Naval Security Group Activity, San Vito, Italy August 1976 – August 1979

AN/FLR-9 Wullenweber Antennae Array

Lori and I left Iceland on a military flight with our dog, Sandy.  As I mentioned in the Iceland post, getting Sandy cleared to leave Iceland after she bit my thumb took some effort.

My parents picked us up at the airport.  They were on a mini-vacation themselves, and we became part of it.

Dad and Mom wanted to visit her brother, Uncle Hugh, and his family in Kentucky.  On the way, we stopped at a park dedicated to Daniel Boone.  After some pictures, we moved on to Uncle Hugh’s.

Hugh didn’t have a functioning bathroom; instead had an outhouse.  Lori had never encountered one before, though I had told her I use one when visiting my grandparents and Uncle Albert’s family.  We stayed for a few hours before driving to my parent’s house.

While we were at my parents, Lori learned she was pregnant.  Of course, it caused much excitement and a bit of anxiety.  How would the long flight to Rome, Italy, affect Lori?  What medical services would she have access to in Italy, etc?

We finally arrived at the command, Naval Security Group Activity, San Vito, Italy.  Sandy was placed in quarantine at the local shelter while we checked into temporary quarters.

I was one of several Petty Officer First Class in the electronics maintenance shop and one of four UYK-3 computer technicians.  Six months after I arrived, the Department Head pulled me from the shop and assigned me as assistant to the department’s senior chief.

I wrote correspondence that turned into messages for transmission to Naval Security Group Command.  Some were in response to questions from headquarters, and others were scheduled reports.  I admit I wasn’t impressed with my responsibilities in this position, but I was being shortsighted.

As an assistant, I learned the behind-the-scenes operations of a command department.  I became privy to discussions between my superiors, decision processes, operating instructions, and routine reports that kept a Maintenance Department functioning.  This experience paid dividends as I became a Chief Petty Officer, Course Manager, and, in time, field command department head.

After we checked into guest housing, my Department Senior Chief allowed me a few days to settle and find a permanent place for us.  We learned the housing office required two things of a property for placement on the available list.  They were running water and screens on the bathroom and kitchen windows.

One listing struck a nerve with us.  The Italian owners had an apartment on the second floor of their home in San Vito dei Normanni (San Vito).  We spoke with the owners and reached a rental agreement.  As it turned out, the rent in lira (Italian currency) was less than my housing allowance.

The kitchen had no appliances, so we bought a bombola del gas (propane gas tank) stove and a refrigerator that ran on 240v.  Later, as the weather cooled, we bought kerosene heaters.  With them and our goods from Iceland, we set up housekeeping above Tina, Cosimo, and their two children.

Tina and Cosimo were not only our landlords but also became friends.  Lori learned some Italian from Tina, using Spanish as a common language.  It was enough to permit us to visit, share food, and vino locale (wine from the grapes Cosimo grew) or amaretto.

We allowed Tina and Cosimo access to the house’s third floor (roof).  We were not required to do so, but we did.  They used it to dry clothes and store a few items.  Tina would do her laundry while we were on base, so they never intruded on our privacy.  Our allowing them to use the roof paid off in ways we never considered until later.

Our door had a bamboo curtain covering it.  More than once, we left the door open when we left to go to the base or to sightsee.  The curtain hid the door was open.  We did this more often as Lori’s pregnancy progressed and more times after the baby was born.  An open door with the owners/renters gone was an invitation for robbery.

Many of my coworkers paid protection money, hoping not to have their off-base home robbed.  I learned from a couple that paying did not prevent robbery.  Lori and I never considered buying protection.

Our interaction with Tina and Cosimo, Lori’s learning Italian, allowing them access to the roof, and Lori’s pregnancy bought us free protection.  When we returned after leaving the door open, we found one of Tina’s children or her friends guarding the door.  They would laugh at us for forgetting to close the door, but we never lost anything to robbery.

The maintenance department allowed day workers to play golf one afternoon a week as a form of physical fitness.  I bought some clubs and played most weeks and some weekends. \

Lori’s pregnancy progressed well.  The command had only a dispensary, no hospital.  Expectant mothers could have the baby in Ramstein, Germany, or use the local hospital in Brindisi.  We decided on the local hospital.

We were surprised, probably shouldn’t have been, but were, when my mother notified us that she was coming to help Lori after the baby came.

I was on the golf course, finishing the third hole, when a man came running, calling my name.  He said I needed to reach the bowling alley and drive Lori to the hospital in Brindisi since no ambulance was available.  Lori’s water broke while bowling in a women’s league.  Lori told me later she was on lane one and winning against her opponent.

My mother, Lori, and I piled into our Gold VW and headed for the hospital.  We were at a stop sign by the hospital when an Italian rear-ended us.  The driver was also taking his wife to the hospital.  As I remember, she was pregnant, too.  They were in a hurry as we were, and since no one was hurt and VW wasn’t damaged, we agreed to ignore the accident.

They admitted Lori, and the wait began.  Hours passed without Lori going into labor.  So, the next morning, they induced labor.  Hours later, they did a C-section, and we had a beautiful baby boy.

Isn’t that a sterile description of a blessed event?  It doesn’t convey the concern and worry as we waited for labor to begin, but it didn’t.  Then, the discussion about inducing labor.  Once induced, hour after hour of hard labor without Lori dilating.

Through her hard labor, I held her hand and coached her as she suffered hard contractions hour after hour.  I watched my love grow tired while I worried for her and the baby.  Lori tried to sleep between contractions, but they came too often to allow her to rest.  When she was awake, Lori felt she was patting my face, but actually, she was slapping me and turning my cheeks red.

Finally, they wheeled Lori into the operating room.  The duty doctor was a plastic surgeon who performed the surgery, but an English-speaking midwife birthed Dwane Junior.

The hospital adventure continued as Lori and Dwane Jr remained in the hospital.  One feeding time, the nurse brought a baby to Lori who took the baby and immediately recognized it was not Dwane.  The baby didn’t have his birthmark.  Suddenly, the nurse came hurrying into the room with Dwane, saying, “Scusa. Scusa” (sorry, sorry.) The rest of the stay was uneventful.

Mom stayed for a time, enjoying visiting the markets with Lori and Dwane (DJ).  She found several souvenirs to bring home and some for us to send her.  However, her favorite thing was to sit on the balcony and watch our neighbors.  Armed with a cup of coffee and her cigarettes, she watched the happenings on the street. One of her favorite scenes was of the family across the street who took a horse into their house.  The first floor was a stable.

It was time to have DJ baptized.  Lori coordinated the event to be in the local San Vito Catholic Church.  Lori, Mom, DJ, and I left the house and joined Tina, Cosimo, and their family outside.  Lori let Tina carry DJ when asked, and we walked to the church.  We hadn’t reached the end of the street before we noticed that the neighbors had joined us in the procession.  When we arrived at the church, the procession had grown almost large enough to fill the church to watch our son’s baptism.  We learned Tina bragged about her American tenants wanting their son baptized in the local church and invited all to attend.

When it became time for Mom to leave, we drove her to Rome.  We stayed over to visit the Colosseum and the Vatican.  We attended Catholic Mass conducted by Pope Saint Paul VI, and he blessed us upon completion of the Mass.

Bowling, then as now, was our preferred entertainment.  I was on the local bowling association board, and she and I bowled in several leagues and base tournaments.

One year,  Lori joined several women who wanted to bowl in a tournament in Germany.  We drove to Ramstein while the other women flew on a military plane.  Our route took us through Innsbruck, Austria, and into Germany.  Our military identifications served as passports as we crossed borders.

We drove for hours after crossing the German border.  We neared Remscheid and began looking for the military base.  Unable to find it, we stopped and asked for directions.  It was then that we learned the base was at Ramstein.  We had taken directions from Tina and Cosimo on how to get there, and they had confused Ramstein with Remscheid.  After hours of driving, we finally arrived at our destination.

Lori bowled well in the qualifier and earned a spot in the stepladder phase.  It meant staying several extra days, which we used to visit a ski lodge and her cousin stationed nearby.

It came time to go home.  As it happened, two of Lori’s teammates had stayed to watch her in the stepladder.  They planned to fly home on the following military flight, but the flight would be several days later.  So, we let them ride with us when they asked.

So, I strapped the luggage to the roof and filled the car’s trunk.  The women rode in the back with DJ and his car seat in the middle.  It was an uncomfortable trip, but we safely returned to the San Vito base.  The exclamation point on the trip was we had dropped everyone at their homes, and I parked in front of ours.  Later, I needed to go to the shoppette (similar to a 7-11) and found the VW with a flat tire.  Thankfully, it didn’t happen while on the trip.

I mentioned I bowled.  We were a Navy activity hosted by the Air Force as a tenant command.

The Air Force had an annual tournament to determine who from European commands would participate in the All-Air Force Bowling Tournament in the States.  Tenant members could vie for a position on the base team.

Three times, I won a position on the base team.  Twice, I went with the team to Aviano but failed to qualify for the All-Italy Air Force team.  I qualified for the All-Italy team on the third try and went to Athens, Greece.  I qualified there for the All-Europe Air Force event at Ramstein.  I was one of two Navy bowlers in the competition.

The event management said that as Navy members, we could bowl but weren’t eligible to go to the All-Air Force tournament in the United States.  As it turned out, my partner and I won the doubles competition, though I couldn’t go to the States.

A Navy selection board identified me for promotion to Chief Petty Officer in 1978.  I underwent chief’s initiation with another maintenance First Class. One day, I may reveal what I experienced at the initiation.  Chiefs, Senior and Master Chiefs from ships in port at Taranto, Italy, added festivities only seagoing sailors could bring.

I might remember many other things to write about if I sat and thought for a time.  But, perhaps they can become another entry.

I neared the date for transfer when the Red Cross notified the command of my father’s hospitalization.  He suffered collapsed lungs and was in critical condition.  The command human relations coordinator spoke with my detailer and arranged for me to transfer early.

My orders were to Middleton, Tennessee, to attend instructor school.  Upon successful completion, I would proceed to Naval Technical Training Center, Corry Station, Pensacola, Florida, to be course manager of the same course I had graduated from in 1967.

The quick processing of my transfer created unexpected problems.  I would board home to be with my father, leaving Lori and DJ behind.  Someone needed to arrange the shipment of our household goods and car.  Lori was saddled with this and suffered a long flight home with a toddler.  She did a stellar job, as I knew she would.

So, I ended my tour at Naval Security Group Activity, San Vito, Italy.

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