Barracan newspaper



Barman Newspaper at Wheelus AFB

Barracan Newspaper at Wheelus AFB

I’m a keeper of personal history; it’s a good resource for my writing and makes me realize what an adventure my life has been.

Being raised as an Army brat, another way of saying “gypsy” or perpetual traveler, has given me a different view on life. I think people can relate to each other’s lives whether we grew up in the U.S. or the Middle East, and history continues to repeat itself.

I saved a few high school newspapers from Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. The Barracan was named for the durable white outer garment Libyans wore in the 1950s. In those days, women were totally covered except for one eye and their feet, as the front page photo shows.

In reading these well-worn “antique” copies of newsprint, I find wonderful tidbits of how we teenagers were experiencing life in the days of bobby socks, circle skirts, loafers and saddle shoes. I don’t know how many students there were in the high school, but there were over 1,000 students from first grade to twelfth in 1956.

Some students related to the 1956 U.S. Presidential election. Student Jimmy Smith wanted to vote for Adlai Stevenson because the Republican Party had “pretty well messed up the government.” That remark is timeless for either political party! Student Janice Harkey, on the other hand, liked Ike (Eisenhower for those who don’t remember history) because she wanted the Republicans to stay in office (they did).

Richard Nixon, who was Eisenhower’s vice president, showed up in Tripoli in 1957 for a goodwill tour, and a couple of Wheelus students skipped school to cover the news. He shook hands with them and smiled when they related they were playing hooky. On the day Nixon was leaving from Wheelus, a friend and I got up early to see him off. I was close enough to shake hands and was thrilled.

We weren’t concerned about being “politically correct” in those days, besides, military schools were fully integrated. Nevertheless, there was a “slave” sale to raise money. Seniors sold themselves for small chores and the effort raised $12.95 for their treasury. That amount of money went a lot further in the 1950s.

Rock ‘n Roll music was popular but not predominant yet, according to the weekly “Platter Chatter” (when there were 45 and 78 rpm records for sale). In December 1956, Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” was the number one favorite for the third month in a row. Hugo Winterhalter’s instrumental, “Canadian Sunset” was in 7th place and Bing Crosby’s “True Love” was in 8th.

We were attending school in a city that bordered the Mediterranean and was surrounded by the Sahara desert, but there were some students who would have preferred a white Christmas in December. No snow could be provided, even the fake kind, but I fondly remember the Nativity Scene at Wheelus with its real camels and a real donkey.

Military brats attend school wherever their fathers are stationed, at least in the 1950s. Although the students are American for the most part, there were exceptions, like Ghazi Zugni, a Libyan.












The Beginnings of a Writing Career

High School news


My writing career has been an adventurous one: lots of fun, great experiences and for years very little money. As I tell my editing clients—you must create through love, not desire for money. Like most creative endeavors, writing is rewarding to the heart and soul but it can take time for compensation to reach your wallet, much less the bank. Sometimes it never does.

Writing stories began with the Barracan, the Wheelus High School newspaper at Wheelus Air Force Base, adjacent to Tripoli, Libya. I was 14, it was the 50s and our high school had less than 100 students. Life in Libya was bucolic: Tripoli wasn’t very large then, palm trees, and flowering plants were everywhere, the weather was warm, and the Mediterranean Sea was welcoming. Although small, the high school was filled with typical American teenagers. Jeans, loafers, saddle shoes, and crinolines that poofed out our circle skirts were typical attire. We had proms, a teenage club, and only one radio station to play occasional rock n’ roll, certainly not as current as “American Bandstand.” Unless you were new to Wheelus, you probably didn’t even know the program existed in the States.

I recall only one story I wrote for the Barracan newspaper—the Junior-Senior prom with Ebb Tide as the theme, which was held at the Tripoli Beach Club. Ginny Stewart had a pre-prom coketail party at her family’s nearby villa, and featured a belly dancer as entertainment. The fully dressed Libyan woman wore a very modest wrap-around indoor garment, not the confining outdoor barracan, an all-encompassing white wool garment that covered women from head to toe, exposing only one eye and their feet, as can be seen in the newspaper drawing. She had pushed her indoor garment down to her hips to accentuate them and performed her exotic dance to a rhythmic drum played by a Libyan man. The woman was most likely a servant of the Stewarts and wasn’t afraid to flaunt her talents to American teenagers.

In college—William & Mary in Virginia—I wrote many stories for the Flat Hat college paper. I was pleasantly surprised at one class reunion when a displayed scrapbook had three of my stories!

When my kids were in grammar school and didn’t need my full attention, I wrote my first newspaper column: Hillrise Highlights, which covered local events and turned into a political campaign to get a nearby highway bridge widened in Agoura, California. I even participated in gathering signatures to get the County of Los Angeles or the State interested in funding the construction. Our campaign succeeded and the bridge was totally revamped.

I graduated to covering news for the Acorn, a weekly newspaper for this rapidly growing Conejo Valley suburb of LA, on the border of Ventura County. By the early 1980s I was the editor, responsible for a little bit of everything—writing and editing, headlines, photos, attendance at chamber of commerce meetings and mixers. City incorporation attempts, wildfires, water quality, and commercial/residential growth were some of the pressing issues in those days. There were also the unusual stories: my trip in a hot air balloon in a fur coat and attending a nightclub show of sexy male strippers, an early Chippendales-type show. I learned to be prepared for anything in the news business.


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