Countries of My Youth
I grew up in eight countries:
My father was a telecommunications officer for the U. S. State
Department, and I was born in Washington, D.C. while he was
training for overseas duty. He left for Arabia right after I was
born; my mother and I waited the three months the doctors
advised before following him. We lived in Jeddah. One of the
earliest photos I have seen is my family on the beach on the Red
Sea, picnicking next to our car. There isn't anyone else in the
picture, and the beach obviously stretches on for miles. I still
have a picture of my father, my mother, and me on vacation in
front of the Great Pyramids at Gizeh.
We lived in Nicosia before it was divided. I have a little scar
on the inside of my thigh from the time my tricycle fell into a
sinkhole in the yard. Our compound was built on landfill.
Philippines 1954-1956, 1965-1967
My earliest memories are of the Embassy swimming pool in Makati,
outside Manila. The employees liked me, and were thrilled to see
how I had grown when we came back ten years later. Mom says I
learned Tagalog before I learned English.
After we were evacuated from Indonesia in a coup d'etat,
I went to Wagner High School at Clark Air Force Base. Go
Falcons! Before we moved onto the base, we lived in Angeles. I
used to go to a little slot car racing shop, where I raced 1/48
scale models. I enjoyed Angeles and Clark AFB immensely. It was
exciting watching the F-102s scramble off the flight line, and
to earn my Boy Scout Aviation Badge by pre-flighting a real
Learjet. There were giant brown moths that would sleep on the
camouflage paint, delta-winged animals resting on delta-winged
fighters. There was a squadron of Canberra fighter-bombers, and
the mainstay of the air was the C-130. Phantoms and F-105s
filled out the picture. We used to go camping on a Navy base at
Subic Bay. The air was warm and sweet all over the island. I had
a joyous religious experience in the clouds on a retreat in
Baguio, where I bought my mother a silver wire butterfly brooch.
Rain in the Philippines was as solid as a concrete wall.
At the end of the tour we rode the President Cleveland
to the U.S. The itinerary was Manila - Yokohama - Honolulu - San
Francisco. Kamakura was a little heaven on earth, a massive zen
garden. The ship had a teen club to keep us happy. We had a
Neptune party when we crossed the International Date Line, which
was a thrill for everyone. When I saw San Francisco I knew I had
to live there some day -- the apartments that caught my eye were
my own home 32 years later.
I can remember crossing the Atlantic in a TWA Lockheed
Constellation, the plane with three tails. When it was bedtime
we pulled down bunks overhead and climbed into them. That's
where people put carry-on luggage today. They gave us
certificates for crossing the Atlantic back then.
Holland was the safest place I ever lived. I remember only
happiness there. We lived in Wassenaar, and I used to bicycle
through the sand dunes to the beach alone. There were three road
systems: one for motor vehicles, one for bicycles, and one for
boats. A canal went past the back yard, and once a babysitter
and her boyfriend rowed us to the Queen's palace for lunch. They
celebrate the arrival of Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, in
early December. Santa Claus and two Black Pete assistants debark
ws from a ship and paraded through the country on a horse-drawn
coach, throwing candy to the children who line the parade route.
My father came out to pick me up, and found me missing. He
simply short-cut to the end of the parade route and waited for
us to show up; he correctly figured I'd followed the coach. I
studied kindergarten and half of first grade in Dutch. I learned
to ski in Arosa, Switzerland, and I remember a train ride up the
Rhine river. My biggest interest on the train ride was a
ball-point pen I had received from the Kellogg's cereal company.
It had a flashlight, a compass and a whistle built into it.
In Caracas we lived in an apartment building in Los Palos
Grandes. Dad suffered a minor injury when the Embassy was
bombed. I used to play for hours on walls with three-story drops
to parking lots, while a neighbor woman would lean out her
window yelling, "¡Cuidado, cuidado!" There was a creek
that ran across the back of the lot, and a nice swimming pool
inside the wall. I also spent many, many hours playing in an
empty lot next door. I was especially fond of climbing a
four-story mango tree. The branches were thick and easy to hold.
I once told my mother I knew the school bus driver's name; it
was Joe Fair. The school was beautiful. We had miniature banana
trees growing in the gardens. We listened to John Glenn's
three-orbit Mercury flight on the short wave radio from launch
to recovery. I was a Venezuelan Cub Scout. Girls started to be
very interesting in the fourth grade. I saw my first television
in Caracas. A talking head in a studio -- TV didn't impress me.
Dad's duty during the Cuban missile crisis earned him a ribbon
that would make customs officers look the other way as we passed
The United States of America 1959-1960, 1962,
After we were evacuated from Venezuela in the Cuban missile
crisis, I went to Tomahawk School in Prairie Village, Kansas.
Kansans were very enlightened people. When I told them my father
worked for the State Department they wanted to know which state.
When I told them I had been to Paris, to Egypt, and to other
foreign lands, they called my parents in to tell them I was a
habitual liar. After they talked with my parents they were sure
they knew where I had learned to lie.
I came back for the fifth grade, and a lot of classmates were
very happy to see me. I was an American Cub Scout. The Cub
Scouts helped me make friends with my neighbors, and it gave us
all something to do under adult supervision. At that time I
became fascinated with building plastic models, especially of
ships and aircraft.
My sophomore year I attended Shawnee Mission West High School in
Overland Park, Kansas. Go Vikings! Several of my classmates
recognized me and were very happy to see me again. I lettered in
debate, competing all over eastern Kansas. I was an Explorer
Scout, and I learned first aid, hiking and campfire cooking. We
went to New Mexico, and hiked for ten days at the Philmont Scout
Ranch. My father took a year off to finish his degree in
political geography, and my mother earned her degree in
literature. I attended their graduation from the University of
Missouri at Kansas City. Some kind of census was taken
that year, and the census taker couldn't understand that nobody
in the family was working.
I never understood that danger might be part of the environment.
I used to take long walks at night around Djakarta, and nobody
ever bothered me. We lived in an elegant house rented by the
Embassy, had a Mercury sedan, and had live-in servants during
the week. We had two maids, a cook, a houseboy (we'd call him a
butler in the U.S., I'm sure), and a chauffeur. I knew we were
rich when my father counted up the dependents and learned his
salary supported about 30 people. I kept a 1,000,000 rupiah note
as a souvenir for years; it was worth about $4.00 when I first
decided to keep it. Djakarta was heaven or hell, depending on my
parents' condition. Mom had a bout of "paratyphoid," something
that would be called a "rare tropical disease" in a novel.
Sometimes the electricity worked, sometimes it didn't. Water
came from a well, or from the city plumbing, depending on
conditions I didn't understand. Often the morning "shower"
consisted of splashing cold water out of a cistern over my body
with a plastic mandi pan. The food was delicious! People
sold food in the street. We spent several idyllic vacations in
the mountains in Bandung, and we visited Bali and watched an
evening dance of an episode of the Ramayana. We saw the
Sultan's palace at Jogjakarta, and we saw Borobudur, a huge
Buddhist temple complex. There were many visits to Hong Kong,
and a wonderful tour of Bangkok. We were right on the equator,
and it was 80 degrees at sunrise and 90 degrees at sunset, every
day of the year. Half of the year the ground parched and broke
up like a dry lake bed, the other half of the year it never
stopped raining and we were slogging through the puddles. They
put up a fence around the school, and the lumber took root and
grew branches. At the International School my best friends
were a Pole and an East Pakistani. Once a dragon, always a
dragon! We studied Indonesian history, the United Nations, and
the legends of King Arthur in T.H. White's The Once and
Future King. I had a romantic rivalry with an American
girl, and she and I would always wind up captaining the "boys
against the girls" spelling bees against each other. One of the
highlights of the week was the "America's Top 40" countdown with
Casey Kasem on the short wave radio. I was an "illegal" Boy
Scout, registered in a troop in San Mateo, California, because
"paramilitary" organizations were outlawed. Near the end of our
tour we moved to a compound in the suburbs that surrounded the
Embassy swimming pool. One of my last memories of Indonesia is
of the army tank posted in the street in front of the school. We
were evacuated on 48 hours' notice. My father stayed behind to
cover the civil war, and he met up with us in the Philippines
after he finished his tour.
- Okinawa 1968-1970
I graduated from Kubasaki High School, "the home of the
Dragons." My diploma reminds me we weren't in Japan, but in
Okinawa. It didn't revert until after I had graduated and gone
back to the U.S. Counselors couldn't figure out why my academics
were low -- I was too busy having fun. I crashed my Dad's car a
couple of times street racing. We used to tear through the rice
paddies on the dirt roads, ignoring the island-wide 30 MPH speed
limit. Naha was a giant amusement park, and we used to go watch
risque Japanese movies in Sukiran. All the Americans had rapport
for each other, and many of them thought the Okinawans hated
them. Actually the Okinawans were friendly and sweet. They
always treated me with love and respect, and I treated them the
same. Kadena Air Force Base was impressive -- it had a runway
that later qualified as an emergency landing strip for the space
shuttle. That's because it was a base for the SR-71 spy planes,
which would pop their chutes and circle the island until they
could slow down enough to land. They would take off from Kadena
after breakfast, land in Turkey for lunch, and be home for
dinner. The SR-71 is legendary now; back then it was like
looking at living science fiction. We lived at Camp Chinen, a
little base at the south end of the island. It had a nine-hole
golf course and a teen club to keep us out of trouble, but we
only used the club as a rendezvous. Only luck kept us out of
real trouble. I remember the Nike missile site testing its
systems across the valley from my bedroom window. The mountain
would open up, the missiles would quickly move back and forth,
and then they would disappear into the mountain again. I
remember waking up to the sound of 300 Marine Corps helicopters
flying in formation up the valley, coming back from Vietnam. I
got my 15 minutes of fame on television as I wore my Explorer
Scout uniform in a local public service announcement and
urged Americans to vote. I remember camping at the Yamada Hot
Springs with the Explorers, and eating squid popsicles at the
beach with the Okinawans. The Obon festival at the fishing
village below the base was an annual attraction. Typhoons came
through regularly, and I remember watching the car jumping up
and down in its parking space in 100 MPH winds. Dad showed me
the fantastic satellite gear he was working with, and that may
have had something to do with my choice to be a Radioman when I
later joined the U.S. Coast Guard.
As an adult I still travel, and of course I see the world with
different eyes than I did as a child. But because of my childhood
familiarity with the world, I probably see it with eyes that are
different from those of most of my fellow Americans. Let us
remember that we are all brothers and sisters, all children at
heart. Let us do what we can to nurture our brotherhood, and to
promote peace and harmony.
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Last updated 3/21/2020 by David Dull, email@example.com.
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