If you’ve ever lost your wallet, only to have it returned to you through the kindness of strangers, you’ve probably come to understand what true gratitude is. After all, our wallets not only carry our cash—something that is increasingly rare these days—but also important items such as our drivers license, credit/debit cards, voter registration documents, and more. Having to replace all of that stuff can be costly, time consuming, and frustrating.
Now imagine if you lost your wallet in Antarctica. Chances are you’d probably figure that it was one for good, never to be seen again. Most of the time you’d probably be right, as the frozen continent is one of the most remote and demanding environments on the planet. But a California man was recently reunited with his missing wallet, which he misplaced in the Antarctic more than 53 years ago, creating one of the more unique and interesting stories that I’ve seen in some time.
13-Month Tour of Duty in the Antarctic
Paul Grisham was a career Navy man, enlisting in 1947 and serving as a weather technician and forecaster for 30 years. In 1967 he drew the unenviable duty of being sent to the Antarctic as part of a team that supported a civilian research project there. He would end up spending 13 months at the bottom of the world, assisting with data collection for a study on the Antarctic environment there.
While there, Grisham managed to lose his wallet, which contained a number of documents that you would expect, along with some unique items as well. For instance, in addition to his military ID and drivers license, the wallet contained a tax withholding statement, receipts for money orders sent to his wife and two young kids back home, and a punch card that tracked his rations of beer. As a sign of the times, the wallet also had a reference card for what do in case of a nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons attack.
Although Grisham was frustrated with his carelessness, he says that he soon forgot about the wallet, rarely ever thinking about it again. Imagine his surprise then when he was recently reunited with said wallet after more than five decades had passed.
A Curious Find
The wallet was discovered in 2014 at McMurdo Station, located on Ross Island in the Antarctic. But even though it contained the identification of the man who had lost it, tracking down Grisham—who is now 91—proved more challenging than expected. After all, at the time it had been more than 45 years since he’d even been there.
it took a group of dedicated amateur internet investigators to find Grisham, using emails, Facebook, handwritten letters, and a variety of other tools to locate the wallets rightful owner. The group, which is formed by a man named Stephen Decato, had undertaken similar projects in the past to reunite individuals with missing property.
A friend of Decato who had heard about the wallet—along with another that had also been found in the Antarctic—asked for assistance. The group of sleuths then sprang into action, searching for clues as to whether or not Grisham was still alive and where he might reside today.
Eventually the Decato and his group were able to find the long-lost Navy weatherman and send his wallet back to him. When he received it, Grisham said that he was “blown away.”
A Different Era in the Antarctic
In sharing his thoughts on the discovery of the missing wallet, Grisham has also offered insights into what it was like in the Antarctic back in the last 1960s. He was there as part of a program known as Operation Deep Freeze, which kept him away from home for more than a year. And while McMurdo was about as remote as it could get, the Naval meteorologist did enjoy a daily post-work martini while staying at the base.
Grisham also says that one of the few luxuries he had was being able to call his wife Wilma via shortwave radio once a week. The two—along with their childrenexchanged messages while waiting for his return. Wilma passed away in 2000 and Paul has since remarried.
That’s a far cry from what life is like at McMurdo these days, which is now equipped with state of the art satellite communications systems and relatively quick internet. While the base does remain remote and isolated, it is no longer cut off from the rest of the world in terms of daily interactions.
That said, it still isn’t a place where you’d want to lose your wallet. Chances are, you probably wouldn’t be as lucky as Paul and have it returned to you, although it would make for an equally great story.
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