COMING HOME FROM THE MIDDLE EAST – 1950s

After stopping in various Mediterranean ports, on July 1, 1958, the USNS General Rose left the port of Gibraltar and sailed into the Atlantic Ocean. Destination: Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York City on July 8. There were approximately 160 passengers (military and their dependents)  from Wheelus/Tripoli and about 15 of those were teenagers. In Turkey (we had stopped in Istanbul and Izmir), I’d documented in my scrapbook that we’d picked up 22 more teens, which made a grand total of 37 of us traveling across the Atlantic. That’s quite a party!

The Aft Lounge was essentially headquarters for the large group of teenagers. We played games, listened to rock music: “Who’s Sorry Now,” “Pretty Baby,” and “Purple People-Eater,” and expended lots of energy dancing. As I wrote, we “goofed around,” and if there wasn’t enough to do, we could go to the main lounge and “pester the grown-ups.”

An 18-year-old named Bill, who was coming home with his family from Ankara, Turkey, was interested in me and I enjoyed the attention and the opportunity for a skilled dancing partner. He taught me “his special little dip,” and we spent some time star-watching out on deck. Or at least that’s what we called it! Funny that I don’t remember any constellations…

There was a party for everyone the evening of July 4th. I noted that Bill picked me up for the dance and I wore a “red print, off-the-shoulder dress.” When the lounge proved dull, the teens persuaded the seaman in the control room to put on snappier music. “We livened things up…bopped up a storm, and did The Stroll, which the grown-ups thought was real cute,” I commented. The chaplain, who was a “marvelous” dancer and usually squired my mother, invited me to do the polka with him and we danced for ten minutes! I had discarded my fabulous Italian cork heels bought in Naples and was barefooted. I felt like the Belle of the Ball.

Our last night on board, July 7, featured a farewell dinner and I saved the menu. The offerings included: Fresh Halibut with lemon and butter, Grilled Beef Steak with Mushroom Sauce, or Baked Virginia Ham with Pineapple Sauce. Besides a choice of potatoes, yams, corn, rice or peas (so typical of American food then), there were salads: Hearts of Lettuce (iceberg, of course), Hard-boiled Egg with mayo, or Cottage Cheese on Lettuce Leaf. Dessert was a choice of cookies, ice cream, fruit compote, Danish pastry or a Chocolate Nut Sundae. Babies had their choice of Pablum, carrots or apricots! We were served coffee, tea, cocoa, iced tea with lemon or water to drink. I was too young and distracted with other interests to notice if there were any alcoholic beverages. To celebrate the end of the cruise, our waiter took a Polaroid–the best in photo technology in those days!

Mom, Me, sister Tupper, and teachers: Ed, Marilyn and Becky–our table

As we got near New York, a stinky fog rolled in and we started to pass other ships going our way.  One distinct memory was listening to a shipboard radio catching all the latest rock ‘n roll tunes from a New York radio station. We hadn’t heard the current hit, “Charlie Brown,” and it was wonderful to contemplate all the Stateside surprises coming up. Libya and the other countries in the Middle East had been quite an adventure for most of us, but being back home in the USA and sailing past the Statue of Liberty was even more exciting.

I paid no attention to the world news on our souvenir Rose Report. Russia was threatening to withdraw from the UN, the Soviets were set to release nine American airmen whose plane had been forced to land in Soviet Armenia, and Cuban rebels were releasing five American civilian prisoners to be flown to Guantanamo Bay. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was on his way home to talk to President Dwight Eisenhower. Dulles had been trying to discourage France’s Premier Charles de Gaulle from insisting France become a major nuclear power. As the French like to say, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

My departing gift from my shipboard beau was a 50-cent piece to buy a banana split when I got to Northern Virginia, where my family would be living. I thought I might see Bill again since his family was also relocating there, but when my dad saw me with a guy’s arm around my shoulders as we pulled into the dock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he was on alert. When Dad discovered Bill was 18,  that was the end of that potential romance!

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, Gary. I don’t remember the railroad tracks but since Garden City Circle was just a block and a half away from our home, I remember it. I think the street you’re referring to was 24 December Street. Do you remember the bikers with the huge metal trays on their heads, filled with fresh bread from an Italian bakery nearby? That sticks out in my memory. Victoria

  2. Gary says:

    We overlapped by just a smidgen. Our family arrived at Wheelus February 1958. (Going and coming we went by military plane.) I was 7 when we got there, 9 years old when we returned to the states. I think we were neighbors. We lived in an apartment complex next to a railroad track VERY close to Garden City traffic circle. Just west of our walled complex ran the street called the 23rd of December. I recall so well the school bus and the nice Italian lady who was our bus monitor. Precious memories! — Gary

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