Autobiography of One Old Ford


John N. Lewis


Part One

1. North to Alaska
2. University of Alaska, Fairbanks
3. Mississippi State
4. Home for Christmas--by Canoe
5. Adventures In North Mississippi
6. Getting Involved
7. Back to Alaska--and Back
8. Thanksgiving Bride
9. Married Student Days

Part Two

10. California Honeymoon
11. Icelandic Interlude
12. Return to England
13. Continental Holiday
14. Farewell to England
15. California Here I Come--Again
16. Michigan Meander

Part Three

17. Home at Last
18. Journeys Missed by Being Second
19. Texas Tour

Part Four

20. Wyoming Via North Carolina
21. Return of the Vagabonds
22. From King Tut to Kansas City

11. Icelandic Interlude

When John watched me roll away from the Gilfillan Field Test Center in Fontana, California, that hot August afternoon in 1954, he knew it would be a long time before he saw me again. In that empty loneliness, however, he was more concerned with the uncertainty of the length of the separation from Rita. The apartment was so empty that he moved into a sort of residential motel next to the Baptist church in Fontana for the two weeks he had to remain in California. Being without a car in Southern California is a helpless predicament. A friend picked John up and carried him to work and loaned him his coupe to use in closing out the few affairs that needed personal attention.

One Friday night just past mid-August, John and another tech rep boarded a DC-7C at Los Angeles International Airport and stepped out early the next morning in New York City. By the time they had reached downtown Manhattan by taxi, a drizzle had begun. John and Andy were bound for Westover Air Force Base near Springfield, Massachusetts (where John was discharged in 1950), but chose to stay in New York City overnight. Having no common interest (Andy was single), the two fellows went their separate ways for the evening. After supper, John walked to Times Square, and when the Sunday edition of the Times hit the street, he bought a paper and retired to the hotel to read the funnies--only to discover that there was no comic section in the paper.

Sunday morning, John roused Andy in time to catch the New York, New Haven, and Hartford from Grand Central Station. The ride along the Connecticut shore, with the sailboats brilliant in the summer sun, brought back memories of the same trip which he had made in the fall of 1948 when he was on his way to England. He thought how nice it would be to drive along this route with the freedom afforded by automobile travel. It was not until Thanksgiving Day of 1974, however, when this dream would become reality.

The train dropped the travelers in Springfield in time for a lobster dinner before they caught the bus to Chicopee and Westover Field. This was John's third time to be at Westover, and though it was familiar ground, he was anxious to get on to his new assignment. A few nights later he said goodbye to Andy as he went on his way to England, and boarded a Navy R4D (C-54) the next day bound for Newfoundland. In mid-afternoon, the plane made a stop at Argentia--and a wheel split. The destination for the flight was only a short distance across the easternmost peninsula of Newfoundland, but the passengers had a three hour wait for a wheel to be brought overland from Torbay before the trip could be completed.

It looked for a while as if St. John's, Newfoundland, was as close to Iceland as John was going to get. He was quartered in a large room which slept about ten transients, but was authorized to eat in the officers' club. On the first visit to the club, he caught sight of a familiar figure ahead of him entering the dining hall. There was no mistaking the fact that this warrant officer was some acquaintance from the past, but there was some difficulty in recalling just where and under what circumstances they had known each other. Soon enough it came to John that this officer was George Sethers with whom he had served at Scott Field, Illinois, in 1948. At that time, however, George had been S/Sgt. Sethers, hence the slight delay in recognition. The two renewed acquaintances over dinner that night and during the week that John was stuck in Newfoundland, he had a friend with which to visit occasionally. Since all of his time was free that week, he walked the few miles to St. John's several times, visiting with the fishermen along the quay, or taking in the movies downtown.

The most memorable day spent in Newfoundland, for John, was the crisp, bright day when he climbed alone to the top of Signal Hill, where Guglielmo Marconi received the first radio message ever transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean, and high above the mouth of one of the most magnificent harbors in the world, gazed out across the limitless sea towards Iceland and wondered what lay in store for him and a little southern girl waiting in Louisiana.

After a week of waiting, a plane finally came through Newfoundland bound for Europe with a scheduled stop in Iceland. That night John stayed in a room in the terminal at Keflavik. It would not be accurate to say that he slept there. The room was directly off the parking ramp where commercial airliners parked, refueled, checked out their engines and departed all through the long night. This was the period in aviation history just prior to the jet age when there were an average of one hundred planes in flight on the North Atlantic route at any given moment. Most of them stopped at Keflavik. The DC-6's and 7's, Constellations, and Boeing Stratocruisers were a steady parade of planes carrying the flags of most of the nations in the International Air Transport Association.

In addition to the vast numbers of civilian aircraft, there was also a stream of military planes crossing the Atlantic via the great circle route plus contingents of both U.S. Navy and Air Force planes based at Keflavik. The safety of these planes was the reason for John's being in Iceland. Gilfillan Bros. manufactured all the ground controlled approach (GCA) radar equipment used by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries. The job of John and the other tech reps was to see that this equipment was properly installed, operated, and maintained and to train military personnel--particularly maintenance personnel. The tech reps, although civilians, were attached to military units, accorded the privileges of officers, and expected to have such expertise in the entire electronics field as to be of assistance on any equipment no matter who the manufacturer.

Iceland had long been a problem area where the company had little success in getting someone to stay any length of time. John had told company management to expect the same short service from him if the situation was such that Rita could not join him. On the other hand, he had a firm commitment from them that, if he stayed the required year and a half on that lump of lava, they would find a position for him in England for his next assignment. Both parties made good on their verbal agreement, and there was never a note of dissatisfaction between employee and employer during the entire period of their relationship.

The tenure of the U.S. forces on Iceland was under the terms of an agreement with that country as a member of the NATO. This pact required both Icelandic and U.S. controllers in the control tower at all times, and further specified that the American personnel should be officers. Normally this job would have been performed by enlisted personnel. John was assigned quarters in a Quonset hut with the control tower officers. His cubicle mate was Russell Wilcoxson. The hut was a good mile from another old battered Quonset on the edge of the flight line that served as the AACS maintenance hut. The walk back and forth at least once a day, and usually more, was good exercise, but hardly enjoyable, especially as the days became shorter and colder. The incessant wind was annoying at first, then uncomfortable and, as winter came, downright miserable. One afternoon as John leaned into the biting wind, he was so cold that he ducked into the handiest place available, which happened to be the base thrift shop, to catch his breath and warm up a little for the remainder of the walk to the hut that was his temporary home. Since it was as easy to get warm looking at the used merchandise as not, John poked through the racks and found a heavy Season's Skipper overcoat with zip-in liner that fit perfectly. That must have been the easiest sale the ladies made all day. With this additional protection against the cold wind, the Icelandic weather was a little less formidable; but that island could spot Alaska fifty degrees on the thermometer any day and still be more uncomfortable.

There were no provisions for American wives anywhere within the Keflavik complex--not even for the base commander. The first time that John walked down the hill and through the nearest Icelandic village looking for some civilian living accommodations, he didn't even find anyone with whom he could converse. It was a very helpless feeling. There were a few couples living off base, however; and through the grapevine, news of these people rotating back to the States circulated so that there was an informal auction for the rights to occupy the premises as they became vacant. The first suitable room which John could buy his way into would not be available until early November. When he felt confident of the prospects of securing the accommodations, he sent Rita airline tickets for flights from Jackson, Mississippi, to Iceland via New York City. The leg of the trip from New York to Reykjavik was via Loftleidir, the Icelandic Airline--which consisted of two or three old DC-4 aircraft.

There was plenty of work to do in Iceland, and the days did not drag by so badly; but oh those nights. As winter came, they grew longer both literally and figuratively. John was looking for a car that was within his means that would be available near the time that Rita was due to arrive. He spotted a little, four-door English Ford Consul that looked to be ideal for his needs. Upon inquiry, he discovered that the major who owned the Consul was due to leave Iceland within two weeks of Rita's arrival. John lost no time in working out an arrangement to buy that particular car. First, he got a commitment from American Express for the money he would need; then he paid the major some earnest money to seal the deal which would be completed at the time of the major's departure. Part of the deal was that John would have the use of the car the weekend of Rita's arrival.

Winter arrived before Rita. Hardly a day passed that the wind did not reach sixty knots. There were usually some bright periods each day, but they were quickly followed by rain, sleet, or snow and the ever-present wind. When the day came for Rita to depart New York, John camped in the Keflavik control tower where he had access to air traffic control communications. A huge storm system was covering the entire North Atlantic Ocean. Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland were all closed. Even Icelandic Airlines canceled their flight for twenty-four hours. Winds at Keflavik were rocking the tower with eighty-five knot winds. In New York, the airlines agent had sent Rita to a hotel in Kew Gardens at Loftleidir's expense. She stayed one night and the following day waiting for some change in the weather. By the next evening, the airline was ready to risk a departure. After all, airplanes on the ground do not make money; and passengers with confirmed, through reservations are expensive liabilities.

When the DC-4 left Idylwild, the usual refueling stop at Gander, Newfoundland, was planned for the middle of the night. When the flight reached newfoundland, the storm was still at the height of its fury. A blizzard with eighty knot winds blanketed the entire area. The pilot chose to overfly Newfoundland rather than turn back to New York. Once committed to this course, he was soon past the point of no return with no choice but to buck the fierce winds which buffeted the aircraft unmercifully. Not only were most of the passengers sick (not just feeling-bad sick, but wish-to-die sick), but so were the stewardesses, who are not easily intimidated by a little rough air. The flight had a surplus of food, but a shortage of airsick bags. All through the night the four Pratt and Whitneys droned and groaned their way grudgingly eastward over the southern tip of Greenland.

When morning came to Iceland, John went again to the Keflavik control tower. His friends, who had tried to keep track of the flight, could only tell him that it was somewhere over the Atlantic, and was still expected to land at Reykjavik. With the weather so bad, John had expected all along that the flight would be diverted to Keflavik where there were more and longer runways plus more navigational aids. But good pilots are like homing pigeons, and if there is a chance to get to their home field, they are bound to try. John jumped in the little Consul and tore out through the lava field the thirty-five rough miles to Reykjavik. Although the winds had let up considerably, the sky was still a solid, low overcast. By the time he reached the small terminal building in the edge of the capital city, there had been direct contact with the pilot and the ETA was posted.

As John stood outside on the parking ramp gazing at the leaden November sky, the sound of propellers reached him right on schedule. With the thrill of the arrival of the plane over the field was mixed the nervous apprehension that comes from the knowledge that a flight is not over until the plane is parked on the ramp. The experience was particularly frustrating to a GCA man, knowing that the equipment designed for just such occasions was not available at the tiny field. As the plane circled overhead, the ceiling began to lift and a circle of blue appeared. Suddenly, like a hawk swooping toward its prey, the old Douglas dived through the hole in the cloud layer, veered around the end of the runway, and touched down for a flawless landing roll.

It was a weary bunch of passengers and crew that slowly disembarked from the aircraft after a twelve hour flight. Rita looked so tiny as she descended the platform dressed in a dark, flecked tweed suit with an enormous collar. A look of consternation crossed her face as her eyes swept the small, waiting crowed without spotting her husband whom she had not seen since leaving California. John was filming her arrival with his movie camera, and she was almost upon him before there was complete recognition.

In anticipation of this happy day, John had reserved a room in one of the two hotels which faced a well-kept, though small, city park in downtown Reykjavik. He knew the shock of seeing their new home was going to be hard for Rita, at best, and wanted to make the transition as easy as possible. After the flight, however, any land looked good--even lava. Already, the harsh landscape was veiled in a thin mantle of snow which transforms any place into a beautiful, brilliant wonderland. The real wonder to John and Rita as they strolled through Iceland's capital was that they were together again.

The home which John had rented was one large bedroom with kitchen and bath facilities shared with two other couples. (No! the bedroom wasn't shared--just the bath and kitchen.) The ground floor of a two-an-one-half story home consisted of a large foyer off which opened a front entrance, utility room, bath, kitchen, and three bedrooms. The homeowner with his family occupied the second floor. The house was situated in the center of a small village, Njardvik, on the coast just down the hill form the Keflavik Air Base. A larger village, Keflavik, was only a mile down the coast. Both were fishing villages; but Njardvik, in addition to the fishing pier, boasted a small boat yard where boats were repaired, and occasionally one was built from scratch. There was one store in the village only one block from the house.

The village street ran between the house and the rocky seacoast. A tin cow shed set alongside the street on the sea side afforded some protection from the crashing breakers for the Consul. When the snow or mud was too bad for parking in the yard, John squeezed the little car between the street and the cow shed. Whenever trucks were able to get through the road, so could the Consul. It made the trip to and from the base daily, although during the winter both trips were made in the darkness.

With officer status, John enjoyed commissary privileges, but the Icelandic regulations prohibited carrying American goods off the base. Since the gates were manned by Icelandic guards, this left John and Rita subsisting largely on the Icelandic economy. Noon meals were nearly always eaten on the base. Milk was received daily (when the weather allowed) in the village store. Since John was a regular customer, the clerk usually saved at least a liter a day for him if he was late coming in. The bottles looked like pale blue champagne bottles. John's refrigerator was a packing crate located beneath the outside staircase on the front of the house. There was never a problem keeping food cool; but many mornings the milk would be frozen with the bottle cap perched atop a two-inch popsicle protruding from the mouth of the milk bottle.

Rita very quickly transformed the bare bedroom into a home. John made a full headboard from scrap lumber. Bedside tables were fashioned from whiskey cases. A large packing crate turned on end became a closet, and a curtain (from Sears) strung on a wire from this closet to the wall formed Rita's dressing room. Two packing cases with a piece of scrap plywood across them made the desk-workbench where John continued his study on the correspondence course he had started in Delhi. He built a new table, bench, and food cabinet for the kitchen as well. In the south wall of the room was a large, picture window. Rita made dark curtains for this and the other small window over John's desk to hold in some heat in the winter and shut out the early sun in summer.

Very soon after the housekeeping routine had been established, the two began to revive their day trip activities on Saturdays. But Iceland was not California; and I was not there. My people were well mounted, however, in my gutsy, little English cousin, so they missed nothing for lack of dependable transportation. The battery was almost as large as the motor, so the car started in any sort of weather--every time. The first long trip John attempted was to Thingvellir, the site of the oldest parliament in the world. He stopped at a book store in Reykjavik and bought the latest map available. It must have been made in the late thirties. The road from Reykjavik to Thingvellir, however, is the main tourist road in the country and is easily found without a map. To Icelanders, Thingvellir is the equivalent of their Williamsburg and Grand Canyon combined, but they generally confine their visits to the brief summer. Nobody told John that.

As they left the outskirts of the city and climbed to the plateau above, snow began to blow. Since the Consul had a good heater and defroster, this was of no concern. However, as the snow continued, it became increasingly difficult to see the road. At times the wet snow was falling so heavily that driving was impossible. John would have to stop completely until the flurry let up. Oddly enough, between blinding blasts of snow, the sun would pop out. Visibility would become good again, but each time the landscape would be more featureless than before. Finally, the sole indication that there was any road at all was the occasional, slender stakes that were driven on alternate sides of the road by the highway crews. Following these welcome markers, the little, black car crept over the snow-covered plain to the most hallowed site in Iceland. Since there was not another soul there, the only thing to do was turn around and retrace the route back to Reykjavik.

The short days and the miserable weather limited winter travel severely. Just getting back and forth to work each day was a challenge. Summer of 1955 came during two weeks in June. That was it. July was warm enough, but the mud had turned to black dust and the wind could be depended upon to keep it well dispersed in the air. John and Rita enjoyed the brief summer while it lasted. They took young Air Force sergeants with them on a trip to a whaling station at Hvalfjordur where whales are towed into the fjord by small ships then winched ashore for processing. The power and heat for the entire operation are obtained from natural steam available free as it escapes from the bowels of the earth. All the hot water and heat for the city of Reykjavik are similarly obtained with distribution being the only expense.

On another trip to Thingvellir in late summer when plenty of tourists were there, the carefree couple were approached by the commanding officer of a U.S. Navy vessel berthed in Reykjavik. He had gone to the historic area on a chartered bus tour, but was the sole American on the huge Skoda bus and decided he would rather travel with his fellow citizens. He was gladly taken aboard for the remainder of a long day's trip. Late that night they all went aboard the ship and visited in the Captain's quarters until well after midnight. John and Rita still had to drive back over the deserted road to Njardvik in the wee hours of the morning. The season was early for the Aurora Borealis, but that night they put on a brilliant display for the weary, but happy, sightseers.

Any place that was within one day's round trip drive of Keflavik, the little Consul went. There was not always a proper road, and the crushed lava was tough on tires. On one particularly hard trip it cut a gash in the oil pan. Icelanders were skilled at repairs, not merely at changing parts, so there was no great difficulty keeping the little car in service. Tires were another matter. The price on the local market was very high. John's friend, Warrant Officer Ray Williams, rotated back to the States and had a dealer he knew on the east coast ship a set of Dunlop Gold Bond tires back to Iceland. This gave the bumper jack a little rest.

One of the depressing aspects of serving in overseas posts for a civilian is seeing his closest friends depart. The tour of duty for military personnel on Iceland was supposedly one year. But it is a rare individual who cannot through leave, transfer, emergency, early discharge, or some other scheme, contrive to shorten his actual stay. Consequently, John saw more than a one-hundred-fifty per cent turnover of personnel in the small squadron to which he was attached. Naturally, the strongest attachments are to the people who are there to welcome the newcomer when he arrives. As these leave, his seniority rapidly rises until, one day, as the oldest member of the entire group, he senses a terribly lonely isolation.

Company from the outside world was rare indeed. Once a Civil Service employee, John Neu, whom John had met in California came up to deliver a reconditioned radar set and stayed a few weeks. On another occasion, the tech rep from Newfoundland came up for a brief visit. He had to hitch a ride back to the United States in order to catch a plane to Iceland. This visit landed John in a peck of trouble.

Cigarettes are universal contraband wherever American forces are stationed. Periodically, ration cards were issued to all personnel, including the tech rep. Since he did not smoke, John had no legitimate use for the cards and usually kept them until they expired. Once, perhaps it was premonition, he carried the ration card to the issuing orderly room, formally turned it in to the clerk who kept the ration files, and signed a waiver that he did not wish to be issued any more cards.

When the visiting tech rep was ready to leave to go back to Newfoundland, he asked John to drive him to the PX so he could get some cigarettes. After doing so and dropping the visitor at the terminal to wait for his plane, John picked up Rita and headed home. When the guard at the gate flashed his light in the Consul for his usual, perfunctory inspection, his eyes lit up. Lo! and behold, the man had unloaded his luggage from John's car and left two cartons of cigarettes laying on the back seat. No amount of explanation could shake the guard's conviction that he had caught an arch criminal.

John asked the guard to call the terminal and ask the waiting passenger if he had left the fags in his car. The guard was not interested. As soon as the proper forms were filled out and he could get away to a telephone, John called the terminal, got his visitor on the line, and explained the situation to him. He had the guy call the guard shack as if it were a spontaneous call and ask if John had gone through the gate and, if not, for the guards to check and see if he had left two cartons of a certain brand of cigarettes in the car. This got the call on the guard log.

When the time came to appear before the Icelandic judge, John went armed for bear. He asked for a lawyer from the Judge Advocate's office, the record of the waiver of the ration card, and the log for that night from the guard on the gate. The judge readily dismissed the case but allowed that, since their true owner was in Newfoundland, he may just as well keep the cigarettes himself. Perhaps they paid the cost of court. The judge said that the sergeant they caught crawling through the fence with sixty cartons in a sack didn't have nearly so good a defense.

Rita began working early in 1955 as a bookkeeper for the post exchange system. John nearly always met her for lunch. This brief period at noon was the only occasion she had to see the sun during the short, winter days. When the wind would allow, they would walk to the library after lunch for a brief respite from the clamor of the snack bar. Occasionally, lunch was taken at the airline terminal where the couple usually had Sunday dinner following services at the base chapel. On one visit to the terminal grill, John saw a familiar face among a group of officers eating at another table. After some puzzling moments trying to place this person in his particular niche in the past, John walked over and startled the captain by asking if he remembered eating moose stew for lunch on the Fourth of July, 1952. He had been a member of the church work group at Harding Lake in Alaska, but was currently in the weather office at base operations at Keflavik.

The wind is a vital part of any memory of Iceland. Days that did not have high winds are memorable for that fact alone. Rita had a lined parka checked out from supply that protected her from the wind's chilling effect, but at the same time, it presented so much surface to the wind that her mobility was impaired. At times she could not get to the store from the house because the wind was simply too strong. On the base, at times, John would lean into the wind and tug her along like dragging a reluctant child to his first day of school. Once when a fierce storm drove a Greek freighter ashore near their home and battered it for three days, John drove near the edge of the cliff to take pictures. Rita tried to get out, but the wind blew her down. In order to get into position to take pictures, John had to walk on his knees; the wind was too strong for standing upright.

The hapless vessel had loaded with dried fish at Keflavik and tried to put to sea just as the storm hit. John happened to be passing by as the ship left the quay so hurriedly that a large hawser had not been cast off. As this line became taut, sliced up from the water, and parted, the ship's engines failed. They were never to run again. In minutes this fine freighter was keeled over against the rocks with a gaping hole in her beam turned up toward the shore, and her superstructure was being torn away by the bounding waves. Three days later, when the storm had passed, there was only a gutted hulk left as a reminder of nature's fierce power.

Mail call, when there are letters from home, is the highlight of the G.I.'s day. It was no less for John and Rita. The mailroom was in a concrete barracks only a half mile from the flight line. One day as John came out of the barracks, he could tell that the wind was a little higher than usual by the howl; but the door was on the lee side of the building, so he decided to walk back to the flight line. As he stepped around the corner of the structure, he was nearly hurled off his feet and, in fact, had to struggle backwards several steps before gaining shelter again behind the solid wall. John was wearing a new, Sears, plastic raincoat. In that brief instant, the wind had torn out all the snaps, pulled the left sleeve completely off at the shoulder, and popped off a square foot of coattail that just disappeared. Another civilian offered a ride to the terminal area in a military personnel carrier (Dodge 4x4 truck). Whenever the driver would shift into second gear, the blunt-nose vehicle would shudder and stall. John thought perhaps the emergency brake was on, but the wind was just so strong that first gear was required to make any headway against it. When Sears in Philadelphia received the tattered raincoat with a note explaining its fate, they promptly sent John a new model fiberglass replacement. Satisfaction guaranteed.

December 5, 1955, was another fateful day. A large movement of Strategic Air Command aircraft were en route to Europe from the United States. Since they would overfly Iceland, but require refueling, a squadron of KC-97 tankers had been sent in for the mid-air refueling exercise. As usual, snow was blowing most of the day. By nightfall it had begun to pile up on the field so that snowplows were required for the runways. Late that night the tankers began returning to Keflavik. Through one of those classic errors to which humans are subject, GCA had not been notified by operations that the wind shift had caused a change to the opposite end of the main runway for the landings. This meant that GCA would be operating without the benefit of the precision system and, consequently, would have azimuth data only, lacking vital altitude information. Instead of being able to give the pilots proper altitude information, the GCA operators could only tell them where they should be at any given range.

In addition to the tanker aircraft returning in a steady stream, there were some B-47's which, due to various problems, had to be brought in also. John had stayed in the GCA unit with the night crew to assist in the operation. The wind rocked the radar trailer so hard that, even with gin poles set on each corner, it inched sideways on the parking pad. First one aircraft, then another, caught a wing in the snow bank alongside the runway and veered off to the side. There was no thought of closing the runway. The aircraft still aloft had to come down, and Iceland has no alternates.

Rita stood at the picture window in the house and watched the landing lights of the planes as they approached the high end of the runway. One B-47 was obviously low. The pilot, not realizing the limitation under which GCA was operating, had relied on the ground operator to monitor his altitude position. At the last minute, the GCA operator made him realize that he was on his own. As the huge bomber pulled up to clear the end of the runway, the landing gear caught the power line running from the main area of the base to the side near Njardvik. Rita saw the flash of fire as the lights went out and feared the worst. By midnight all the planes that would ever return were down. One tanker with twelve men never returned.

John left the radar site in the center of that huge airfield just after midnight. Stars were overhead by this time, but the wind kept a curtain of horizontal snow near the ground. Whenever visibility would permit, the little Consul would break through the drifts to be engulfed in another whiteout. Once on the taxiway with the amber lights visible, progress was better. Still, the three or four mile trip from the GCA unit home took an hour and a half. It was a bad night to have to leave Rita alone so long.

By their second winter in Iceland, Rita was pregnant again. As 1956 began John was anxious to move on to some place that afforded a few more amenities and a little less red tape. Entertainment in Iceland had been confined largely to the base theater. The movie house in the village of Keflavik was off limits to American personnel. Soon after her arrival, however, John had walked Rita to the neighboring village to see a show anyway. On the way home in the dark, they were struck by a sudden shower that turned to sleet just as soon as it had soaked them thoroughly. After being pelted all the way home, they felt adequately punished for breaking curfew.

Two or three special entertainments toured the island. One excellent show was "Tops In Blue" featuring talented Air Force personnel. Another welcome troupe was Bob Hope's Christmas Show that played Iceland in 1955. A new service club was initiated with this popular show. In addition to passive entertainment, John and Rita made use of the base hobby shop to develop skills in photography and leather work. There was ample time for such hobbies. Boy! was there ever time. It seemed sometimes that the calendar was stuck.

When time came for John and Rita to be leaving Iceland for England, no orders had arrived. It is difficult to make plans for a move without knowing when or where you are going. Word had come from California that a replacement was on the way. One day in February, John took the Consul to Reykjavik and arranged to ship it on deck aboard a passenger vessel bound for Scotland. When he returned to the base in late afternoon, friends told him that someone at the terminal had been asking for him. Going there immediately, John found his long-awaited replacement with the reassignment orders in hand. The new arrival's first words were, "Don't blame me. They gave me your orders in Washington and told me to give them to you personally."

The base offices had closed by then, but by running to base headquarters John caught an understanding major (bless him) and a corporal who were a little late leaving work. In a few minutes they had cut a set of orders authorizing passage on a C-54 that was leaving Keflavik the next morning for Frankfurt, Germany. John's replacement got a very brief briefing, for when the C-54 took off, John and his very pregnant little wife were on it. There was a long refueling stop with time to eat in Prestwick, Scotland, before they arrived at Rhein-Main long after midnight, February 8, 1956.

Germany was blanketed with fresh snow; still, fluffy snow that lay where it had fallen. The scenes amid the dark conifers were breathtaking. The air was breathtaking too, for Europe was in the grip of the coldest weather it had experienced in twenty-five years. Long stretches of the Rhine were frozen over as were most of the smaller rivers. Nevertheless, John and Rita felt an exhilaration that must be what one feels when released from prison. They took a taxi and rode through the moonlit night just looking at unfamiliar sights: particularly trees. It is difficult to express how hungry Southern eyes can get for the sight of a tree. In Iceland, John had found a tiny, dwarf birch in the lava field, that was about seven years old and as many inches tall. Rita put this twig in a gallon can and placed it on the picture window sill in their room. It doubled in size before they left. That was just about the only tree the couple had seen in a year and a half.

After two o'clock in the morning, John instructed the cab driver to take them to the finest hotel in Frankfurt. He had been to Frankfurt in 1949 and felt that even the best was not going to be very elegant. He didn't consider what might have been happening in the intervening years. When the Mercedes pulled up in front of the Savigny, however, he knew that he was about the help pay for some of Germany's post-war prosperity. He did. But the huge room with the larger-than-king-size bed, padded, quilted satin walls, and the black tile bathroom with shell pink fixtures was just the touch of luxury with which to celebrate their return from exile. John and Rita spent the whole next day walking through Frankfurt in the continuing snow looking at the goods in the windows and feasting on the rich German food.

Gilfillan Bros. had only one supervisor in Europe, who was based at Bitburg, Germany, just a few miles from the old Roman capital of Trier. After a day and two nights rest, John and Rita boarded the train for that city to check in with Teasley, the company supervisor. The train ran along the bank of the frozen Rhine where the terraces on the opposite bank looked like giant, marble steps. There was a train change at Koblenz for the trip along the Mosel. The time for changing trains was just three minutes. John had a full, army footlocker and duffle bag. Rita had a large suitcase and an overnight case plus a baby only two months from being born. The sub-zero weather was bitterly cold, and the train for Trier was several tracks away. They had to climb to a crossover which passed above several trains to reach the departure platform; but winded, worried, and cold they boarded the train just as it was ready to pull out of Koblenz. That night the weary travelers were comfortably relaxed in the Europaischer Hof, just off the Porta Nigra in the oldest city in Germany.

Teasley had gone to Italy for a week, so John and Rita had this time for sightseeing. They rented a new Volkswagen and drove to Luxemburg and Belgium to visit some places John had seen while touring Europe on a small Royal Enfield motorcycle in 1949. The Belgium town of Bastogne had been almost totally destroyed during the Battle of the Bulge. John had been struck by the degree of devastation on his prior visit, but this time he was surprised to see a beautiful, new town built around the little square. The only remaining sign of the war was one old American tank parked on the corner of the square as a memorial to the brave men who fought back and forth through this hotly contested area. John left Rita window shopping while he took a few pictures; but the stores were closed, and the weather was bitterly cold. When he came back around the square to pick her up, he found Rita looking at some warm boots through a store window--and crying. It was that cold. The heater in the Volkswagen was just not capable of coping with the below-zero cold. After a brief stop as they passed back through the city of Luxemburg, John hurried back to Trier and bought Rita the finest pair of fur-lined, ladies boots he could find.

The week spent in Trier was the week of Carnival just prior to Lent--Fasching, in Germany. The Rex was staying in the same hotel as John and Rita. Their room on the second floor extended over the sidewalk to the very edge of the street. The adjoining room, on the corner of the hotel, was set back to form a balcony overlooking the street which was the main parade route. The end of this balcony, which was Rex's reviewing stand, was separated from Rita's room only by floor-to-ceiling glass. She could lie in bed propped up on those huge, down bolsters and watch Rex just outside one window and the lavish parade passing below the other. Her view was the same as Rex's, only Rita was in a big, warm bed while he stood outside in a cold snowfall.

The day of the parade, John had gone by bus to Bitburg to discuss his expected assignment with wing headquarters personnel. Upon Teasley's return, he had called John at the hotel in Trier and told him that he wanted him to go to Nouasseur, Morocco, Africa. The French and natives were having frequent killings down there; and the tech rep on the field, having a French wife, was anxious to leave. It didn't take John long to explain that he had not spent a year and a half on Iceland just to move Rita into a hot war in Africa. When the suggestion was ventured that Rita did not have to go, John pointed out that, furthermore, neither did he. He also made it abundantly clear that wherever he went, Rita went, even though that meant going right back to the good old U.S.A. While in uniform, John never balked at going any place he was needed; but then he didn't have a seven-months-pregnant wife to care for.

When the Wing Communications Officer was contacted at Bitburg, he said he had been informed six weeks previously by the company administrators in California that Lewis was transferring to Europe for assignment to the United Kingdom. He then offered John a choice of three locations in England. Rather than making a choice, however, John said he would rather go on to Group headquarters in London and let them assign him where they needed him most. Wars are won one battle at a time.

The last, short train ride on the continent was from Trier to Luxemburg. From there the couple flew Belgium Airlines to Brussels, then British European Airways to London. Both short flights served the same sumptuous fare--filet mignon with lots of side dishes. It was a full and happy pair that checked into the Regent Palace in London the night of February 14, 1956.

On the fifteenth, John left Rita in the hotel to rest while he took the tube (London subway system) to Bushy Park to check in and receive his assignment. One of the first persons he chanced to meet was Warrant Officer Ray Williams who, after returning to the States from Iceland, had transferred to England. John asked the Group Communications Officer where he needed a man immediately. When the officer said, "Molesworth," Mr. Williams came into the room and interceded thinking that the post was too isolated for Rita in her condition. However, John thanked him (for he truly appreciated his concern) and assured everyone that, if Molesworth was the problem spot, that was where he wanted to go. Reporting to the orderly room to get more travel orders, John was greeted by a clerk who had been in the AACS orderly room in Iceland. He not only got the orders cut promptly, but invited John and Rita to dinner and a movie with him and his girlfriend that night. The feature was James Dean's "Rebel Without a Cause."

Even such a plush hotel as the Regent Palace did not provide heat in the rooms as standard fare. There was a meter in the room whereby the deposit of a shilling purchased a slight suggestion of warmth for the time it took Rita to get dressed for travel. The train ride north from London to Huntingdon is a short one of perhaps an hour and a half. Group had called ahead and advised the squadron commander that a tech rep and his wife were on the way to Molesworth. Captain Eugene Kepler met them at the station in his personal automobile and acquainted them with the local situation as he drove to the base Bachelor Officers' Quarters where two rooms had been reserved as temporary quarters for the new arrivals.