The Sky Was
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PBY Catalina at Bluie West One
PBY Catalina amphibious patrol bomber on the steel-mat runway at Bluie West One, with Quonset huts in the background, in 1943 or 1944.



Cover of BW-1 BW-1 was a U.S. Army airfield from 1941 to 1947, and as Narsarsuaq Airbase a U.S. Air Force installation from 1947 to 1958, when it was turned over to the Danish government of Greenland. I was enchanted by the name (why One? why West? and above all, why Bluie?) from the day I first heard it. So in August 2005 I flew to Reykjavik in Iceland, thence to Narsarsuaq in Greenland, to investigate the place for myself. This is what I found out.

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Rev John Gray (TSgt USAF, Ret) emails about the rescue on the ice: "I was the operator who sent the first flash message from Narsarssuak AFB. I think it was the midnight shift and I was working at base ops. There was only myself and one airman weatherman on the other side of the wall who were there that night. When the radio operator on the plane did not send in his position report on time I was supposed to alert air-sea rescue throughout NEAC and I did so. Until the Viet Nam war many years later that was the only Flash message I ever sent that was not a test.

Since it was in the middle of the night I did not call my NCOIC but just did as my operational instructions told me to do, and I was more than a little nervous since I knew I would be waking up a lot of high ranking people. I was told that sometimes a radio operator would fall asleep and miss his position report, so even though I assumed that was what had happened, thank God I did what I was trained to do for they were actually down.

"After I got off duty I went back to the barracks and went to sleep. When I reported for work the next evening I was there when they brought the only survivor through base ops on a stretcher. He was surrounded by medics so I could not see his face. I assume they went straight to the hospital with him.

"As I look back upon my 20 year career in the Air Force I realize that was the only time I knew for sure I had helped save someone's life. It is especially significant to me, that as someone who was always in a support role in telecommunications operations, to realize that by simply following orders I could make such a difference in someone's life. I was just barely 18 years old at the time. Talk about wet behind the ears!"

Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Layout of Bluie West One
Here is Bluie West One at the height of its powers, with the east-west runway now hard-surfaced, a secondary runway at an angle to it, and a full quota of buildings. Not visible is Hospital Valley, off the top of the photo beyond the the end of Runway 27. This photo would have been taken about 1950.

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

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