Copyright © 2010 Edwin W. Biederman, Jr.
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Dedicated to the men and women who served our country in the Arctic during the Cold War.
Second Lieutenant Kenneth Milton James, Jr., AO 2234462, mashed his B-4 bag into the overhead rack and dropped into his seat in what could be termed an attitude of soldierly relaxation. The Pennsylvania used older cars on the half-fare runs from New York City to Camp Kilmer, but age had not relaxed the austere angle of the red plush seats. This wasn’t bothering Ken James—in fact, the Pennsylvania station for all its filth and noise was something familiar to hold on to. It would be a long time before he set eyes on that impersonal masonry, and his mind strived to absorb the minute details—everything from the flattened chewing gum irrevocably squashed on the platform to the cast iron designs on the side railings of the stairway. Before he had hobbled down the steps to the train level with his bag, he had studied the red and gold sign that announced the departure time of the Lehigh Valley’s passenger train, The Black Diamond 1055.
On that very train four and one half years before, he had launched his college career as a nervous freshman. The university had taught him a great deal, but when he had first looked out upon the Jersey meadows he had had no idea of what collegiate life would require. From this same railroad station he was now beginning another time of trial that was not destined to be commonplace.
The train staggered forward with a series of short jolts. Coal dust dropped from some of the old-fashioned lights in the middle of the car, but nobody complained or even noticed. The passengers were all servicemen whose thoughts clung to everything that was remotely familiar and whose eyes swallowed up as much of this parting as they could. Even the darkness of the tunnel under the Hudson River seemed friendly compared to the void of the unknown which was the only marked characteristic of the future. The coach burst into the sunlight and rolled through the greatest melange of industrial smells in the world. Each of a thousand chimneys added a different waste product to the air of a clear morning in February. On this particular morning the scent of the Seecaucus Pig Farms and the essence of burning rubber predominated. The New Jersey Turnpike with its gentle slopes and lengthy crossovers smiled upon its congested predecessor, the Pulaski Skyway.