Velva’s Goldade recalls Moosehorn military maneuvers in Alaska
Velva man recalls little known military maneuvers
VELVA – The Cold War was heating up in the mid-1950s when Joe Goldade enlisted in the U.S. Army and took on an assignment that isn’t much talked about more than 60 years later.
Goldade, 83, of Velva, participated with the 4th Infantry in the Moosehorn Maneuver in 1955-56 in the Big Delta of Alaska. The Arctic training was rough, and not much information has been shared about those experiences over the years.
“We never talked about it too much,” Goldade said. “That was really misery.”
Goldade was living in Rugby when he joined the Army at age 18, looking for a life he thought might be better than farming and milking cows. He enlisted for two years.
“I didn’t even stay in that long after what happened up there,” he said. “I had about a month more time to serve. They discharged me early.”
Not the only soldier discharged early, Goldade had been glad for a shortened stay.
He had attended basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, before being sent to Alaska. One of the first experiences for the newly arrived troops was to learn to cross-country ski.
Goldade and long-time friend and fellow soldier, Aubrey Hill, 84, from Silsbee, Texas, reminisced about those days over a phone conversation.
“When we first got acquainted with our skis, they took us to a wide ditch, not too far from our barracks,” said Hill, who described the ditch as about 100 feet across with banks at about a 45-degree angle. “The snow was real heavy in there. So that’s where we learned our balance. We did that for several days.”
On maneuvers they stayed in 10-man tents with a Yukon stove, which they carried with their other equipment on canoe-shaped sleds called ahkios.
“Of course, up there, there’s trees,” Goldade said. “That was tough to go skiing.”
They had to chop a path to ski through with the ahkios. Hill said the first few people made tracks, and the next skier would step over to make the trail wider for the ones who followed.
“We were training just like we were going after the enemy. They wanted to know how the men would do in that kind of training. It was mostly just training for our endurance because we spent some long hours out there,” Hill said.
Several cold-weather exercises were carried out in the 1950s in Alaska, according to a history of Fort Richardson, prepared in 2003 by the Center for the Environmental Management of Military Lands at Colorado State University and Natural Resources Branch of the U.S. Army. Moose Horn in 1956 was one of those exercises designed to provide realistic arctic environmental challenges. It was also one of several exercises from 1947 to 1989 for which the historical report found no information regarding location or military command. Hill and Goldade remember spending time at what was then Ladd Air Force Base, now Fort Wainwright, near Fairbanks.
Soldiers who have penned recollections of Moosehorn recount being pushed to their limits in the cold as a test of endurance. Stories circulate about those who didn’t survive the cold or accidents.
Goldade recalled on one occasion finding a snow-covered body – whether with the Army or a civilian, he never discovered. His squad kept moving, with plans to send others back to retrieve the body. Although nothing was ever confirmed regarding deaths on the maneuvers, Goldade said he was aware of extreme frostbite cases and suffered some frostbite himself.
Goldade also recalls having food rations air-dropped to the troops.
“But you’ve got trees down there, and it did not work out as good as they thought it was going to, and it got so cold, too. I think it was 40 to 50 below,” he said. There was a time when the rations never materialized, leaving the men starving.
“We would have settled for a skunk. I knew how to butcher,” Goldade said.
Hill said many men tried to ensure they were prepared for such events.
“We all kind of suspected that we might be short on rations so most of us had extra cans of rations in our rucksacks,” Hill said. “They had some with sausage and gravy, and I remember opening mine and it was just solid ice. I just chewed it up like that. It wasn’t too bad.”
Being from a cold climate wasn’t much of an advantage, although as a North Dakotan, Goldade knew some of the pitfalls of extreme cold. So when the company commander called Goldade over to use the radio Goldade was carrying, Goldade informed him the radio was inoperable from being frozen. The commander didn’t take the news well as he couldn’t understand that kind of cold.
“He was from way down South,” Goldade said.
In the warmer weather of the summer, troops went on longer maneuvers, wading through tundra and muskeg, or bog, where mosquitoes were thick. Hill also remembers panning for gold at an old mine. Goldade recalls playing ball at midnight and climbing to the roof of the main building on base for the best radio reception of the Lawrence Welk shows.
Goldade had met Welk on the family farm near Rugby. His father had gone to school with Welk, and Welk stopped by to visit in a new, big Buick convertible, which impressed Goldade more than the musician.
Over the years, Alaska has never been a topic Goldade has wanted to talk about because Moosehorn had been a difficult time.
“I didn’t want to even hear it ever again,” Goldade said.
However, two years ago, his family took him back to Alaska to visit the base where he was stationed. It was a much nicer base than when he was stationed there, he said. He asked one of the base personnel about Moosehorn.
“He said nothing is said around here about the Moosehorn Maneuver,” he said. “So I didn’t ask any questions. They didn’t know anything about it.”
After his discharge from the Army, Goldade worked in construction and welding. He did that for a few years before going to barber college. He barbered in Harvey and later in Velva. One day, he was in the post office and the worker there encouraged him to apply for a job with the Postal Service. Eventually, he did. He worked as a rural mail carrier, delivering mail for 31 years.
The Postal Service recognized him for a million miles travelled without an accident.
He also joined the local fire department soon after he and his wife, Carol, moved to Velva in about 1961. He still participates, although not as an active firefighter any longer. He was recognized several years ago for 50 years of service.
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)