I had the great fortune of being paid to live in Greece.
I was a Lieutenant in the Navy in 1987. I will shorten the story at the front end. I was not enthralled with my job at the time and was offered a lot of money (at the time) to move to the private sector. I figured, “I can make twice as much money and be half as miserable.” Thus, I submitted my written request to resign my commission. I was stationed in Long Beach, CA then. The Navy offered me the job in Greece if I would stay on active duty.
I was aware that terrorism was ramping up in the area. Hezbollah had hijacked TWA flight 847. Members of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion were onboard, after completing their duties in Nea Makri, Greece. The terrorists took the plane hostage, eventually ending up in Beirut. Steelworker Second Class (SW2) Robert Stethem was tortured, killed and dumped onto the tarmac.
My prospective job was in Nea Makri, Greece. Strangely enough, the Navy had difficulty filling many billets there in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. I had asked for assignment to Greece since my initial training in 1981. Begged, really. I was not going to be deterred by a bunch of stinkin’ terrorists. Ergo, I agreed to remain on active duty and move, all by my little lonesome, to Greece.
The story of my fascination with Greece began many years earlier. I was travelling with my marvelous mother, brother and evil step-father (to whom I will refer as Fulldemerde) in Greece. I happened to read the book “My Family and Other Animals,” written by Gerald Durrell. I was nine years old. I was irrevocably hooked…and knew I had to live there. More on this later.
Back to 1987. I was ten feet tall and bulletproof. I was going to live in Greece, damnit, come hell or high water. It was a dream come true. Many people tried to talk me out of it. I pointed out to them that it was statistically more likely that I would be killed in a drive-by shooting on the L.A. freeways than by pansy-ass terrorists. So, off I went.
My boss was in Naples, Italy. Pretty sweet gig, being an Officer in Charge in Greece with one’s boss in another country! I stopped in Naples for several days to get some orientation and be instructed in my responsibilities. Italy was great. I decided then that I would need to live there someday.
I flew to Naples from L.A. via a military charter aircraft. Red-eye from LAX to Philadelphia on a commercial flight. I had a fairly lengthy layover in Philly, before being herded onto a Military Airlift Command (MAC)-sponsored, commercial plane to Naples. Now, I think it’s called AMC (and I don’t remember what that acronym stands for); then it was MAC. MAC meant “Maybe Airplane Come.” The flight was an uneventful cattle car to Naples, and I got to wear civilian clothes.
From Naples, I was booked on a MAC military flight to Athens. This was a Mediterranean milk run on a C-130. Although, due to the terrorism threat levels, military uniforms were not authorized off-base in Greece, MAC, in its infinite wisdom, required passengers to wear a uniform. I tried my best to convince them otherwise. Logic did not prevail. Therefore, I arrived at the MAC terminal in my Service Dress Blues (SDBs). And there I sat. For hours.
You see, the plane was delayed. I forget the reason now. I huddled in the terminal in my SDBs, in December, shivering and second-guessing my great adventure. I had no friends in Naples. I was alone. And, still, the plane did not arrive. Periodic announcements were made, the terminal cleared out, and there I sat. Then, it was announced that the flight schedule had changed. We would be diverted through La Maddalena, Sardinia, and therefore we would have to wear civilian clothes. I trotted off to the restroom and changed into jeans and every warm piece of clothing I owned. Oops – mistake – we’d fly direct and have to fly in uniform. Back to the bathroom to switch into SDBs. Oops again – and oops again. At least I stayed warm by wardrobe changes.
At about midnight, the announcement was made that maybe, just maybe, the flight would be cancelled. Crew days or something. I was not amused, I was tired and lonely, my uniform looked as if it had been crumpled into a heap and weighed down by a bowling ball, and I was NOT GOING TO SPEND THE NIGHT ON A BENCH IN THE MAC TERMINAL. Damn it. I found the Crew Chief and told him he and his blankety-blankety plane had to take me to Athens. That approach worked, and all the passengers were boarded.
All the passengers, it turned out, were (was?) me. Tired, wrinkled, SDB-clad Mari. I was the sole occupant of the aircraft. I sat gingerly on the cargo net seat in the C-130, strapped myself in, and prepared to arrive in my new home. After the plane got airborne, and I was shivering in the cavernous fuselage of the plane, the Crew Chief tromped out of the cockpit and said the pilot and flight crew invited me to join them.
Once I arrived in the cockpit, I noticed that they had heat. I was warm for the first time in hours. And, they gave me hot chocolate. Maybe this C-130 wasn’t so bad after all! I was still a little put out about the delay, but I guess beggars can’t be too picky.
I remember flying into Athens. Of course, it was dark, but the sprawly lights of the city twinkled and gleamed on the shores of the Aegean Sea. I imagined the temples, the Plaka and the Acropolis shining white and harkening back to the birth of democracy. I pictured exploring the city and the country in the years to come. My heart skipped a beat. I was finally in Greece. I didn’t care that it was way past midnight…I had arrived. Let the adventure begin!
16 January 2015