In the 1960s, Navy meteorologist Paul Grisham was doing hero work.
He was forecasting weather for ships, planes and work crews coming and going from a U.S. research station in Antarctica.
After his 13-month tour of duty, Grisham left without one thing. His wallet.
Fifty-three years later it was returned, intact.
At the time, the contents of Paul Grisham’s wallet seemed insignificant.
There was a beer ration card, instructions in case of a nuclear attack, his service I.D. and a recipe for homemade Kalua.
“I had completely forgotten. I had completely forgotten that I had lost it,” Grisham said.
More than a half century later, the weather-beaten brown bifold is a time capsule that for a brief moment, transported him back in time.
“It brings back memories that I’d just soon forget. That’s not true. No, it brings back a lot of memories because it was such a unique place to be,” Grisham said.
In 1967 Grisham was ordered to McMurdo Science Station in the coldest place on earth.
“We didn’t ever call it the Antarctic. We called it the ice,” Grisham said.
The “ice” station was shut down some of the year because of the cold but when it was open Grisham forecasted the weather for visiting planes and boats. There was little room for error.
“If I am wrong it would get harry, yeah,” Grisham remembered.
In Antarctica, Grisham was pinned Lieutenant Junior Grade. There were daily competitions. He was one of the best chess players. He said the only one he couldn’t beat was a Russian geologist.
“Nice bunch of guys to be with. It was duty. I was one of them,” Grisham said.
Grisham never griped about his duty and never tried to get out of it, even though he had a young wife and two children not yet five years old back at home.
“I was in the Navy and I got orders. Us good guys do what we are told to do. We called it deep freeze, Operation Deep Freeze,” Grisham said.
The wallet, frozen in time, was recently found behind lockers by a demolition crew tearing down Grisham’s living quarters at the science station and returned to him.
“You couldn’t have left any money in it. I don’t think I did. There couldn’t have been much, we didn’t have any place to spend it,” Grisham said.
Now back in his possession, Grisham plans to keep it for his now-adult children and grandchildren.
Although cool to so many, the wallet doesn’t inspire a return visit. At 91 years old, it is just one of a lifetime of adventures.
The return of Grisham’s wallet is getting national media attention. As a result, he’s been getting a lot of phone calls from people he hasn’t heard from in years. He said they all want the same thing: that recipe for his homemade kalua.
Grisham said one of his most inspiring moments of that experience was when he met Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mount Everest. Hillary was in Antarctica to — you guessed it: climb a mountain. He consulted with Grisham for two hours before making the climb.