When flying with the Major we would normally go to places where we had outposts that were landing fields for airplanes used in our photo recon operation. One of them was in Tunis in Tunisia. The flight from Belgium to Tunis and back was really an enjoyable trip. If the weather was good! Some of the things that we saw in Tunis were very interesting. For instance, the first time that I landed in Tunis, an American soldier - a sergeant - picked me up at the airport and took me to a hotel in downtown Tunis. On the way in, he said, “Would you like to have some beer?” I said, “Sure.” He says, “Well come on. We’ll go down to the harbor. I estimate that on that wharf there in the harbor, there’s several thousand cases of beer.” We went to the wharf where he picked up a case and put it in the jeep. We drove back to the hotel, and drank it.
The hotel was right in downtown Tunis. On the edge of town, not too far from the hotel, was the camel caravan trail that came into Tunis from the desert. It was interesting to go there in the evening and watch camel caravans come in off the desert. You could stand there on the sidewalk and imagine that it was a thousand years ago. They had not changed much at all. The camels had their little tinkling bells and carried their little packs on their backs. The attendants, or the camel herders, had their heavy wool blanket-type shawls and clothes on. They may have had shoes, but all I saw were rags wrapped around their feet ...
In downtown Tunis, there were houses built like the Indians in the old West. They were built in stories and had ladders to climb up to them. It was almost identical architecture. Tunis was a strange place, and we didn’t associate with any of the people. I don’t think they wanted to associate with us, either. On the coast, a little north of Tunis, was the site of the ancient city of Carthage. It had been destroyed. There wasn’t much to see.
Coming back from West Africa. I was off the coast of Tunisia about ten miles north of Bizerte. Altitude: twenty-five hundred to three thousand feet. The day was beautiful, no wind. The sea was calm as a lake and like a mirror. I looked down into the sea and there were the remnants of a city. You could see the outlines of the streets and the foundations of the houses. I called the pilots’ attention to it. They confirmed that they had seen it. We circled around this area to be sure that we weren’t imagining things, then continued on our way. I have never heard whether or not, there is any known ancient city beneath the water. An ancient city is what it appeared to be. Our only conclusion was that at one time the Mediterranean basin was a fertile plain. Maybe the Straits of Gibraltar had been penetrated by the Atlantic Ocean and flooded this plain. That’s a theory. I don’t know. Over....
It was always a pleasure to fly over the Mediterranean to France. One time we flew over Sicily and flew over Mount Etna. Another time, we flew over Pompeii, in Italy, and directly over Mount Vesuvius. We looked right down into the crater.
When you leave North Africa, going north over the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily is to the east. Sardinia and Corsica are to the west. Soon you make a landfall very close to Marseilles, France. We would fly up the Rhone Valley; past Paris and into Belgium. It is really a very, very nice trip and very pleasant. The navigation is easy. When the weather is good, it’s just a beautiful trip and very inspiring.
On this day, we were coming out of West Africa. We refueled at Tunis; crossed the sea, crossed France, and arrived at St. Trond. After landing I went to my barracks. I lived in a building next to the swimming pool. As I came to the front door one of the fellows who lived in the building with me was standing outside. This conversation took place: Where you coming from?” “I’m coming in from West Africa.” “Did you have a good trip?” “Oh yeah.” “Good. Real fine.” “Would you like to have a drink?” “Boy I sure would.” He had this glass in his hand with ice in it. He said, “Here, you can have this.” I took it and thanked him. I took a sip and another sip and I said, “Boy, that’s pretty good, what is it?” He said, “Aqua Velva Shave Lotion.” It was good! Or I thought it was good at that particular time!
Heading north, on a beautiful day, we were coming off the coast of Africa. My pilot was from Sweetwater, Texas. We were flying parallel to the west coast of Italy. My pilot called, “Have you ever been to Rome?” I said, “No, I’ve been by it many times, but I’ve never been to Rome.” He said, “Give me a heading to Rome, we’re going.” I gave him a heading to an airfield south of Rome. We landed and caught a shuttle into Rome. We were put up in one of the finest hotels in Rome. It was known as the “Hassler”. They had a figure of Romulus and Remus in the lobby. It had elevators. The tables had real tablecloths, silver plate and crystal glasses. We stayed there for a couple of days. Finally, we moved into another hotel that was bigger, but wasn’t quite as finely appointed as this one.
After a couple of days in Rome, I decided that I was going to go to the Vatican. I’d heard about the museums and the pictures. I couldn’t get anybody to go with me but this ol’ boy from Sweetwater, Texas. He was about six feet, four inches tall and about as big around as a pencil. He was a nice fellow and funny. We jumped in a taxi and go to the Vatican. We are up on the third or fourth floor, walking down this hall, when a door opened to the left of us and a man walked out. He came over and asked, “Would you officers like to have audience with the Pope?” I answered, “Well, we would, but we’re not Catholic.” He said, “That doesn’t matter. Come on. You can have an audience with the Pope.” He took us into this large room. A big wooden banister or railing separated the room. In one part was a throne with a red carpet and gold chair. In a few minutes a door opened to my right, and in walked the Swiss Guards. In the middle of the Guard formation was this man (the Pope) dressed in white, wearing a white skull cap. The Pope walked up to and ascended the throne. He began speaking in Italian (which we did not understand), then he made the sign of the cross! I looked around (there had been about twenty other people in the room with us) and all of them were Kneeling! Me and ol’ Sweetwater, we’re the only ones standing! I said, “Get down. Get down.” We kneeled! The Pope made another statement and turned to leave. As the Pope was leaving the room, the audience applauded. He left the room escorted by the Swiss Guards. One of the Attendants told us that we had been blessed. You talk about being in the right place at the right time- that was us! It’s amazing how many times I’ve been at the right time and the right place, not knowing what was going to happen. I’m grateful.