US Naval Air StationPort Lyautey, Morocco
Kevin McCarthy, YN3
Those who served with Kevin in the 1968 - 69 era can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin McCarthy - My Morocco Story
Entering the Navy
In April of 1966 I received my notice to report for a physical for the draft. Wanting to be in the Navy more than the Army, I joined the Navy Reserves. I had graduated from a Community College and was working as an ice man delivering ice to restaurants, stores, bars, and railroad cars. It was a fun job and knowing I would be going on active duty soon it was something to do. I attended Reserve meetings every week. The meetings consisted of classroom training, drills, marching and a building of a Navy Spirit. We also went to a firing range to practice shooting and a fire tower where the local fire departments practiced. At the tower we practiced putting out fires and going into smoke filled spaces wearing gas masks and then having to take the masks off while in the room.
All of this training was very useful. When I had to go to boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in 1967, the Vietnam War was getting larger. The Navy decided that since the Reserves were getting trained at meetings they reduced our time at Boot Camp. However, to also make up some of the training time, the Reserves would go directly from Boot Camp to a ship where they would put in two weeks of active training. I was assigned to the USS Coates, a destroyer escort. At the time it was in Providence RI but had to be moved to its home port of New Haven CT. Again, a great deal of training was done on board. The highlight of the two weeks was when the boat had to be moved. At the time there was a Nor'easter (very large snowstorm) going on. For two days we stayed in port but on the third day we had to move because another ship was coming in and needed our dock. The storm made for an exciting trip on a DE. After the time at Great Lakes and two weeks on the DE, I thought that I had a good amount of training when it came time for active duty. It was about eight months later when I went on Active Duty. During this time I still attended weekly Reserve meetings where training continued.
My journey to Morocco began at the Brooklyn Navy yard in 1967. As a reservist I was sent there to await orders. That was a busy place with all the personnel being processed to go on or come off active duty. After a number of weeks spent striping and waxing floors, running the self-service elevator, having snow patrol and waiting for my passport, I was ready to have my active duty assignment start. The reason for the delay was the wait for my passport, because those of us going to Morocco were issued a Diplomatic passport. This was so the two governments could say there were no US Navy personnel in Morocco but there were a number of Diplomats.
My Arrival in Morocco
We flew to Morocco aboard a Pan Am 727. At that time it seemed like a very large plane. We left Kennedy Airport and had stopovers in Boston, the Azores, Lisbon and finally landed Rabat. The Azores looked like a beautiful set of islands. If I recall correctly the airfield was alongside the ocean and it seemed like the runway ran most of the way from one end of the Island to the other.
The passengers on the plane were an interesting group of individuals. There were a number of Navy personnel going to Morocco. Another group of Navy guys were going to Ethiopia. Who knows why? There were the usual group of tourist and business people traveling overseas for whatever reason. And there were a number of persons who were Peace Corps volunteers. I'm not sure if it was done by accident or on purpose, but it seemed that the Navy and Peace Corps folks were intermingled sitting next to each other. The guy next to me did french crossword puzzles in ink. I think he was just showing off. It did lead to some interesting conversations between the Navy and Peace Corp. members.
We arrived in Rabat around 3:30 p.m. One of my most vivid memories is going down the stairs getting off the plane and noticing the brightest blue the sky I'd ever seen. There was not a cloud in the sky, the air smelled amazingly clean and fresh, and although it was January, the temperature was warm.
There was a bus and driver waiting for us. There were about a dozen of us. We picked up our sea bags. Mine was the last one off the plane and I was worried they were going to leave me behind, with the Navy bus driver razzing me about taking so long. Finally we all boarded the bus for the base.
The trip to the base was interesting, never having been in Morocco, we were all interested in seeing what the countryside looked like. We were on a two lane highway and passed only occasional houses as we shared our single lane with cars, carts, and donkeys.
We arrived on base, got checked in and taken to the barracks. Two guys from my hometown, Greg Miller and Dan Johnson, arrived in Morocco the week before I did, so they met me and gave me a tour of the important places on base-- the mess hall and the EM club.
As the day went on, it became apparent that something wasn't just right. There seemed to be a lot of activity. Officers and enlisted men hurrying in and out of buildings and one building, which I later learned was a communications building, had a lot of activity. Soon after we were told that we were confined to the base, not to unpack our sea bags, and we were now being put on guard duty.
It was the day the Pueblo got captured.
My Assignment in Morocco
Within a few days life returned to normal on base. I was assigned to the Security Department. We provided security for the base. This consisted of shore patrol, base police patrols, and detective work for the more serious crimes. We also manned the main gate and provided passes for those individuals who needed to be on base. We also were responsible for guarding the warehouses where supplies were kept, having a 24-hour watch over the ammo dump and any other tasks involving safety for the population on base. One other task that our department performed was to license cars. There were two men, one Navy and the other a French Moroccan who served as an interpreter. Their duty was to work with the Moroccan authorities to get all the cars owned by Navy personal registered and licensed.
I must say, life on base was very good. My wife was with me, and our oldest daughter was born in the base hospital. The other sailors were some of the nicest persons I have ever met. The duty was good. The weather was mostly beautiful. The activities for when you were off duty were varied. There was horseback riding, racquet ball courts, an indoor and outdoor movie theater. There was also a softball league. Each department had a team. I was the catcher for the Security team. We didn't win a lot of games but we had a good time. The ocean was a twenty minute car ride away. Going to Kenitra, Rabat and Casablanca were enjoyable trips.
Returning to the States I stayed in the Reserves for a few more years and had some interesting active duty assignments. I spent the month of August in Washington, DC working in an office where there was a study being done to decide where the Central Command was going to be located. I spent two weeks on the USS Volkgasang an LCD and I spent two different training periods in the finance office in New Orleans.
I went back to college on the GI Bill, We had two more children. I became a high school principal for ten years and then worked for the State Education Department. I got out of the Reserves when they moved my unit to a city an hour car ride away and our meeting time was changed from one night to a full weekend. Having three little children and a job that was very time consuming was too difficult.
I am retired now. Life has been very good to me. I am lucky to have a wonderful wife, three great children and their significant others and a terrific grandson. I have enjoyed this opportunity to go back and remember the adventures of my Navy days and my tour of duty in Morocco.
Kevin McCarthy in his Base Police Uniform standing inside his Quonset Hut apartment about to leave for duty and on the right. in his "civvies".
Inspections, Blues and Whites in 1968
Memories of a Navy Bride in Morocco
A reminisce of living in Morocco, Africa, the year after our marriage.
By Mary Armao McCarthy
wife of Kevin McCarthy, YN3, Base Security, US Navy 1968
ARRIVING IN MOROCCO
We had a personal greeter in Tangier.
"Hello! You are married? Hello!" A bright faced young shoe shine boy welcomed Kevin like a lost brother when we arrived in the city after our wedding in Gibraltar. I was used to Kevin having lots of friends, but now to my amazement, even the locals in Tangier lit up when they saw him. Kevin explained that he'd had his shoes shined when he left for Gibraltar and had told the boy that he was on his way to his wedding. Later I would learn that most servicemen wore sneakers to town to avoid the overzealous attention of the shoe shine kids, but on my first day in Morocco, this notice seemed flattering and reassuring. As Sally Fields so famously and directly expressed it in her Oscar acceptance speech, people liked her-or in this case, us! The sun was shining, the shoe shine boy loved us, and a tall Moroccan in a long white robe circulated like a pleasant host, selling cookies stacked in an intricate pyramid on a brass tray. I can see him gracefully offering Maamaul pastry-- sweet dromedary dates, chopped and encased in a golden crust, coated with a snowfall of powdered sugar.
THE TRAIN TO KENITRA
Golden fields outside the train window. I had not expected gold. "What is that?" I asked my handsome husband of three days. Kevin's shoulder was broad next to mine, a comfort of warm muscle within one of the Oxford cloth shirts he always wore. I had never seen Africa before, and he had several months experience on me. "I'm not sure," he answered, following my gaze. "They do a lot of farming on the coast. The rainy season just ended, so they may be getting fields ready for crops." With my small Kodak camera, I took pictures out the train window as the light changed and the sloping hillsides shaded to amber and violet in the oncoming dusk.
We were on our way from Tangier to Kenitra, a town on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Kevin was in the U.S. Navy and stationed at a military base there. It was 1968, the Vietnam war years. We had both recently left Albany, New York to unexpectedly live in North Africa. Kevin was twenty-two. I was twenty-one, just out of college, and a newly minted Navy wife.
As the Moroccan train moved through the twilight, everything had the charm of the slightly different. A steward in a crisp white jacket came through the train car with beverages and boxed meals. Hourglass shaped soda bottles were two-thirds the size of those at home. On their familiar red caps and the upper curve of glass, the words Coca Cola were written in graceful Arabic script. The interior of our first class train car was rich woods, a cocoon of natural oak and mahogany. It seemed we were gliding through time as well as space. "Why don't we have beautiful trains like this at home?" I wondered. "We could," Kevin answered, "These are made in the United States." The mystique of living in North Africa and the reality of cross cultures, with the expected and the unexpected, had begun.
RUE ZA ZAGUE, KENITRA - OUR APARTMENT IN TOWN
"Rue Za Zague." The taxi driver rattled off our address in a guttural blur of Arabic accented French. He was reading the words off a scrap of paper in my bridegroom's palm. Kevin hired the taxi when we got off the train in the small town of Kenitra, Morocco where we would begin our marriage. Kevin was using a note because the taxi driver spoke no English. We spoke no Arabic and only rudimentary French, the second language in Morocco. In the darkness, the white note seemed a talisman under the glow of the overhead taxi light.
After a short ride from the train station, Kevin paid the driver in dirhams. There were no streetlights, so I could dimly see that we were in front of a 2-story white building. In a letter home to the States, Kevin had already told me that our apartment was on the second floor, looking into a courtyard. "Ron and Sam helped me scrub the stone floors when they were off duty," he further explained now, as we went up the stairs, referring to two Navy buddies I would soon meet. He sounded pleased with their accomplishment as we neared our first home together.
A garden apartment in North Africa. I recall no fear or trepidation. Just a sense of future. We clambered from the cab. Except for some cardboard boxes that I had shipped ahead, my worldly goods were in the suitcase Kevin easily carried. My step was light and expectant, my feet comfortable in a favorite pair of shoes. A new continent, a home to make, a marriage to begin. All anchored by familiar, sturdy Kevin.
Laughter had always been a part of our relationship, a cheerful ric rac trimming conversations with teasing and humor. Now as we felt our way in the dark, my joking was laced with bridal patience. I learned that as an economy measure, my Beloved had not yet started the electricity. We were married in March and arrived in Kenitra in early April. Frugal Kevin had decided to save money by waiting to begin electric service until the beginning of a full month. He would need to visit the electric company in person the next day to start service, and I would have to wait until daylight to see the beautiful terrazzo tile floors that he and his friends had polished to a soft gleam. For now, as our eyes adjusted to the dark, we crossed the invisible but newly scrubbed floor of the living room and passed into the spacious bedroom beyond. There, a large window let in enough moonlight for a more muted than romantic sighting of our marriage bed.
We lived by the Sebou River. Our apartment was in a 2-story building with eight units forming an L-shape. Within the arms of the L was a courtyard with small trees, a clothesline, and some outdoor chairs. Mr. Tomasino, our landlord, lived on the ground floor diagonally across from us. Our second floor doorway opened onto a balcony that ran the length of the upstairs units. From our apartment, on the side facing the street, I could look out wood-shuttered windows onto passing foot traffic and an occasional car on the unpaved street.
I loved our apartment's wooden shutters, painted a pretty blue, and relished that they were not decorative like those at home. These shutters functioned, their louvers slanting up or down to direct light or control a breeze. When not in use, the whole shutter unit folded back into the deep window frame. There were no screens, and for reasons I have never understood, we didn't need them. No guests from the insect family flew in the open window.
Across the street was a walled fruit grove. Each time I walked by, I inhaled the scent of orange blossoms from unseen branches beyond the stucco wall. Just down our street was the Sebou River. Along its bank curved the dusty road to town or, in the opposite direction, the military base where Kevin was stationed. I would stand on the grassy river bank and wait for the local bus to bring me to all things new, to the sleepy town of Kenitra upriver or to the military base a short distance towards the sea.
The rainy season had just ended. It was sweater weather. That was the first thing I learned about April in Morocco. It was warm when the sun shone and it was cool when clouds passed over. It was sweater on, sweater off, at the dictate and whim of sun and clouds.
Just after getting to Kenitra, I was puzzled by a great flurry about a Navy boat bringing dishes. I soon learned that the supply boat came only once a month, and those who were quick got the treasures. Moroccan dishes were a soft terra cotta. I expect they were perfectly safe, but we weren't sure about the different clay and glazes for daily use. We didn't have many dishes yet. It wasn't something I'd thought to ship or Kevin had thought to buy in any quantity. Now, by wild chance, the Navy boat had English bone china, with 5-piece place settings prettily boxed in service for eight. I had a choice of patterns: red or blue. The red dishes were very cheerful.
We left our apartment in town when our name came up with unexpected speed on a request for base housing. "Move," our friends all advised, "otherwise you'll wait months, maybe never get another chance." I sighed over the curtains I had just made by hand for the windows I would now be leaving. At the Base Exchange, the American store for home goods, the only fabric available had been in the form of chenille bedspreads. I bought a blue spread for our bed, to go with our blue shutters, and an extra blue spread to cut into drapes. For the kitchen, I bought a red chenille bedspread to cut and stitch into curtains.
The puffs of red chenille looked jaunty at the single kitchen window and there was a lot of extra material, so I enthusiastically made six pairs of tiny red tie-back curtains, one for each of the glass panels on the doors of a nearby white kitchen cupboard. Kevin gazed quietly at my first decorating effort and then finally murmured, "They look like panties." I was a tad offended.
The red curtains turned out to be an appropriate symbol for our building, as we soon learned that two of our neighbors were "ladies of the night." They were very nice young women. One, in the next apartment down, had two sparkle eyed, dark haired children, a son and daughter about six- and eight-years-old. The children's chatter was a pleasant backdrop during the day, but they stayed elsewhere at night.
Downstairs, a blond woman was often at the courtyard clothesline in the morning, usually hanging sheets to dry that were unique colors of jewel-toned blue and jade green. On my first shopping trip to the Base Exchange, I learned that linens were limited. There were only two choices of sheets: jewel-toned blue and jade green. Judging from the clothesline, the American GI's kept their ladies well supplied. Ironically, when Kevin had night watches and I was home alone, late night footsteps outside my door were reassuring rather than frightening. I knew they were American, which meant an ally and protector. After we moved on base, we learned our apartment building was on the official list of places off limits to U.S. military personnel. Ah, well, the things I didn't tell my mother.
Base housing would have advantages over Rue Za Zague. Water would not need to be boiled before drinking, as it did in town. There were consistent cautions about hepatitis from drinking water, and cases had been treated at the base Infirmary. On base, our stove and hot water would have direct hook-ups, and I would not have to turn on a tank of propane and light a connection with my box of sturdy kitchen matches before each use. The hot water system in town was a model of efficiency, though. Once you turned on the propane and lit a row of flame jets with a match, water was heated as it passed through a honeycomb of narrow pipes just above the flames. In this way, water was heated and used as needed, instead of using fuel to keep a large tank of water constantly hot. We were disappointed when we returned to the United States and these systems were not available. They are just now coming on the market here, decades later. Kevin liked to point out another efficiency of our apartment in town. The shower and toilet were both housed in the same small, fully tiled room so that while showering one could also well, I won't state the obvious.
Our stove in the apartment on Rue Za Zague looked like child's toy, raised on legs like a nightstand with a small oven and burners. The first time I baked, it seemed like a magic trick to open the tiny oven door and find a cake within.
TQ 15B - OUR VERY OWN QUONSET HUT
We moved on base onto a street of apartments for married enlisted men. The apartments were in metal Quonset huts. We had a deluxe Quonset hut-it had upgrades and was on a corner lot. A Navy Seabee from one of the famed construction battalions of the US Navy had once lived there. He built wooden dormers for each of the four windows on the sloping sides of our Quonset apartment. The dormers were a luxury. I would need to sew living room curtains again, as the size and colors were different than those in town. Having dormers in the Quonset meant that when I made curtains, they could hang DOWN. This may not seem special until you consider that a Quonset hut is one continuous curved shell, like a huge round pipe cut in half horizontally and then set on the ground. In other Quonsets, curtains had to be secured with a rod at the bottom as well as the top in order to hold them against the curved wall. Otherwise, curtains would hang straight down like a limp flag into the room itself.
Kevin and Mary in the Rabat Medina purchasing material for her curtains.
As in town, our apartment was furnished. This time we had military issue. In the living room were two maple frame chairs with green leather cushions and a matching couch. These were arranged around a maple coffee table with two slide-out extension trays, which I thought quite clever, all on a beige woven rug over wood floors painted Navy battleship gray. A rectangular wood dining table was at the far end of the living room next to a galley kitchen. Our tiny bedroom was just big enough for a double bed, with a foot of extra space at its bottom. This space was handy to squeeze into to make up the bed, though a cockroach nearly scared me to death once when I unfurled a sheet and it dashed from its folds, looking about the size of a UFO. Bugs were a fact of life in Africa and usually I was not afraid of them, but this one definitely had a startle effect. A highlight of the Quonset's bathroom was that it had a separate shower stall. There was a small, spare room with a single bed. Perfect. Everything we needed.
Mary McCarthy cooking dinner in the galley kitchen
TQ stood for Temporary Quarters. We lived in half the Quonset. It was a duplex. Each Quonset hut was divided in half mid-length. A second family lived on the other side, with their door facing a street on the other side. We were on the B side and a family with little boys lived behind us in TQ15A. An officer's son came to the door one day selling candy for his Boy Scout Troop. Unexpected touches of home like this sometimes popped up. The boy scout's eyes widened when I explained he could try to make another sale, as another family lived on the other side of the building.
The Quonsets for enlisted men's family housing occupied an area about the length of a city block. Officers who were married had nicer quarters in stucco villas on another area of the base. Single officers lived in apartments in a brick building called the BOQ for Bachelor's Officers Quarters. Single Navy enlisted men lived in the barracks. I didn't get to go there.
In the strip of land between each Quonset stood a shared clothesline with long rows of rope strung like a musical staff that was raised and turned on its side overhead. One morning a prized, oversize terry bath sheet disappeared from my line. It had been a sumptuous purchase from the family-favorite house wares store in New York City named Zuckebaum's. Women in my family had shopped at Zuckebaum's for generations. Knowing the oversized towel was ideal for the way Moroccan women carried their babies in slings on their backs, I decided that if this were the towel's new use, I would not begrudge a local mother such a treasure. During the rainy season of January and February, spiders would each night weave curtains of webs between the ropes of clothesline.
We had a Quonset with a view. Perched on a bluff, we looked down on the Moroccan soccer fields, always in use for their national sport with multiple games at the same time. Beyond the athletic fields was an abandoned watchtower from the 1940s when the base was used by the Allies during World War II. Further in the distance, out of sight but not hearing, a mosque broadcast the long chanting tones of the Islamic call to prayer five times a day.
THE STEAK ROAST
There was a package on the front step of our Quonset hut. Another advantage of moving on base was that friends could easily stop by. When the mail plane flew in twice a week from the large Navy base in Rota, Spain, any guys who were off duty would head to the base post office and help sort the delivery. Then someone would drop by with the happy gift of mail from home. This was not a mail day, though, and the parcel wrapped in brown paper had no postal markings. I scooped it up, slowly turned it over, and took it into our galley kitchen to cut the twine tie. Inside was treasure. Steaks! Quicker than I could pop them into our fridge, I concluded that Waldo, a friend who was a cook, was our benefactor. And there were LOTS of steaks.
A steak roast at the home of Kevin and Mary McCarthy
in 1968 at the Navy Base in Kenitra. This photo shows Sam Harris, Waldo, Tom Hebner, Oley, Ron
Updyke and Mary.
Kevin stopped home later to announce we were having a steak roast. It seems that over drinks at the Enlisted Men's Club the night before, a party idea had taken hold with a group of guys. There was now only fuzzy recollection of how many or who had been invited. Kevin told me they knew for sure that Ron Updyke, Sam Harris SN, Tom Hoebener, Oley Olsen, Greg Miller, Waldo CS3, and a few others would be there. The guys were taking care of everything, Kevin assured me. Since we had no grill, they were "requisitioning" one from the base picnic grounds. In short order, a similarly requisitioned pick-up truck dropped off an oil drum that had been halved into a giant BBQ grill. Beverage deliveries followed. I don't remember the side dishes, but I do recall a lot of fun casually unfolding across our lawn.
We made wonderful friends in the military. As was the case for many servicemen and their families, lifelong bonds were formed. Here are just a few or ours.
For both Kevin and me, Ron was the first person we met on base. He was always upbeat and smiling. As I got settled in a new country with different customs and few who spoke English, Ron made me feel so welcome. Kevin and I always knew that if we needed anything, Ron would be there.
Left to right, Sam Harris, Kevin and Ron Updyke
It was fun seeing Morocco with Ron as a companion. Ron was from a town in southern tier of New York called Apalachin. Maybe because we were all from New York State, we related to things and each other well. Ron was always cheerful and enthusiastic. Once we all went to Casablanca for a long weekend, four of us including another friend Oley, packed into our small car, a blue Volkswagen bug. The tiny trunk in the front of the car held luggage for four for the weekend, a feat my husband still teases me about today as I am not a "light packer." We stayed at a beautiful hotel on the ocean. The dining room had a dramatic view with waves crashing on the rocky shoreline of Casablanca just outside large glass windows. It was breathtaking. I also recall trying without success to tell the guys that they were ordering eggs for dinner. It was one of the few words I was sure of in French. Les ouefs. My veal cutlet was delicious.
One morning Ron was on an early patrol in a base pickup truck and driving a rotation that took him past the corner of our home in TQ15B. Kevin was also on an early shift that morning, which Ron knew. I was still pleasantly asleep and having a dream that repeated, getting louder and louder and louder each time I heard it: Ron's voice was drifting to me though the open window calling out, "Wake uuuuup, Mary." He had decided to give me a wake up call.
Once a week, I took our wash to the base Laundromat. If Ron was off duty and saw our car outside, he would stop in. Then while the clothes were spinning, we'd have fun at the base diner, the Oasis, next door, feasting on Hot Fudge Sundaes.
I can still see Ron carrying our first china in a square carton from the base Exchange on his strong shoulder as we all walked the unpaved road from the bus stop to our apartment in town. When Kevin's tour of duty ended and we left Morocco, Ron shipped home to us a carton of last minute odds and ends. It included things we packed the last morning, even the sheets we took off the bed. We left Ron with a power of attorney and after we left, he sold our car, that blue Volkswagen bug we all squeezed into for travels.
Ron was there for us when we each arrived separately and on the day we left together for home. And we're proud that he is still our friend.
Dawn and Larry Blankenship
A few houses (that is, Quonset huts) down the street lived a couple who became good friends, Dawn and Larry Blankenship BM3. They were high school sweethearts (like us!), now married. Both had grown up in the mountains and coal mining country of West Virginia. Dawn was all warmth and tenderness, with lush curves and conversation, dark hair, a full voice and open smiles. Larry was Spartan in comparison, tall and spare with a minimum of words and a dry, quiet humor. He worked in engineering and did things with calm, expert efficiency. The only time we saw him rattled was when the chlorine system in the pool broke down and he was overcome with fumes while fixing it.
On the left, Larry and Dawn Blankenship and on the right , with Mary in the McCarthy Quonset Hut
Dawn's mother used to bake her cookies and mail them from West Virginia using the military mail system. The thing was, Dawn never got any of these boxes. We solved the mystery when Dawn learned that her Mom had been labeling the outside of each box in large magic marker: Cookies.
Dawn was a talented artist and had turned down a college art scholarship to marry Larry. We gathered that her family may not have been keen on college for women. West Virginia was a "dry" state as well. When an evening together included a round of Sloe Gin Fizzes for the ladies, Dawn would always have two comments in her lovely mountain drawl. "Tastes just like soda pop," and "Mama would just die if she knew!" We played cards in the evening, usually pinochle, with the wives against the husbands. I don't think that Dawn and I ever won a game.
Sam Harris (see aforementioned photo of Sam, Kevin and Ron Updyke)
Sam was a magician. Literally. He was from Atlanta, Georgia and his family owned a magic and hardware store. He grew up learning and making magic. Kevin says Sam never paid for a drink in a bar and that you didn't want to play cards with Sam because he could find every card in the deck.
Sam was nice and funny and well liked. While we were there, he was transferred to England for several months, so we saw less of him. He came back telling us about all the new British music groups and songs that we would learn about soon. After we returned to the States, he visited us in Albany and he showed us around Atlanta.
Among the other valued friends we were made were Dennis Foley from New Jersey; Greg Miller from Albany; Waldo; and Oley from Red River, Michigan.
Our First Thanksgiving
We celebrated Thanksgiving in Morocco together with Ron, the Blankenships and some of the other guys. Ron helped put Dawn's table and mine together, even though it meant carrying Dawn's table from four doors down the street! It was my first time cooking a turkey. Of course, I left the "innards" well, in. I found them the next day when I was cutting up the leftovers.
FLAGS AND PLAY AND WAR
For me, each new experience in Morocco was an adventure. For Kevin and his friends, every experience was a consequence of the onerous draft for the Vietnam war that obliged them to be in the service. They all counted the time until their tour of duty was up and they could go home. There was a refrain you heard from each serviceman, stronger as his time to ship out neared. I can hear a typical chant,
and a wake up.
I was a step removed and took pleasure in Morocco at a level they could not.
Our Quonset hut apartment on base was well located for recreation. The base swimming pool was across a grassy field, and touring USO bands would occasionally play poolside. We never rated major celebrities, but bands starting out would sometimes visit. At the pool patio, we could always buy tasty Moroccan brochettes, small skewers of beef or lamb on a stick cooked outside on barbeque grills, the scent floating on the breeze and calling to you. In photos now grown old, friends like Ron, Dawn, Oley, Miller, Larry, Dawn and Sam are all young and playful around the water.
Beneath those sunny surfaces was a constant recognition that there was a war going on in Vietnam, that guys sometimes disappeared in the middle of the night for reassignments, and that the medics on base were there for training before shipping out to hospital or helicopter or field assignments in the Vietnam war zone.
Technically, we were on a Moroccan training base. It was rated by the Navy as hardship duty because of its isolation, a status that brought a slighter higher pay scale. There was a contingent of Air Force personnel who provided flight training for the Moroccan military. I remember diving to the floor behind the couch in our Quonset hut one day when a training flight needed a little more altitude.
The real reason for a US presence in Morocco was two other military bases, Sidi Yahia and Bouknadel, which were covert communications facilities. Our base was the supply installation and thus a Navy function. It puzzled me that the US military allowed dependents on a classified, secret military base, but my overriding sentiment was to be grateful that I could be with Kevin. A few years after we returned home, there was a fluff in the American press about the US presence in Morocco followed by military foot shuffling and bureaucratic explanations.
The port on the nearby Sebou River had served America and the allies since World War II. In the 1930's, during the time that Morocco was a French colony, it was named Port Lyautey after a French general when the French developed the port and nearby town. When Morocco became independent of France, its Arabic name of Kenitra was restored. In spite of past and current alliances, an American presence was not embraced by all Moroccans. Because of this, military uniforms were forbidden off base, even for the shore patrol. Civilian clothing was always worn. Attitudes towards Americans, especially to those in the service, could run anywhere from polite to hostile. Concern for aggression ran both ways.
We were in Morocco when Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, an Arab. The entire base was locked down and radio broadcasts were censored for a week for fear of American reprisals against Arabs in Morocco. I heard no such angry sentiments, however. Perhaps the news block out did its job. We had only radio, no television or stateside newspapers, and we never saw images of Robert Kennedy bloody and still.
I had a vague, uncomfortable feeling about it all. The Arab point of view was never presented in those years when Middle Eastern issues were discussed by Americans. It struck me as a significant omission. I was sure that people smarter and more sophisticated than me provided news and policy information. Yet I lived with Arabs as neighbors while it seemed they didn't exist for other Americans, that they were ignored in some kind of information void. Sirhan's act of murder was an outrage, but his political motivation had logic, as Sirhan believed in Arab nationalism and Robert Kennedy was a strong supporter of the state of Israel. Still, the American press dismissed him as a "madman."
"Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light " The movie theater was just across the street. We knew we were late if we heard the Star Spangled Banner begin. The national anthem played before each film while an image of an American flag was projected. The theater and the Mess Hall were the only places on base to see a Stars and Stripes flag. Because this was technically a Moroccan training base, American flags were not allowed to be flown. The flag grew to be a stronger symbol for us in its absence. We might not have missed the sight of our country's flag if we were simply travelers amid a bustle of new experiences in a foreign land. But being forbidden to see our flag created an entirely new and different perspective. The stars and stripes fluttering on the theater screen brought an unexpected rise of sentiment and forever strengthened the meaning of flag and country to us.
A second theater on base showed movies outside. Because there were nine months of dry weather after the rainy season, a large outdoor screen had been built by Navy Seabees with rows of white wooden park benches for movie watching. One night, under a starry African sky, we watched Boris Pasternak's epic story of the Russian Revolution in the American movie, Dr. Zhivago. We seemed to be not just in a foreign land but in a vortex of contradictions. ©
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