|Issue 65||May 2001||Volume 6 - Number 6|
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
It is with deep sadness and regret that I inform you of the death of Walter (Wally) Kushner, 68, on Sunday April 8, 2001 of a heart attack.
Wally was a retired Foreign Service Officer. He served in the USAF from 1954-1956 and joined the Foreign Service in 1958. During his long and distinguished career, Wally served in Hong Kong, Sofia, Conakry, Saigon, Monrovia, Buenos Aires, Jakarta, Ankara, New Delhi, and Cairo. He retired in 1988.
Thanks to Jytte Hendrix, Frank Aschman, and Stu Branch for furnishing the above information.
A card has been sent to the family in the CANDOER's name.
The following letter was received from Marie Grimes:
Richard is making a speedy recovery from by pass surgery 2 days ago. He suffered a heart attack three days before Christmas. (He thought he was just coming down with something - fortunately I called 911 when he started to sweat buckets-doctors said that saved his life!!) A main artery was totally blocked, which they cleared with angioplasty and propped open with a stent.
We were informed, a few days after the procedure, that the Medtronic stent he was given had just received FDA approval a few hours before, and that Richard was the first patient in the U.S. to receive it --- he's rather proud of that fact! Unfortunately, during the angiogram, they found a few other partially blocked arteries. His cardiologist decided to wait 3 months to see whether or not his stent would hold-again, luckily, it did and wouldn't have to be by-passed. Nonetheless, it was a difficult wait for him for what I feel is an extremely primitive surgery.
His surgeon agreed with me, adding that 10 year from now he'd probably be out of a job, that they'd have pills patient could take to dissolve the blockages - let's hope so! Anyway, because of his good health and fitness, there were no complications and he's recovering quickly.
He's looking forward to going back to his job at Carlson Travel, in about six weeks, and spending long weekends at our lake place golfing, golfing, and golfing!
The following was received from Tim Lawson:
On behalf of RIMC Bangkok, I want to extend our deep appreciation and thanks to you and your CANDOER readership for the valuable input we received in response to our request for historical RIMC data. The input was truly overwhelming, and we have been immersed in (as well as very impressed with) all of the rich detail and background information we received. RIMC Bangkok salutes all of the CANDOER's and your newsletter, for helping us remember our past as we blaze a trail to our future.
Very best regards,
The following was received from Jerry and Bonnie Brunson. Can any of you help?
If you can, please send to Jerry at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I worked (TCU) with "Big Mary" Peterson in the Cameroon in the Mid to Late 70's and I think she was assigned to Copenhagen in the early 80's. I have lost touch with her and have no Idea what has happened to her. Is there any way within your system she can be located? She was a legend in here own time-sure hate to lose touch. Any info you can provide would be most appreciated.
Jerry & Bonnie Brunson
The following was received from Faith Lee. If you know where either of these two people are, please send the information direct to Faith.
I hope that your can do me a favor. We are trying to locate two people that were in Beirut during the bombing at the embassy, April 19, 1983. Their names are: Dennis Foster, I think that he was an Econ Officer; and Gunnery Sgt. Clarence Hardiman, (Marine Security Guards). Maybe someone out there knows where they are or how to contact them. It’s very important. Thanks for any help that you can give.
The following people were in attendance at the April luncheon:
Bob Catlin, Paul Del Giudice, Tom Forbes, Gerry Gendron, Pete Gregorio, Charlie Ditmeyer, Charlie Hoffman and his sister Helen Genringer, Janie Hudkins, Jim Parker, Bob Scheller, Dan Ullrich, and Tom Warren.
Stan Holden furnished a change to his e-mail address.
Will Naeher furnished a change to his e-mail address.
Margie Ozier became a new member on March 30. Some of you may remember Margie as our Personnel Officer back in both OC and IM. Welcome aboard Margie!
Chuck Rambo furnished a change to his e-mail address.
Gary Richardson furnished a change of his e-mail address.
Bill Harrison furnished a new snail-mail address and telephone number.
Brad Rosendahl furnished a change of his e-mail address.
Mike McCaffrey furnished a change of his e-mail address.
Thomas Trainer became a new member on April 19. Tom retired in 1991 and is now living in Montesano, Washington. Welcome aboard, Tom!
We did not realize it at that time, but the" Elona Gay," the B-29 bomber that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, passed through Kwajalein en route to Tinian, as did many other B-29s. It also stopped on the way back. When we heard that "The Bomb" had been dropped and the war would soon be over, we of course celebrated. On one occasion, a B-29 loaded with returning servicemen, upon take off, crashed off the end of the island not far from our barracks - there were no survivors.
At that time you needed 55 points to qualify for discharge, I had 50 points. When I became eligible a few weeks later, all the aircraft coming through Kwajalein were filled with soldiers from the forward islands. Our Detachment Commander cut our travel orders and told us we could leave any time we were able to find a ride. So, having been relieved of our duties, we just lounged around the barracks. One day, we received a call from friends in the Navy Port Battalion telling us that a destroyer escort vessel, en route to Hawaii was stopping at Kwajalein with a sick sailor and would have room for eight of us, if we were ready to get aboard immediately.
The destroyer escort had been in the Atlantic for some time before being stationed in the Pacific. Its primary mission had been to escort destroyers across the Atlantic to fight in the European Theater. Later, it was Coast Guard manned and had been on a Weather Station off Majuro Island in the Marshals not far from Kwajalein. They had been relieved of their assignment and were on their way to Pearl Harbor when they received the distress call from another ship to pick up a sick sailor and take him to Kwajalein where there was a hospital. The sailor had an emergency appendectomy and needed more sophisticated medical facilities. Several members of that crew were eligible for discharge so they were very anxious to get home.
We just picked up our duffel bags with all our worldly possessions, got into a truck and drove to the pier. We climbed aboard a landing craft and went into the lagoon to meet the ship as it entered the pass. When the landing craft came along side the ship and the sick sailor was transferred, we came in right behind it and climbed up rope ladders to board. The ship never stopped during this transfer and we were soon exiting the pass of the lagoon and headed for Hawaii. Some of the guys went on the ships blinker light and bade farewell, to the Kwaj control tower. I never saw those guys from Kwaj again.
We arrived at Pearl Harbor at night, about six days later. We waited outside the harbor until the submarine nets were removed and we picked up a Pilot to guide us into the harbor. I will never forget that ship. During the voyage it was difficult to detect who the Captain was. No one wore rank. Each man did his job without formality. When we stopped for the Pilot to guide us into the harbor, the men aboard were spick and span in their uniforms and responded sharply to any command that was given. The Captain was in complete control and there was no question as to who was in charge. I thought for a while that I had been transferred to another ship during the night. As we waited, we heard a sound that was like a symphony to us. It was the sound of a train. After disembarking, we went to a relocation camp at Fort Kamahamah, on Waikiki, to await transportation to the states. Subsequently, we boarded the "U.S.S. Cumberland Sound," which had been converted from an Aircraft tender to a troop ship and later became an atomic bomb target at Bikini atoll. We landed at San Pedro Harbor near San Diego, California, one week later.
I will never forget our arrival at San Pedro Harbor in California. As we entered the harbor, a large boat pulled along side with a band and several very pretty girls on board. Our ship took a sharp list towards the boat as the band played "Kiss me once and Kiss me twice and Kiss me once again-it’s been a long time." I will always consider that song as one of my favorites.
After two days at a camp near San Pedro, we finally boarded a troop train full of soldiers on their way home for discharge. I arrived at Ft. Meade, where I discovered that I had earned 5 more points toward discharge for which I did not receive credit. This was awarded for a battle star for being in a combat area. Had this been recorded, I would have been able to leave a month earlier and I probably would have been home for Christmas. I arrived home in mid January.
About a week, later I was sitting in a classroom in Keystone Jr. College located at La Plume, Pennsylvania, just outside Scranton, to begin my college education. Needless to say, it was wonderful coming home after a four-year absence, two of which were overseas. I had gained 35 muscular pounds and had a golden tan from all those months in the South Sea Islands. My mother was not sure it was me when I got off the bus in Scranton on that eventful day.
Sunday, March 5
Today, Jim witnessed one of the more incredible sights he has ever seen at sea. While on his usual perch up on the bow (where else?), he saw an enormous (10 feet long) great white shark come from the port side and swim directly in front of the ship's "bulb nose" 15 feet beneath the surface. Looking straight down on it from about 40 feet above, this shark was joined by two more great whites from the starboard side and the three continued to swim ahead of the ship for 30 seconds before diving out of sight! So sharks can swim at least 17 knots, our speed then.
Of course, the camera was back in the cabin! This mirrors a similar missed opportunity six years ago observing whales off Kaikoura, New Zealand. Having watched what we thought was the last whale before going back to shore, with the camera packed in the bag, this 40-ton monster flew out of the ocean and plunged back in, the only time we have seen a whale breaching! Both incidents are indelibly recorded in memory, but not on film!
Monday, March 6
We were no longer in 90F weather. The wind had shifted and was coming straight at us from the north. It was about 70F, but still pleasant as long as we stayed out of the wind. Remember, that 10 knot head wind added to our 17 knot speed made a pretty stiff breeze.
Just past noon we approached the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. There were at least a dozen magnificent yachts hanging about. To the west is the Gulf of Suez and later the canal. To the east is the Gulf of Aqaba leading to Jordan and Israel.
This is quite a geographically and geologically interesting place. There are high mountains on both sides of the Red Sea its entire length, for it is part of the major fracture zone of the earth's crust known as the Great Rift Valley. From Jordan/Israel in the north, it extends south through the Red Sea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and exits through flood-stricken Mozambique into the Indian Ocean. Jim has visited the entire system except for Jordan/Israel. Ethiopia and Kenya have the most dramatic scenery in the Great Rift Valley.
After supper the captain reminded us we still were supernumerary crew members until we reached the Mediterranean Sea. He also took the opportunity to express his disdain for the pilots and Suez crews which are mandated by the Suez Canal Company.
At 2230 we reached the south entrance of the Suez Canal and dropped anchor in the waiting basin where the convoy would be formed first thing in the morning.
Monday, March 7
For us, it was the first time to visit Egypt, albeit relatively briefly. The Suez Canal has no locks. There also are no bridges (yet). The water flows continuously from the Mediterranean south only at a speed of about one knot. For this we have no plausible explanation.
Traffic in number of ships through the Suez Canal has dropped significantly in the past ten years. One of the main reasons is that pipelines from middle east oil fields now are loading tankers along the Mediterranean coastal ports, saving time and transport costs. However, the tonnage via the Suez Canal has remained fairly static due to the increased size and number of container ships transiting.
Before proceeding through, the required paperwork with Suez Canal Company authorities had to be completed during the night while at anchor. We gathered that the schedule for determining charges is so complicated, only a battery of accountants and lawyers can understand them. It keeps a lot of people employed in the country, but in fact hinders future development and use of the canal because shipping companies are now designing ships and routes to avoid it whenever possible. The Egyptians don't seem to want to use a relatively simple schedule of fees to collect the same amount. Instead, they want reams of paper to reach the identical bottom line figure.
We were surprised to learn the canal is not straight. There are a number of "dog legs" in it. The minimum width is 985 feet (300 meters), with a maximum depth of 62 feet (19 meters). With the exception of passing zones in the Great Bitter Lake and an area north of Ismalia, traffic is one-way. Maximum speed in the canal is 9 knots, so it takes 10 hours to navigate the 96 mile (155 km) length if all goes well. Sometimes during the year it doesn't. A "ha-boob" (sand storm) will blow up obliterating view and traffic must stop.
Keeping the canal at the prescribed depth is a continual project for dredging. Huge dredges and pumps every few kilometers remove the accumulated sands and mud by pumping them over the east embankment. Seeing beyond the east embankment was possible only from the upper decks of our ship, about 80 feet above the water.
Convoys are formed at each end of the canal during the night. Warships get a special convoy. Ships intending to make the next day's transit must be pre-registered and on site by 2300, or wait until the next day. Today only about 20 ships were going northbound in our convoy. The Dagmar MAERSK was number five in line.
Ships our size must have two Suez Canal pilots on board. Plus a "Suez Crew". This is a motorized rubber pontoon boat, with three seamen and electrician. Supposedly the pilots are to guide the ship through the canal. The electrician is a duplication of the ships, and does nothing.
His sole purpose is to connect the "Suez Canal spotlight" on the bow of the ship and operate it if needed in the night. Note: ships transit only during daylight hours. The pontoon boat and three seamen are in case of an accident or "ha-boob". Then their boat is lowered and with lines from the vessel to tie it up on one of the davits spaced every 100 meters along both sides of the canal. In reality, the captain says they do absolutely nothing, "but sponge on the ship's crew for whiskey and cigarettes. They'd ask for wild women too, but know we don't have any! And this from an alcohol-free society supposedly living under Islamic customs."
At 0700, anchor was weighed and we set off into the canal, first passing through the heart of downtown Suez. It appeared to be a fairly nice city. North of the city are vast luxury villa and condominium projects. We were told they are reserved for Egyptian government personnel. At the present time, they all looked deserted, and probably are used only in the warmer months of the year. A temperature of 70F in March is considered too cold and damp by the water where a breeze always blows.
The Suez Canal is something of a sharp contrast. All development is on the west bank. With a few rare exceptions, there is absolutely nothing on the east bank, which is the Sinai Peninsula. Ferries cross the canal every few kilometers, but for what reason is not evident. We actually did see a few roads on the east bank.
For the first several kilometers on the west bank, at intervals of approximately 500 meters, there is a single soldier posted in a sentinel box facing east. What he is supposed to accomplish is beyond our imagination. They appeared to be very desultory and unprofessional.
In the last half of the 20th century, Egypt has been the site of a number of land battles on their territory. We could not believe the amount of wrecked vehicles and junk strewn everywhere, just within our view and as if the battles happened yesterday. If the Egyptians would muster the effort to go out into the desert and collect the metal out there, without exaggeration, they could fuel their steel industry for at least two years.
At the Great Bitter Lake, we met the first portion of the southbound convoy. When we first saw through the binoculars this massive, gleaming white ship coming, our thoughts were that it was a cruise ship. When it came past us, we were astounded that it was a personal yacht! Our guess is it had to sleep 50 in great comfort.
At Ismalia, another very attractive city, we passed the remainder of the southbound convoy which was in a parallel canal about 500 meters to the west. What made it amusing was due to the high embankments, people on the ships do not see the water for the other ships. They all appear as ships passing on the desert. The sight made a great photograph.
Here many religious edifices from all faiths were observed, some right on the banks.
Just north of Ismalia, two major bridges are under construction to be the first to cross the canal and physically link Africa and Asia. One is a huge swing-type bridge for rail traffic. There are no rails on the east bank yet, but presumably when that territory is developed, there will be. The other is a high suspension bridge which just might equal the Oakland Bay-Bridge in California for length and height. Both were started 13 and 15 years ago respectively, but never completed by the Egyptians. Two years ago they hired a Japanese construction company (Hisumi) to come in and complete the job. Our guess is they both will be open in about 18 months.
In the last quarter of the transit, it was quite interesting to observe the change on the east embankment. The soil no longer was sand, but now completely black, and being made ready for agricultural use. We suspect cotton because of the huge tracts of land, all perfectly flat, with fresh water irrigation canals. If they pumped it from the Nile River, that's a long way away. The farms here have to be measured in thousands of acres.
By 1700 we reached Port Said, and dropped the two pilots and Suez Crew. "Good riddance", said the captain, "they did nothing but sleep, and leave a disgusting mess." Ships with pilots and Suez crews must provide rest quarters for them!
Onward to Italy!
Wednesday, March 8 (Ash Wednesday)
This day starts and ends beautifully with sun on the eastern Mediterranean Sea. With temperature in the mid-60F range, the wind breaker feels good for those long walks around the main deck, as it is breezy with our speed.
By late afternoon we are sailing past the Greek Islands, many of them snow- capped. We never realized Crete was so large and had such high mountains. What a gorgeous sight in the pink tinges of the sunset.
Thursday, March 9
It is another magnificent Mediterranean Sea and day.
The ship is proceeding at less than full speed since Port Sa'id, Egypt because the MAERSK Lines agent at Gioia Tauro, Italy advised the captain to time our arrival for 1800 today, ten hours later than originally planned. By then there will be a berth, cranes and stevedores ready to begin their work on our 1,900 containers to be processed. The captain expresses mild skepticism about Italian workers "ready to begin their work". He said, "I'd like to say that we'll be out of there within 24 hours, but I can't until the last container is on board. When that is, even Heaven doesn't know."
Mt. Etna makes a magnificent appearance on the distant horizon at noon, although we are still a long way from it. By 1400 the villages along the Italian coastline of Calabria and Sicily come into view. What memories they bring back! Oh, to have the time to wander through them again and savor all the good things they have to offer.
At 1800, we dock in the relatively new and very large container port of ancient Gioia Tauro.
The political wrangling of the two presidential candidates in the 2000 U.S. elections and the closeness of the vote, reminds me of the two years (1983 to 1985) that my family and I spent in Malta where there are two distinct political parties (Nationalist and Labor). The island electorate was split almost exactly in half between the 2 parties. Each party could count on receiving 50% of the vote. This split made for some very interesting and spirited elections. The contests were always extremely tight with just a couple of votes separating the winner from the loser. The losers always claimed there was vote fraud. The winners always determined they had a solid mandate. Sounds a little familiar, doesn't it? Laborites tended to be blue-collar (primarily shipyard workers - the largest industry in the country). Nationalists were more often members of the doubt that there are any people on earth more attuned to politics and election results than the Maltese. I never met a Maltese, in my two years there, that didn't quickly turn any conversation around to politics. It didn't matter that their father might have just died or that, as a foreigner, I wasn't able to vote. It was physically impossible for any Maltese to have a conversation without eventually talking politics. Each party was vehemently opposed to the policies of the opposite party. Come to think of it, that's probably why they liked to talk politics with foreigners. They could explain to someone with no pre-conceived political bias why their group was better than those other guys. Whatever the reason, it always led to some spirited discussions and, for better or worse, is one thing every ex-pat remembers about their time in Malta.
Malta is a small island (95 square miles) where approximately 360,000 people live in numerous small villages. The old city of Valletta is the present-day capital city (or village) of the country. It is a rabbit warren of small windy streets and old rock buildings, surrounded on one side by the sea and on the other by the remnants of an old moat. The city gate and drawbridge are still the primary entrance into the city. Some Government buildings and a few foreign Embassies are still located in Valletta but many have moved into the more modem and affluent areas. The American Embassy is housed in a bank building in downtown Floriana, a city adjacent to Valletta. In area, Malta is smaller than many cities in the U.S. and elsewhere. Basically, it is a small dusty rock located in the Mediterranean Sea. The coastline is primarily rocky with just enough small sandy beaches to attract tourists. During the period we were there, Malta was a haven to British tourists who were attracted by the relatively low prices. This was important because the British Government limited the amount of money tourists could take out of the U.K. Malta, in those days, was one of the few foreign destinations where ordinary British tourists could go and have a good time with a limited amount of money.
There were two of us assigned to the communications section in Malta and enough work for one and a half. This gave me the opportunity to become involved with other mission responsibilities. Embassy security had long been neglected, so it was made one of my duties. It was thought that I would have time to complete the necessary reports and re-write the post's security plan. This would be an easy enough task for someone with extra time on his or her hands. I liked the idea because it got me out of the office periodically to meet with police officials and perform other security related functions outside the Chancery. In my wildest dreams, I didn't expect what would happen next. We received a tip from a reliable source that Libyan terrorists were planning to blow up our Embassy. It was time to put in effect those security plans that I had been developing in my spare time, never dreaming that they would ever be used. All of a sudden our little Embassy was a possible target of terrorism and we were ill prepared. Physically, things couldn't have been much worse. As noted above, the chancery was on the second floor of a bank building. Worse, it was located on a busy thoroughfare with no setback from the street. Finally, the front of the building, including the Ambassador's office, was built over a wide sidewalk giving easy access to anyone who wanted to drive a truck filled with explosives underneath. We were a security nightmare. Suddenly, the security function went from something to do during slow periods to a full time job. I had to find trucks filled with boulders to block the sidewalk. I had to liaison with Maltese police and Government security officials and I had to meet and greet the many visitors that the Department sent to assess the situation. The Regional Security Officer in Rome suddenly discovered that Malta was more than a place he came a couple of times a year for a quiet break. I don't know why the terrorists decided not to carry out their plan. Maybe it was all a bad joke or some crank trying to stir things up. There were, however, numerous indications that it was very real. Probably, all the hustle and bustle and the obvious preparations scared them off. Whatever the reason, the Security function in Malta was never the same again during my time there. I spent the rest of my tour interviewing and hiring full-time guards for a 24-hour presence at the Chancery and the Ambassador's residence. I also spent a lot of time helping to find a Marine House for the Marine detachment that would arrive shortly after my departure. I suppose things have quieted down once again in Malta but I'm sure that Security is no longer an after thought, like it was before there were terrorists to worry about.
There is nowhere in Malta where you can stand and be more than 17 miles away from the water. Needing something to do on the weekends after the sightseeing possibilities had all been exhausted, my family and another mission family decided to circumnavigate the island on foot. Every Sunday, for nearly one year, we would check our maps and set out for another section of the coast. Upon arrival, we would park one vehicle at the ending point and pile into the other to travel to the start of our weekly walk. We would reverse this procedure at the end of our walk. In the beginning, we were able to walk along sidewalks and the going was fairly easy. Unfortunately, much of Malta's coastline consists of rocky cliffs with small sandy bays occasionally interspersed. Our plan was to walk as close to the water as we could. This was our prime directive. When we ran out of sidewalks, we often had to traverse rough terrain, or at least do the best we could to be honest to our prime directive. With three teenagers and a two-year old involved, no one wanted to do anything that was dangerous. Only once did following the prime directive too closely get me in trouble. On this occasion, as always, I was carrying my two-year old son, Kevin, in a backpack. Noticing a wide path that disappeared around a cliff, I set off to see if it was passable. The others, noticing that there was a long drop down the sheer cliff to the sea below, decided they would look for an easier way. I wish I had done the same.
Proceeding along the wide safe path, I glanced down at the jumble of rocks and crashing waves far below. I hadn't known that there were portions of the island that were so turbulent. Most of Malta's coastline consisted of gentle coves interspersed between rocky beaches. Nothing like what was happening directly below my ledge. As I followed the path I didn't really notice that it was slowly getting narrower, until it suddenly ended. Actually, there was just a short break and a nice wide section that began again on the other side. I only needed to step over the gap onto the waiting wide path. Attempting a turn-around here seemed dangerous. So, I steeled myself and tried not to look below. Hopping over the break, I was safely onto a wide part of the ledge. Looking ahead all seemed fine as far as I could see. Now, breathing easier, I continued to be convinced that what I was doing was safe. The trail remained wide around a bend in the distance. So, once again, I set out with assurance. Striding smartly around the comer, I found, at once, that the path had narrowed perceptibly. Frightened, I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn't continue to go forward because the path became even narrower ahead. To go back, the way I had come, meant first turning around on my narrow ledge. How was I going to do that safely with Kevin starting to squirm in the backpack?
As I stood there frozen against the cliff face, too scared to move, many things raced through my mind. One thought, though, was paramount. My own stupidity had endangered my son's life and brought us to this point. Somehow, I had to conquer my fear and get him to safety. I also realized that I had to act fast. The tension caused by balancing on that narrow ledge, coupled with a squirming backpack was taking its toll. My legs were beginning to feel rubbery. If I continued to do nothing, I wouldn't have the strength to get us off that cliff.
It seemed an eternity that I hugged that cliff, fighting my fear, but I'm sure it was only a matter of minutes. Somehow, slowly, I edged myself back the way I had come. At first, I walked backwards, feeling with my back foot for safety before shifting my weight. Going around the comer was the worst. I still don't know how I made it around. Feeling my way like a blind person in a knife factory, I slowly, slowly, crept around that comer. After each successful step, I had to talk myself into taking another. I remember particularly that the loose stones on the path, that t had once merely stepped over, now seemed deadly under my searching foot.
Somehow, I managed to back around that comer. Maybe someone up above was watching out for me (or more likely my son). Maybe I was just lucky. Whatever the case, once around the comer, I was able to, carefully, turn myself around and head back the way I had come. Perhaps sensing my relief, Kevin's wiggling stopped and he settled back in for the ride. I don't remember the rest of the walk back off the cliff. Even stepping back over the break in the trail passed without reflection because of my feeling of relief at having conquered my fears and survived my stupidity.
Hurrying ahead, I once again joined my family and fellow hikers. Vanity prohibited me from telling them exactly how close Kevin and I had come to falling to our death on that Maltese cliff. In my joy at having survived, I thought the adventure was over. Not quite. Sometimes still, these many years later, I dream of being frozen on that cliff, too terrified to move and watching the sea break over the waiting rocks below. In my sleep, I have never fallen, but I'm always too afraid to turnaround on that narrow ledge and go back. I usually cling there, with Kevin squirming on my back, until I awaken. I don't have this dream often, but when I do, it brings back all those terrible thoughts I had when I believed the only way I would ever get off that cliff was straight down.
As the seagull flies, Malta is 85 miles from Sicily. The U.S. Military has a base at Sigonella, on Sicily, with a Commissary and PX and the other normal accouterments. Material goods were cheap in Malta but limited in quality and variety. Therefore, Embassy folks found it highly desirable to go to Sigonella, whenever possible, to stock up with U.S. products. There was a ferry between Malta and Sicily and this was the preferred way to go. It took eight hours each way but the sea was usually calm and the ferry comfortable. Then, upon arrival, you could drive to the base and fill up your vehicle with PX and Commissary goodies and take them back home to Malta (hopefully avoiding a big hassle with Maltese customs when the ferry landed). We made this trip three or four times during our stay in Malta. We usually combined our shopping trips with sightseeing excursions to Mt. Etna or some other nearby attraction, so it was almost always a pleasant experience. One time it wasn't. It was the year we decided to do our Christmas shopping at the base. It was late November and the smooth Mediterranean lake that we remembered had become an angry sea. The first four hours were in open water and that part of the trip was a nightmare. The ferry seemed to broach on every wave. It would seem to stand on end and then crash down before heading up the other side of the wave. I have never been seasick in my life but I nearly lost it several times during those first four hours. The crew was kept busy putting down buckets of sand where people had failed in their mad dash for the toilets. Watching and smelling this scene play out over and over didn't help our already sensitive constitutions. After four hours, we arrived in the lee of the island of Sicily and the sea calmed down for the remaining four-hour run to the ferry dock. As always, we stayed the weekend in Sigonella before returning to Malta on the ferry. The shopping had been successful and the car was filled with goodies. Best of all, the sea was calm on our return trip. The lights of Malta were shining brightly less than a mile ahead when the passengers began making their way down to their vehicles prior to arrival. Suddenly we noticed that the ferry was turning around and heading away from Malta. At first no one seemed too concerned. The ferry was probably just maneuvering prior to entering its berth. When it kept heading out to sea, however, there was a clamoring to see why we were going the wrong way. After some time, the passengers were informed, via the loudspeaker system, that one of the engines was experiencing difficulty and we would be returning to Sicily for repairs. I'm not sure about the politics of why this work had to be done in Italy (it was an Italian ferry) or why they couldn't have first dropped off the passengers. We were, after all, nearly at the harbor. But, suffice it to say that we limped all the way back to Sicily. With only one engine, it took much longer than eight hours. Once back on Sicily, we sat aboard the ferry while engine repairs were made. This took more than a day. All the while the ferry company refused to let the passengers use the cabins to sleep in, unless they paid to do so. In addition, we were forced to buy our meals. With plenty of time on my hands, I eventually ran into a fellow American tourist on the ferry. As it turned out, he was a lawyer who had become very outspoken about the treatment we were receiving. He and I eventually made our way to the headquarters of the ferry company where he repeated some of his choicer words and demanded to see a copy of passenger rights. With his law training, he was able to point out the small print that said that the ferry company was responsible for feeding and housing stranded passengers. With the threat of a lawsuit reverberating through the company headquarters, things changed quickly. Meals became free and passengers were assigned cabins. Once repairs were made, we finally returned to Malta, uneventfully. I think this was the last time we went to Sicily during our stay in Malta.
I have often wondered if anyone other than myself was asleep at the wheel when golden opportunities passed by.
The first one occurred at my first post of assignment, Bonn. One of my colleagues, Jim Fiorane, saw the wisdom of buying a one troy ounce of gold each payday. He'd cash his check in the Embassy and go to a bank and purchase a miniature ingot of gold, paying thirty-two dollars an ounce back in 1961/2. I remember going one day with Jim when he bought his regular bi-weekly ingot of gold and asking him why he did it. I reminded him that he was not legally able to take those little ingots of gold back to the States. I did not yet realize that the life upon which we had embarked meant working in many foreign countries.
Jim made no response to my statements. Neither did he answer any questions other than to say it was an investment. So I let it go.
My next assignment took me to Dakar where, as a single young bachelor, I was regularly invited to wonderful dinner parties owing to the determination of Embassy wives who were determined match makers. Their intentions were amusing but the meals provided were wonderful so I accepted every invitation received. My kitchen skills were limited to knowing the difference between the stove and the refrigerator and I took no interest whatsoever in the subject of food preparation since almost all my meals were taken in restaurants.
Having learned where the knives, forks and spoons were properly placed on a formally set dining table and in which order to use them, I was baffled by the little bar which seemed to be made of silver. It was 2 or 3 inches in length and about 1 inch to a side and was placed alongside the knives. On the first occasion I saw this unfamiliar item I asked the person next to me about it. She said they were indeed silver and were used to hold the blade of the knife after the knife got butter or anything else on it. This kept the blade from soiling the tablecloth. I wondered about that as my table companion continued, explaining that these silver bars could be purchased for about four dollars each at one of the Mauritanian silversmiths located near the Embassy. I remember thinking how nutty it was to buy something and then contrive a use for it. I mean it hadn't occurred to me that the world was desperately in need of implements to keep table cloths clean and besides, how would that help in the case of a spilled glass of wine or cigarette bums?
Three years later I went on TDY to Accra, Ghana to help take care of communications for then Vice President Humphrey. While walking past the shops in my hotel one day, I took notice of some silver bars in one of the windows. The sign indicated they were silver and they had been imported from Mauritania. I stopped and stared at the price which was around $20 for each bar! Then dear reader, the light came on. I realized then that the function was irrelevant: they were silver! I could have bought a truck load for $4 each.
Oh, the gold ingots Fiorane bought for $32 an ounce back in Bonn? The price got up to over $850 an ounce in years to come.
Of all the foreign service irritants, omission from the Diplomatic List ranks up there with poor promotion numbers for many years.
At small posts - consulates in particular - Communicators often signed documentation for clearing diplomatic pouches through customs. Acting for the Administrative Officer and signing similar forms for clearing official and household shipments was also routine. If one successfully pointed out that the Communicator could be even more valuable to post if on the Diplomatic List, the post would request a diplomatic title for him/her. Invariably, the Department denied the post's request. And if you pursued the matter, you learned it was determined solely by a little old lady who never budged, and usually referenced the Vienna Convention to end the matter.
In many countries those on the Diplomatic List were exempt from gasoline and sales taxes. In addition to paying those taxes, those not on the list paid other taxes and fees as well. In 1970 for example, I paid $365 for additional reflectors and a tailpipe straightening on my Mustang before taking it for vehicle inspection and obtaining Austrian license plates. A political officer with a similar 1970 Mustang had an appointment at the same time. But he'd driven his straight from the embassy parking lot where it had been delivered by the shipping company. His paperwork was completed in minutes and he wished me luck as he left. No inspection and no needless $365 for him!
My 1980 posting to Harare (then Salisbury) started on the right track. The initial assignment actions included the title of attaché. But in the early days, one was assigned to Pretoria and detailed to Salisbury. After I'd been at post a while a C O R R E C T E D travel message was sent. It revoked the attaché title because Pretoria already had a communications attaché. Fortunately, the telegram was addressed only to Pretoria, and our TDY Admin. Officer never saw it.
Time passed. One day our receptionist rang ... said he had an incoming call for me. It was the foreign office wanting to know my diplomatic title. I stated that it was Communications Attache. I also added my three colleagues as Assistant Attaches, spelling their names to make sure the foreign office made no mistakes.
Call it luck or call it confusion, but I called it a 4 to 0 victory for the good guys vs. the little old lady.
I was thinking about our home appliances the other day. That's what happens when you've retired for a few years as I have. You have a lot of time to think. I've though about almost everything that I ever experienced. Now I'm reduced to thinking about home appliances. The time is coming soon when I'll have to start over.
Anyway, I was thinking specifically about our first refrigerator. It was a brand-new 1941 Philco, the last of the pre-war refrigerators. It was wonderful! There was a light inside, and you could actually freeze water and make little blocks of ice! You could even make ice cream! (We did. Just once. It was awful!)
Inside the refrigerator were crisper drawers for vegetables and a meat-keeper drawer under the freezing compartment. Below the door was a tilt-out potato bin.
If you're wondering why we were so excited over our new Philco, it's because it was replacing our old ice box.
Ice boxes were sort of wooden cupboards with three or four doors. One of the doors opened to hold a block of ice, usually 25 to 50 pounds, and the other doors were the food compartments. There was a pan underneath to catch the meltwater.
Before my time, ice was cut each winter from nearby Lake Erie. The ice as stored in insulated "ice houses" and lasted through the summer. By the time I was around, ice was manufactured, and the "ice man" came around a couple of times each week, stopping at houses with "ice cards" in the window. (Ice cards were about 10 inches square and told the ice man ho much ice was needed depending on how the ice card was turned in the window).
Sometimes in the summer, we needed ice between deliveries. There were small ice houses at two of the gas stations in town. Cars of the late 30s and early 40s had real bumpers made of heavy steel that stuck out a foot or so in front of and behind the car. You could run into a thing with pretty good force without hurting the car. (The people inside may not have fared so well, but the car still looked okay. Anyway, a cake of ice just fit nicely between the bumper and the fender if you set it in cornerwise. That's the way everyone hauled ice.
Nowadays with all the stuff about food poisoning and this bacteria and that bacteria, I wonder how all of us ice box users ever survived!
My earliest memories of a kitchen stove are of a 3-bumer "Perfection" kerosene range. The burners used circular wicks which were lighted with a match and turned up and down with brass knobs. They were connected to a pipe carrying the kerosene from a glass reservoir that set in a bracket on the end of the stove. I think it held a gallon of kerosene.
Around 1943, we got a "Magic Chef" gas stove. It used bottled gas since there were no natural gas lines in our little town. Like the refrigerator, the gas stove as a wondrous thing! Just turn a knob, and on comes the flame!
But even more wondrous than that was the gas water heater. As long as the bottled gas lines were installed in the house, Dad had a water heater put in. Prior to that, our hot water came from a large teakettle or pan on the kitchen stove. Mom heated water for laundry in a big galvanized tank that set on another kerosene stove, (much like the one in the kitchen), in the back shed just off the kitchen.
Talk about high tech! After the water heater was connected, we could get hot water right out of the faucet! It almost made a kid want to take a bath! Almost!
Mom did the washing in our Montgomery Ward wringer washer in the shed. A garden hose was connected to the drain valve so that the washer drained out onto the lawn. It was a great place to slosh around in barefoot and pick up fishing worms. (Worms do not like soapsuds in their burrows, so they come to the surface in a hurry. They are very clean).
The old wringer-washer lasted until about 1951. When sparks and fire began to fly out of the motor as it was plugged in. Mom and Dad decided it was time for a new one. So, they purchased a brand-new Maytag automatic. This was really state-of-the-art"! It filled, it drained, it washed, it rinsed, and it spun! And it did it all by itself! It was the smartest machine I had ever seen!
These were the days before sewage treatment plants and sewer lines. All the houses in our town were on septic tanks and cess pools. We were living in our .new" house at this time, and we had a cess pool for a basement drain. (For the uninitiated, a cess pool is a hole in the ground).
The basement drain was adequate for the old wringer-washer. But unlike the old washer, which drained by gravity in the form of a drizzle, the new automatic pumped its water out. The first time we used it, we found our cess pool didn't quite soak up the water fast enough. In fact, after the first five seconds or so, we had a fountain of hot, soapy water shooting out of the drain!
So while the fountain continued, we scurried around trying to get things up off the floor before they got soaked. I, still being a barefoot boy that loved chaos, thought it was hysterically funny. And the idea of a warm swimming pool in the basement to play in seemed like a great idea!
The washer held several thousand gallons of water, or so it seemed, so we were very busy! What was really worrisome was that there were still two rinse cycles coming up!
Well, Dad finally got things fixed. It turned out that the tile in the drain was partially plugged. The cess pool itself was plenty large enough.
So ends my major appliance stories.
You know, there have been times when I’ve thought my life has not been very exciting.