antarctica, a wallet is returned 53 years later (memorabilia included)

Feb 09, 2021 Travel News

Lost in Antarctica, a wallet is returned 53 years later (memorabilia included)

Paul Grisham has many memories of his time working as a meteorologist in Antarctica in the 1960s, but the loss of his wallet is not one of them. Still, there was a man on the phone last month, telling Mr Grisham he had found him, 53 years later.

It was like a bolt out of the blue,” said Mr. Grisham, 91. “It was because of what’s in the wallet and how it looked that I remembered a lot of things.”

Mr Grisham said the wallet, which he recovered on January 30, contained a punched beer ration card; his military identity card; the money order receipts he sent to his wife at his home in California; a recipe from Kahlúa; and a pocket reference for atomic, biological and chemical warfare, which he was required to wear at all times.

The articles recalled his 13-month stint from 1967 as a meteorologist for the US Navy in Antarctica. He went as part of Operation Deep Freeze, which supports civilian scientists doing research there.

The ID shows Mr. Grisham “when I had brown hair,” he says. The warrants had been purchased with his poker winnings. The beer ration card? Mr Grisham said he was “getting kind of a kick because there are only four holes drilled” out of 23.

“I really had a preference for martinis,” he says. Beer, he explained, was rationed because once the crew was “locked up” for the winter, no supplies came in or out. “It was so cold there that we had to keep our beer and soft drinks in a heated warehouse,” he added, “because if they went out they would swell and explode.

The amateur sleuths who reunited Mr Grisham with his wallet – Stephen Decato and his daughter, Sarah Lindbergh and Bruce McKee – already had the experience of returning lost items to their owners. In 2018, Mr. Decato and Ms. Lindbergh found someone’s Navy ID bracelet for sale at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. They bought it and, after searching online for help locating its owner, found Mr. McKee through Indiana Spirit of ’45, a nonprofit organization he began to honor members of. service.

They sought his help via Facebook, Mr McKee said, and he searched for a year before locating the bracelet owner’s granddaughter.

So, in mid-January, when Mr Decato’s former boss sent him two wallets that had been found during a 2014 demolition of McMurdo station, where Mr Grisham was based in 1967, he and his daughter immediately contacted Mr. McKee.

“After about 40 searches of the Ancestry.com website, we were able to locate them both in a week and a half to two weeks,” McKee said, adding that he had also searched for obituaries and websites of military organizations. One of the wallets belonged to Paul Howard, who died in 2016; it was given to his daughter, McKee said.

He tracked down Mr. Grisham through a 2012 blog post on the Naval Weather Service Association website. He called Mr Grisham on January 26. “Hey, are you missing a wallet?” He asked.

“It was a joy to speak with him,” added McKee. “He couldn’t believe we found this wallet for him.

Mr McKee, who served in the Air Force, said it was important for him to reunite people with their lost items because each was “a memory of an individual’s service, a to be loved, from a friend, from a time or from a place ”.

“My wife and I lost everything because of a flood in 2008,” he said. “I decided that if I could help someone retrieve an item, I would do my best to do so.” He is currently trying to find the owner of two items: an identity plaque found by a naval contractor and a World War II Gideon Bible.

Mr. Grisham was born in Douglas, Arizona, on the Mexican border. He enlisted in the Navy right out of high school and went to training camp in San Diego. “I will not go back to this desert,” he remembers thinking when he saw the ocean.

He spent 25 years in the Navy, first as a weather technician, then as a weather forecaster. Mr Grisham was living in sunny California when he was sent to Antarctica in 1967. The hardest part, he said, was leaving his family, especially his two children, who were then 4 and 4. 7 years.

In Antarctica, Mr Grisham said, he and the other men stationed there spent much of their free time in a two-lane bowling alley. He played poker and treated himself to martinis. Once a week he could talk to his then wife Wilma, who died in 2000 (Mr Grisham married Carole Salazar in 2003.)

“It was a lot of hard work,” he said of his time on “the ice,” as he called it, adding that the subzero temperatures were trying at times. “During the winter,” he said, “the sun goes down and for about five months there is no sun at all – it’s dark.

Mr Grisham retired in 1977 and since 2007 was a volunteer docent at the USS Midway Museum until the start of the coronavirus pandemic. He loved to volunteer “because he’s new to this brotherhood of military comrades,” his wife said.

Mr Grisham said the wallet brought back fond memories of the men who were stationed with him.

“I loved everyone there, everyone, from the skipper to the lowest ranked man we have,” he says. “There were 180 men, 180 of the nicest men I have ever had the pleasure of being with.