Veteren’s Day: I Salute You All!

This blog not only allows me an opportunity to share great travel destinations, but also serves as a podium to pay homage to special people, special events and special holidays. I may have met these people or experienced events while traveling, but in some cases I get to share the experience through other people’s eyes and stories.

Such is the case for my next ‘guest blogger,’ Larry Christie, a/k/a my father. He is a past high school history/english teacher who has had a life long love affair with the written word. He has catalogued his life through written journals – now if we could only decipher his handwriting. At 80-years-old he still has the mental capacity to maintain full comprehension of simultaneously reading multiple books. When my youngest brother was asked many years ago, when he was in elementary school, what his father did – he replied, “He reads books!”

But my father is also a Veteran. He has shared sparingly over the years his years spent in service to our country. I have been remiss in all my years to truly acknowledge his dedication and those of so many others throughout the years and decades and multiple wars who have given so freely of themselves to secure the freedoms of Americans. This post is dedicated to veterans everywhere.

One element of service for so many of these men and women in uniform is their opportunity to see parts of the world. Some locations would make the top of many of our travel bucket lists, some would never make it on a bucket list at all. But there is a story to be gleamed from every travel experience that is a part of these brave soldiers tour of duty.

Following is a personal recounting by my Dad of the highlights of his travels as he served in the US Air Force during the Korean War conflict in the 1950’s:

‘When I graduated from high school my mother gave me two options. If you stay at home expect to pay rent or go into the military like your two brothers did.

Six months later I had followed my mother’s advice and an advertising slogan that said “Join The Military and See The World”. I thought the world would look better from above, so I joined the Air Force and for the next four years saw the world from above in an aluminum tube built by the lowest bidder. The tube was called a B-52 Stratocruiser and America’s first attempt at a Jet powered bomber.

As a part of the Strategic Air Command and America’s front line of defense, the crew that I was assigned to was an elite group that had the awesome responsibility of ferrying nuclear weapons around the world. Our assignment was to transfer and move the nuclear arsenal from depot to depot so the “cold war world” would never be sure of the arsenal’s location. Also, another part of our assignment was to fly a war simulated mission. This flight lasted 23 hours and required refueling in the air twice. But it took me to Labrador, Iceland, Scotland, England, Morocco, Germany and many other places.

The destination of flight was a mystery to everyone except the Captain. He would open his orders when we were at the end of the runway ready for take-off, then he would give the heading to the Navigator and we were off. The only thing we were told before each flight was the amount and type of clothes to bring.

Sidi Slimane North Africa in Morocco was certainly the most colorful spot we went to. The US had built a large airbase outside of the town of about 30,000 people. The town still seemed to be in the middle ages; one Doctor for the whole community, most transportation was by mules and buggy’s, most of the streets were unpaved, food was not to be eaten by military personnel, but we could drink the French beer. We were not to be in town after dark, remember it is 1953 just a few years after the war, and pictures were taken at our own risk as the people still believed that a picture captured the soul. I took a picture of a man on wagon, and he got infuriated with me and wanted the picture.

Main entrance to US Air Force Base in Sidi Slimane, Morocco in the early 1950’s.

Sidi Slimane was also very memorable to me because the base had the largest cache of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer in a warehouse that sort of became one of seven wonders of the world. A miss-order during or after the war created a shipment of 500,000 thousand cases of beer rather than 5,000 and because the war ended the beer stayed in the warehouse. Also, my plane had a mishap in Sidi Slamain, we crashed but everyone walked away.

In 1953-57 the Air Force was the largest grouping of people in Keflavik, Iceland. A very beautiful cold town that was on the outskirts of the base and was a magnet to the military as the people were friendly, the food good and the scenery unbelievable. This location created another special memory as it was the site of my first plane crash, some injuries, but we all returned to duty.

Keflavik, Iceland

England and Scotland were other landing places, that gave our crew an opportunity to see the lush green of the British Isles. London was the logical destination for young military men so every chance we got – it was off to London. The City was still recovering from the war and there were areas where we could still see the devastation done by the German Blitz, but London offered sightseeing, great food, plays and bars that served men that were in the service but not yet 21.

Lush green British Isles

Our flights took us to Wiesbaden, Germany the cuckoo clock capital of the world and to Frankfurt where we had an opportunity to spend and evening with a German tank commander in a bombed out remnant of the war that was a wine shop. So interesting to hear about WWII from the other side.

Waiting and watching for the giant cuckoo clock to strike in Wiesbaden, Germany.

I/we also saw tha Azores, Goosebay, Labador, Hawaii from 40,000 feet. Fly-by over Greenland, a low flight over the Emerald Isle of Wales, and an unauthorized flight over the Grand Canyon. And many booze flights from Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona to Fairford, England or Lakenheath, Scotland. Boys with big toys still had to play.

As a Veteran and like every other Veteran, we all have stories to tell. A career like mine was filled with incidents from every take-off to every landing to every war simulated mission. But the real stories that Veterans could tell were from those in combat and most Vets won’t repeat their heroics because they do not want to remember what they had to do and what they saw. So most of the real stories went to the graves with their creators.’

Thank you pops for sharing! So many in my generation and now my kid’s generations can’t fathom the lives these brave men and women led. What they saw by the time they were 21-years-of-age should humble those of us lucky enough to have stayed out of harms way while honoring these heroes. I salute you all!

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