SOS readers may recall that I attended Borders' RomCon in Denver over the summer. It afforded me to rub elbows my favorite historical authors - Cathy Maxwell (Navy Vet), Sally MacKenzie (sister of a Navy Vet), Julia Quinn (sister in law of a Marine), Anna Campbell (Aussie author), and many others.
But the biggest reward was meeting Melissa Mayhue. During the Historical Tea Party, the authors shared tidbits of their lives. Melissa casually referred to a night she spent in an Italian airport, guarded by soldiers with machine guns. Of course I was curious so here is the story .....
In celebration of the Navy’s birthday, Kim asked me, if I’d be willing to share a few ex-Navy wife memories. Absolutely! My years as a Navy wife, without a doubt, helped me grow into the woman I am today!
At nineteen I married a wonderful young man who was in ROTC at the University of Colorado. When I say I totally had NO IDEA at the time what life had in store for me, it’s definitely an understatement! To corrupt what the old commercials used to say, it’s not just a marriage, it’s an adventure!
The part I certainly DIDN’T like was hubby being gone so much. SO much! After six months of training split between Dam Neck, Virginia and Newport, Rhode Island [where I had my first bite of pizza!], he reported to his ship, the USS Hermitage, a troop carrier.
And carry troops it did.
It began with a six-month Med cruise… and as all Navy families know, they might be billed as six months in the Mediterranean, but they’re never shorter than seven or months! Then there were Marines and Army Corps of Engineers to transport to Guatemala after horrible earthquakes devastated that country. A couple months home and he was off again, this time three months in the North Atlantic. On his return crossing, they learned that they had been tapped as a replacement and were headed back to another Med cruise within a month.
That was it for me. I’d almost forgotten what hubby looked like! This time, we put everything we owned in storage and I bought a plane ticket and a Eurail Pass and, one month after his ship left, I headed off to France with two other Navy wives to be waiting with open arms when the ship docked.
The adventure had begun. What’s that old saying about when men plan, God laughs? That goes for women, too. I am living proof.
It was 1977. The ship was due to dock in Marseilles, France on May 24, which just happened to be our 3rd wedding anniversary. I couldn’t imagine anything more romantic. It was perfect. Until I realized that ‘strike’ everyone was talking about meant that the docks would be closed, no tugboats would be operating, and, most important to me, no ships would be docking. I spent my third anniversary standing on a pier, staring out into the ocean at the little gray dot on the horizon that was my husband’s ship. So close and yet, so far.
Okay. I’ll be honest here and admit, there were more than a few rough moments during the four months I traveled. Some of them, downright scary. But they made for memories I treasure to this day, right along with all the wonderful experiences I had on that trip.
There was the night my traveling companions and I were in Bologna, Italy. We’d walked to a restaurant for a late dinner – along with some rather potent house wine! – and ended up after midnight, wandering around the strangely empty city streets hunting for the tiny hotel where we stayed. When we finally found it, the owner carried on like she’d expected never to see us again. The next morning she explained that Bologna was under curfew and no one was allowed on the streets after 10 p.m. That explained the men in uniform following us home! It was the first time I ever heard that an individual city within a country could be Communist-controlled even when the country wasn’t.
There was the wonderful party we wandered into in Venice, Italy. Once again, hunting for a restaurant, totally turned around on the little back alleyways, we found ourselves in what appeared to be a neighborhood picnic. It was absolutely wonderful! The people were so friendly and welcoming. When we explained we were simply hunting a place for dinner, they insisted we sit down and eat with them. After an absolutely fantastic meal, with music and dancing, we made our farewells and headed back to our B&B, all too aware of the giant sickle and hammer banner hanging over the plaza and knowing our husbands might not be too happy having to explain to their Captain why their wives had spent the evening at a Communist block party.
There was the late night flight from Sicily, where they’d boarded us on the tarmac under armed guards. We landed in Genoa around midnight only to learn as everyone else climbed into waiting private cars, that the airport was closed until 6 a.m. Closed. As in no lights, no taxi service, no people. Oh… except for the Italian army guys patrolling the dark airport with their sub-machine guns! Scary guys with big guns, staring suspiciously at a couple of twenty-two year old Navy wives, sitting alone, huddled in a dark airport. Freaky. Until they started to talk to us, learned we were Americans, and wanted to tell us about all the relatives they had who lived in New York or Florida or California, and about how much they wanted to go to the United States to see it, too.
The stories go on and on. And so do the memories and the friendships I made in those days. I might have hated having my husband gone so much, but I treasure every one of the experiences.
So, from a grateful ex-Navy wife… thank you and HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the Navy!!
Mahalo, Melissa, for sharing your fun adventures! Melissa is the author of the Daughters of the Glen series:
Melissa's books are set in the late 1200's - a time when Scotland was focused on its land battle against England during the Wars of Independence. Scotland would not turn its attention to a full scale Navy until James I sought to protect the shipping interests of his country in 1424.
In 1506, James IV launched the Scottish Navy's greatest achievement - the Great Michael. She was the largest warship in Europe — twice the size of her English contemporary Mary Rose.
|Painting by Frank Forsgard Manclark, 'The Leith Artist' - Great Michael |
The Great Michael is also famous for carrying Mons Meg, the great cannon used earlier in the siege of Threave Castle. Ultimately, the Great Michael was too costly to maintain and the king sold her to France (where it may have been renamed and helped sink the Mary Rose). But Mons Meg now resides in Edinburgh Castle.
In honor of Melissa's visit, I am giving away an autographed copy of A Highlander's Homecoming to one randomly selected commenter. To enter the book giveaway,
1. Contact Kelly at Columbussos@gmail.com to join Operation Holiday Card. It is our goal to ensure that 1000 deployed airmen, marines, sailors, soldiers, and Coast Guardsmen receive a holiday card.
2. Leave a comment about Melissa, the USO, and/or trekking across Europe.
3. Make sure I know how to contact you - send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org or friend SOS America at Facebook. This giveaway is only open to US residents. But I will send a Navy treat to any reader who sends his/her mailing address to email@example.com.
And join us tomorrow for the conclusion of Fleet Week!
Kim in Hawaii