|Issue 56||August 2000||Volume 5 - Number 9|
Welcome to the CANDOER News. Suggestions as to what you would like to see in the CANDOER are welcome. Letters to the editor, articles consisting of general information, feature articles, G-rated jokes, or poems, written/submitted by retirees or OC/IM employees, past or present, will be published, unedited. Material may be submitted on a 3.5" floppy disk (disk will be returned) using WordPerfect Version 6.1 or earlier (if it contains graphics), on a plain sheet of paper (if it has no graphics) or via e-mail. The deadline for submitting material is no later than the 25th of each month. Material received after that date will be published in the next issue of the CANDOER, space allowing. Please, restrict articles/submissions to two single spaced, typed pages. No hand written submissions, please.
The snail-mail address for submissions or letters to the editor is:
Robert J. Catlin, Sr.
Publisher/Editor CANDOER News
2670 Dakota Street
Bryans Road, MD 20616-3062
A Web page is available to all members at: http://www.CANDOER.org. The WEB page, the current issue of the CANDOER News, and the two previous issues of the Newsletter are available on the Web site for free.
A new page has been added to the Web site. The page is entitled, "Serial Stories." The page contains several of the serial stories, written by members, that have been published over the past 5+ years. They are available to read in their entirety.
8/12 - Day 18 - 76.7 miles - Vertical climb 100 feet. A good cloud cover today for most of the ride, which made this a relatively easy ride. The short day gave us all a chance to ride relaxed and "smell the roses," so to speak. Not very exciting scenery. Lots of soy bean and cotton crops. Did have an opportunity to stop and watch the crop dusters do their thing for a while. What an exciting, dangerous profession. They appeared almost like stunt men, the way they flew close to the ground to do the dusting. Although the ride was flat, this means you must pump most of the day. Sometimes, a hill looks good to you because you can rest your legs while coasting downhill. Oh well, it would appear that you could never have perfect conditions, either too hilly or too flat. Tonight we stay in Greenville, Mississippi, at a beautiful YMCA. Our meal would be at a Mexican restaurant. It will be an early night, so we will be ready for our longest ride of the trip tomorrow. The ride is now becoming long and I am ready to have it completed. I suppose I feel this way now, as I am not looking forward to the long ride tomorrow.
8/13 - Day 19 - 109.2 miles - 190 foot vertical climb. Today we head for Vicksburg, where we will spend the night in a Casino. While the ride was quite flat once again today, there was a bit more scenery than yesterday. One stretch of the ride took us along Lake Washington. I believe we were told that this was the largest lake in Mississippi. Rode about 20 miles on one of the levees, where we saw many birds and other interesting sights. Although the ride was long today, it wasn't a bad ride, except for the last 10 miles. This stretch of the ride took us on rough roads, which were under construction and heavy truck traffic. We finally arrived at Harrah's Casino, tired, hungry, and ready for a rest. The hotel is beautiful, with beautiful, comfortable rooms. Our meal tonight would be a buffet in the casino, as well as in the morning before we leave. After dinner this evening, we toured the Vicksburg National Military Park. This is where, after a brutal 47-day siege, Confederate Vicksburg fell to Union forces on July 4, 1863. This won the North control of the Mississippi River and turned the tide in its war to subdue rebellious southern states. Until quite recently, the 4th of July was not celebrated in Vicksburg. Also on display is the USS Cairo, a Union ironclad gunboat sunk by Confederates. The gunboat was raised and restored after 100 years under water. Approximately 17,000 Union soldiers are buried at the Vicksburg National Cemetery, which is part of the national park. The Vicksburg City Cemetery is the final resting place for many Confederate dead. Toured some of the city of Vicksburg, as well, to see some of the many antebellum structures, many of which are open to the public. Since our time in Vicksburg was limited, we did not tour any of these structures. Spent a short time in the casino and it is a good thing it was a short time, as I did not make out as well as I did in St. Louis. However, since I am a rather conservative bettor, I only lost a few dollars, but I hate to lose.
8/14 - Day 20 - 76.2 miles - 1870 Vertical climb - Everyone continues to be amazed that we still have this cloud cover to ride in. It is supposed to be hot, hot, hot at this time of year and everyone was prepared for it. However, for most of the ride, at least before noon, the rides have been quite pleasant, as far as weather goes. Today is the same. After our buffet breakfast, we headed off for Natchez. This had to rate as one of the better days of riding that we had. The last 30 miles of our ride would be on the Natchez Trace which terminates in Natchez. The trail stretches 500 miles north to Nashville. This trail was first traveled by the Indians, the European explorers, and settlers. Before the invention of the steamboat, these northern and mid-western flat-boatmen rafted their wares down the Mississippi River, then walked home over what today is called the Natchez Trace. There is no commercial traffic allowed and very little automobile traffic on this road, so the ride was quite pleasant. Most of the ride was under shade. Since the ride was quite short today, I decided to take the time and stop by a restored way house. It was originally just a home. However, as more and more people began using the Trail, the owners turned it into a place to eat and eventually a place where people could stay overnight. It is the only restored building along the Trace. It occurred to me that I had not seen any dead deer along the highway, as we do up north. I asked the ranger about this and he advised that they are allowed to kill up to five deer during the deer season and sometimes they have no limitation at all. This is how they keep the deer population down. I thought, at the time, that this would be a way to resolve our deer population.
Dinner tonight was at King's Tavern, supposedly the oldest building in Natchez. It is also supposed to be haunted. It is a restaurant and has one bedroom on the top floor. I had baked catfish with bread pudding for desert. Both excellent. Once again tonight we toured the city of Natchez, to see the many antebellum structures in the city. It is said, that prior to the civil war, there were some 500 millionaires in Natchez, second only to New York City. Many of these old buildings are open for touring. Stayed at the Travel Inn tonight, which was adequate.
8/15 - Day 21 - 103.9 miles - 800 foot vertical climb. One more long day. If I can get through this day, I will have it made. This trip has definitely been long and I am really anticipating the final day. We left this morning about 6:30 on what was supposed to have been our longest ride. However, it ended up shorter than one of our previous rides, although a couple more miles wouldn't have made much difference, at this point. About midway into our ride, we crossed into Louisiana, at which point it began what would be a rainy drizzle for most of the remainder of the ride. This is not bad, however, as it is much better than riding in the severe heat that we had expected on this trip. At mile marker 66, we were ferried across the Mississippi where we passed the huge Big Cajun II Power Plant. I remember this place well, as I had a flat tire and ended up getting far behind the rest of the riders. Consequently, I rode most of the remainder of the ride alone. This was not all bad, though as I was able to reflect on the past several days and although tired and a bit sore, thinking what a wonderful experience I was having. Also, giving thanks that I made the time and had the good health to do something like this. The ride today was quite a pleasant one, taking us past many beautiful old mansions and homes. At mile marker 94, we were escorted over the Mississippi River one last time over a heavily traveled bridge. For safety reasons, we were escorted across the bridge by our support team. From this point on, we were riding through the city, which was extremely unpleasant and dangerous. Our long days ride was over to every ones delight, as we pulled into Baton Rouge. We would be staying at a Shonneys Inn and eating at their buffet tonight. Everyone was very excited about having only one more relatively short ride tomorrow. We were actually in a celebration mood, but decided it best that we wait until we finish our ride tomorrow before the celebration began.
8/16 - Day 22 - 76.5 miles - 50 foot vertical climb - Our last day and what a joyous mood everyone was in. We could hardly wait to get started. I suppose we felt the earlier we got started, the earlier we would finish. The ride today was totally flat and relatively short in comparison. Everyone seemed to ride at a casual rate of speed today because we were all to meet at a McDonalds restaurant, about 2 miles from the end of our ride. This would give us the opportunity for all to ride into New Orleans as a group. Once everyone had collected, we were each given a white tee-shirt that clearly indicated that we had completed the ride, and then proceeded to ride through downtown New Orleans on Canal Street on our way to the river, where we celebrated with champaign, congratulations and well wishes from many of the observers standing by. What a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. We rode our bikes back to the Holiday Inn, where we would spend our last night before heading off on our separate ways. We had a great final dinner together and were treated with a slide show from photos taken by one of the support staff. Everyone was reminiscing and talking about what a wonderful time they had, forgetting the many times that we had all complained about one thing or another. Only the good things were remembered. After dinner, several of us gathered and walked the famous Bourbon Street. I wanted desperately to get into Preservation Hall, but the lines were so long that it would have been near impossible and I really wasn't prepared to stay up all night, even though it had been a short ride that day. What a pleasure it is tonight going to bed and knowing I don't have to get up early the following morning and when I do, it will not be to get on my bike.
It has now been over a year since I took this bike trip. I have been reliving every minute of it, as I reread my notes to write this missile. Many people have asked if I would ever attempt to do something like this again. My answer is yes, but only if the mileage were shorter each day. I would be willing to go for a longer period of time, if the days ride was shorter. I felt that I did not have enough time to see everything there was to see for fear that I would be late getting back to the days final destination. I would also not be so worried about being the last one in each day. There is something about being the last one in and I didn't want to be that one. Next time I would forget my pride and just enjoy the ride. I have the highest regard for our tour organizer and his staff. They gave us more support than I could have ever imagined. It was due to their efforts that this was such an enjoyable tour.
I'm not sure that this article will be of interest to many people, but I did have a few folks that asked if I was going to write about the trip, so I felt compelled to do so. I would also be neglect if I did not thank, once again, the many, many people who donated so generously toward my fund-raiser for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. It made the trip all worthwhile and meaningful.
For those interested, I have done very little biking since this trip, except for my annual bike tour with Bike Virginia, which over a five or six day period. I will soon be looking for another extended bike trip to take and another long time wish has been to hike the Appalachian Trail. Anyone interested in either of these ventures? At this point, I don't know when I could fit either of these ventures into my schedule, but I can still dream.
CANDOERs Jim and Mary Prosser recently completed a sea voyage sailing around the world for two months on a Danish freighter. They kept a journal of the adventure and have made it available for the CANDOER News. It will be serialized in forthcoming issues, starting with the October issue. Those who have interest in taking a trip on a freighter sometime, get in touch with them. They have a lot of information and will be happy to assist anyone in starting their own trip.
The following people were in attendance at the July luncheon: Bob Campopiano, Bob Catlin, Lou Correri, Tom Forbes, Pete Gregorio, Charlie Hoffman, Ron Johnston, and Will Naeher.
On June 26th, a Web site application was received from Anthony and Gerda Bart. Welcome aboard.
On June 27th, a Web site application was received from William and Irene Mills. Welcome aboard.
On July 1, a Web site application was received from Charles and Xiomara King. Welcome aboard.
July 4th, a Web site application was received from Susan S. Carter. Welcome aboard.
July 19, a Web site application was received from Harry and Rae Ann Schneider III. Welcome aboard.
I was 23 years old when I entered the Foreign Service. It was the 4th of July, 1964 and a few of my contractor friends and I were in a local fire house bar drinking Rolling Rock beer celebrating my forthcoming departure from the "valley". I was to begin my FS career Monday, July 5. Well, that day and evening passed, and so did the Rolling Rock. I must have set my 1959 Coupe Deville on automatic pilot because the next thing I knew it was 4:00 a.m. and my dad was knocking on my car window, now in his driveway. He said, "Aren't you supposed to go to Washington today. Panic struck. I ran to my room, took a shower, grabbed my bags, and drove 175 miles to Washington by 9:00 a.m.. My Cadillac was long, clean, and impressive, and I needed a place to park. I saw a vacant parking place at the 23rd street entrance where other Cadillacs were parked. So I thought, "Hey, that looks like a good place to park.". How lucky I was to have found that spot so close to the entrance. I was young, new, and just as green as my Cadillac.
I knew how to find Elsie Crim. Now my head was clear from the beer drinking contest the day and night before. I looked presentable, but was worried about how I would hide my hands as they were dry, cracked, and bandaged up to my forearm because of cement poison I had from my construction work. Ms. Crim was nice about it and after about 10 minutes directed me to an area where I would sign more papers, get a briefing and a schedule of forthcoming classes to introduce me to life in the F.S.
I met two people who would become life long friends; Raymond Silva and Donald Ivanich. I had seen Ray the day of my initial interview several months before. Ray, Don and I decided to share an apartment. We were lucky. We rented an apartment in the Sherry Towers next to the Governor Shepard for $185.00 per month. That same day, I joined the SDFCU and took a loan of $750.00, as many new employees did. Let's see, at about $75.00 clear weekly, and considering my living expenses, I could safely make an allotment of $50.00 monthly and repay the loan in 15 months. What discipline.
At the end of the work day we picked up my car from where it was parked, and I was told NEVER to park there again. Hey, it didn't look out of place to me. But from then on I'd park in the basement of the Sherry Towers or have the car washed at the corner and leave it there all day.
Don and Ray liked my car and would drive it some evenings while I would play the role in the back smoking a cigar.
July 27 was the first day of training in the Office of Communications. Ray and Don were in other classes a week or two behind. My class consisted of seven young women and two men. The famous Jacque Kincade and I, Nancy High, Mary Anne Nape, Mary Lou Alvear, and the rest whose names escape me. We had a short briefing by Jack Coffey. That was the second, or was it the third, or was it the fourth highlight of my day since departing from home. Jack told us, with a smile, that there was $95,000 in the budget to purchase and maintain communications equipment that fiscal year. Get that.
All newly hired had to be single at least for the first 90 days of employment; and that I was. I had no idea that in less than a year I would be married. I saw a pretty Latin looking girl walking past the classroom and I had to take another look. So to get her attention I asked if she was lost and could I help. Probably the only thing I knew that she didn't, was that I was getting the better of the deal looking at her than she was looking at me. Mary Lou was wearing a white blouse, yellow dress, and had a purse thrown over her shoulder. She said she was looking for the OC training classroom. I immediately escorted her in and sat her down next to me on my right. Within the next week cupid had gone to work and we were using the same M-19 to type a practice messages. She with her right hand, me with my left. I guess that was the beginning of not only a career, but also a companion for life. From that time on when you saw only one of us, you would look for the other. During that training period I would help several girls (Mary Lou included) with communications procedures while Joe Hazewski did the same in his class one week ahead of me. The end of the training day meant it was time to go the Governor Shepard and cash in on the happy hour. Most of the girls went home, but Glenn Turkelson, Jim Maron, Betty Coers, Barbara Anne Gregory, Joe Hazewski, Ray Silva, Donald Ivanich, and I would have almost perfect attendance. Instructor George Hanna would join us at times and so would Lindy. Those poor waitresses would earn their money without a doubt. At the apartment, I would always do the cooking and Don and Ray cleaned up. I liked that. It was a good trade.
At the end of training Mary Lou and I knew our destiny. She was scheduled to go to Bonn at the end of October and work for and with Lou Correri, Fred Shalala, and Don Norton. I, on the other hand, had no co-workers to look forward to in Bukavu, which, by the way, is in Africa; not South America. What did I know?
My departure day had arrived. Mary Lou and I were at National Airport and I was checking in. There was a long line of passengers. My bags were overweight to the tune of about $50.00. Hey, that was a lot of money. I opened my bag, while others watched me go to work taking out things I could carry. I was still overweight. Time was rapidly passing, and as I began opening my bags a second time I was told that it was okay to close them. A miracle had happened. All of a sudden my luggage wasn't overweight anymore and I was checked in. The passengers behind me suddenly were in a better frame of mind. I was green, but I saved fifty bucks.
Mary Lou and I were sitting saying our good-bye's and keeping an ear for the announcement of my departure. Too much time had passed so I went to the counter to inquire about my boarding time. I was told that all the passengers had already boarded and the plane was taxiing for departure. In desperation I ran down the ramp and out on the tarmac waving my arms and yelling that I had to get on that plane. Airport employees were motioning me back, and people were looking out the terminal probably wondering who the jerk was on the tarmac. This was my first assignment and I had to get on that plane. Then the engines were turned off, and the stairs moved next to the plane. Minutes later I was in the air embarrassed, but nevertheless on the plane. This time I was a little red, but still green, and on my way to the Belgium Congo.
In Jakarta, WHCA had just completed a Presidential visit and they were taking a couple tons of equipment back as hand carry. Singapore Airlines had the best connection, so we took the hundred or so boxes of equipment into the airport where they were tagged. Singapore Airlines saw this was a big job so directed us to the First Class counter which wasn't that busy. We finally had all of the bags weighed, tagged, and now it was time to give the lady at the counter the passenger ticket. I was standing beside the WHCA guy and I mentioned to both him and the clerk at the counter, that for all of the bucks that he is spending, surely he should be upgraded to first class. Without further hesitation, she grabbed the different colored boarding pass and put him in first class.
After that transaction, the WHCA guy remained next to the counter getting his papers together as other customers stepped up to the counter to take their turn. All at once I overheard a very irate American screaming, what do you mean first class is full, I reconfirmed less than 24 hours ago and I heard her say its normal to reconfirm 12 hours before your flight in Jakarta. For some strange reason, I knew that reconfirmation even an hour before that flight wouldn't have made it.
My uncle Bill Jones, was a farmer, deputy sheriff, and game warden of rural Langlade County in northern Wisconsin. He lived near Bryant (pop. 100 when they were all there) and knew everybody and every place in the county.
Actually, he wasn't my uncle, he just treated me like a nephew. Bill Jones was everyone's uncle. There wasn't a more likeable person around. He was an astute judge of people and their characters.
One day back in 1960, he had to make a trip into the county seat, Antigo, for supplies. Whenever he did, he always stopped early in the morning for coffee at the Dixie Cafe. There he traded area news, views, and small talk with numerous others.
On this particular day, when he pulled up to the Dixie Cafe, he noticed Harold Schwartz's tractor parked in front. Considering Harold lived several miles outside of town, it was highly unusual for anyone to drive a tractor into the heart of downtown Antigo (pop. about 6,000 then).
"What in tarnation are you doing with your tractor in town, Harold? Are you fix'in to trade in for another?"
Harold was fuming. "Hell no! Last night someone stole the drive shaft from my car!"
Now Bill knew Harold, a farmer of limited means, drove a 1946 DeSoto sedan that had seen an awful lot of miles, but remarkably, was kept in pretty good condition. It was all the Schwartz family could afford.
Bill said, "Do you have any idea of who might have stole the drive shaft? I'm not even sure if there are any DeSoto cars left in the county."
"Nope", said Harold dejectedly, "I haven't seen any either."
"Harold, I'm as upset about this as you are. Without that car, you and your family are stranded way out there on County "S" without any transport. If you need a ride, you just call me or Mabel and we'll be right over. And, oh yes, I'll pick you all up for church Sunday morning. In the meantime, I'm going to check into this right now."
Leaving the Dixie Cafe, Bill drove over to Bender's junk yard on the southwest side of town. There he found his friend, Greg Bender, pulling apart another vehicle.
"Greg, do you have any DeSoto cars in the yard?", Bill said.
"Naw, I haven't had one of them around in several years. Funny thing, you're the second person who's asked about DeSoto parts this week", said Greg.
"You know that young Larry Kozlowski from over on Forest Road east of town? Nice kid, about 17, just graduated. Helps his folks on their farm a lot. He was here the other day looking for a DeSoto drive shaft. What do you need? You got a DeSoto, too? Maybe I got something from a Dodge or Plymouth which might match."
"Thanks, Greg. Yea, I know the Kozlowski family," said Bill, "I really don't need anything, but you've helped me."
On his way back home through town and out the north end, deputy sheriff Bill Jones spotted a DeSoto car parked at the A&W root Beer drive-in. He pulled in next to it and greeted Larry Kozlowski and two of his buddies, Al and Pete.
Bill exclaimed, "I never realized that the old car in the tall grass behind your Dad's machine shed was a '46 DeSoto! Did you fix it up?"
"Sure did," said Larry proudly, "but with the help of Al and Pete, too. I needed to repair a lot of parts to get it going again. The biggest problem was the drive shaft. It had to be replaced."
"You know Larry", Bill said, "a terrible thing happened last night over at Harold Schwartz' farm. Someone removed the drive shaft from the family car, which just happens to be a '46 DeSoto. Those poor folks are now stranded without transportation four miles out of town. Where did you manage to get a drive shaft?"
Bill asked. "With luck, maybe Harold can find one too."
"Over at Bender's junk yard," replied Larry.
"That's odd," said Bill. "I was just over there and Greg Bender said he don't have a DeSoto in the yard, but that you wanted a DeSoto drive shaft earlier this week. Please show me the sales receipt for the drive shaft you purchased."
"I, I don't have one," stammered Larry.
Bill also noticed Al and Pete squirming around a bit, appearing to be mighty uncomfortable.
Without being accusatory, knowing full well they were the miscreants but wanting to give them an opportunity out of a serious matter, Bill said: "Fellas, you were all Boy Scouts here at one time. Now you'll surely recall Boy Scouts are supposed to perform a good deed daily for someone in need. I think the Schwartz family is certainly in need and this is a golden opportunity to show them how as scouts you are willing to help. So, when you finish your hamburgers, you go back to your farm and remove the drive shaft from this car. I'll be over in my pickup truck about 4 o'clock to take all of you with the drive shaft to the Schwartz place to make sure you get it installed correctly. Okay? And when Harold asks where you got the drive shaft, you can truthfully tell him, 'from that '46 DeSoto in our back yard'. The Schwartz's will be pleased as punch, won't they?", said Bill with a wide grin.
In addition to the occasional centipede in Israel, we had lizards around our house. These were somewhat larger than the gecko that got into Jim Prosser's skivvies. They were 8 to 12 inches in length as I recall. They used to scare the wits out of me when I'd be trimming the hedge around the house. There I'd be, quietly snipping and trimming when suddenly there would be a crash within a foot or two of where I worked. The first few times it happened I jumped back in alarm and didn't note that, right after the crash, a lizard would scramble away from the site. When I realized that these incidents were caused by lizards that fell off the side of the house, I was just startled whenever it happened. The outside of our house was stuccoed so there was a good enough surface for the lizards to grasp but I don't know why they fell so often. Perhaps they were doing okay until they looked down and saw a human nearby and then panicked.
Some time I'd get home from work and take a beer out to the patio and relax while my wife prepared supper (dinner to youse snobs). Among the things to do in that relaxed state was watch the Israeli fighter plane that ran through maneuvers every afternoon from about 4 to 5 pm. The plane would make a low level approach to the beach; stand it on it's tail and fly straight up until it was a speck. Then it would turn back inland and disappear off to the east. In a few minutes it would come screaming back and repeat the maneuver. I was reminded that, according to a friend in the Israeli Defense Force, that anyone who wanted to practice shooting a machine gun or whatever could shoot all day but if his barracks roof leaked, too bad. It was also said that Israeli fighter pilots had to fly a minimum number of hours, which (I forget who) a friend in the IDF told me was much higher than USAF pilots had to fly. Also, if a pilot wanted to fly twice that number, he could go to it. They liked their military people to be good shooters and fliers. You could say they were motivated.
One afternoon I sat our there, watching the fighter practice whatever it is called when my attention was diverted to a rapping sound that seemed to come from the huge tree that was at one end of the patio. After a while I couldn't resist having a look. I quietly moved to the end of the patio and looked up and spotted a hoopoe (about the same size as a roadrunner;) that had a snake in it's bill and was wrapping the crap out of it against the tree limb. Then I also understood why we'd find empty turtle shells here and there.
One morning I awoke experiencing what it must be like to be an insect inside a guitar. There was a series of twangs; a pause and another series of twangs. I went outside to have a look around the house. Now it's important here to understand that the TV antennas on our flat roofed houses were supported by three wires that, in our case, were about twenty feet in length. So, in a way, the combination of flat roof, tower, wires, and antenna elements resembled a guitar. The twanging came about when a very dumb woodpecker pecked at the tower. The wires resonated like the strings on a guitar and the sound was transmitted throughout the house.
When the amusement wore off, after a few days, I went out back with my pump action BB gun and shot at the tower. Woodpecker got the point and went looking for bugs in more likely places.
After 33 years in the Foreign Service, all of which were spent overseas, I have many great memories to keep me entertained in my retirement. One of my more vivid recollections is of my family's experience (at least the parts that I still remember) during the Qadhafi led revolution in Libya beginning on Labor Day of 1969. Any errors in any of the events below are strictly due to my faulty memory and the passage of time and not any attempt on my part to change history.
Oh impetuous youth! After a cushy and fun-filled first assignment in Copenhagen, Denmark as a Department of State communicator, I was newly married and (I believed) ready for adventure. So, with little understanding of what I was doing, I requested a one-communicator "hardship" tour, where I could be my own boss and experience life in a more exotic setting. Sitting comfortably at my computer 34 years later, I can only imagine the glee on the face of the OC placements person as he or she acted quickly on my request (before I could change my mind) and sent me on my way.
Libya, when I was assigned in 1968, had three Foreign Service posts. There was the main Embassy in Tripoli, the Embassy Office in Benghazi, with seven or eight assigned Americans, and the Embassy Office in Baida, with three permanent American positions. Benghazi, at that time, was a sleepy outpost on the Mediterranean Sea. Periodically, King Idris, the Libyan monarch, would travel from his primary capital in Tripoli and set up shop in Benghazi or Baida; and, rather like the current arrangement in South Africa, the seat of the government would be shifted to one of those locations for the length of his stay. When this happened, a part of the Tripoli U.S. Embassy staff would travel with the Ambassador to be available at the new capital.
Life for foreigners in Benghazi in those pre-Qadhafi days was good. The Libyans were friendly and there was a large ex-pat community of oil workers who were fun to be around. King Idris, despite being a devout Muslim, had a fairly relaxed attitude toward foreigners and allowed them quite a bit of latitude, as long as they didn't meddle in the religious tenants of his Islamic countrymen (and women). For example, there were bars at all the major hotels that served alcoholic beverages to westerners and even liquor stores where, if you showed your passport, you could buy liquor by the bottle for outlandish prices. The Libyan people were fairly content with their "simple" life. The king demanded that the oil companies drill a water well for each oil well and the edges of the desert were beginning to flourish because of this newfound abundance of water.
It was against this backdrop of quiet contentment that Qadhafi chose to overthrow the king while he was taking his annual vacation in Egypt. The details of this military coup led by a young 28-year old army lieutenant are well known so my story will concentrate on how the events of the day related to those of us at the U.S. Embassy Office and, in particular, how my family and I coped.
On March 24, 1969, our family had grown by one when our first child, Karen, was born in Wiesbaden, Germany. Returning to post after the birth, we spent a quiet and uneventful summer enjoying being new parents. Then, at the end of the summer on Labor Day morning, prior to leaving for a long scheduled vacation to Malta, we were enjoying a rare chance to sleep late when a series of popping noises woke us up. At first I thought it was simply a car backfiring close to our apartment building but, at my wife's insistence, I reluctantly got out of bed to discover that the soldiers she said were shooting in the air from the roof of the apartment building across the street and level with our bedroom window were not merely a figment of her imagination. About the same time, the Embassy radio began bleating at us. This was not an uncommon occurrence because the single-channel radio network was also used by the relay station in Athens to call in Fred Rich, the lone TCU communicator, for high precedence traffic. Normally it took Fred 15-30 minutes to get into the Chancery and clear the channel. Until that time, it was impossible to use the radio. When more than 30 minutes passed without the cell-call being de-activated, we decided that something was happening and that the small arms fire we were observing was not the Libyan army treating us to a personal Labor Day show. The fact that the telephones were not working properly was not particularly alarming, since this was not unusual.
My memory of what we did next, aside from watching the events unfold outside our windows (while trying not to be seen), have been dimmed by the passage of time; but I do know that it wasn't too long before a military convoy, which included at least two tanks, stopped in front of our apartment building and principal officer George Lane (escorted by military personnel) got out of one of the staff cars and came up to our apartment to take me to work B where I would remain, pretty much full time, for the next month. That month, and probably the remainder of my time in Libya, became the most exciting period of my Foreign Service life. As I think back on this time, many years later, three things stand out in my memory. Oh sure, there were other highlights that I remember like sleeping on a couch in the office for a month; eating C-rations; drafting freehand any and all Administrative and Counselor cables while sitting at the keyboard (there was no time to do anything formally and we were working with a reduced staff) and burning everything that was classified in the entire building. But. for me, these are the three things I think of most when thoughts of those exciting days in Libya creep into my mind.
THE BIG SCARE
At the time of the coup, there were three American employees who lived in downtown, Benghazi -- two single secretaries and my family and I. We all lived in the same apartment building across the street from the Grand Hotel (which later became famous for hosting several high level VIPs of the ousted government). On Labor Day of 1969, the Principal Officer's secretary (Ida Beer) was on vacation in Morocco and out of harm's way. The other 5 employees, and their families, lived outside of town in the same community where the oil people and their families lived and far removed from much of the coup activity. The downtown area, where the three of us were housed, was ground central and nearly all the coup activities that did not take place at one of the military bases happened near our apartment building. In the early days of the overthrow, this caused me a great deal of worry because my wife and child were stuck in their apartment located in the danger zone. This fear came to a head during the end of the first week of the coup. My wife and I were in regular contact on the radio and we checked in at pre-set times. On this day, I heard that there was a mob of demonstrators coming down the street towards our apartment and they were smashing windows and anything else in their way. I immediately tried to call my apartment but there was no answer. Then, when our regularly scheduled call went unanswered, I really began to worry. Unable to think of anything else, I left the Embassy office before anyone could stop me and headed straight for our apartment. Aside from the danger, this was even more foolhardy because the Libyan Army contingent ringing the Embassy office had orders to let people leave but to keep people from getting into the chancery. Because of the many military checkpoints and the need to keep away from the mobs, the usual 5-minute walk took at least fifteen. Upon arrival, imagine my surprise when I saw my wife and Priscilla Neher (the other single secretary) out on our balcony watching the goings on. Not really realizing the potential danger they were in, they were having a gay time watching the proceedings. They had been unable to hear the radio because of the noise of the crowds. Seeing that the danger had passed and everyone was fine, I retraced my steps back to the Chancery where I encountered a young Libyan soldier guarding the front door who, of course, spoke no English. My Arabic capabilities were equally impressive and we got nowhere fast. Finally, an English-speaking officer approached and asked my business at the Embassy. I explained that I was an employee and was returning to work. He was, at first, adamant that I not enter the building but, after much discussion, he let me enter with the promise that I wouldn't stay more than 5 minutes. I can't recall what I told him to allow me to enter for this short period but, needless to say, I didn't come out again for several weeks when our guards were removed from in front of the chancery. Immediately following this incident, my family was moved out of town to stay with friends and, for me, the worry went away.
To preclude reprisals and stop any counter-coup attempts, the Qadhafi regime immediately clamped down on all military camps and the large metropolitan areas of Tripoli and Benghazi. In the cities, this meant a 23-hour curfew in the early days. As the chances of the coup succeeding became greater, the curfew was gradually lessened until it was in effect only during the nighttime hours. As a result of the acceptance of the new government by the Libyan people, efforts to legitimize the new regime in the eyes of the rest of the world became the next order of business. We at the Embassy Office in Benghazi were to take a large part in this process since Qadhafi and his fellow coupsters were located in our fair city.
I don't claim to have any insight or direct knowledge of what thought process brought the U.S. Government to finally recognize the Qadhafi government. I was, however, heavily involved in the events that led up to the notification of this legitimacy. For my part, it all started late one morning when Principal Officer George Lane informed me that the new Libyan leader was on his way to the office prior to going to the airport to meet a Soviet delegation that would be recognizing the new regime. It was understood that the U.S. would be embarrassed if the Soviets recognized the Qadhafi Government first. In retrospect this seems a bit silly in view of future U.S.-Libyan relations. Nevertheless, in those cold war days it was perceived that the first to recognize the new government would, somehow, be the victor. Therefore, it was thought to be imminently important that we recognize before the Soviets. George asked me to inform him the moment the notification, either pro or con, arrived. Knowing the narrow time frame, TCU chief Fred Rich and I requested and received a direct teleconference line into the circuit at the main Embassy in Tripoli where the notification would first be received. We told Tripoli what we were up against and said we didn't need formal notification, just a simple yes or no followed later by an official cable would be acceptable. While our urgent preparations were going on, Qadhafi had arrived at the chancery and was sitting with George Lane awaiting approval. Looking back, I'm not sure why it was so important to Qadhafi that we recognize his regime before the Soviets but he certainly gave us every chance to be first. He waited in George's office until the very last moment. During this tense period, Fred and I were constantly bugging and keeping the Tripoli Embassy updated of the time remaining. Finally, just as time was running out, the teletype started chattering and we received a "YES" reply from Tripoli. I snatched it from the printer and ran to the front office. Since we were without secretaries and any Embassy protocol and formalities had long been forgotten, I barged into George's office just as he was shaking Qadhafi's hand prior to his departure. Handing George the approval I made a quick departure. Never before or again have I been so close to any event that shaped world history. Even though I was an insignificant clerk in the whole chain of events, I have vivid memories of the part I played in this little drama and of standing alongside Qadhafi holding the notification.
THE CLOSING OF BAIDA
The Embassy Office in Baida was located in a small, sleepy village that had only one thing going for it (aside from being located near the magnificent ancient Greek and Roman ruins of Cyrene)--it was the former home of King Idris. The King was determined to move the seat of government to his boyhood home and had built miles of empty apartments and office buildings to house the government staff that had been ordered to move there. In the fall of 1969, only a few ministries had actually made the move from Tripoli; but, seeing no alternative, others were scheduled to follow in the coming months.
With the fall of the Idris regime, Baida was no longer deemed to be a viable seat of government, and all foreign missions were ordered closed. An Embassy official from Tripoli was designated to travel to Baida to assist with the removal of the communications gear and other classified material and to accompany it by truck to Benghazi where it would be pouched to another location. The officer and the driver were on their way to Benghazi (a three to four hour drive) when a fire broke out in the back of the truck. As they were trying to put out the fire, members of the Libyan Army arrived and drug the officer off to jail upon finding a couple of thermite grenades (used in those days for destroying safes and their contents) which they thought were weapons. Our officer remained incarcerated while the Embassy driver returned to Benghazi and notified the Embassy Office. Principal Officer George Lane then was able to find and free him after several hours. As I remember it, accommodations in the Libyan jail were less than first class and the officer was extremely relieved to be released. For his efforts in fighting the fire and the harrowing experience of being hauled off to a Libyan jail, our man was awarded the Superior Honor Award. Some of you may remember reading his article on the subject in the NEWSLETTER (now STATE magazine).
Upon hearing the official version of what went on that day, the Embassy driver who had been there told me that at least one little detail had been left out of the storyCthe fire started when the officer threw his cigar butt out the window and it landed in the back of the truck. I saw our friend several times over the years before he passed away. We talked about his famous adventure, but he was very reluctant to discuss anything about a cigar butt. We'll never know which version of the story is true; but in the end, I guess it really doesn't matter.
With the coming of the Qadhafi era, there were many immediate changes to our life in Libya. Many of the oil people, particularly the families, left quickly. All signs, which had previously been written in Arabic and English, were changed to Arabic only. Alcoholic beverages were no longer permitted or available. The Peace Corps and Military Advisory Group were no longer welcome and soon left the country. Soon thereafter, my family and I departed for our new assignment and then the Embassy Office in Benghazi was closed. Not long after that, the Embassy in Tripoli was over-run and closed. To date, it is still closed and likely to remain in that state for a while longer. Needless to say, my family and I never made it to Malta for our vacation but several years later we were assigned to that interesting island country for 2 years. That, however, is another story for another time.