Maguire AFB

AN ARMY BRAT IN LIBYA – The Ebook

Americans living in foreign countries, especially those in the military or other government service, tend to keep or renew their ties over the years. At least that’s been my experience with the “kids” I went to high school with at Wheelus Air Force Base just outside Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s. And since I’ve included experiences of living in Libya in my blog, students from many classes, anywhere from the early 1950s to 1970 have gotten in touch to share their memories. We’ve all aged but the spirit of those long-ago days holds on and there have been many reunions of these students over the years. The most recent was last May in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In the middle 1950s, Tripoli was a bustling, cosmopolitan city inhabited by Libyans, Italians, British, Americans and an assortment of other European and Middle Eastern nationalities. Both the British and the Americans had military bases, and international oil companies were drilling for the oil that would eventually make the country rich beginning in 1959. Libya, for the first half of the twentieth century under Italian rule, had only gained its independence in 1951, and that auspicious occasion had been marked by the renaming of a main thoroughfare, to be forever after known as 24 December Street.

Like many major events in the life of an Army brat, I wasn’t sure I wanted to uproot from the States and travel to such a strange land. I was shocked when my father received orders in 1955 to report to North Africa. We were stationed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, at the time, and Africa couldn’t have been more distant from civilization as far as my twelve-year-old mind was concerned. Morocco was our first assigned destination, specifically the peculiarly named Nouasseur. Orders were changed when Morocco had violent political problems and a few Americans were killed. My dad was reassigned to Wheelus Air Force Base just outside Tripoli.

My Army Corps of Engineers father, a lieutenant colonel, would command a military group that had something to do with maintaining the strategic airfield, the closest large American location to Russia, an important fact in those Cold War years. He would also be traveling to mysterious places such as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia. I still have the mink stole he bought my mother in Athens on one of his trips.

AnArmyBratLibya Cover#A1

 

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What seemed like days after leaving the Azores, but was more than likely some thirty hours later, we reached our new home. It was 9 p.m. in Tripoli, but after so many hours and so many time zones, who could tell? No snow on the ground here: the weather was temperate and probably no colder than 55 degrees. Only after a good night’s sleep would we regain our land legs and clarity of hearing – the noise and vibration of prop planes had a habit of disorienting the body, which included sight and hearing, for hours.

We lived in the Garden City area of Tripoli, not far from the King’s Palace, from 1955 until 1958. I loved all the contrasts that life in an ancient Arab city brought–camels and sheep, British Morris Minor cars mixing with American Fords, sandstorms called Ghiblis, the museum in the old Barbary Pirate fort, the lovely beaches at Georgimpopuli and Piccolo Capri, the vegetable man shouting out his fresh food, and the braying of donkeys and camels growling at night.

For more stories about life in Libya, order my book on Amazon. While you’re on the site, check out my other books.

CHRISTMASES I REMEMBER

As Christmas season and gift giving makes its merry way into the lives of those who celebrate it, I think about years past and what stood out about those days. To me, the holidays are sentimental. It reminds me of my parents, my siblings, my relatives and all the friends I’ve known over the years. As each year passes, there are more friends and relatives who are departing Mother Earth and this special time becomes more bittersweet.

I believe my childhood as an Army brat, traveling around the world, probably inspired me to keep in touch with as many old friends and relatives as I possibly could. I saw that my parents did it (my mother signed the cards and wrote the accompanying notes) and I enjoyed reading all the Christmas mail they got in return. I’ve been doing the same for several decades and continue to enjoy everyone’s news, even though I’ve graduated to modern technology and use Email.

There are a few occasions I remember with a special fondness. My earliest Christmas memory is a postwar celebration in Murnau, Germany in the 1940s. My mother was newly married. Instead of the train I remember asking for, I received a set of painted wooden doll furniture embellished with colorful Bavarian décor. I still have the foot high chest of drawers; it’s in excellent shape considering the years.

Germany figures in another Christmas, my last one in college. As an Army dependent, I had a free trip to my parents’ home in Mannheim, but it was space available from Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey. A large group of students and military personnel waited about five days for a seat. An older Master Sergeant became my protector and took me to see the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn movie “Charade.”  Once in Germany, I felt like a debutante with all the social activities and attention from eligible Army lieutenants. Winging homeward to the US on New Year’s Eve, a few of us college coeds were invited by flirtatious Air Force pilots into the cockpit to see the Midnight Sun over Northern Canada.

I recall my daughter Heidi’s second year Christmas and the Fisher-Price dollhouse Santa brought. She was old enough to appreciate it, and I can still see it because it’s on film. I was about six months pregnant with her brother at the time.

I can’t forget the memory of the last family Christmas I spent with my parents, sister and brother. My little family—husband and two youngsters–drove  from LA to San Antonio, Texas, in a spacious Plymouth; the backseat was large enough for a crib mattress, an idea I’d gotten from a TV show. I bought a harness for both kids (three years old and eight months) and strapped them to the seat belts, so they could sleep and also crawl around. It might not be considered safe now, but nothing bad happened.

That Christmas my mother’s kidney disease was just beginning to get worse, my brother was still in college and my sister was going to junior college in Utah. Two years later my mother had left the world for good.

A few years later my sister joined us for a California taste of winter. My mother-in-law rented a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains, which gave us a whole new perspective on the holidays. We bought a tree on the way there, a bargain since it was Christmas Eve, and then had to lug everything up countless steps to this aerie on the hill with a view of a small lake below. We did our decorating the old-fashioned way by stringing popcorn. Before we left a few days later, my kids tried out sledding for the first time.

Dealing with my new divorce in the 1980s felt daunting, but my sister’s small family and my still single brother were supportive by joining me and my kids in Los Angeles for Christmas. Four small children and four adults filled my house with laughter, and my sister brought along the ingredients to make a lovely little gingerbread house.

Adults: Me, Darb, Tup and the kids: David, Hansi, Heidi and Heather

 

May you all have holiday memories to cherish, and if you need more, go out and make them!

 

 

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