|Issue 59||November 2000||Volume 5 - Number 12|
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 : www.CANDOER.org. The site has the current and two previous issues of the CANDOER News available to read, or download. Two downloadable versions are available: a ENVOY 7 format and a WordPerfect 7 format. Both are accessible to those who have donated to the news fund or memorial funds and have received their password.
It is with deep regret that I inform you of the death, in September, of Paula Pickering. The funeral service was held on Wednesday, September 13th at St. Mary's in Alexandria, VA.
Monday, February 14
More smooth sailing today. The forecastle deck is available and a delight on this 72F day. Sun screen lotion must be liberally applied to avoid a burn, on the north Pacific, in February! How fortunate we are. A very large bulk cargo vessel passed us this afternoon heading east. Otherwise, we are still alone out here.
Tuesday, February 15
During the night we sailed over the Japan Trench, the second deepest place on the earth at 34,038 feet.
Mark, the 2nd mate, at breakfast, reported sighting two whales shortly after dawn while on his bridge watch. We missed them.
Today turned out to be another rather wild ride at sea. Very strong head winds (gale force-12) from the west came up right after breakfast and were with us all day. They made an angry sea, blowing the tops off the high waves! The skies were partly sunny all day, but really interesting to observe, with clouds flying by at terrific speed. The waves, perhaps 30 feet high at times, had a relatively short distance between them. The Dagmar MAERSK, with its 958-foot length, was riding about four waves at a time. So there wasn't much pitching, for our speed was reduced to less than half to ride out the waves in a relatively smooth fashion.
Wednesday, February 16
The gale has subsided considerably to force-8 today with bright, sunny skies. The waves are down to the 10-15 foot range thereby allowing the ship to travel normal speed again. Today's 55F temperature is also more like what we expected traversing the north Pacific in February.
We have already sighted four large vessels today. Coincidentally, two of them passing within about five miles were from the MAERSK Line, one an empty supertanker heading from Japan to the Persian Gulf for replenishment, the other a container ship a bit smaller than ours heading for Taiwan and numerous ports along the way home to Copenhagen.
"Land Ho!", exclaims Sheldon Wellbrown excitedly. We have sailed 5,285 nautical miles from Oakland. By noon, our position is just off the south coast of the Japanese island of Kyushu and the small northern islands of the Ryukyu Islands, both of which are clearly visible. One of them is a volcano and puffing steam profusely. This area undoubtedly is an important crossing point for many ships are going all directions.
Thursday, February 17
After a calm night on the East China Sea, we arrived three days late at the new Korean container port of Kwangyang, about 100 kms west of Pusan.
During the night the weather turned very cold. When the ship docked at 0745, it was 38F on a brilliant sunny day, but with a very brisk, damp wind to penetrate directly to the bone. This was our first visit to Korea.
We disembarked about 0900 to mail letters, make a number of ATT Direct telephone calls, exchange E-mail messages, plus check out the sights and wonders of downtown Kwangyang.
What followed was a most pleasant surprise, but also a warm reminder of how nice the Korean people really are. We did not know what to expect.
After breakfast, Mary and I, along with Sheldon, another passenger, went ashore to do a bunch of errands. We were walking over to the public telephone box at the stevedore's shack when a young man came over to check our passports and port shore passes.
He did not speak much English, and of course, we spoke no Korean, so we motioned to him we were going to make some telephone calls, then get a taxi to take us into the city for a few hours sightseeing and minor shopping.
He motioned for us to come with him. He went inside the office, then came out with his boss. The boss checked our shore passes again and said the man was getting off duty, and if we liked, he would give us a ride into Kwangyang and back to the ship later. How could we turn down such an offer?
Through our excellent hand signals or Korean sign language, we explained we wanted to do a bit of souvenir shopping, mail some postcards, make a few international telephone calls, plus send and receive a bunch of E-mail messages. No problem!
Off we went. The first stop was at the telephone company main office. There we took care of the phoning. I mentioned to the young lady behind the desk (she understood a little English) that I had a laptop computer and would like to hook into a line to send/receive all my accumulated E-mail messages. She said, "No problem."
She called one of her colleagues to come and help me. He took me into another very large room in back which actually was the KTelcom training center. He said, "hook your computer onto this line and make your connection with Pusan". I said it might take some time for there had to be a lot of accrued messages. He said "No problem."
In the meantime, Mary, Sheldon and the driver/guard were out in the front section of KTelcom 'surfing the net on one of the public INTERNET locations.
In the back room, I was sending my messages and downloading 95, yes 95, messages, since last signing on two weeks ago. When it was all finished, I said to the man that I was on the line with Pusan for exactly 45 minutes and asked what it would cost me. He said, "Nothing, this is the training center for our staff and we do not charge. We are happy to serve you." And I was delighted to do business with them! I thanked him profusely.
Korea definitely is the "no problem" country. After finishing our tasks, the driver/guard took us on a sightseeing trip of this very new city. It already has 120,000 inhabitants and every building looks as if it is less than ten years old. Construction is everywhere. The roads appear as if they were finished last week. There are new train lines for container trains. The apartment buildings are certainly colorful, if not psychedelic.
The main activities of Kwangyang are the port, the Hyundai Steel Works, a petro-chemical industry, and the container terminal of the port, all of which are indescribably enormous.
Back at the ship, we thanked our "tour guide" and gave him a gratuity for his invaluable assistance. We still can not believe our good fortune of this day.
It turns out there were many more containers to process here than originally anticipated. Our Kwangyang port call stretched to 12 hours longer than the ship's officers would have liked, for they felt the pressure to "get moving". Setting sail for Kaohsiung, Taiwan at 1915, the ship was now three and one-half days behind schedule, something which cannot be made up.
Friday, February 18
Awaking at 0500 in the East China Sea and peering out the window in the almost full moonlight, it was as if we were passing a small city about a mile off shore from the Chinese mainland. In reality is was the Chinese fishing fleet spread out from horizon to horizon, each vessel with a bright light! There were 100 boats if there was one. What a sight! But what a headache for those navigating up on the bridge. The boats give way to us for the gigantic Dagmar MAERSK does not maneuver easily. Fortunately this ship's horn is fixed on the foremast, more than 200 meters from our cabin. We don't hear it when it is sounded as we learned it often was last night.
The day was considerably warmer than yesterday, but heavily overcast with hardly any wind. Fishing boats were visible everywhere all day long.
After supper, the air temperature which had been at about 60F most of the day, shot up to about 75F in one hour's time! The humidity went to about 100 percent and stayed there. And twenty-four hours ago, we were near freezing in Korea!
The following 18 people were in attendance at the October CANDOER luncheon: Bob Catlin, Paul Del Giudice, Tom Forbes, Charlie Hoffman, Pete Gregorio, Joel Kleiman, Ken Loff, Mel Maples, Millie Muchoney and Teddy Bear, Will Naeher, Tom Paolozzi, Bob Scheller, Ron and Linda Steenhoek, Val Taylor, John Tyburski, and Dan Ulrich.
On September 27, I received a Web site application from Dennis and Teresa Nelson. Welcome to the CANDOERs.
On October 3, I received a Web site application from Jim and Carol Rubino. Welcome to the CANDOERs.
On October 4, I received a Web site application from John and Lily Davis. Welcome to the CANDOERs.
On October 7, I received a change of address, telephone number, and e-mail address for Phil and Mary Blanchard.
On October 10, I received an e-mail application from Susan Musser. Welcome to the CANDOERs.
On October 10, I received a change of address from Ann and Leo Cyr. They have returned to the US of A from KL. Welcome back.
On October 17, Dick Geary notified me of a new e-mail address.
October 18, Denis Combs notified me of a new e-mail address.
On October 19, Wayne Cashwell notified me of a new address, telephone number, and e-mail address.
On October 25, I received a change of e-mail address for Jim and Carol Steeves.
While in Madrid in 1971 and single, I bought several guns at the Torrejon Air Base Rod & Gun Club. My objective was just to buy a pistol with which I would fend off criminals in my home, at my next third-world post. The salesman at the R&G Club persuaded me to buy a .45 Llamar pistol, which was in the shape of an Army .45. The cost was $45.00. He said it would stop anyone browsing around my stereo equipment or messing with my wine. I agreed to buy it, then he asked if I was married. I wasn't but he said I might get married in a year or two and I thought it was a possibility so he suggested I buy a weapon for the little woman. Since I was certainly concerned for the woman whose identify I didn't know yet, I looked at the .38 Llamar which was also in the shape of the Army .45. I bought it, too. Then he reminded me how expensive it is to fire away at a target ("you'd want to be a good shot") with either .38 or .45 ammunition. He had a solution for that problem too: buy a .22 Llamar which was also in the shape --- you know. Very cheap ammunition. So I bought all three guns.
A few years later, the little woman and I were assigned to Dublin. She carefully read the post report and noted that I was not allowed to take rifled weapons to Ireland. Shotguns were ok but no gun with a rifled barrel. She pointed that out and asked what I'd do with the pistols. I said not to worry; in my business it is nothing to be concerned with. She digested that information, or rather she tried to digest it, but it kept coming back up. My argument centered on where we were going after our Dublin assignment such as Lower Slobovia or one of many places where people hired full-time guards; had high walls with broken glass on them, and nasty dogs. All that kind of stuff. It didn't work. She persuaded me to get rid of the guns. Her argument was short and sweet: "The guns or me!" The guy who bought them got quite a deal; they were beauties and the current price for them at the R&G Club was a lot higher than what I'd paid two years earlier. I wasn't very happy with the situation but, as mentioned before, I'm not confused about who is in charge.
Upon arrival in Dublin my predecessor showed me around the commo section, which is surprisingly large for a two-man shop. As we walked beyond the "box" and the disintegrator room we got to a vault door. Now since the whole damned place was a vault I was curious about this vault inside a vault. No sensible explanation was offered but he did mention it was where we stored guns for Embassy personnel among other things. I said,"Come again." He opened it and showed me pistols, rifles, shotguns all with tags identifying the owners. You can perhaps imagine my feelings when I saw this situation. I had been forced to sell my guns and ended up having to be the custodian for everyone else's guns. As Bill Bendix used to say in "The Life of Riley", what a revolting development that was!
Jane Goodall is a world renowned primatologist who runs a research station at the remote Gombe Stream Reserve on the Tanzanian shores of Lake Tanganyika. In the dark of the night, 40 armed raiders came into the camp area and asked the African guard, "Where are the white people." This was the beginning of an intense period that was to stretch over a period of several months. Extended travel, logistics planning, substantial shopping, and high level negotiations with intermediaries and Washington became routine.
I was the Regional Office of Communications radio technician and was directed to charter an aircraft and proceed to Kigoma, Tanzania, to perform a survey for installation of a radio communications network. Since I'd never even heard of Kigoma, I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen.
The twin engine aircraft landed on the dirt strip outside of Kigoma and I was met by the head of of the Tanzanian park service, Derek Bryceson who also happened to be Jane's husband. He drove me to the home of an American research specialist, who was involved in establishing a shrimp fishing project for the Tanzanian government. I then met another American, the consul from Zanzibar. He informed me that we were there to establish a base of operations to conduct negotiations with local authorities, to determine the welfare and whereabouts of four students who had been kidnaped on the evening of May 20th. We would need to set up a communications network that would allow us to communicate with the American Ambassador in Dar es Salaam, as well as my office in Nairobi, Kenya and neighboring Embassies in East Africa.
After surveying the area and making a list of essentials, including food, I returned to Nairobi to assemble a communications package. Unlike today, when you have access to portable satellite systems and cellular telephones, my equipment was large, heavy and not easy to use. It required several trips to bring in the necessary equipment, and due to the remoteness of this village, a great deal of "Yankee ingenuity" to install and activate the radios.
We had commandeered the shrimp specialist's home as our base of operations and although he and his wife were exceptionally good hosts, they must have thought it strange that we chose to "bunk" in their home. It wasn't overly large, but it did have electricity as well as windows -- definitely attractive features. We created a situation room and after installing some radio transmitters, we were able to contact the Ambassador in Dar es Salaam, Beverly Carter.
The students who were kidnaped consisted of three Americans and a Dutch woman. They had come to East Africa as summer interns to assist Ms. Goodall in her research on chimpanzees. Although Ms. Goodall and 11 other students managed to escape unharmed, the kidnap victims would face many weeks of fear and doubt in the Zairean jungles on the opposite side of the lake.
During our conversations with Ambassador Carter, and the intense oversight of State Department experts, we continued to make progress in our efforts to free the students. Six days after the abduction, Barbara Smuts from Ann Arbor, Mich., was released with instructions from the kidnappers which outlined their demands for money, ammunition, release of political prisoners, etc. At this point, complex negotiations were conducted in Bukavu, Zaire, Bujumbura, Burundi, Dar es Salaam, Washington, and Kigoma as well.
I made numerous trips back and forth to Nairobi, and one of the most important priorities was purchasing foodstuffs for the command center personnel and our hosts. Kenyan steaks, real butter, soft drinks, laundry soap, paper products, and fresh vegetables were cheerfully received, but when the jar of Skippy peanut butter was placed on the table, the hostess gave me a hug and a kiss. "Its almost like being home in the States." she said, with tears in her eyes.
On the 25th of July, the three remaining students were released and much to everyone's delight, no physical harm had been suffered by them. The Ambassador deserves a substantial amount of credit for overseeing this very delicate situation, especially in light of the aftermath that was sensationalized in the press.
Terrorism has been very much a part of life in the foreign service for over twenty years, but this particular incident was especially pleasing because of the successful release of the victims. Kigoma's still a small village on the shore of the lake, chimp research continues at Gombe, but the memories of those days in the East African bush are still quite vivid -- and certainly not routine to me!
Tommy and I worked together at the USUN for twelve years and became fast friends. He has since passed away and will always be in my memory, especially the many good and hard times we shared.
Tommy grew up in Hells Kitchen in New York and survived that experience, along with his brother. He had lost his mother at a very young age and his father was left the job of raising his two young boys. That he did admirably, and though many of the boys friends wound up in jail or worse, they came away unscathed. Tommy was a pretty good amateur boxer, perhaps that helped keep him on balance in Hells Kitchen.
Before working at the USUN, he had joined the Navy at age 18 or 19 and was a submariner. His service brought him to the shores of Japan during WW II, where his submarine made it through the blockage and, I believe, they sunk one or two Japanese vessels, before safely escaping. That was Tommy, brave and unafraid. He later was discharged with honors.
When serving at the Mission, he was one of my most dependable communicators among a very fine group, which included Frank Trainer, Paul Merighi, Joe Magliocco, George Bethavas, Joe Fitzgerald, Joe Cangelosi (an infantryman who fought in Italy) and two interesting fellows from the Virgin Islands, O'Reilly and Russell. O'Reilly eventually returned to the islands and became a very successful politician. Though I had tried to get our group identified as Foreign Service, it was not possible. However, we started to leave the Civil Service and join the FS, starting with Frank Trainer, then Tommy, Paul Merighi, and myself, and later two others, though not from the original group.
Frank went off to Paris , I believe, and I went off to Bonn. Tommy went to Paris and Paul to Karachi. As soon as we could, Paul and I agreed to meet in Paris and spend a weekend with Tommy.
Tommy lived in an apartment building that also housed DeGaulle's son, so we got a close look when we arrived to bunk with Tommy. Paul and I were visiting France for the first time and Tommy already knew his way around, especially the bars, which he had long ago mastered in New York. None of us were particularly interested in drinking, but wanted to taste Parisian life. Our first venture took us to a small bistro where, as we entered, there was accordion music, very French and very exciting for us. We had the usual fare, steak and pomme frits and took in the tempo and watched the French in action, socially. It was great fun. That night, we decided to take in the night life and were hoping to see the Follies and all the lovely bare breasted chorus girls. Well, we couldn't get in because of the predominately tourist crown. Tommy came to the rescue and took us to a lesser known showplace, where we were squeezed around a small table and bought our obligatory champagne bottle. Thanks to the crowd, the waiter could not get to us to urge us to spend our francs. The show was inspiring and seemed to go on forever. There were singers, dancers, a magician, and a fine array of chorus girls. I don't know what time we got home, but it was late and we were ready to hit the sack. We managed to escape the ladies of the night who beckoned.
The next day, while Tommy and Paul went off to the Louvre, I went to Napoleon's tomb and the Museum Militarie. Housed in the museum were the finest military works which the French Government had commissioned to record the history of the Franco Prussian war period, by two renown artists, De Neuville and Detaille (he was the student of De Neuville). It was then, and will always be my most passion of any art, the recording of that period. (This will be a separate story, at a later date.) I spent hours there and knew most of the pictures from my early childhood and later life passion.
Paul and I were anxious to know if Tommy had become interested in any woman since his arrival and the answer was "not seriously." Years before, in New York, we had prepared a bachelor party for Tommy due to his upcoming marriage to an airline hostess. We had a wonderful time, but the marriage did not come about.
After we saw Paul off to Karachi, we had a couple of hours before my plane and Tommy promised to return the visit to me in Bonn. That happened after a short while and we had a great time. Tommy had his share of beer and the heavy German food and was impressed with the Plittersdorf housing and the Embassy itself. (Though I mention bars and drinking, Tommy was not a heavy drinker and, I believe, it gave him a social setting to a bachelor's life.)
In 1969, when I was sent to Beirut, Tommy later became the CPO there, and we resumed our past friendship. Anne and I had invited Tommy over for lunch and he asked if he would bring a friend. That was more than welcome, as we were very curious whom the friend was. It turned out she was a dazzling young woman, highly educated, charming and interesting, and able to master at least three languages. Of course, we later queried Tommy if this was the one; as usual, he escaped marriage, once again. Tommy certainly could pick them, but again, remained a free man. Though often close and sought after, Tommy never married.
Our friendship endured for all those years and we often met at USUN to renew old times, as well as to meet socially, as often as we could. Tommy eventually moved on to Florida and our correspondence served to keep us together. He never missed a St. Patrick's Day parade in New York, and returned each year and he and Fitzgerald participated as god Irishmen should. In Florida, Tommy became the president of the community housing.
When my correspondence went unanswered several times, I queried several of our mutual friends and could only learn that they too had not heard from him. I went to the Department and was unable to get any direct answer, except that Tommy was no longer n the rolls. I had to accept the fact that he had passed away and to this day I miss him and am happy to renew all our memories with smiles and happiness. He was one especially fine person and a devoted, dear friend.
On one occasion there was a airplane crash deep in the mountains. Our company headquarters detailed a group of us to find the airplane. The pilot and co-pilot bailed out but they had a passenger who did not. We boarded trucks and went as far as we could through fields and dirt roads into the mountains. We stopped by a farm house, which was as far as we could go with the truck. The farmer told us where the crash had been. We had to use ropes to climb a steep hill to find the wreckage and evacuate the remains of the soldier, which we wrapped in a parachute. After some difficulty, we were able to lift him down the hill, and then drive back to Asheville with the body.
One night I had duty on the evening shift as orderly at company headquarters in the Asheville Biltmore Hotel. I received a call from the Chief of Police. He requested assistance to quell a potential riot in the Black section of the city.
I called the company commander, who ordered about 30 men to fall out with helmets and gas masks and to report to Police Headquarters for further instructions. As it turned out, a Black infantry company, en route to New England from maneuvers in Louisiana, stopped to bivouac on the outskirts of Asheville. They were not granted leave to enter the city and a large number of them went AWOL and entered Asheville to let off steam. They ended up in the Black part of the city where the police put up barricades to prevent them from entering other parts of the city. This made the black soldiers very angry and the situation fast became explosive.
When the officer of these troops heard of the problem, he came to police headquarters and met with the Chief of Police and our company commander. He asked for a chance to cool the situation down. The compromise was that we would make an appearance of force to back up the officer and the police. After about three hours or so, trucks arrived and the Black troops went aboard and left the area.
They did some damage to store fronts. I heard later that the troops were charged and fined. The fines were used to pay for the damages. Many of us were sympathetic to their situation. After spending many months on maneuvers, they just needed some place to let off steam. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.
After one year in Asheville, I volunteered for overseas duty in the Central Pacific. I had expected to join Captain Wayne Whiting, who had been in charge of my shift wen I was in Washington. He had been assigned to Appamama Island in the Gilberts and needed a Communications Center Chief. I departed for MacClelland AFB, California, by train, after a few weeks home leave. There, I received combat training, ostensibly to prepare for the invasion of the Philippines. It seems that they had closed Appamama and I had been reassigned. I was sent to Fort Lawton, Washington, to be transferred to Hawaii. From there, I was scheduled to depart to meet the task force, that was being formed on Enewitok in the Marshal Islands.
I left Fort Lawton on a troop ship. There were about 2,000 soldiers and a 1,000 Italian prisoners of war on board. As you can imagine, it was quite crowded. We slept on canvas hammocks, which were stacked three high to the ceiling. There was barely room for a barracks bag between them. Our ship ran unescorted, most of the time. During the trip, our group of eight communicators published a newspaper by copying press news received on the ship radio. The rest of our time was spent in chow lines. For several days, we were able to contact several large battle ships with escort vessels which appeared on the horizon several times. This gave us some comfort because there had been some submarine activity reported in the area at that time.
When we arrived on Oahu, about one week later, we boarded open gondola-type-railroad cars and went to a camp on the other side of Oahu to await transportation to Eniwetok. This was an isolated camp of wooden shacks set in the hills on the north end of the island near Mokelia Point. We spend much of our time fishing, swimming, and when we could, we made frequent trips to Honolulu, where I met up with Captain Whiting. He had been reassigned to Guam and said he would send a request for me to be assigned to him there. After a month, our commanding officer went to Honolulu where he discovered that the task force to which we were assigned had departed for Eniwetok. It seems that headquarters had lost our location. Substitutes from other islands in the Central Pacific area were sent to back fill behind us.
A squadron of P-38 fighters had returned from combat in New Guinea. They had received many casualties and were regrouping and training at the Mokelia Point airstrip. I made friends with one of the pilots and asked him for a ride. One of the planes had a back seat where they had removed the radio equipment. It was rather crowded. The pilot decided it would be nice to so some aerobatics. I gained a lot of respect for those fighter pilots during that flight.
We had a casualty while at this camp. With very little to do, we frequently went to the beach. On one occasion, a shark attacked one of our men. He was between the beach and me. Some of our men went out to help him. I broke Olympic records swimming in and didn't stop until I was a yard up the beach. He was taken to the hospital and I heard he recovered but had some very bad scars on his legs. This incident ended the swimming sessions.
Go back now ... Close your eyes ... And go back ... Before the Internet or the MAC, before semi automatics and crack ... Before SEGA or Super Nintendo ... Way back ...
I'm talkin' bout hide and go seek at dusk.
Sittin' on the porch, Hot bread and butter.
The Good Humor man,
Red light, Green light.
Penny candy in a brown paper bag.
Playin' Pinball in the corner store.
Hopscotch, butterscotch, double dutch
Jacks, kickball, dodge ball, y'all!
Mother May I?
Red Rover and Roly Poly
Hula Hoops and Sunflower Seeds,
Jolly Ranchers, Banana Splits
Wax Lips and Mustaches
Running through the sprinkler
The smell of the sun and lickin' salty lips....
Watchin' Saturday Morning cartoons, Fat Albert,
Road Runner, He-Man, The Three Stooges, and Bugs,
Or back further, listening to Superman on the radio
Catchin' lightening bugs in a jar,
Playin sling shot.
When around the corner seemed far away,
And going downtown seemed like going somewhere.
Bedtime, Climbing trees,
An ice cream cone on a warm summer night
Chocolate or vanilla or strawberry or maybe butter pecan
A lemon coke from the fountain at the corner drug store
A million mosquito bites and sticky fingers,
Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians,
Sittin on the curb,
Jumpin down the steps,
Jumpin on the bed.
Runnin till you were out of breath
Laughing so hard that your stomach hurt
Being tired from playin'.....
I ain't finished just yet.....
Eating Kool-aid powder with sugar
When there were two types of sneakers for girls and boys (Keds & PF Flyers) and the only time you wore them at school, was for "gym."
When it took five minutes for the TV to warm up, if you even had one.
When nearly everyone's Mom was at home when the kids got there.
When nobody owned a purebred dog.
When a quarter was a decent allowance, and another quarter a miracle.
When milk went up one cent and everyone talked about it for weeks?
When you'd reach into a muddy gutter for a penny.
When girls neither dated nor kissed until late high school, if then.
When your Mom wore nylons that came in two pieces.
When all of your male teachers wore neckties and female teachers had their hair done, everyday.
When you got your windshield cleaned, oil checked, and gas pumped, without asking, for free, every time. And, you didn't pay for air. And, you got trading stamps to boot!
When laundry detergent had free glasses, dishes or towels hidden inside the box.
When any parent could discipline any kid, or feed him or use him to carry groceries, and nobody, not even the kid, thought a thing of it.
When it was considered a great privilege to be taken out to dinner at a real restaurant with your parents.
When they threatened to keep kids back a grade if they failed ... and did!
When being sent to the principal's office was nothing compared to the fate that awaited a misbehaving student at home.
Basically, we were in fear for our lives but it wasn't because of drive by shootings, drugs, gangs, etc. Our parents and grandparents were a much bigger threat! And some of us are still afraid of em!
Didn't that feel good. Just to go back and say, Yeah, I remember that!
There's nothing like the good old days! They were good then, and they're good now when we think about them.
Share some of these thoughts with a friend who can relate, then share it with someone that missed out on them.
I recently retired from the Department of State after 33 years of continuous Foreign Service life that spanned 12 straight overseas posts. Just before it was time to retire, I started thinking about writing a little bit about each of these assignments so that I could share the experience with my immediate family. Then, a few months ago, I saw Bob Catlin's appeal for stories. Bob mentioned that he was running out of material for the monthly CANDOER. This got me thinking that - maybe - some of the material I was planning to write might be suitable for Bob's needs. Most of the information for the family would not be about work but there were probably a couple of work-related incidents that I might be able to cull out of my story and send along to CANDOER. What I've found since I started writing is that as soon as I remember one event it jogs my memory about something else. My problem has been not to make these articles too long - just the opposite of what I expected. I still don't think most of it will be of interest to anyone who is not a direct family member or who was not at that place at the time the incident occurred. That hasn't stopped me from writing about these experiences. Whether this is my final CANDOER article depends upon whether or not I can recall work related things that happened at any of my other postings. When I choose the next post to write about I'll determine if there is enough CANDOER material to send along. We'll see! The following events took place in Togo from 1973 to 1975. Seems like just yesterday but it has been more than 25 years.
I was obviously still in a European mode after three years in Bonn, Germany because, when a colleague handed me my new assignment notice, I assumed it had been received with a slight garble. Surely the "L" was meant to be an "R"! Moving to Rome would be great and would fit in with my request to stay in Europe. I was aware that there was a capitol city somewhere in West Africa called Lome but I certainly hadn't included any West African countries on my list of next post choices. Of course in those pre-Open Assignments days it was not necessary to send you where you wanted to go. There was very little negotiation at the lower levels and one went where one was sent. It didn't take long to discover that there was no garble and in a short time my family and I were on our way to Lome, Togo where, for the second time, I would be the lone communications person at post.
I'm sure that the Embassy in Lome has changed a great deal since that summer day in 1973 when my family and I first arrived. At that time, the chancery was located in an old villa a couple of blocks from the sea. The staff consisted of 10 U.S. Foreign Service employees and a goodly number of Foreign Service Nationals. The communications office was on the second and top floor on the sea side of the building. It consisted of 3 separate and connected rooms. The largest room had probably originally been a bedroom. It had two windows and was being used to store excess equipment. One of the windows looked out at the Atlantic Ocean (or more precisely the Gulf of Guinea) in the distance. The middle room appeared to have once been a small and narrow bathroom. The third room had been converted into a vault and contained the communications equipment. For some reason, my predecessor had his office located in the small middle room - probably because the service door looked directly into this space and it was a shorter walk to assist customers from this location. But wow - a chance for an office with a window. Not just a window, but one with a view. This just doesn't happen to a Foreign Service communicator. At least it had never happened to me before nor did it ever again. I wasted no time in changing my office and locating my desk so it looked out at the sea. From that idyllic location I spent every spare moment daydreaming and enjoying the view. I'm certain my 2 years in Togo would have been much less memorable without my window with a view.
As it turned out, the view was much better from afar. To the Togolese, the availability of a sandy beach at the perimeter of the city was heaven-sent and meant that a public restroom was always nearby. The beach was pretty to look at from a distance but, if you wanted to keep your feet or footwear clean, it surely wasn't a place you wanted to go for a casual stroll. Enjoyment from afar was pretty much how you wanted to enjoy this beach. Of course, there were plenty of other beaches outside the city that were reasonably clean and could be enjoyed up close and personal. These included the "ex-pat" beach where most of the foreign mission people went on weekends and the famous topless beach at the German hotel a few miles out of town that attracted plane loads of tourists (primarily German) looking for sun and fun. This beach also attracted its share of "gawkers" who weren't there to look at the sea. I suppose a few Embassy types were included in this group but I don't know anything about that.
As I had discovered two tours earlier in Benghazi, being the only communicator assigned doesn't allow much time to daydream - even if you have a window. For much of my two years in Togo, I worked 7 days a week. Well not 7 full days but at least a portion of every day. On Saturday, I came to the Embassy to clear the Friday night messages from Washington. This usually meant staying until at least 1400 (2:00 p.m.). On Sunday evening, it was off to the airport to meet the Diplomatic Courier. If an emergency arose or a vacation was needed there was always the back-up communicator (DCM's secretary in this case) to fill-in. But, as anyone who has ever been lucky enough to serve with a back-up communicator knows, this can often be an "iffy" proposition. Some back-ups take to the work like pros and enjoy the respite from their other work. Others view it as a necessary evil. To be fair, they are usually overworked in their primary duties and have bosses that aren't always understanding when they are away from their primary duties for long. But, somehow, the work always got done even if it meant that I had a huge backlog to contend with when I returned. Consequently, it was usually better to avoid absences. I believe the Department is now paying Office Managers extra when they have Information Management responsibilities. This should, I would imagine, improve interest in performing these duties.
During much of my tour in Lome the Diplomatic Courier arrived every Sunday evening. The flight was scheduled for arrival at 2000 (8:00 p.m.) but, of course, you never knew when it would actually arrive. Waiting for couriers at night in a boring airport is not one of the things I have become nostalgic over since retirement. Not unlike many places, the "AIR CHANCE" flight to Lome was always late and no one ever knew in advance when it would arrive. Consequently, it was always necessary to go at the expected time and wait for the flight to arrive. Late one Sunday night I was, as usual, sitting in the terminal waiting for the courier to arrive when I heard a large plane buzzing the airport. This went on for several minutes. The passengers waiting in the terminal and I moved quickly to the windows to see what was happening. We could clearly see the lights of a plane as it dove at the terminal building and then headed back up skyward. Some thought the pilot was drunk. Others guessed there was a mechanical malfunction of some kind. Checking with airport officials produced only shrugs. Finally, after some time, the plane landed and I headed out to the tarmac for the exchange. My first question to the courier was "what happened?". The courier, trying not to sound too flustered, told me that the plane was buzzing the tower because the employee or employees in the tower had fallen asleep and hadn't turned on the runway landing lights. The plane, scheduled to refuel in Lome, did not have enough fuel remaining to fly to an alternate field. Calls to the tower went unanswered so, unable to see where to land and becoming desperate, the pilot had begun diving at the tower until he was able to wake the tower guys up and get them to turn the lights back on, enabling the plane to land. Shortly after this incident the schedule was changed and the courier began arriving during the daytime. While I was in West Africa there was a saying that was prevalent and covered situations like this: "WAWA" (West Africa Wins Again).
Whatever the reason for the change to the courier schedule, the Diplomatic Courier now began spending two days in Lome before resuming the long West African run. To a small staff tired of looking at the same old faces day after day, this became a welcome visit. Vying for the right to host the courier became a weekly sport among mission members but, since I always met them first, my wife and I were guaranteed at least one night per week where we dined with the courier. Given the number of great restaurants in Lome during those days, we thoroughly enjoyed this privilege. Couriers spend many boring hours in planes and airports and always seem to have a number of great stories to tell and, in our experience, never passed up the opportunity to do so.
Oftentimes, when we long for those days long past when things were slower and simpler, we forget that maybe, just maybe, things weren't quite as good as they now seem. The Lome 30 words-per-minute (that's how it was described in those days - I'm not sure what that corresponds to in bit rate but not many) circuit is a good example of this axiom. In these days of nearly unlimited bandwidth it is hard to conceive of such slow circuit speeds. But, in the early 70's, we had to make do with what was available. In those days, the international carrier to most of French-speaking Africa was France Cable. France Cable, utilizing radio equipment, provided the Embassy a protected 30 word per minute data circuit working directly into the unclassified wireroom in the Embassy in Paris. Having a protected circuit meant that the circuit would operate only when the distortion rate was below a certain level. During periods of high distortion, the circuit remained idle. At night, long-haul radio propagation is less than ideal meaning that there were long periods when the circuit was not usable. Normally, this was not a problem because the circuit was not manned at night and no one cared what percentage of the time the circuit was operational. It was only important that the telegrams were received by the opening of business each day. This arrangement worked well except when high precedence messages were received that required the communications person (me) to come to the Embassy. In those days in Lome there were no Marine Guards. High precedence messages were formatted to ring a bell in the Embassy courtyard causing the local guard, who wandered around out there, to call me into the chancery. If the telegram was unclassified, it was usually easy to quickly determine what, if any, action to take and leave. Classified messages, however, were another kettle of fish. The messages were formatted to ring the bell at the beginning of the telegram but the entire message needed to be received before it could be decrypted. If the atmospherics were right and the cable short, this went fairly rapidly even at 30 words per minute. But, when the atmospherics were not right, it became a nightmare. Imagine being awakened at 2:00 a.m. and watching a teletype machine located in the mailroom plink along one character at a time and then stop for long periods until the propagation was right before proceeding - maybe for just a couple of additional characters. Sometimes it would take 2 hours or more before the entire message was received. Since I had no idea how long the message was or if the circuit would clear up, I was forced to remain and watch the teletype go plink, plink, stop, plink, stop, etc. Sometimes I would doze off while staring at the teletype only to awake with a start thirty minutes later and discover that nothing had happened. If I ever had it in me to become an alcoholic that circuit would have taken me over the top. While I never did learn to "just lie back and enjoy it", I did finally learn to co-exist and live with it. Slower is not always better!
I guess this is as good a place as any to finish this tale of Togo. Left untold is my experience making the weekly CW call into the relay in Monrovia. Or, there was the time my family and I drove the length of Ghana, to Ouagadougou, to visit friends. These, and several other stories were brought to mind while writing the above. They are, however, left for another time and another forum.