1980 to 1984
My friend here on the wordpress blogosphere RenxKoyko told me that I should write a blog about the time I lived in Italy. I have been thinking of that since then and today I sit with my keyboard and attempt to put down in words a once in a lifetime experience.
I joined the navy in 1977, believe it or not I took the oath on April 1, how ironic to take an oath on April fools day. I didn’t think of it at the time but I should have jumped up and said April Fools after the oath but I don’t think they would have enjoyed that. You have to understand that the Vietnam war had just ended and the all volunteer armed forces had just started. Those of us that joined felt a profound sense of patriotism and loyalty to the branch that we were going into. I had joined the navy because they were willing to give me the education that I couldn’t afford at the time. I went into the nuclear propulsion field. Yes they let me play with nuclear reactors. That however is another story.
I was stationed on the USS Virginia CGN-38 during the Iran hostage crisis. Our ship along with the rest of the battle group were assigned to go to the Indian Ocean to patrol just in case we decided to wage war on the Iranians. It was a long and grueling voyage. My wife of the time and I almost got divorced when I returned. We had been apart for almost 9 months and mail was difficult. There were no phone calls, there were no emails, just snail mail. Most of the time it was 2 weeks old when it got to us, if it got to us at all. I received 4 letters after I had gotten home. Rumor was that we were going to be in port for about 6 months on a refit and then were going back again. I just knew that if I went away again for an extended period of time my marriage would be over. It just so happened that the detailer (a person that assigns people to different posts) was visiting the ship in February of 1981, I made an appointment to see him and asked if I could be assigned some sort of shore duty, perhaps an instructors position at one of the schools that I had attended. Unfortunately there weren’t any actual shore duty billets available. He did say though that there was a repair ship (USS Puget Sound AD-38) assignment available in Gaeta Italy. His words were, “that ship is welded to the pier, it never leaves port” more on that later… You need to understand that at that time of my life I wasn’t much for asking or discussing major decisions with the wife, I had been raised by a military father and what he said the family did. I told the detailer that I would take the position and proceeded home to tell the wife the good news. Major lead balloon – she was not happy about that at all. For a while I thought I would be going by myself. The only thing that convinced her was that I said we could take the dog and I bought a book on the wonders of Italy.
The next three months was a whirlwind of activity. Getting the passport, getting all the shots, getting the dog ready to go, finding a vet that would take care of the dog (at the time you had to ship the dog separately , at least in the military) getting things ready to be packed, getting rid of anything considered contraband (yes there are lists of things you can’t take) renting a storage facility for things we didn’t want to take. All the things that you do when you move times ten. Surprisingly it went well, there were no loose ends to tie up and the packer came and went without a hitch.
We stayed in a Navy hotel for about a week waiting for the flight, which was kind of like a vacation and then the big day came. We were stuffed on to a flight that was crammed full of other service members for about 14 hours. It was a terrible flight but it was over and we were in a bus going to Gaeta. I had about 3 days to report after I got to Gaeta and I had been told that I would need to check into a motel (which the Navy paid for) while we looked for an apartment. We checked into the Hotel Serapo, mainly because it was the only one that would allow a dog of the size that we had. She hadn’t arrived yet but it would be any day now. Finding an Apartment in Italy is not an easy task, and one that will accept pets, well that is nigh impossible. I couldn’t check onto the ship because it was not in port. (?????) I distinctly remember the detailer telling me that the ship was “welded” to the pier. I decided to enjoy my last 3 days though and the room was fantastic. There was this quaint little restaurant inside the hotel so we decided to eat there. This was not the first time I had been in Italy, I had been over on the USS Virginia prior to the Indian ocean cruise, we had gone to the Mediterranean so I had been to a lot of the countries there. Earlier though I went to all of the tourist places that don’t really serve real Italian food. We went into the restaurant and ordered dinner, salad, spaghetti and desert. I asked for ranch dressing and the waiter just looked at me and pointed to the oil and vinegar on the table. (which I must point out was of the highest quality) The spaghetti have a very small portion of sauce on it, which I found out later is the way it should really be, and the desert was spumoni ice cream. I was a little in culture shock… I thought for a while that this restaurant was just different and that the rest of them were “real”… Nope. In that town they were “real” Italian restaurants. I laid in bed that night wondering what I had gotten myself into. I knew that my wife was not a happy camper (that would change) and I knew that I was in for the adventure of a life time.
To be continued.