Those lucky enough to be reunited with a wallet they have mislaid might typically wait hours, days or sometimes weeks— but Paul Grisham had to wait more than half a century.
The panic that follows a sudden lightness of pocket would spur most to retrace their steps close to home, but this would have been a trickier proposition for the San Diego man as the billfold was at the bottom of the world.
A weather technician and forecaster by trade, Grisham was on assignment for 13 months as a U.S. Navy meteorologist in Antarctica from October 1967.
Now 91, he told The San Diego Tribune that he had been sent there “kicking and screaming” as he had to leave behind his wife and two young children to take up a role with ‘Operation Deep Freeze’ which supported scientists conducting research.
He vividly remembers the vastness of the frozen continent where bone crunching temperature at times dropped to – 65 F, which was cold enough to freeze a can of soda pop within minutes.
But he forgot about the wallet which was discovered behind a locker during demolition of a building at McMurdo Station on Antarctica’s Ross Island in 2014.
Stephen Decato, from New Hampshire, who worked for an agency that did research in Antarctica, was tasked with returning the wallet by his former boss who had heard about how he had once managed to return a Navy service ID bracelet to its owner, the Associated Press reported.
Following a campaign of letters, emails, and Facebook messages, Grisham was tracked down via the Naval Weather Service Association of which he is a member.
Grisham managed to get hold of the wallet again—albeit after 53 years. Still in good condition, contained within its folds was effectively a time capsule of an era when Lyndon Johnson was president and Cold War concerns were at their apex.
It had his Navy ID card, driver’s licence and a beer ration card, as well as a reference card on what to do during an atomic or biological attack. Because there was nothing to buy at the end of the world, there was no cash.
Since Grisham last saw the wallet, his family has grown up, he retired from the Navy in 1977 and he remarried after his first wife Wilma died in 2000.
Reflecting on the item that symbolizes the passage of his life, he told the Tribune: “There was a long series of people involved who tracked me down and ran me to ground.”
“I was just blown away.”