When I initially joined the Navy in the late 70s, I had already travelled to both coasts of the United States and to Great Britain – Northern Ireland, Scotland and London, England. But as a kid traveling with your parents or with a grandmother, it doesn’t really make for an adventure.
I joined the Navy to see the world. For nearly three years, I trained at various bases – in San Diego, at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago, in Pensacola, Florida and in Georgia. And then I returned to Arizona. I still wanted to see the world. So in between university semesters, paid in part by my military service, I spent several weeks each summer on the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez, Mexico with a group of scuba divers from Arizona.
I joined the Navy again in 1987 for the adventure – and spent the next three and a half years near Washington, D.C. working as an electronics technician ( a Cryptologic Maintenance Technician specifically). I travelled all over the region from the shores of Lake Erie in the northwest to New York City, and all the historical places from Philadelphia to Annapolis, and then spent some vacation time as far south as Daytona Beach. But it was my decision to specifically request a sea-duty assignment, rare for those in my job specialty, when my world travel really took off.
After training, my orders sent me to San Francisco to board a cruiser, the USS TEXAS. Panama, Ecuador, and then north to and through the Panama Canal to the western Caribbean. I’ve ordered red snapper dinners in Panama, cigars and hotel rooms in Ecuador, and taken pictures of the Galapagos Islands as we sailed past. I’ve lived in the Kitsap peninsula opposite Seattle for a year, travelled to Esquimalt, British Columbia and Vancouver, Canada. (it is where I first learned about micro-brew beer and ales). On different ships and at different times, I enjoyed visiting countries around the Mediterranean, and one of the first American Navy ships to visit Bulgaria in 50 years.
As a kid who joined the Navy out of high school, I had been itching to get away from the desert. I never understood why my old Navy mentors, WWII sailors would have settled in Arizona and not near the sea. “We have had plenty of ocean. I am here because it is all beach”. After eight years of sea-duty, I understood that comment. And I was glad that I had a love of history and foreign languages to complement my technical profession. I’ve met and hung out with Spaniards in Cartagena, Spain. Enjoyed smoky jazz and partying with the French in Toulon and Paris, and sipped cappuccino in Catania, Sicily, Naples and Trieste. By the way, Trieste was also the place I was cussed out, in German, by a shopkeeper with he presumed, a German tourist and his lousy italian!
Whether visiting the historical sites of the Minoan civilization – and a 4000 year old queen’s working toilet, or seeing the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, I was grateful for my teachers from high school and college for fostering my interests.
In wartime, there are often too little focus on the wonder of travel and the opportunities to get to know people. The world is still full of wonderful places and people, but also dangers that sobers an American’s optimism at times. In an age when political forces are talking walls and not tackling the forces that cause people to come to the United States, we have put bandages and temporary dams up. There are forces also that want there to be no restrictions, and yet are unwilling to discuss the restrictions existing in the travelers own countries. And language and education advocates want to change history and eliminate a common language. All of these are just as ignorant as those who have never travelled to faraway places. America used to lead the world in the post-WWII years not solely out of the hubris of a few, but because it defied the hatreds, disunity, and class struggles of ninety percent of the world’s population. When Americans travelled to places outside the US, whether in the military or for other purposes, they would get assurances that we had it pretty wonderful.
Reading Mark Twain’s Innocence Abroad, I would love for us to have some of that innocence again.