|Issue 61||January 2001||Volume 6 - Number 2|
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
As I reflect upon my experiences during my time in the Central Pacific, I realized that the following stories are musings and memories of events that happened over 50 years ago. At that time, I was not concerned about many of the philosophical and esoteric political issues that may interest me today. I often regret that I did not spend more time reflecting about the political problems of the area. The Japanese had occupied these islands for several years. Such questions as, "How did the Japanese treat you when they were here?" "Were you forced to work for them?" "Did they pay you money for working?" "Did they molest you or your children?" "What restrictions were placed upon you?", etc.
Reflecting on this now, I realize that the natives, particularly in the Marshall Islands, really did not care one way or another whether the Japanese occupied the islands or the Americans, as long as they were able to conduct their daily lives with a minimum of interference. They did not understand nor care about international strife and "Democracy" was just a word to them. The conflict between the Japanese and the U.S. was confusing to them. I got the impression, as I reflect on those times that they were not at all concerned.
My document is written without benefit of a journal but rather from memory of certain events, which remain with me. I have often desired to Makin and Kwajalein. I have since learned that Kwajalein is no longer a pristine South Sea Island Paradise it once was but is heavily populated with U.S. Government personnel who have constructed high rise apartments with a shopping center and other administrative buildings to support the "Down Range” missile site for AEC. What a Pity!!!!
Makin Island in the Gilberts
Shortly after we arrived in Hawaii, we boarded a C54 cargo plane for the Central Pacific islands to replace the men who were sent to the Task Force. We first landed at Johnson Island, about 500 miles south of Honolulu, for refueling. I was told that this Island was owned by a citizen of Honolulu and was part of that city. The island was just a sand bar. It was said that, if you stood in the middle of the runway, you could pee in the ocean on either side. I tried it and I found the statement to be an exaggeration. We landed on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands that night. When we got off the plane we saw a sign in Base Operations which read "If some one was to give the world an enema, Kwajalein would be where they would put the hose." I was assigned to a detachment on Makin Island in the Gilbert Islands. I soon departed Kwajalein and arrived on Makin, a few days later. I remained there for three months.
A Marine fighter squadron was stationed on Makin. They flew Corsair fighters and Torpedo Bombers. Their mission was to frequently attack the nearby Jap occupied islands to prevent them from receiving supplies. I was told that one of the Pilots was Col. Charles Lindbergh, who was allegedly, a consultant.
On one occasion, at the end of a mission, while I was taking a shower, the siren on the control tower went off announcing the presence of enemy aircraft. It seems that a Jap zero had joined the back end of one of the squadrons and, when our planes landed out of fuel, he strafed the strip and part of the island. We all hit the trenches, which were filled with dirty water from the shower, run off. Our showers were made of airplane fuel tanks set on stilts. The tepid water was hand pumped from a well into these tanks that were fitted with showerheads. No one knew where the Jap came from or where he went. We suspected that he just flew until he ran out of gas.
The operational plan for the Central Pacific area was to establish bases on several large islands and then "by-pass" the other islands, neutralizing them with frequent air attacks and preventing resupply. Tarawa, in the Gilberts was one of the first island bases from which the flights to neutralize the Japanese held islands were launched. Subsequently, Makin became an alternate base. The attempts by the Japanese to resupply the bypassed islands were unsuccessful because of the vigilance of the U.S. anti submarine dive-bombers and other aircraft from Tarawa, Makin, Majuro and Enewitok.
Makin was a beautiful, unspoiled, South Sea Island covered with coconut palms and other foliage of the type you expect to see in the movies. The weather was balmy with cool breezes. We had plenty of time for fishing and hunting shells. I still have a box of them in my dresser drawer. Some day I will make some jewelry out of them. Perhaps Katie or Allie might want to do that some day.
Our job was to keep communications circuits open and to receive any planes coming through while certain items were dismantled and shipped out. I lived in a tent with three other men. The tents were set on a platform on the (reef) ocean side of the island. The night I arrived on board the C-47 cargo plane from Kwajalein, after I was asleep in my tent, there was a loud commotion caused by a soldier from another outfit on the island that went berserk. He was trying to swim home. It seems that the surf was too strong and kept pushing him back onto the shore. We called the MP's and he was subdued and sent home on a "Section 8" (battle fatigue) discharge caused by the heat and boredom.
A few days later, a patrol flight discovered a small landing craft several hours at sea. Also, one of the island landing craft was missing. It appeared that two sailors had cached supplies and navigation equipment and fuel on board to perhaps reach another island and decided they would try to go AWOL. A patrol boat was sent out to intercept them. This was my introduction to the paradise islands of the Pacific.
I vividly recalled that, before I left Oahu, during a physical examination the dentist set up an appointment for me six month later because the medics had said that they recommended against anyone being left on those islands for more than six months. Later, on Kwajalein, I had five men from my section sent home for battle fatigue and they never heard a shot fired in anger!! I remained on those islands for 23 months! It seemed that those guys had no outlets, never went to the chapel and did not have any hobbies and were pretty much loners.
After WW I, the Gilbert Islands were mandated to the British. Makin Island is also shown on some maps as "Butaritari". The natives lived in thatched huts, wore the typical grass skirt and the women went bare breasted. It was amazing how quickly we became used to this. They did their laundry by smashing it with small stones and rubbing it in the sand. The women gathered in small groups as sort of a social event and all of them were bare breasted of various shapes and sizes. Obviously this was of some interest to the men and they gathered to watch the event. After a while, the Native Chief asked for a meeting with the Island Commander to complain about the soldiers who would stand near by and laugh. The Island Commander soon issued orders that the lake was out of bounds. The Chief said the Commander misunderstood him. He said it was all right for the soldiers to watch but not to laugh. We became used to this. On one occasion some one, who will remain nameless, offered to buy a grass skirt from one of the natives for a pack of cigarettes. She immediately took off the grass skirt and accepted the cigarettes. When the guy offered her a large bandanna to cover herself she wrapped it around her head. I wonder whatever became of that skirt?
Surprisingly, the natives on Makin were Catholic, even though it was mandated to the British from the Germans after World War I. The Catholic church was more inclined to accept the mores of the natives as long as they accepted Christianity. For example, a native could have a mistress as long as his "wife" did not complain of neglect. On Makin, a native who worked for us had a mistress who we called "Butaritari Mary." She was attractive as far as Polynesian natives go, full breasted and built very much in proportion. The man spent more time with her than he did with his wife. After a while, his wife complained and "Mary" was sent to another island in the atoll until he cooled off. The native chief ruled the island and native justice prevailed as long as the British Island Commander had no objections and the priest was satisfied.
Our Communications Center was underground, covered with a heavy, thickly thatched roof covering the large room, to keep the rain off the equipment. We had to walk down steps to get to the center. This was located about two blocks from our tent area, down a path, through a stand of coconut palms. One night, my relief did not show up on time. I waited until 11:30 and called on the field phone to the tent area. They told me my relief had left the area about 10:45. So they sent out a search party. They found him on the side of the path unconscious from a large coconut, which fell and hit him on the head. From then on, we all had to wear helmets on our way to and from work.
It is with sadness and deep regret that I inform you of the death of a retired communicator, Polly Holman Pandjaitan. Polly passed away, due to heart failure, Monday, December 4th, at 11:23 a.m., in California.
Thanks to Nsamuel Carden for furnishing this information.
It is sadness and deep regret, I inform you of the death of Ned Paes last night. Ned broke his hip earlier this week and the decision was made to operate on him to repair the break. Shortly after the surgery, Ned suffered a massive blood clot and died.
The Paes family asks me to thank you for all of your prayers, we know that God has heard and answered each and every prayer. God bless you all.
/s/The Paes family
The above information received from Bill and Dolly Markham.
A donation has been made from the CANDOER Memorial fund to the American Cancer Society in Ned's name.
It is with sadness and deep regret that I inform you of the death of Sue Bevacqua.
The following was received from Carmen:
Sue passed away on Monday, Dec. 18, 2000 at Potomac Hospital. We are having the Funeral Mass on Friday, January 5, 2001 at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Lake Ridge, VA, at 11 a.m. The burial will be private.
Sue's tumor of 17 years ago raised its ugly head and came back with a vengeance. She went quickly, peacefully and without pain. She is now in God's hands and at peace. Wishing you and yours a Blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year.
A donation has been made to a charity of Carmen’s choice from the CANDOER Memorial Fund, in Sue's name.
If anyone has any information on how to contact Audrey Anderson, (FYI: She retired.) I would appreciate knowing how to contact her.
The following people attended the December luncheon:
Paul Bofinger, Cal Calisti, Chuck Chesteen, Paul Del Giudice, Tom Forbes, Pete Gregorio, Charlie Hoffman, Mel Maples, Will Naeher, and Dan Ullrich.
• November 28, I received a web application from Dan and Blanche Desmond. Dan retired as Director of Area Telecommunications Office in Manila in December of 1973.
• November 29, I received a web application from Donald and Elaine Dull. Don retired in 1978 and now resides in Honolulu.
• December 4, Lou Correri notified me of a new address for Bob Lucas.
• December 5, 1 received a web application from Robert and Anne Bright, who retired in 1996. Welcome aboard Bob and Anne.
• December 9, I received a web application from John Rohal., who, by the time you read this, will have retired from his assignment at FRC Ft. Lauderdale and is living in Coral Springs, FL. Welcome aboard John.
• December 13, Ed Watson notified me of a change of address. He is now living in San Antonio.
• December 17, I received a web application from Wade and Add Taylor. Wade is presently assigned to Beijing. Welcome aboard Wade and Add.
• December 17, I received a web application from Paul and Eleanor Eickman. Paul is presently assigned to Washington. Welcome aboard Paul and Eleanor.
• December 21, I received a web application from Frederic and Manette Bullock. Fred has retired and now lives in Manson, NC.
During my years in Cape Town (1980-1984) NASA regularly put crews up to continue research in space. One such mission, during a TDY I had to make to Johannesburg, was to end about when I was scheduled to return home.
I had left my wife and two young daughters in "the mother city" for the two week TDY. A phone call to them every day helped to ease the separation. As the TDY was drawing to an end my five-year old excitedly told me about the space shuttle that would pass right over the city. My wife said the weather forecast was not favorable so they probably wouldn't be able to see it and the kids - heck the whole city would be disappointed.
I was able to catch an early flight back to Cape Town so I actually got back a few hours before that last pass. I remember we had supper and then immediately went outside to the street, expecting to see nothing but clouds. We knew the pass was going to be from north to south and someone calculated that since our street was similarly oriented, the satellite should move parallel to our street. Deciduous trees lined our street providing a narrow opening to see through and the sky seemed very cloudy indeed. There was a kind of festive atmosphere in the street. Neighbors from up and down the street were outside, looking for holes through the clouds. We were excited, knowing that, even if it was going to be obscured by clouds, the satellite was going to pass over the city.
Within just a few minutes, someone up the street shouted, "there it is!" We looked toward the north end of the street. Amazingly, there was a clear "avenue" between the trees and through the clouds and moving along that path was a light so bright it couldn't be missed. There was a roar of excited approval and then people rushed back into their homes to the TV where the landing was going to take place at, I guess, Cape Canaveral in just a few minutes. The landing took place without incident and it was over. I don't know who was more excited, my girls or me.
A few years later, in Virginia, my daughters were at home from school because of snow. The kids were outside playing when my wife heard on the radio that the shuttle launch was about to take place so she called to them to come see it. Only my oldest daughter took and interest so she came in it while my wife continued slaving away in the kitchen. Suzy was absorbed in the launch preparations for Challenger. She watched as it launched but in a few minutes she called "Mom, something looks funny." Indeed, it had blown up.
Saturday, February 19
Traveling along the close western shore of Taiwan, we still did not see land because of the poor visibility. Three miles was the limit. But, we saw plenty of fishing vessels. Navigating through these waters is like driving through the traffic of the Via Veneto in Rome during rush hour.
The 0800 temperature was already 75F. The chief engineer said the sea temperature was now 70F, and after Hong Kong when it should reach 80F, he'll fill the swimming pool.
At breakfast this morning, the captain was disappointed the ship had lost four knots speed the past 18 hours due to the highly unusual four knot current in the Formosa Straits at this time of the year. The ship headed straight into it. Consequently we arrived in Kaoshiung Taiwan at 1200 noon, three hours later than anticipated.
When the outline of the city began to arise out of the heavy overcast we were astounded to view a skyline that was full of skyscrapers, one of which is 85 floors high. We eventually learned that was the "Formosa Building". It is unique in that the bottom 40 floors are two separate buildings spaced about 30 meters apart. On top of the two buildings, in the center rests the single 45 story tower on a connecting platform. A small airplane could easily fly through the hole below.
Now the sun was out and this town was steaming hot. After lunch we three passengers left the ship, hired a taxi and had the driver take us into the city center. What a colorful city this is. There is plenty of visual blight with huge colorful Chinese lettered signs hanging on all available space. A national presidential election is soon to take place we gather from the trucks with booming loudspeakers going around. The driver said the population is well over 1,000,000. He wasn't exactly sure. Nor could anyone else we spoke with give us a reasonable number.
Riding through traffic certainly was exiting. Glad we did not have to do any driving. Our taxi driver had numerous "close calls" which did not seem to faze him at all. Chewing beetlenut constantly, spitting the red juice into a cup on the console between himself and passenger, he just zoomed onward. Jim just closed his eyes, putting his trust in the dear Lord to get us through it all safely.
While there are a lot of automobiles on the street, the number of motor scooters far surpasses that of Naples, Italy. People who ride them often wear cloth masks to filter out the air pollution the rest of us breath. The scooters are parked on the sidewalks from one comer of a block all the way to the next. At 1700 when everyone was starting to head home, the sight of about 500,000 motor scooters all taking off simultaneously in all directions was not only colorful, but rather interesting. Many are double riders, helmeted young ladies in short skirts showing lots of leg, or a parent with child holding a toy or tonight's supper (live). With all the riding we did, we never observed an accident. Somehow all this motorized chaos works.
The driver took us to the Hotel Kingdom in the city center and dropped us. We arranged to have him come back at 1700 to take us back to the ship, which was about 10 kms away.
We wandered about the streets, changed money, wrote/mailed some post cards, shopped a bit, drank large bottles of the local beer (outstanding) then tried unsuccessfully to send/receive E-mail messages. The local contact numbers either did not answer, or when they did, a connection to CompuServe's system was never realized. Oh well, Hong Kong is the next stop.
The local Chinese were celebrating the last day of the Chinese New Year (dragon this year). They started Feb. 5th! The city was gaily decorated. Back at the ship this evening while watching containers being unloaded/loaded, we observed a lot of fireworks over the city. With all the lights of this tremendous harbor and city, it made quite a sight.
We were thoroughly impressed with the Chinese gantry crane operators and the overall port organization. We timed one operator removing containers from the rear of the superstructure directly behind our cabin. He was removing one container every 65-70 seconds, or at a rate of about 54 containers per hour. Four cranes were working our vessel simultaneously to unload the 1,200 containers on board for Taiwan. We loaded about half that many for onward ports between here and Europe.
This being a late Saturday night at the end of an extended holiday period, we were further amazed that container terminal operations were proceeding full tilt as if it were a normal work day, which, in fact, it always is where ships and containers are concerned. But, we have experienced differently in some European and American ports. We particularly recall once arriving on a South African freighter in Le Harve on a Sunday afternoon at about 1500. French port authorities and customs officials ignored the ship until after midnight and only then could operations begin.
Sunday, February 20
By 0400 the ship was loaded and departed for Hong Kong two hours earlier than expected. We awoke to find ourselves out on an absolutely flat sea. The only waves today were the ones the ship made. It was very hazy, making it impossible to differentiate between the sea and sky.
The ship traffic on this part of the South China Sea is quite dense. At any given moment there are usually a half dozen large vessels in our limited, hazy view. It's a good thing the ship has excellent radar.
This particular location has a bad memory for Jim where he experienced his worst time at sea, ever. He was on a French freighter in 1956 sailing from Saigon to Japan. It confronted the "tail end of a typhoon". The ship was battered by monstrous waves for more than 12 hours. It was “white Knuckles” ride in a life-threatening situation.
Just before noon today, we met an oncoming ship that has to be the ugliest thing afloat anywhere. It was the Nissan shipping company's EURO SPIRIT. It is a new car carrier, capacity of approximately 4,000 vehicles, returning empty to Japan. It resembles a giant, oblong balloon or sausage floating on the water with a tiny bridge up front on top. Ships are supposed to be like women, with classy lines. The EURO SPIRIT definitely is an ugly duckling.
The time saved by our early departure from Kaoshiung was canceled by MAERSK Hong Kong agent's news that the berth our ship was to occupy wouldn't be available until 0600 Monday morning! As a result we steamed (also the captain was steamed) on a hazy, glassy sea at half speed in order to arrive at the Hong Kong pilot station for a Monday 0400 pilot pick up.
Monday, February 21
Te ship picked up the Hong Kong pilot at 0400 ten miles out at sea. We arose to observe our arrival expecting to see the magnificent skyline and city all lit up. And it was, but not terribly visible to us because of the dense, low overcast and occasional mist. We were disappointed, but still hopeful that with our projected afternoon departure, we'd be sure to get a nice view.
After tie-up at 0530, stevedores were soon all over the vessel unleashing the deck containers. Work began immediately. To our amazement, the captain allowed a few local Chinese vendors to come aboard to sell sport shirts, and even a tailor to take measurements for a suit if we wanted which would be completed by departure!
We last visited Hong Kong six years ago, which was before the turnover of the colony by the British to Chinese administration. On the surface from our brief observations, nothing has changed at all. The place is as vibrant and colorful as ever.
The captain advised at breakfast our time in port would be just nine hours and that we'd sail at 1400! Quickly clambering down the gangway, we three passengers hiked a fair distance to the nearest taxi stand for the six-mile ride into the city.
We did some minor shopping, walked about Kowloon, plus sent and received our E-mail messages. Sadly, we didn't even have enough time ashore for lunch, as everyone had to be back on board two hours before the scheduled sailing time. We would have loved to have been in Hong Kong for a full day or more. No doubt about it, the main disadvantage of riding a container ship is that the cargo handling time in some ports is greatly reduced by automation.
Sitting in the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel brought back fond memories to Jim who was a frequent visitor there back in the 1950's. As often as not, he'd meet someone from Saigon who would show up unexpectedly for afternoon high tea. But, those days are gone forever. Nevertheless, the afternoon high tea, class and ambiance of the hotel remain as always. Even Gaddi's restaurant is still there, but with prices unimaginable even for today.
Hong Kong's container terminal area, constructed in the former "New Territories" is relatively new and impossible to estimate by size. Suffice it to say it is incredibly large. Because the land mass around Hong Kong is all mountainous, the terminal areas had to be built on land reclaimed from the sea, just as the new airport was. The new container terminals are half-way between the new airport and the city of Kowloon (30 minutes by taxi in morning traffic).
Asia terminals 1 and 2, where the Dagmar MAERSK docked, had a huge container lot with long rows of boxes stacked six high. The place was a beehive of activity, even at 0530 on a Monday morning.
What was extremely interesting were the three huge buildings near the container lot and ships. They had to equal that of the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Without these three enormous buildings, the outside storage container lot would have to have been at least three times larger than it already is. Space in Hong Kong is at such a premium, you must go vertical whenever possible.
Two of the buildings were six floors high, and the third in the rear was ten floors and equal in combined size to the other two buildings. Each had a spiral driveway for access to each floor. From our ship we could observe a steady stream of semi tractor trailers bringing containers up for storage. They all returned down the same spiral with empty trailers. Somehow the containers were removed and stored for eventual shipment. But how? That remains a mystery.
At the bottom of each of the buildings, several entrances allowed empty semi trailers to pull up, receive a container from above and cart it off to the side of a particular vessel for lifting by the gantry crane on to the waiting ship. It would have been nice to have gone inside those buildings and observed what actually happens to all those containers. No Chinese stevedore could satisfactorily describe the interior operations, other than to say "all automatic". We'd love to see that!
The weather in Hong Kong was awful. Being misty, warm, very humid, and heavily overcast, sightseeing was out of the question. From Kowloon, Hong Kong Island was barely visible. By the time we sailed, it wasn't. The Dagmar MAERSK had to sound its horn numerous times making its departure through the haze and maze of vessels of every description and size. For Sheldon, our fellow passenger, it was a frustration not being able to even ride the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong. For us, the disappointment was lessened by the fact we had done it many times before.
Just before the ship was ready to "cast off' all lines, the captain ordered all crew members to conduct a thorough search for stowaways, "bow to stem, bridge to bilge". This was interesting to observe and very well organized. Apparently Hong Kong is one port where MAERSK Lines requires this done on all their ships. Twenty crew members scampering helter-skelter over a vessel this size to inspect every nook and cranny took just 30 minutes. That was impressive. The captain said, "With such practice, we don't have any problems with stowaways. Otherwise, the company would be fined and there is too much paperwork."
We related to him how ships along the east African coast handled their stowaways by the shocking, but common, practice of depositing them overboard as shark bait. One would think word would eventually get back to Mogadiscio, Mombasa, Zanzibar or Dar es Salaam not to be a stowaway because chances of survival are nil. But the ruthless practice still exists today.
In my Foreign Service career I lived in 12 different countries in 33 years. This should have given me some experience with moving and adapting to a new country and culture. Not that my experience is unique - anyone who spends any time in the Foreign Service soon develops this trait or decides to do something else with his/her life. Normally, the bulk of my knowledge of a country was obtained after arrival. Santo Domingo was an exception. For some reason I found out that I would be moving to the Dominican Republic nearly a year before I was due to leave Togo. I also learned that I would be replacing Ron Large in Santo Domingo. I probably noticed Ron's name on my assignment notice but, since I'd never heard of him, it didn't register. But, before I arrived in Santo Domingo, he was often in my thoughts. I don't think a mail day ever went by during that final year in Lome without mail from Ron. He sent us newspapers, Embassy newsletters, tourist pamphlets, maps, etc. I'm positive that I knew as much about the Dominican Republic (DR) as most Dominicans did, even before I arrived. As many of you probably know, Ron switched to the courier service not long after leaving Santo Domingo. I thanked him every time he passed through a country where I was assigned. Though he modestly always denied remembering doing anything special, he greatly enhanced my Dominican tour. He also changed the way I dealt with future people who replaced me and those that I sponsored at other posts. Thanks Ron!
About the time I was assigned to Santo Domingo, there was a complete turnover in the communications office. Hugh Hudkins came in as the Communications Officer and Ed Wilson arrived to complete our 3-person team. We had every reason to assume our little group would be together for the next couple of years. It was not to be. About a year later the State Department decided to create the Sinai Field Mission to monitor relationships between the Arab world and Israel and a call went out for volunteers for the Sinai communications center. The chance to be a part of a unique experience in the Sinai precipitated a great deal of discussion amongst the communicators in Santo Domingo. With interest at a fever pitch, all three of us collectively volunteered for the U.S. Mission. I was told later that the entire communications group at one post volunteering for this assignment caused a bit of worry in the Department. Was there a morale problem in Santo Domingo that needed attention? Inquiries were quick in coming and only after assurances were received that there was nothing amiss did our request receive consideration. As a result, Hugh Hudkins was picked to lead the initial group of Sinai communicators. Ed and I were assured that we were also great candidates but there was no way that an entire communications group would be sent, leaving the Embassy without communications personnel. When I worked for Hugh years later in Seoul, his tales of those early months living in tents in the desert went far to assuage any feeling of disappointment that I may have had at not being a part of the original Sinai group.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest a dedicated sports fan. In those days Seattle had no major professional sports teams. Within a few years after I left home for the military and then the Foreign Service, pro football and basketball teams came to town. A major league baseball team came a bit later. During most of my formative years, college football was where much of my sports passion was spent. The entire Pacific Northwest lived and died with the fortunes of the Washington Huskies. The closest pro football teams to my area were the Rams and 49ers in California and I also enjoyed watching those teams play and followed them from afar. Because of the Los Angeles Lakers and their many world championship teams I had some interest in that sport. Baseball was a sport I tolerated but it came in a distant third in my interest. Santo Domingo changed that forever! The Dominicans were and are absolutely nuts over baseball and the winter baseball season is their nirvana. Not being a baseball aficionado, I was only vaguely aware that baseball in parts of Latin America was king and that several countries in that part of the world had leagues that culminated in a "world series" between countries. In those days the American players on the two Santo Domingo teams visited the Embassy snack bar regularly. In particular, big name Dodgers like Tommy Lasorda and Steve Garvey spent time in the DR. Eating lunch near big league players tweaked my interest and before long I began joining other Embassy baseball fans at the Santo Domingo stadium. During the winter, going to a ball game in the DR was a bit different than going to any other sporting event that I had ever attended. The fans being patted down upon entry was my first clue that things were a little different. I quickly learned why this was necessary and just how effective it was shortly after I began to attend games regularly. Following our usual procedures, a group of us passed through the normal entry screening process and found our seats. We happened to glance to the right and noticed a fellow standing up in the aisle with his foot on the seat. He had one pant leg rolled up and was unwinding an ace bandage from around his calf. Under the bandage was a pistol, which he quickly put in his pocket. My self-preservation instincts quickly kicked-in and I moved to another part of the stadium in a rapid but unobtrusive manner. The others in the group were right on my heels and to say that we watched the remainder of the game with some discomfort would probably be an understatement. It was nothing to see team members come into the stands to retaliate against particularly insulting fans. Of course, taunting gringos was great sport and I clearly remember the night a large first baseman (whose name escapes me but who was a first year major league player) came up into the stands swinging his bat and clearing a swath in front of him while chasing after his tormentors. It seems he had taken a mighty cut at a pitch and struck out. This was usual for him. He swung from the heels and either launched the ball into orbit or screwed himself into the ground. Every time he struck out, the chorus of expletives rained down from the stands and this time he snapped. His teammates and team officials finally subdued him but it made for an exciting time at the old ball yard. As you might guess, the activities in the stands were nearly as interesting as what happened on the field and sometimes more so.
Another memorable event at baseball games in Santo Domingo was ordering fried chicken, the "piece de resistance" at the ballpark snack stand. When you were hungry, it sure smelled good and looked exactly like KFC, with one important exception. The claws were left on. At first, this was very disconcerting to me but my hunger soon overtook my squeamish stomach and I learned to overlook the toenails, probably helped in some small part by the number of beers that were consumed prior to ordering. In fact, I eventually came to see the practicality of leaving the claws attached. They made great toothpicks when the chicken had been consumed. Santo Domingo made me a baseball fan though I will never look at fried chicken the same way again.
Four years in the U.S. Navy gave me many opportunities to observe that the old axiom to "never volunteer" was usually the best policy. When I joined the Foreign Service I pretty much followed this rule but I did make an exception during VIP visits. I generally made it a point to quickly volunteer for the day shift thinking that there was more action during the day. However, the day that Kissinger came to town made me question whether this was always the correct course. Most CANDOER's will probably remember that Henry Kissinger liked to travel and did it a lot. As joint Secretary of State and NSC Chairman, he had a lot of irons in the fire and was a prolific correspondent who liked to be in constant contact with the power brokers in our Government and others. His stop in Santo Domingo, on this occasion, was to be a short one of just a few hours. Henry and a few key staff would come into town and the bulk of the party would remain on the plane parked at the airport. All communications, we were told, would be done from the plane. Hearing this, I quickly said I would remain in the office during the period of the visit while my two colleagues took other assignments. As luck would have it, a decision was made to give the plane staff a few hours off to go to a nearby beach. Before leaving the plane they gathered up the various correspondences that the Secretary and his staff had composed while flying and dropped it off at the Embassy for transmission. I'm sure that they weren't aware that they would be handing it off to a lone employee. Naturally everything was FLASH precedence, or at least it seemed that way. Sitting at my HW-28, fingers flying and surrounded by stacks of messages that needed to be sent out immediately, I had cause to question my choice of shifts. Luckily, I somehow managed to get it all sent out by the time the plane departed and a possible international incident or some other disaster was avoided. Because all the Embassy key players were intimately involved with THE VISIT, they never knew how dose the Embassy came to being chastised for the slow transmission of important messages nor did they know that many of the key political decisions being made in the world at that time were sent out from the Santo Domingo Embassy. I remember marveling at some of the things I typed and sent out. Wow, what a day.
My family and I will always have a warm spot in our hearts for Santo Domingo. Sure, we went through a hurricane during our stay there which tested our faith for a short period but we thoroughly enjoyed our two-year stay in the DR. In later years, when looking for our next assignment, we often gave thought to trying to return for a second time. With this in mind, any time an opening in Santo Domingo appeared on the Open Assignments list, I would faithfully bring home the Post Report for the family to check out. Our habit was to turn first to the section dealing with housing. Since we had lived there previously this probably wasn't necessary but we would look for any changes. Imagine our surprise, on one such occasion, when we sat down at the kitchen table and turned to the housing section and saw the old house where we had spent our Dominican tour. Not only was it our house but our daughters, who were about 4 and 6 at the time, were playing outside on the porch. I think they were teenagers at the time and didn't much appreciate the fact that they were topless in the picture. Never mind that back then, that was their preferred manner of dress in the Dominican heat. Over the many years we spent traveling overseas this is the only time that I can remember not bidding on a post because our daughters believed everyone would know they had once gone topless.
I recently received an e-mail from CANDOER Victor Maffei, who is doing a TDY in Vientiane, Laos. In it he describes briefly life at the post today.
It sounds like not much has changed since my visit there in 1955.At the time I was assigned to Saigon when the former colonies in French Indo-China had just received their independence. The Air Attache had to make a visit to Vientiane where we had opened an Embassy a year earlier. There were a few extra seats in the C-47, so a couple of us flew along for a two-day visit.
Vientiane then really was the backwaters of the Foreign Service. The Vientiane airport was just a grass strip with metal runways identical to the ones the Seabees laid on South Pacific islands during the World War II campaign. There was no building or hangar at the airport. Customs and immigration formalities (a joke) were performed by a couple of Laotians under the shade of a huge tree near the air strip. The Laotians didn't know what to make of the passports (they read ours upside down), other than to put a stamp in them.
The Embassy was located in part of a sleepy, old French colonial hotel (Le Grande?). Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had just recently visited. Administrative officer Jim Moriarity convinced Dulles and his aide, William B. Macomber to visit the code room. (SECSTATE visits in those days were just a party of two and they traveled by commercial air.) There they found code clerk Joseph Kozlowski sitting on the toilet in the bathroom, which was the code room, deciphering a message on an old rotor type cipher machine. Dulles had Macomber take a picture saying, "I've got to show this to Congress when we ask for money to upgrade this Embassy!"
Vientiane had no paved roads. On the west end of town there was a traffic circle, the middle of which contained a French World War I monument. The small USIS office was in a building facing the circle. Next to it was a convenient sidewalk cafe owned by a Vietnamese, Dan Muong. The community referred to it as "Dirty Dan's" and it was the social gathering place of the town. It was there I first met the famous Dr. Tom Dooley. He drove a jeep and came roaring into town in a cloud of dust and, as usual, headed straight for Dirty Dan's where he could slake his thirst on a bottle of "33" beer and conduct his business seeking medical assistance for his up country clinic, near Luang Prabang, the royal capital.
Ambassador Charles Yost lived in a house on the banks of the Mekong River, which was at low level at that time of the year. The Thailand village of Nong Khai was directly across the river about a mile away. Joe Kozlowski had a jeep, so we could drive three quarters across on the sandy river bed, then caught a rickety ferry which was poled across the remaining quarter mile by about six strong Thai men. The jeep remained on the river bed.
The wide, dry river bed was used by both the Thai and Laotians as their garbage dump because the coming rains and floods from China would soon wash it all away (down to Cambodia).
Ambassador Yost hosted a luncheon outdoors on his lawn for about a dozen folks when we were there. He advised us to be careful to stay under the trees and not stand out in the open, for buzzards flying above often drop pieces of animal parts they had scavenged out on the river bed. It seems that across the road on the side of his residence there was a nocturnal slaughter house operated by Buddhists of not strict observance. The waste from the slaughter house operation was dumped on the river bed. He said the buzzard problem "was really bad", as well as the smell.
The small Embassy community lived on the edge of town in a number of Quonset huts obtained from U.S. bases in the Philippines. It was nick-named "Silver City". There was no air conditioning, and hardly any electricity, so fans (hand type) were very important to always carry in the hot, muggy atmosphere.
The Quonset huts were built on elevated platforms. The floors were bamboo poles tied together and covered with a straw mat. If you spilled your beer or gin and tonic it was no problem. It just ran through. When you came home in the evening, you pulled up the ladder behind you. Things got interesting when at night a roaming water buffalo might wander beneath the Quonset hut and rub his sides against the supporting poles, causing the entire structure to sway a bit while occupants attempted to sleep. Tigers were supposedly living in the nearby forest, but no one ever saw one.
After independence, the government celebrated all the national days of countries accredited to Laos as a holiday. As a result, the government was closed two or three days a week, making the conduct of diplomacy very slow.
The Department of State instructed the Embassy not to follow local practice, but to remain open except for American and official Lao holidays.
It was amazing that despite living and working in really tough conditions, the morale at the post was sky high. That's usually the case when all have to pull in the same direction.
C'est la vie en Vientiane 1955.