Naval Air Station Port Lyautey, Kenitra, Morocco
The photographs and narratives on this page were contributed by Pete Owen, AL1, USN Retired, who served many years at Port Lyautey. Pete was first assigned to Port Lyautey in 1949 with VR24. He was assigned to Detachment A between 1953 -1955 and then went back across the road to VR-24 again for another few years. In 1958 he went back to VQ2 (successor to Detachment A) and then returned to VR-24 again for 4 more years until he retired in 1962. Pete lived in Mission Viejo, CA and was the coordinator of the annual VR-24 Association reunions until he was called to report for duty in the Eternal cruise. He was a great guy and may God have received him with open arms!
Looking toward the Main Gate
Looking towards the French Airbase and their P2V's
Art Ware, AM1, VR-24 on left and Russ Hope on right (1955-56?). Art Ware bagged the boar.
"Louie The Duck"
Of all the old hands who ever tossed a few down at one of the many drinking establishments in Kenitra that catered to the American Navy, many amusingly will remember a small duck who was owned by Les Liptak and Pete Owen of VR-24. Pete relates that he and Les were shopping for vegetables in a local Kenitra market-place when Les noticed that one of the Moroccan vendors had a duckling for sale along with some chickens. "This little dude was huddled in with the other birds and looked so pathetic that I just had to take him home and make a pet out of him. Well the little dude ended up to be about a six pound green headed mallard and was a very beautiful bird" said Les. Louie had one trait however that endeared him to other members of VR-24; he had a penchant for imbibing of the grape, especially cognac. Les relates he would take Louie to a local watering hole named Felix's and he soon became one of the boys. Louie was always on his best behavior and exhibited all of the social graces expected of him as a bar patron. When a shot of cognac was poured for him, it was poured into a bottle cap whereupon Louie partook of the vine. The bartender, Mucho, so impressed with Louie's civility and good manners, allowed him to sit on the end of the bar next to Les who was sitting on a barstool. Louie however was not allowed to mooch for drinks on the pool table. In the last year of Les' tour of duty (53 -55) Louie was placed on the wagon and remained sober until the end of his life. He was eventually given to a maid and gardener and there is some speculation that he may have ended up as the main course in a stew. In the end, Louie had the last laugh, he got stewed one more time (bad).
Fleet Reserve Club
During 1955, a few white hats from VR-24 and VW-2 (Detachment A) decided that there should be a Fleet Reserve Branch in Port Lyautey. The Chief's Club in Kenitra had recently been abandoned, was available and use of it was obtained. There was much inside work required including remodeling to fit our needs. As luck would have it, there was a Seabee contingent, Mobile Construction Battalion #4, on base and they jumped at the chance to help. The remodeling took no time at all as those Seabees were good. In no time at all Branch 189 of the Fleet Reserve was in operation.
In order to attend the Club, one had to a member of the Fleet Reserve. Everyone, who was involved, if not already a Fleet Reserve member, joined up on the spot. As it turned out, it was a real nice Club and a good place to spend your leisure time in Kenitra. As the Base was fairly large in numbers of personnel, there was rather a large membership and the Club began turning a profit immediately. Entertainment was provided every week and the Entertainment Troupes contracted to perform, were the same Troupes that performed in other European and North African nightclubs. There was usually a band performing every night providing music and dancing.
Fred Fuentes, ADRC, Ret. who was in VR-24 with Pete Owen in the late 1950s went back to Port Lyautey in 1975. He was Plane Captain on the one aircraft the Station had. He related the following regarding the disposition of the club:
On returning to Port Lyautey for duty in 1975, Fred met John Schoenfeld there. John mentioned that the Fleet Reserve Treasurer,a civilian employee, had taken all of the Fleets' money and absconded to Mauritania. He was later caught, but the Moroccan government had closed the Fleet Reserve Club up by then. The building was still there but no Club. It had a pretty good run though as it opened up back in the early 50's and it lasted for about 20 years providing a rather nice place to go in town. The government had also closed up the Swagger Stick Club on the Base.
FLEET RESERVE CLUB, KENITRA, MOROCCO
Reminiscences of the Rotunde Hotel
One spot in Port Lyautey that was familiar to all navy personnel was the Rotunde' Hotel on Avenue Foch, the main north/south street through town and which led to the Base. The front steps of the hotel was a favorite gathering spot for overnight liberty sailors in the morning who were heading back to base, and waiting for a brown-bagger to stop and give them back a ride back to the Base, in order to make morning muster. More often then not, a good majority of them had just walked out of one of the all night spots and were feeling no pain.
A VIEW OF THE ROTUNDE, FROM ACROSS THE STREET
Kitty cornered and across the street from the Rotunde was a dry cleaning and material dying shop owned by a French lady. She had a small Scotty dog which always ran around the street. More often than not, she always had a different colored dye in the vat used to color customer's drapes, clothing, etc., to a different color. And it seemed that whatever color was in the vat, her Scotty dog was going to be wearing it that day. She would dip the dog in the vat, lift him out and then let him run loose out in the street. The dog would run across the street towards the under-the-weather sailors and they, upon seeing this multi-colored dog began to think, "Oh boy, what was I drinking last night"! The dog was probably a black one originally, but more often than not, he was never seen in his "original outfit".
The French Foreign Legion & The Navy
In the late 1940's and early 50's before the Volkswagon Petite Taxis were introduced, the main means of transportation in Port Lyautey were the one horse Cusheys (see Port Lyautey History for a photograph). Also in this time frame, Port Lyautey had quite a large contingent of the French Foreign Legion stationed there.
One of the most popular night spots in those days was the Bar Americaine on Avenue Foch up near the Railroad Station. It was one of the more frequented spots in town by both the Foreign Legion and the Navy. Late in the evenings after a fair amount of the local "Stork Beer" had been consumed by both parties, the favorite pastime were the Cushey races - the Legion versus the Navy.
Both parties would go out and grab one of the Cusheys and then race down Avenue Foch to the Clock in front of Mama's. Whoever lost would have to buy the other one a Stork. The powers that be on the base frowned on this pastime and the Gendarmes were kept busy trying to stop them. Needless to say though, they never seemed to have much luck. The races were always friendly and the Legion and the Navy always got along together real well. In the early 50's the modern world caught up with the Cusheys and they were replaced by the Petite Taxis (see Port Lyautey History page). Another example of modern technology taking over the old times. They were fun though and an awful lot of Stork got consumed in the meantime. Amen!
The Clock in front of Mama's