Tripoli

WHEELUS AFB, LIBYA – A SOURCE OF CREATIVITY

Art Arrowsmith is a fellow student who attended Wheelus Air Force Base High School in Tripoli, Libya at the same time I did. He was Class of 1957 and I was due to graduate in 1960; we knew each other but weren’t friends. I got to know Art just a few years ago when he began reading my blogs about our time in Libya. An adventurous creative fellow, Art has done some writing, watercolor art and drawing. He’s a multi-talented fellow and a very adventurous one, having lived in countless places over the years. He shared a true story of his from his time living at Wheelus, MOONLIGHT MADNESS,  a while back and I  published it on my blog in August 2014. Check it out. I split it into two parts.

His latest reflections, called OLD AGE THOUGHTS, fit right in with my recent thoughts. All my longtime friends and I are growing older, but what’s the alternative? I am waiting today on my first grandchild’s arrival — Ella Julie Ann Giraud, in Dallas Texas. I’m a bit late in having the grandmother experience, but I know I’m going to cherish it and have some memories like those Art writes about below.

OLD AGE THOUGHTS

Days dissolve and weeks blur. Months are short lived milestones, while years bump up against one another and disappear before they can be savored, as we travel life’s ever shortening road. Time has essentially become irrelevant. Children have disappeared into adults and rivers are slowly changing their courses. Familiar landscapes, buildings and downtown venues are reshaped, somehow different, populated by strangers with strange customs and costumes. Friends are gone, lost or forgotten and missed. Loneliness is no longer just another word: it’s here.

If one catches an aged soul unawares in the autumn of their life, a long ago memory will be seen drifting through their eyes.

My hands are weaker but my faith is stronger. Reflection on past seasons and places cements certainty that many blessings were bestowed on myself and my family. Some were obvious but most not discovered until much later when their fruit blossomed. Even today I’m still realizing how protected we’ve been.

Camp fires blazing and hot dogs simmering. Checkered tablecloths on picnic tables and barbecues cooking. Children exploring their world wearing personalized helmets, peddling through the park on designer bikes, giggling and laughing, sharing their minor and major discoveries with one another and equally with strangers. We’re camping in these gloriously colorful early crisp autumn days, as the work-a-day world is left ever farther behind and we slowly adapt to and savor the long-looked-forward-to-retirement years. Our family has grown; both daughters and their families are out on their own. Now our grandchildren and great grandchildren are an integral and blessed part of our twilight years.

Art Arrowsmith’s class photo from Wheelus High; a recent watercolor of his, and a detailed drawing he did of a Porsche.

Art A

artswtrcolr

artporsche

WHEELUS AFB TV PROGRAM

My starring role as Louise

My starring role as Louise

Wheelus AFB in Tripoli, Libya, had a TV station back in the 1950s-1960s with some imported programs from the US and some local American talent from the base and in town. I was picked for a few moments of fleeting fame on American military TV long ago. Perhaps a few hundred people actually saw the program broadcast.

Since Hollywood didn’t come knocking on my door with a contract, I chose a writing career instead. No big script or book deals or a big budget movie, yet…alas. Although I did make some attempts to get my screenplay about Sir Francis Drake produced then ended up writing an historical fiction novel about him: MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE.

My “starring” role on TV was to portray the fictional “Louise” while Joe, a talented pianist and airman played the song of that name. Maurice Chevalier, French actor and singer is known for singing the song at least 50 years ago. Two of the lines are:

Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise.

Birds in the trees seem to twitter Louise.

Joe (I can no longer remember his last name) had a half-hour TV program, which featured him playing piano. It was broadcast in the evening to every home with a TV set at Wheelus Air Force Base. I don’t remember if I even knew when or how often, but I did save the photos taken for the special occasion. My family had not brought a TV to Libya so Mom and Dad did not catch my debut.

Keeping his program unique was probably a challenge for Joe. One day he came up with the bright idea to play famous songs named for women: “Marie,” “Charmaine” and “Louise,” for instance, and have a girl in the background who represented each particular song.

He would play five songs. He already knew two Italian girls to feature, but he needed three more females to represent all the songs he had in mind. Apparently reasoning that the high school physical education program would provide him with the best choices, he came out to the Wheelus tennis courts one morning. The male mind is always intriguing! Maybe it was our grace hitting a tennis ball during physical education classes, or perhaps what our legs looked like in shorts that influenced his choices?

I had never considered myself a talented tennis player, although I did improve over the years. I was still in the hitting-the-ball-too-high stage, and lucky to make it over the net. My legs, however, were shapely.

Joe picked me, Judy Jones, and Vicki Scola and we all agreed to face the cameras. I was supposed to be a French Louise and had to find a beret and a scarf since my portrayal was a variation of the famous French Apache dance (based on Parisian gang culture and named for the US Native American tribe). I’ve still got the now tattered beret and the orange scarf.

I don’t recall that we did much if any rehearsing since we simply had to sit or stand, as the case may be, and look sexy. When Joe played each song, the camera panned from his playing to the appropriate girl and the painted background scene behind each of us.

No lingering fears of cameras linger; I don’t think I was nervous. One of the young Italian girls apparently did get the jitters; her underarm perspiration shows on her pretty dress.

Was that my “15 minutes of fame?” Fame is so ephemeral.

Between the two Italian girls, I'm in beret and scarf. Judy and Vickie are on the right. Joe's at the piano, the star of the show.

Between the two Italian girls, I’m in beret and scarf. Judy and Vickie are on the right. Joe’s at the piano, the star of the show.

 

THE BARRACAN NEWSPAPER- WHEELUS HIGH

I keep track of my important keepsakes from my life as a military brat. As a fledgling reporter, from October 1956 to May 1958, I cherished the school newspaper and held onto 17 Barracan newspapers from Wheelus Air Force Base High School just outside Tripoli, Libya. I’m surprised how well they’ve held up considering I’ve moved about 20 plus times since my family left Wheelus for the US in 1958. The photos are a bit blurry, but we didn’t have top quality printing. Nevertheless, the copy is still easily readable. I’ll share more of them as time goes on, but I had to present my first big story on the front page–Ebb Tide is Theme of Junior-Senior Prom–even  though I didn’t get a byline. I made sure I didn’t forget this milestone since I wrote in ink: “I wrote this” on my copy!

Barracan May 1958

From the inside of the March 26th newspaper, I found that “Platter Chatter” written by Errol Cochrane announced that the number one song request on Armed Forces Radio was Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star,” and the number two was Elvis Presley’s “Don’t.” Chuck Berry had number six with “Sweet Little Sixteen.” John Carlson wrote the column “Teen Town Tips” and wrote that there would be a Hay Ride at the Teenage Club. Three “six by’s” (trucks) will be used and there was room for 60 people. The cost was quite reasonable — twenty-five cents each! I remember attending this event with Tom Henderson, who was also my date for the Junior-Senior prom. I even remember Tom joking about Johnny Mathis’ latest song, “No Love but Your Love.” Tom thought Mathis’ words sounded like “Nola Fajola.” It’s a funny and poignant memory since Tom passed on a few years ago. The Quidnunc column was high school gossip and written by Sharon Rayl. She reported on those who went to the base theater to see Elvis Presley in “Jailhouse Rock” — like Chuck Montgomery and Betty Hubbard, Bill Butcher and Carolyn Kunz, Steve Gaynor, Karen Gamel, Kathie de Russy and Arnell Gross. There was a new two-some around campus–Al (Atomic Age) Kulas and Mary Pat Riordan. Al Kulas left this world just this year. I wonder where Mary Pat is?

These memories from long ago have been fun to relate, especially since there are so many former Wheelus students who have kept in touch over the years.

 

MY TV DEBUT AT WHEELUS AFB

My starring role as Louise

My starring role as Louise

Wheelus AFB in Tripoli, Libya, had a TV station back in the 1950s-1960s with some imported programs from the US and some local American talent from the base and in town. I was picked for a  few moments of fleeting fame on American military TV long ago. Perhaps a few hundred people actually saw the program broadcast.

Since Hollywood didn’t come knocking on my door with a contract, I chose a writing career instead. No big script or book deals or a big budget movie, yet…alas. Although I did make some attempts to get my screenplay about Sir Francis Drake produced then ended up writing an historical fiction novel about him:  MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE

My “starring” role on TV was to portray the fictional “Louise” while Joe, a talented pianist and airman played the song of that name. Maurice Chevalier, French actor and singer is known for singing the song at least 50 years ago. Two of the lines are:

Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise.

Birds in the trees seem to twitter Louise.

Joe (I can no longer remember his last name) had a half-hour TV program, which featured him playing piano. It was broadcast in the evening to every home with a TV set at Wheelus Air Force Base. I don’t remember if I even knew when or how often, but I did save the photos taken for the special occasion. My family had not brought a TV to Libya so Mom and Dad did not catch my debut.

Keeping his program unique was probably a challenge for Joe. One day he came up with the bright idea to play famous songs named for women: “Marie,” “Charmaine” and “Louise,” for instance, and have a girl in the background who represented each particular song.

He would play five songs. He already knew two Italian girls to feature, but he needed three more females to represent all the songs he had in mind. Apparently reasoning that the high school physical education program would provide him with the best choices, he came out to the Wheelus tennis courts one morning. The male mind is always intriguing! Maybe it was our grace hitting a tennis ball during physical education classes, or perhaps what our legs looked like in shorts that influenced his choices?

I had never considered myself a talented tennis player, although I did improve over the years. I was still in the hitting-the-ball-too-high stage, and lucky to make it over the net. My legs, however, were shapely.

Joe picked me, Judy Jones, and Vicki Scola and we all agreed to face the cameras. I was supposed to be a French Louise and had to find a beret and a scarf since my portrayal was a variation of the famous French Apache dance (based on Parisian gang culture and named for the US Native American tribe). I’ve still got the now tattered beret and the orange scarf.

I don’t recall that we did much if any rehearsing since we simply had to sit or stand, as the case may be, and look sexy. When Joe played each song, the camera panned from his playing to the appropriate girl and the painted background scene behind each of us.

No lingering fears of cameras linger; I don’t think I was nervous. One of the young Italian girls apparently did get the jitters; her underarm perspiration shows on her pretty dress.

Was that my “15 minutes of fame?” Fame is so ephemeral.

Between the two Italian girls, I'm in beret and scarf. Judy and Vickie are on the right. Joe's at the piano, the star of the show.

Between the two Italian girls, I’m in beret and scarf. Wheelus students, Judy Jones and Vickie Scola, are on the right. Joe’s at the piano, the star of the show.

A WRITER/EDITOR’S HISTORY

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 quick fame and fortune. Like most creative endeavors, writing is rewarding for the heart and soul but it takes time for compensation to reach your wallet, much less the bank. Sometimes it never does.

Victoria Giraud

Victoria Giraud

Reporting stories began with the Barracan, the Wheelus Air Force Base High School newspaper in Tripoli, Libya. I was 14, it was the 1950s and our high school had less than 100 students. The school was surrounded by palm trees and the Mediterranean Sea was a short walk away.  Wheelus High was filled with typical American teenagers: jeans, loafers, saddle shoes, and crinolines to poof out our circle skirts were typical attire. We had proms, one radio station that played rock ‘n roll (an audio version of “American Bandstand”—unless you were new to Wheelus, you probably didn’t even know that TV program existed), and a teenage club that had its own student band, Stardust.

Although I wrote a few stories, I only recall one of them—the Junior-Senior prom with Ebb Tide as the theme—held at the Tripoli Beach Club. Ginny Stewart had a coketail party first at her family’s nearby villa. The entertainment as I remember it: a fully dressed Libyan woman in a very modest wrap-around indoor garment  doing a belly dance to a rhythmic drum. She pushed some of the shawl-like elements of her dress down to accentuate her hips. The woman was most likely a servant of the Stewarts and could be less modest within the house. Outside she would have worn barracan, an all-encompassing white wool garment that covered her head to toe, exposing only one eye and her feet.

In college—William & Mary in Virginia—I wrote for the Flat Hat college newspaper. Lots of stories I no longer remember, but 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 column: Hillrise Highlights, which covered local events and soon turned into a political campaign to get a nearby highway bridge widened in Agoura, California. As a concerned citizen, I participated in gathering signatures to get the County of Los Angeles or the State interested in funding the construction.

I graduated to covering news for the Acorn, a weekly newspaper for a rapidly growing suburb of LA, in the Conejo Valley, 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.

In the 1990s I got to mingle with a few celebrities on a couple of magazines I helped co-create, write and edit. One of them featured Bob Hope for our initial cover. Alas, Hope was recovering from prostate surgery and the closest I got to him for an interview was visiting his manager’s office in Burbank, a testament to Hope’s many movies with its giant blowups of movie stills going back to the 1930s.

Beverly Hills Country Club, a posh tennis club, decided they needed a magazine featuring their members. My boss was an enterprising Iranian who spoke English but was not fluent in writing English. For our first cover, I interviewed Barbara Eden in her home along Mulholland Drive. Delightful and personable, she wore a cropped top and low riding pants, showing off her still fabulous figure and revealing the belly button blocked out on “I Dream of Jeannie,” her famous TV series. Yes, the cover was “photo-shopped.”

Appropriately for a sports club magazine, I did stories on members, Rafer Johnson, the Olympics decathlon champion from the 1960s, and 1940s tennis champion Jack Kramer, who had remained active in the sports world promoting tennis and then golf. My first tennis racket was a Jack Kramer and I told him so. Both of these athletes were gentlemen and easy to chat with.

The 1990s included a few years of writing a weekly column, People and Places, and local play reviews for the Daily News, a major newspaper that still exists. I must have seen and reviewed about 200 plays, performed by a range of talent of all ages. I was a positive reviewer; it was essentially community theater and equity waiver. I recall a production of “Mr. Roberts,” starring Harry Belafonte’s son-in-law. Belafonte was there and I was thrilled to shake his hand as he told me he loved community theater. No, I did not hum any calypso songs!

One of my weekly columns focused on Jake Lloyd, a seven-year-old starring in his first movie, “Jingle All the Way” with Arnold Swarzenegger (before he became the Governator). Jake was charming; on the sound stage of 20th Century Fox, he led me up to a sort of catwalk on the upper levels of the living room set, where I could have an overview and see where the cameras and lights were positioned. They were filming the last scene of the movie that day. As filming is erratic, the last scene of filming would be the actual first scene of the movie. Jake went on to play Anakin Skywalker in a Star Wars movie, “The Phantom Menace.”

MIDDLE-EASTERN VIEWPOINTS

One of the wonders of the Internet and a plus to the experience of writing a blog, is the pleasure of readers’ responses. During the past few years I’ve heard from several Libyans who have enjoyed my writing. Last year I was interviewed about my experiences in Libya by Hasan Karayam, a Libyan-born college student getting his PhD in history from Middle Tennessee State University. He and his professor wanted to know what life was like in Tripoli at that time–how the mixture of nationalities got along, for instance.

Libyan-born Mosbah Kushad, a professor at the University of Illinois in crop sciences, who lives and works in Champaign, Illinois, wrote me a couple of years ago. When we communicated—after Ghadaffi was deposed—he was on his way to Tripoli for a visit for the first time in years. It would be interesting to know what he thinks about Libya’s current turmoil.

Mosbah wrote: Victoria’s blog brings back pleasant memories of my days as a young boy growing up in Suk El Guma outside Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. When I was in 8th grade, my uncle got me a job as a busboy at the Base for a handsome salary of $21 a month. I was on top of the world with my personal pass to ride the bus to and from the Base. That same gate that everyone remembers very fondly.

I remember watching young American kids neatly dressed walking into the school and some riding the buses from the city. I used to daydream of someday being like one of them. Well, with luck I finished college in Libya, came to the US where I got my Ph.D., and I got a job as a professor in a major university, and thirty-six years later, my kids are living like those kids that I used to dream about. This is my life story as a Libyan American. Like everyone else, I cherish those days but I also cherish the time that I have lived in this great country and the many friends I have made here. The smell of fresh bread from those bakery shops in Suk El Guma is still with me…God bless you all.

Old City Tripoli

Old City Tripoli

When I wrote about a few of the unpleasant habits of some Libyan men, I heard from an Egyptian man, Wael M. El Dessouki, who had lived in Tripoli. He wasn’t too happy with my disparaging remarks.

Dear Ms. Victoria,
 I am an Egyptian who lived in Tripoli for 12 years, from 1972 to 1984. I have read your blog about Tripoli and it’s obvious to me that you are deeply connected to that place. I can understand your feelings. Tripoli is a charming city, not only because of its places but more so because of its people.
 However, in your blog, you have included a few remarks and general statements about Libyans that I believe are inappropriate and offensive. For example, you say, ‘Libyan policemen were not above trying to touch private parts if an American woman or young girl happened to walk too closely to these lusty, over-curious males.’ Maybe you encountered an incident of sexual harassment, however, that does not justify making such a general statement about Libyans.
 Also, the issue of peeing in the streets: maybe you have seen that happening, but I have seen it several times in some US cities. Hence, when you list such thing as a cultural issue, that implies that it is very common and happens in Libya only. 
Some other blogs include similar remarks.

I answered this gentleman and explained I didn’t mean to imply that all Libyan men were rude or ill-mannered and he was happy.

Wael M. El Dessourki answered: Thanks, Victoria, for your positive response. Your writings about your experiences in Libya are wonderful and I sincerely enjoyed them. I am quite sure you did not have any bad intentions when you mentioned those remarks; however, as an Arab, I see those remarks as annoying dents in a very nice picture. I am concerned that such remarks might be a turnoff for other Arab readers.

In this world, we hope to build bridges between cultures that bring people to common understanding and to respect our differences. In my opinion, your blog is similar to a nice bridge but unfortunately it’s got some holes.

I admit I am not perfect, although I did not say that to this concerned Egyptian reader. He wrote before the Egyptian and the Libyan uprisings and continuing unrest. I wonder what his thoughts are now about the upheavals??

500 BLOGS TO CELEBRATE!

It’s been almost 5 years since I started my blog, Words on My Mind. I’ve now posted 500 blogs – HOORAY!! At this point, judging by the statistics, I’ve had at least two million people check in.

I used a poem to begin my efforts. Here’s part of what I wrote:

Birth pains were negligible,

A little wine helped,

And some chocolate with nuts.

Since the Baby Blog

Has shot into Cyberspace,

It’s no telling what it

May eventually weigh.

Does anyone know

The Weight of Opinions?

I started the blog to promote my editing business and to sell my historical fiction novel, Melaynie’s Masquerade. Since then I’ve written 6 additional books (Ebook format) that are also for sale on Amazon. An Army Brat in Libya, Discovering the Victor in Victoria, Colonels Don’t Apologize, Angels in Uniform, Pink Glasses, and Weird Dates and Strange Fates.

Victoria Giraud

Victoria Giraud

As a consistent chronicler of my interesting life, in notebooks and eventually on computer, I’ve reported my personal history, ups and downs! I had written plenty of tales of growing up as an Army brat, my long career as a newspaper and magazine editor/reporter in Los Angeles, and life as a single woman. Since 2010 I’ve written about living in Bavaria right after World War II, living in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s, and residing in the Washington, D.C. area during John Kennedy’s presidency. For the past 50 years (alas, I’m no longer a youngster), I’ve enjoyed experiencing Southern California life.

The fun of getting older is looking back to the hurdles and successes of life and all the people you’ve known or seen in one way or another. I’ve written about most of it. I saw John F. Kennedy twice (when he was a senator and then a president), Robert Kennedy twice, shook hands with Richard Nixon in Libya, and observed Lyndon Johnson in the Senate. These experiences have been chronicled in my blog.

I observed Hollywood stars at Washington National Airport during the March on Washington in 1963. I stood at a window between Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Baldwin (the author), saw Paul Newman, James Garner and Sidney Poitier, and spoke with Charlton Heston. I lived through some of the repercussions from the Suez Crisis in Tripoli in 1956. I enjoyed the fun of a 1958 Mediterranean Cruise courtesy of the US Navy, landing in Athens, Istanbul, Naples, and Gibraltar, to name a few.

Since I knew and had interviewed character actor, Strother Martin, I attended his funeral at Forest Lawn in 1980 and saw Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. I wrote a blog about the experience. Living in SoCal, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with James Whitmore, William Shatner, Peter Strauss, Ellen Burstyn, Robert Stack, Valerie Harper, Kelsey Grammar, Della Reese, and Sally Kellerman, to name a few. While I worked at the phone company in Hollywood, I observed Dean Martin on a motorcycle,  saw Cornel Wilde and Mitzi Gaynor at the Brown Derby, and had a lovely chat with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft in Santa Monica. When I edited and wrote a magazine for the Beverly Hills Country Club, I interviewed athletes Rafer Johnson and Jack Kramer (my first tennis racket had his name on it) and TV star Barbara Eden. I’ve written about all these experiences as well as the sometimes crazy times of being single and dating.

One of my most entertaining interviews was with Jules Sylvester, an animal trainer born in Kenya. He was my neighbor for a while and invited me out to see his Komodo dragon (in the Marlon Brando/Matthew Broderick film “The Freshman”) and all the spiders and insects he trained for all sorts of films (“Snakes on a Plane” not too long ago).

I’ve written about the powerful 1994 LA earthquake, and about my genealogy on my mother’s Motley side, which included John Motley Moorehead, a governor of North Carolina before the Civil War. I’ve told my personal story of surprising my birth father at his office in the Pentagon in 1964. I was too young to remember him when he left to fight in Italy during WWII. Three days after we met and spent time together, he said I was his lucky charm: he had been promoted to Brigadier General.

When I’m not writing my blog, I’m spending time editing books of all types and have written/promoted many of them on my blog. So far, I’ve edited about 130 books in all genres: from historical fiction, memoirs, romance and action adventure, to self-help and children’s books.

I’ve tooted my horn enough. If, dear Reader, you’re intrigued, check out my archives after you read today’s blog. Thank you!

 

 

US BASEBALL CARDS IN LIBYA

The world grows smaller every day with the Internet, satellites and other means of communication. After World War II, the US and other countries realized, like it or not, the world was connected, as English author John Donne said way back in a 1624 sermon: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”

Wars, ironically, have brought people together, and as the US became more powerful, we sent our military with many of their families all over the world. It was surprising when we discovered people in these various foreign countries knew something about America from our movies and even from our sports teams.

Pete Remmert, who lived in Tripoli from 1958-1962, told me a fascinating story about his encounter and a friendship with a Libyan boy while his family lived in a nice area near the beach, a bit west of the center of town. It’s nice to relate a positive  story about the Middle East these days.

“I was eight years old in 1958. Before we acquired (Wheelus) base housing, we lived in Giorgimpopoli and occasionally when I walked alone in the streets of the neighborhood, I would run into a group of Libyan boys (a few years older than Pete was) who sometimes liked to play a little rough. One of these boys didn’t like the way his companions were giving me a hard time, and he pulled me aside and offered me, in very good English, a deal I couldn’t refuse. He told me that he collected American baseball cards, the rectangular ones that came in packs of bubblegum.”

Libyan construction workers in 1950s

Libyan construction workers in 1950s

For those old enough to remember, I looked up some of the stars of that era on baseball cards. Though I’m not a typical baseball fan, I still remember a few of them. Stars like Don Drysdale (I saw him play as a Los Angeles Dodger), Mickey Mantle (a Yankee great), Whitey Ford, John Roseboro, and Carl Yastrzemski, are a few examples.

Although he didn’t remember the boy’s name, Pete commented, “He was a couple of years older than me, of slender build and bald as an eagle. He wore typical Libyan clothing: white robes with a multicolored shawl-type wrap during the colder months. He usually wore a ‘beanie’ type maroon-colored cap but on occasion he would wear a fez. I was always impressed with his command of the English language and his knowledge of contemporary American baseball players was vastly superior to any of the American kids I knew. He also introduced me to those yummy dates that we pulled off the date palms and ate like candy.”

Pete continued, “I told him that I was only interested in the gum and that he was welcome to have the cards. From that moment on, he swore that he would be my personal bodyguard. Well, one afternoon he made good on his promise. A group of older kids decided to rough me up a bit, and my young friend immediately took off his cap, bent over at a ninety-degree angle and, like a battering ram, plowed into one of the kids. The boys scattered and never gave me any trouble again.”

A MILITARY MED CRUISE 1950’s STYLE

Wandering back in memory gives a different perspective, a look through rose-colored glasses. In this case, I was on a cruise, with my mother and nine-year-old sister, on the US Navy ship General Maurice Rose, through the Mediterranean on our way to New York City. It was a full ship with a contingent of about 160 passengers who had gotten on in Tripoli. Military personnel and military dependents would be embarking and debarking as we sailed to Athens, Istanbul, Izmir, Naples, Livorno and Gibralter before docking at Brooklyn Navy Yard a couple of weeks later.

Williams Family Passport - Tupper, Viki, Darby, Garnette

Williams Family Passport – Tupper, Viki, Darby, Garnette. Little brother flew to Florida with our dad and didn’t join the cruise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a different and insular world aboard ship. Getting one’s “sea legs” is important in case there are any storms. We had a tumultuous one off the coast of Italy about halfway into our trip, but I managed to stay upright with all systems go. My family was lucky our cabin (narrow bunk beds and a private toilet, as I recall) was on boat deck and not subject to as much rocking and rolling as all the lower decks. The smells aboard ship are definitely distinct: a pungent combination of oil, metal and seawater. There’s also the mysterious aroma, to me, of adventure: new vistas, new people, new places.

All the newness was mixed in with old friends from high school at Wheelus Air Force Base who were also coming back to the States. We teenagers had our own teen club in the Aft Lounge, in the back of the ship, with rock and roll music and all sorts of social activities. The ship had a small theater—a room with a portable screen and folding chairs—and was stocked with movies: Missouri Traveler, Wild is the Wind, and The Careless Years, for instance. The only one I still remember, because I’ve seen it again, was Anna Magnani and Tony Franciosa starring in Wild is the Wind.

There were three seatings for meals in the formal dining room. As a reminder, a seaman would walk the ship’s corridors with a small xylophone, using his mallet to hit three or four notes. We had the third seating and joined three American teachers traveling home.

The Rose passed out old-fashioned mimeographed copies of the Rose Report every day. It listed the movie being shown that day, a few tidbits of world news, something inspirational from the Chaplain, and even a little history. According to the Master’s Morning Report for 28-29 June, 1958, we had traveled 167 miles since the previous evening at an average speed of 12.9 knots. This was Voyage 102 for the Rose.

The first day’s sail brought us from Tripoli to Piraeus, the port of Athens, and that evening we were offered a 3-hour tour on a large bus, modern for its day. After being on the continent of Africa for almost three years, it was a bit of an eye-opener to see people wearing Western clothing and to see stoplights for the first time. We walked around the rocks and the ruins of the Acropolis, but I’m sure the fifty years since have produced many changes, and I know a museum has been opened.

USNS Rose Montage

USNS Rose Montage

 

AN ARMY BRAT IN LIBYA

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.

 

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Our little family, which included Darby, my two-year-old brother and  Tupper, my six-year-old sister, boarded a military prop plane at Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey the week before Thanksgiving, 1955. We left a snowy landscape and headed southeast over the Atlantic, our circuitous flight path leading us first to the tiny Azores Islands. Propeller-driven planes, not as efficient as jets, required refueling stops. We landed on the islands about 3 a.m. Azores time, were roused from sleep, and dependents and military personnel were herded off the plane onto waiting buses for a trip up a windy mountain road for breakfast in a non-commissioned officers club. A couple of hours later we were jammed back aboard, but mechanical difficulties kept us on the ground several more hours. When the plane was deemed airworthy, we were flown to Nouasseur Air Force Base in Morocco for another stop and finally on to Tripoli. Military planes, whether carrying troops or dependents, weren’t on fixed schedules. You landed when you landed.

What seemed like days 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.

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