Freeze! You’re Under Arrest
Finally, I got my duffle bag containing all my worldly belongings and walked to the bus depot to ride up to my now deserted barracks. I was so exhausted that once I got there, I went to my bunk and dropped my gear and my personnel papers. That’s right! The very ones that if I lost would land me in jail, the Brig! At this point, I was so tired of what was going on and happening, so throwing them into the bunk next to me didn’t worry me at all. All I knew was that I was completely exhausted, physically and emotionally, so, as soon as I lay down I passed out.
After some hours, I woke up still trying to assimilate everything that had happened! All this craziness had made me HUNGRY, so I decided to go to the chow hall and get some dinner. So, off I went and made it back in a short time. It wasn’t too long after I got back that I fell back into deep slumber.
Casablanca, Morrocco in 1962 in the US Navy
My routine was ready to begin the next day. I was ready to start the day. I would usually wake up, get ready to eat some breakfast at the chow hall, then ready to go swimming in the pool or go to the gym. Or, maybe a movie? Sure! I just couldn’t stand still! I was always walking around in amazement thinking “This is HUGE! The U.S. Military Base in Norfolk, Virginia! It’s like a city in and of itself!” I didn’t have to leave the Military base to do anything! There was just enough there to keep me entertained and amused, while at the same time, available and ready for action whenever someone showed up to tell me what to do. I remember myself saying: “I am an adult now! I’m 18 years old, for God’s sakes, graduated from boot camp, my first assigned duty to Norfolk Navy Base. I can handle ANYTHING!” I was simply awaiting orders, ready for action. Little did I know what was waiting for me.
Days were going by quickly; 10 days seem to go by like a flash! Soon enough it was already 3 months after starting boot camp, 3 more months of living in my new home base Norfolk, Virginia. I was simply blissed out! I had no chores, no one to yell at me for no reason… Just eat, swim, hang out, sleep. I was living the dream, enjoying my new-found freedom. But this wasn’t for long…
One night I heard a voice that woke me up: “Freeze, you are under Arrest!” Suddenly, something yanked me out of my bunk and threw me on the floor. The military police were yelling with rifles pointing at my head. They forcefully asked: “Who are you and what are you doing off limits?” This was madness! I was confused in all this mess, but I somehow got to blurt out “Sir, A. Morrocco (SA) US Navy, Sir!” However, this didn’t stop the mass chaos. I was grabbed and thrown into a US Navy Police Jeep and driven to the “Brig” –The place we were threatened with if we didn’t do as we were told was now finally appearing.
Once I got there, the interrogation session started. There were all sorts of questions getting thrown at me: “Who was I?”, “Why was I in off-limited barracks?”, “Who…?”, “What…?”, “Where…?”, “Why…?”, When?”. At that point, in their view, I was a would-be spy/deserter and was under arrest for so many unknown reasons. It was at this point that I realized I was in serious trouble. So, I remembered what I had done with my papers and repeated again and again “My papers! My papers! My Navy folder is on the bunk next to where you found me, Sir!” But no one listened. I was then tossed into solitary confinement. I had been locked up for possibly being a terrorist. This somehow made sense because after all we were at war, and, I was the unknown person found off limits.
Join the Navy, see the world!
After a few hours and more questions, the military police finally listened to what I was saying and went to look for my Military papers. After they found them, they went through them and saw all my military information, including the notice that I was being shipped to Port Lyautey, Kenitra, MOROCCO. This kept everyone laughing at my expense, because, what a coincidence, right?
Ah! The mystery unravels… And when the lieutenant noticed my real name, and saw my papers said “Morocco” and not “Cuba”, he broke up laughing when he suddenly realized the obvious name/destination coincidence. So, this is what they discovered after going through all my papers: A. Morrocco (SA) US Navy was not AWOL, but simply a victim of a very practical joke: “MORROCCO was being shipped to MOROCCO!” Well, here’s the story behind that joke: It turned out that, since my last name was Morrocco, someone processing our papers in Washington, D.C. at the Bureau of Personnel, must have just seen my last name and, in a bored moment, decided to lighten up his day by stamping “Port Lyautey, Kenitra, Morrocco” all over my personnel papers and folder!
Lo and behold, all the confusion and interrogation had happened because what I had to do was go to a different air terminal and catch my next flight to Port Lyautey, North Africa. The only problem was that no one had explained any of this to me while I was watching my entire division fly off to Gitmo Bay, Cuba!
Alright, next Stop: Port Lyautey Kenitra, Morocco, North Africa. Comnavacts Mediterranean Station for Defending the Mediterranean from the Russians!
After not being shipped to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I was sent instead to Morocco to secure the entire Mediterranean from Russian invaders. After an 18-hour flight in a crowded, jam packed military prop plane, I made my official arrival to Port Lyautey Kenitra, Morocco in North Africa at the US Navy Station in August, 1961. The hatch opened and we got off the plane. The first thing that happened? Woah! The air temperature hit me at 120 degrees plus! I felt like this was hell on earth! North Africa was home to the Sahara Desert, this meant that winds and heat were waiting for me! These would be nothing more than my daily routine and more adventures.
Join the Navy and See The World!
My new assigned home were the barracks. They had no air conditioning and no fans (but really, who’d want to blow around hot air, anyway?). I soon discovered that the showers were and would be my hang-out most of my time. It was just so nice to stand under cool water for hours and hours! After all, it was 120 degrees in the shade and, as a New England native, this was to me something from another planet: planet hell.
After one week, I was assigned to my new position: washing pots and pans. Well, after all, I had just graduated boot camp and spent 3 months in a US military base, so I actually had not learned much else, and as I was US GOV property, I just did what I was told, discovering quickly that I had given up all my rights as a taxpaying citizen. All I had to do was listen, obey, act, for God’s sakes, don’t think.
About one week of settling into hot Morrocco Navy Base, one afternoon there was an announcement from The Brass at the Admiral’s office: “Can anyone type?”. Interestingly enough, in 1961 it wasn’t uncommon to find men who couldn’t type. But, thanks to the fact that I had taken a business course and thanks to Mrs. Johnson, who taught my class how to type (I honestly feel like this was the only thing I had learned how to do in my 3.5 years of high school!), I was then a so-called “speed typist” at around 30 WPM (word per minute). Typewriters in 1961 were very different to what we have today. No comparison. Back then, they all had a ribbon and a pound key board. NO electrical anything. It was the newfangled gadget of the time.
After announcing to my immediate supervisor of pots and pans that I, indeed, knew how to type, I was immediately assigned to a new barracks, a new division and an air-conditioned office that was the main headquarters to Admiral Peoples North Africa COMNAVACTS. I was working for Lieutenant Commander Gearheart and my new assignment was to type, type and type all kinds of papers that were all high SECURITY, which required that I received a top Security Clearance. By doing this I would also be allowed to become a senior sailor with all the privileges that only officers had on base! Once I was cleared, I was moved up to Top Brass Office as a “Personal Aide and Typist” to work directly under Admiral Peoples’ direction, with my new top security clearance status, all base privileges and I even got to have my very own Jeep. WOW! I was now living the dream!
Washing pots and pans was over. It was time to welcome the privileged few at the admiral’s private offices: Life in Morrocco from 1961 to 1963!
This new stage started off with a 30-day introduction to a new culture: No one was allowed off base by themselves, there had to be 3 or more sailors together at all times, or you’d go straight to jail, the “Brig Danger Zone”! It made sense because, after all, we were at war with Cuba and Russia, so wandering off solo was dangerous.
Being in Morrocco for those years, made me feel like my whole world had been turned upside-down and backwards finding myself living in an Arabic speaking country under monarch rule, whereas my upbringing was quite different: I was white, I was an American, Roman-Catholic, country bumpkin, New England: Small town, and democracy under President Kennedy. Now, what did I have here? The complete opposite: Brown, African, Muslim, a monarchy, for God’s sakes! under tyrannical rule of King Mulla Hass Sang V. You always had to follow the new rules or regulations, or risk being killed in a foreign land. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful things about Morocco too. It is mystical, magical, romantic, Atlas Mountains, exotic cities, desert oasis, camels and couscous!
Live, Laugh, Love!
We privileged few from the TOP BRASS office could and were encouraged to travel throughout the country with our “top-security pass” and had more time to travel than the regular base personnel. So, we took full advantage of these perks and got to see Tangiers, Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains. It was time to discover another culture living in a strange land with new found friends: Hello, Morocco! It’s me, Morrocco!
Around this time, I had graduated to fill my new position as Journalist Petty Officer 3rd Class. This was truly a big deal going from mere enlisted Sailor to a Now New Petty Officer I was pretty much entering the elite status of US Gov property. Join the Navy – See the World!
After discovering we could simply fly to Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and even the UK we soon learned that during our days off, as top security personnel with privileges, we could just simply go to the air terminal, find out where the next flight to Europe was, get aboard a cargo plane and fly off to the UK, or Germany, Italy, France… We could even go to Spain or Portugal. At our arrival, we could just hop on a free military bus to be taken to the US Military Base, where there would be FREE US military barracks and free chow halls. Free Chow! Wow, that was the main ticket after all being a growing teenager one was hungry all the time.
And that wasn’t all folks we were discovering Exciting European cities – Almost practically for free Compliments of the US Navy. We could go for two, three or even up to four days having $1 or as much as $5 American dollars to spend. We could get a beer, a bottle of vino, a great gourmet meal and then tour the city. It was truly a whirlwind adventure an all-expense paid 18-month tour of North Africa and now included Europe. Being an 18, then 19 and then 20-year-old country bumpkin from New England who was now growing up fast among exotic cultures in Europe and North Africa all compliments of the US Navy. And, being paid $5.50 a day, what a deal! I was having the time of my life at last.
Join the Navy – See the World!