Polar 44, Ring 5
Copyright © 2010 Edwin W. Biederman, Jr.
Dedicated to the men and women who served our country in the Arctic during the Cold
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
The Newark station cut off the view, but through the circular windows across the
platform on Ken’s left, the sunlight drew an elliptical pattern on the cement.
This carload of G. I.’s was more quiet than most. They weren’t celebrating anything;
rather, they were like a group of sea shells set afloat by the tide on a calm day. As soon as
the hot wind of war rippled the surface they must either sink or go on to survive. Korea
was a hot war and the question now was where next?