There was a good-sized hill outside of Naples on the road to Rome. It was in the little town of Pozzouli, where Sophia Loren was born and lived. They called it Cuma Mountain, but was not much bigger than Beacon Hill here on the Island, only a lot steeper to get up. There was only a foot trail that we could see, so of course that just begged us to try and cram our bikes up there. We finally succeeded one day only to find ourselves in the middle of a good -sized vineyard. After talking to the guy who lived there for a while, he invited us into his house, which was built in the mouth of a cave in the side of the mountain. In the back, he had barrels and barrels of wine all made and ready to go to the city for sale. He broke out a few old glasses and dipped them into a small barrel he had right there in his kitchen and passed them around. We immediately lived up to our reputations as drunken sailors. When we got ready to leave and were about to start down the winding and dangerous trail, the old guy says, “why don’t you go down the road on the other side of the vineyard?” DUH! There wasn’t one of us, smart enough, to have wondered how he got those big-assed barrels down that small trail to go to the city! Smart boys we were!
At the bottom of that self-same mountain, there was a set of railroad tracks that ran between Naples and Roma. They were set up on a raised roadbed or berm. Again, it was an obstacle that just begged for us to do something stupid and dangerous. We backed off a little ways and started up the side of the berm at a good clip intending to jump over the tracks and land going down the other side of the berm. In theory and in actual practice it should work and did. The only trouble was figuring out just how fast you had to be going when you hit the top of the hill at the takeoff point. The first try didn’t even get us too the tracks. The next try landed the flyer right in the middle of the tracks to the huge detriment to his bike! Bent wheels. The next guy to try, not wanting his wheels to suffer the same out-come, cracked it on pretty good. He looked good flying through the air all the way over the tracks. The only trouble he had was on the landing, because he completely missed the taper of the berm on the far side and landed on the front wheel mostly, on the flat ground. This separated him from his steed in a most uncomfortable manner. Eventually we figured it out, that the optimum speed was just 35 mph, and thereafter we would scare the hell out of the engineers on the trains, by jumping across the tracks in front of the slow moving trains.
Through out Naples and the rest of Italy, there were a lot of fountains in the main piazzas, or squares of the city. One day while riding around on our bikes and looking at the big fountain in the main square of Napoli, the Piazza Munichipio, we got the bright idea that the local populace needed a little more color in their lives. So back to the base we went and on to the parachute loft. There we obtained about six packets of the US Navy’s best shark repellant. When this stuff is put in water it turns a beautiful shade of fluorescent green. Off we go back downtown to brighten the drab lives of all those people forced to live in drab old Napoli. Man, after throwing in the dye packets on a couple of circuits around the fountain, we pulled over to the side and stopped at the only place in Napoli that made pizza. It took a few minutes, but eventually the color started to show. As more and more of the dye got into the water, it turned a lot darker than we had anticipated. It was a closed water system and after all the dye dissolved, it wasn’t a nice fluorescent green, it turned a dark forest green! Virtually every car on the road and around the square came to a stop and the people all got out and went over to the fountain to feel and look at the phenomena. Needless to say I suppose, that the excrement hit the rotating airfoil over that little trick. The next night someone who shall remain nameless dumped a whole bottle of liquid soap into the same fountain, and now there were thousands of cubic feet of green bubbles all over the main piazza. They eventually had to drain all the contaminated water out of the fountain and refill it. The “word” was put out at the base, that if this occurred again someone on the base would be getting Court Martialed and spending some time in the brig! That pronouncement brought about an immediate cessation of water coloring.
Another night, another try at getting thrown in jail. This one occurred because it was a rainy night and we didn’t want to get wet walking from the car to the barracks when we got back to the base. So we just rode around till we saw a likely prospect standing on the sidewalk waiting for a bus. He was right at the edge of the sidewalk, and had his umbrella in his hand in the open position. I’m driving, so I swoop right close to the walk, while my partner in crime reaches out the window of the car and rips the brelly right out of the guy’s hand! Woosh, off we drive with our prize in our hand. Only trouble was, he couldn’t get the damned thing closed, and as I’m going at a pretty good clip now, it managed to turn itself inside out. Oh well, there must be someone else out there waiting to part with their umbrella. We didn’t find him though and had to be satisfied with our everted one. Remember those great big license plates that I mentioned before? They were also good for giving away who you were, when you were trying to be a beginning crook. Anyway, the next morning about ten in the AM, I get a summons from the Exec. of the base, requesting, nay, demanding my presence at his office forthwith! Not only did our big red and white plates give us away, it also made it easy for the Mayor of Naples to locate the two dastardly people who stole his son’s umbrella right out of his hands, right in front of the La Scala opera house! Whoops, BIG no-no. We were directed to take the offending object directly back to the office of the Mayor and to suffer whatever punishment he deemed it necessary to inflict upon the two of us blackguards! The first stop was at a shop where we could buy one that was of at least the same value as the one we stole and broke. Then off to the Mayors office to face the music. All in all, he was very gracious, and understanding of young people’s hijinks. After apologizing profusely, we beat a hasty retreat and went back to the Exec.’s office to report on our humiliation and punishment. When he found out the Mayor did little more than verbally chastise us, he immediately put us both on two weeks restriction to the base and docked us $50 apiece! That was a most unsatisfying and expensive experience! $50 dollars was about three weeks pay back then, plus the cost of the new umbrella!
One day my future wife, myself, and about three or four other guys, were on a little excursion in the backcountry. Two guys on a Vespa motor scooter, came up alongside of us, and were doing some fierce ogling of the rear end of the only female rider in our bunch. Granted, it was unusual to say the least, to see a female astride of a motorcycle. Even more unusual was the fact that she was driving the thing! Unheard of in those days in Italia. Women always rode on the back of ANY motor scooter or cycle, and absolutely NEVER astride! They always sat side-saddle. Well these two guys just couldn’t believe what they were seeing and kept edging in closer and closer. Finally I goosed my bike and cut in front of them and behind Verna’s bike. Well, they didn’t like being relegated to the rear of our entourage and again they came abreast of her and cut right in behind her. Only this time they decided to take a few more liberties with this uncouth and “low” woman. The driver pulled right up close and the passenger guy reached out and gave a good firm pat to the derrière of “my woman”! Well, how dare the little snot! At the moment, we happened to be going along the top of a long low hill with a fairly steep down hill embankment to the right of us, all nice and grassy. So I pulled right up along side of them again and reached out with my foot and gave the handle bar grip of the scooter a fairly stiff kick. The wheel immediately snapped hard right, and the last I saw of the two and their scooter; they were tumbling head over heels down the side of the hill. No more pats on the po-po from those two!
After I had proved to the powers that be, that I could fix virtually any problem with any of the Navy’s big round engines, and that I was a rather resourceful sailor, I got a huge step up! The guy who had been 1st wrench, (head mechanic) on Admiral Browns R4Y-5Z Convair was transferred back to the States. The 2nd wrench moved up to take his place and they needed a replacement for #2. It was up to Chief Baker to assign him, and somehow I got the job! Now this was going to get me to all those ‘nice’ places to go on an RON. No more carrier trips, no more weeks of living like an animal in the belly of a small plane. On this baby, we went to wherever there was a United States Embassy, on a regular basis! The only bad thing about the whole job was the fact that whenever we landed in a foreign city, when you walked down the stairs of that plane you had to be wearing a dress uniform! Huge pain in the butt. Trying to keep an all white uniform spotlessly clean while working around an aircraft was a task that I was not good at. They used to call me Pigpen around the hangar, because I attracted dirt just like a magnet. I used to keep six sets of brand new “whites” stashed on board the aircraft at all times, just in case! But right after the Admiral and all the “Digs” (dignitaries) had left the area, we jumped right back into our dungarees. Then it was time to service the aircraft with fuel and post flight it. We would fix any minor discrepancies that the pilots had noted on the yellow sheet. Those big old R2800 hundreds managed to leak out oil from various orifices and so we would wipe it all up so that the plane shown like a diamond. Once our “baby” had been attended to, we were free to go exploring in the city where we were. Over the course of the next year and a half, I went to virtually every major city in Europe and a good part of the ones in Africa and the Middle East. I would send my folks a post card from each one of the city/countries, and they would track me on an old Atlas they had. There were some of those cards that didn’t get back to the States until after I did! A few of these cities that we visited were in the Soviet Bloc and when we would go to them we never wore a uniform, not allowed by the local powers that be. When and if we did get to go into the city, it was in civilian clothes and then only to designated places. There were also ALWAYS, two guys who followed you where ever you went. In most of these places you hardly ever saw people just walking around have a good time or fun. Everyone and everything looked grim and foreboding. Places like Warsaw, Poland and Split, Yugoslavia were particularly unhappy looking places. Once in a while some brave soul would come up to us and try to talk to us about the US. All the while your two tails would edge up close and listen in. I often wondered what happened to those people after they had the temerity to talk to us.
After having spent three plus years gallivanting all over Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, one of the countries that I liked to visit the most was Greece. As was always the case in a foreign country, as far as I was concerned, the local people in the villages were absolutely delightful to deal with! It was only when you had to deal with the bureaucrats that it became less than satisfying! One of the Greek Isles that I had the good fortune to visit was the Island of Rhodes. It was kind of bare and desolate in the outlying areas, but the little village on the water was absolutely beautiful. I spent about two hours one day, at a small outdoor restaurant trying to explain to two people that the name of the State in the US where I lived was named after this particular little Island. I’m not even sure that that is true, but I can’t imagine where Roger Williams got the name for our patch if it wasn’t from there.
In each one of these countries, I’d wind up with some of the local currency in either coinage or paper form. After three years plus over there, I had quite an exotic mix of money. I kept it in an old shaving bag and it added up to about $500. I could have traded it in for American green, but I wanted to bring it home to show my Mom and Dad. On the way back, we were routed through Port Layutey in French Morocco where we had a two day layover. Well, one of the times we were all out of the barracks at chow, a gang of the local hoods went through the place like a scourge of locust and cleaned out every damn locker in the building. So there went my coin collection and a Kodak Retina Reflex camera with a 70 mm telephoto lens and a good wide angle one as well. That was about $2000 worth of camera and lenses back then. It put an abrupt end to my photography career! A few hours after this, we were all on one of those newfangled Boeing 707 jet airliners that MATS had recently acquired, on our way back to the good old US of A and the end of my tour in Bella Italia! Ciao everybody! Now on to the hinterlands of the State of Maine for my next duty station that had absolutely nothing to do with airplanes!