CHAPTER THREE

 

It was September, 1953, when the plane landed at Rome's Capadacino Airport. I didn't have time to do any sightseeing and was anxious to get to my new duty station. My orders transferred me to an outfit that supplied services for the American element of NATO. We weren't NATO troops. We just gave our services to the American forces who were part of NATO. It sounds a little complex, but, it worked to my advantage. Because we weren't NATO, we weren't stationed at the large NATO compound in Bagnoli, just northwest of Naples. And since Italy had come over to the Allied side prior to the end of World War II, America built no military bases of our own in Italy.

 


Naples, the bay and Mt. Vesuvius. 1953
 

The Bay of Naples and the city's famed waterfront.
Sooooo, we support troops lived in a 3rd class hotel near the Garibaldi Railroad Station on the east side of the city. No base, no barracks. We slept in a hotel and had maid service to clean our rooms and we had Liberty every night and weekend that we didn't have duty. Plus, we could wear our civilian clothes off duty. One floor of the hotel was devoted to a mess deck (Navy lingo for dining hall) and there was no K.P. because Italian cooks and servers were hired to take care of that business. And, the food was excellent.

On nights, when the food wasn't so great, we had our choice of many, many wonderful restaurants in the city where the food was terrific and cheap. Many evenings, some of my pals and I would go to a nearby piazza (square) and sit at an outdoor cafe ordering pizza and beer and we would watch the Italian night life pass before us. That usually consisted of acrobats, mimes, sidewalk artists, troubadours and minstrels, plus assorted beggars and prostitutes. I eventually took Italian lessons and was able to hold rudimentary conversations with the locals and I found the Neapolitans to be warm and friendly, especially if they heard you try to converse in their language.

A street scene in Naples. 1953.

A Neapolitan woman haggles for some oranges at a street market. 1953

I worked with about ten other Navy Photographers who had formed a close knit little group. We had a Warrant Officer in charge of the Photo Department, and he was an easy going guy. But, he was soon transferred and they never replaced him with another officer. Instead, one of the Chief Petty Officers assumed command of our band of happy warriors.

The department was located on the NATO Base at Bagnoli, so every morning, we would pile into the photo dept. panel truck for the 40 minute drive to the base and our photo lab. Most of our work consisted of darkroom work, developing NATO film and making prints. Sometimes there were passports to be shot or portraits of the brass. Sometimes there were news events to be covered. We were considered dungaree navy, meaning that we worked in our dungaree uniforms instead of our whites or dress blues. It was a very relaxed atmosphere.

That's me shaking hands with one of the Italian Carabenieri (Special Police) guarding the NATO Headquarters Building at Bagnoli.

Me in civvies, sitting on a park bench near the waterfront.
Naples was a city of contrasts. While there was much beauty and old world charm, it had been less than ten years since the end of World War II. Naples had seen its share of bombing and naval bombardment and they were slow to recover. There were blocks of buildings in shambles and the signs of poverty were everywhere. The American dollar went a long way. Tourism was just beginning to show signs of recovering, but for the most part, the American GI's were the only signs of America on the streets.

I loved Naples. I loved the people and their zest for life. It was a robust city filled with interesting sights, sounds and smells, and I would wander through the twisting, narrow, cobblestone streets taking pictures of everything. I bought a new camera, shortly after arriving. An officer that I knew was going to Germany on vacation and offered to purchase a Leica for me while he was there. The price was amazingly affordable when you bought one from the factory. Now, I wandered the colorful streets, photographing everything in sight with my wonderful, new camera.

When I first arrived in Naples, I was assigned to be the Navy Shore Patrol Photographer. Their Headquarters was at the Naples Police Department in the center of the city. I had to report there at 6 PM and sit around until 2 AM. The only thing that I was required to do was photograph any vehicular accidents involving American military personnel. Since few GI's had their own cars over there, there wasn't much for me to do.

I just sat in the Shore Patrol office and shot the breeze with the other SP's on duty and practiced my Italian with the Neapolitan Detective who was assigned as liaison to us. In the three months that I was there, I may have covered four or five fender benders. It got so boring that a couple of nights, when the US 6th Fleet was in port and the SP's were spread thin, I volunteered to go on patrol with a more experienced sailor. They sent me out with a grizzled old Boson's Mate First Class and his beat was the red light district. We had to go into every bordello on the beat and make sure that the GI's waiting in the brothels were behaving themselves.

One night at Shore Patrol HQ, I was sitting around when some SP's brought in three drunken swabbies. They fell asleep on a bench while waiting to be transported to the pier to be ferried out to their ship by launch.

I had my new Leica camera and shot this photo which actually won Second Place in the 1953 Military Photo Contest.

The old Bos'n introduced me to each of the Madams. See, already this was more interesting duty than back at the Naval Air Test Center or in Tripoli, Libya.

After three months, the powers that be decided that there wasn't enough work to warrant keeping a photographer at Shore Patrol HQ and I was brought back to the lab in Bagnoli to work.

An old high school buddy who had joined the Navy after me, wrote to say that his ship, the heavy cruiser USS Newport News, would be showing up in Naples during their Mediterranean cruise. So, when his ship anchored out in the bay, I dug out my dress blues and caught a launch out to his ship. We had a great visit and it was wonderful seeing someone from home after all these months.

That's Vinnie MacDermott, on the left. 1954

One day, I was told that I had a visitor at the front desk. I went out to find a young Navy Jewish Chaplain waiting for me. He introduced himself and welcomed me to Naples. He told me that he led shabbas services every Friday night in a chapel in one of the buildings that the US Navy rented in the center of Naples. He said that it was a Conservative group and there were a handful of Jewish sailors and Marines who attended. He said that they could run the service without the required minyan (10 males as required by Jewish law) and he invited me to join them. I thanked him, but I didn't plan on going. I wasn't a religious person and hadn't been in a shul since my Bar Mitzvah. But, one Friday evening, there was nothing to do and I was feeling a little homesick, so I decided to drop in. I was welcomed by a small group of friendly sailors and one marine. There was also a Jewish Neapolitan woman who attended. Yes, there were some Jews in Italy and there were even some synagogues. But, this lady had asked permission to attend these services, mostly, I suspect, to try to snag a nice American Jew for her marriage aged daughter. I got a kick out of watching her maneuver her daughter around. They didn't know that I now spoke a little Italian and could understand her when she told her daughter to "Go sit next to Ricardo." I wasn't interested, thank you.

 


Esther in Naples. 1953
What did attract me, however, was a beautiful young woman who was there with her newborn daughter. She was Jewish and had brought her baby to the services to be named according to Jewish tradition. The baby was named Carol Elizabeth, although she grew up using the name Elizabeth. The mother's name was Esther. She was young and very beautiful. I found out that she was from French Morocco (known now as Morocco since gaining independence from France.) She spoke English very well, with a very distinct and charming French accent. She also spoke Arabic and Italian fluently. She had married an American sailor whom she got to know when he was stationed in Port Lyauty, French Morocco, when she was 16. Esther and her family lived in Casablanca. She followed her husband to Naples, when he was transferred, and that is where their daughter was born. But, the marriage was in trouble by then and would soon end.

After each shabbat service, some of us would go to a nearby cafe for beer and conversation. The rabbi would join us and so would Esther. The discussions were interesting and the group would often sit there until well after midnight before breaking up. Esther lived in Vomero, a district on one of the hills that ringed the city of Naples and she would have to catch a bus to get there. I didn't like the idea of a young, attractive woman traveling alone so late at night and after a month or so, I offered to ride with her to see her safely home. She was appreciative and gradually, as she told me more and more about herself, we became friends. Just friends. She was still married. I met her husband on several occasions and I photographed her daughter, Elizabeth.

Esther was becoming more and more lonely as her marriage deteriorated and we would talk about it whenever we met. Sometimes she would bring Elizabeth in her carriage and we would walk through a park or along the waterfront. Sometimes she would come alone, leaving the baby in the care of the full time housekeeper and nanny that she had working for her.


Esther aboard a vaporetto to Capri. 1953

 

A few times, we would take the vaporetto, a ferry that ran from Naples to the lovely and enchanting Isle of Capri, out in the middle of the Bay of Naples, where we would spend the day. I loved Capri and would often go there by myself, renting a pensione for the night. I used to enjoy walking the narrow, hilly paths that laced this small but mountainous island.

There were no cars and no roads so walking was the only way to get around. The paths were lined with stone walls which were covered in fragrant flowers and vines, behind which stood villas of the rich and famous.


The ferry would land you at a dock at the base of the mountain. You would take the funiculare, a cable car on rails that ran up the side of the cliff and deposited you at a small piazza in the village known as Capri. There is another village on a mountain at the other end of the island knows as Anacapri. That was a swankier locale and I only visited there once. The piazza in Capri was ringed with fancy shops and outdoor restaurants, but they were usually crowded with tourists; mostly French and German.

The hotels or pensiones in that neighborhood were too expensive, so I usually walked the paths until I didn't hear anymore German, French or English being spoken. And that's were the cheaper rooms were to be found.


The funiculare pulls into the Village of Capri at the top on the mountain.

The main piazza in Capri.

There isn't much flat ground on the Isle of Capri.

One of the lovely paths that traverse Capri.

A beautiful restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean. The rocks rising out of the water in the background are known as The Sisters.

 

Time passed quickly and then one day Esther told me that her husband had orders to return to the States. She and Elizabeth were going with him and she was going to try to make the marriage work. They were sailing on the liner, SS America and one evening, I stood in a park on the waterfront and watched the lights of the ship sail past my lovely Isle of Capri and disappear into the night. I knew that I loved her.

I busied myself at work and went out for beers with my shipmates in the evening. My enlistment was drawing to a close and I would be leaving Naples within the year. I realized that I hadn't seen much outside of the city so I took a weekend pass and went up to Rome for a couple of days.


The famous Fountain of Trevi. If you throw a coin over your shoulder and it lands in the fountain, tradition guarantees that you will return to Rome. Italian coins were made of aluminum and my coin floated short of the fountain. A sweeper picked it up and threw it in for me. I think that means that he, not I, will return to Rome. 1955

How could I have spent almost two years in Italy without seeing Rome? I hopped a military flight to Capadacino Airport, where I had flown in from Libya a lifetime ago (or so it seemed.) I found a cheap hotel, changed into the new Italian suit that I had tailored for me, recently, and started off to tour the Eternal City. I hate being a tourist but I had no choice except to act as one. I only had two days and I wanted to see as much as I could. So, that first day, I signed up for a few bus tours.

The first one, of course, took me on a whirlwind tour of The Vatican.

"Here's the Pope's residence. Here is the famed courtyard where he gives his blessings on special occasions. Now follow me to the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's famous art works." The tour guide hurried us past places over which I longed to tarry.

The next bus ride took me to the Coliseum and the guide also rushed us past antiquities that deserved more than the cursory glance which was all that we were permitted. And so it went until evening. But, I had made notes about the things that I wanted to see and spend more time enjoying, so the next day, I set out on foot and by taxi to enjoy all of the history and tradition that this wonderful, ancient city offered.


Another view of the Coliseum. 1955


The Vatican. 1955


The ancient Roman Coliseum. 1955

Sunday morning dawned with an early Autumn sun lighting up the empty streets and deserted piazzas. Pigeons swirled around the historic statues in the squares and cathedral bells called the faithful to prayer. I stepped out of my hotel and breathed in all of this atmosphere, knowing that I would probably never experience this again. From behind me. I heard a voice call out, "Hey, Joe!"

Hey Joe??? Joe is what the Italians called American men. Hey Joe??? I was dressed in my new Italian suit. How did he know that I was an American?

"Hey, Joe," he called out again. "Do you want to take a tour of the synagogues here in Rome?"

Not only had he pegged me as an American, but as a Jew as well. I declined his offer, which was probably a mistake, because I later found out that Rome has some beautiful and historic old Synagogues.

But, I held to my plan and enjoyed returning to those interesting places that had been a touristy blur the day before.


A street in Rome. 1955


Antiquities dot the landscape in Rome. 1955

Back in Naples, I made excursions to Sorrento, Pompei and the surrounding area


Amid the ruins of Pompei, an old man smokes his pipe. 1955

A country road outside of Naples, with Mt. Vesuvius in the distance. 1955

 


I received a letter from an old shipmate from VX-4, my old squadron back at Patuxent River, MD. He had been transferred to duty in London and he invited me up for a visit. What the Hell. Why not? It was almost time to go home so I might as well have one last trip. I took a week's leave and found another military flight heading to London and off I went.

I had a great time and while he was at work, I did the tourist thing, again. At least I was getting to see some interesting places in spite of not having duty aboard a ship.

Picadilly Circus, a square in the heart of London. 1955

The Houses of Parliament on the River Thames. The tall structure on the left is the Tower of London where important prisoners were incarcerated and where former wives of kings were beheaded. The tall clock tower on the right is the famous Big Ben. 1955

Cruising on the Thames, going under London Bridge. In the distance is the Tower Bridge. 1955

An Englishman, off for a canter in Hyde Park. 1955

Tourists in front of Buckingham Palace, hoping for a glimpse of the Queen. 1955

The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. 1955

Beefeater Guards at the Tower of London in their colorful uniforms. 1955

 

 

 

 


I've gotten my orders to return to the US for discharge. Here I am in my hotel room in Naples, with a bottle of scotch, celebrating with my room mates.
And suddenly it came to an end. My four years of military service was almost over. I received orders to return to the Naval Receiving Station in Washington to be discharged. I packed up the accumlation of almost two years in Naples and shipped them home, leaving just my military uniforms in my sea bag, to accompany me home.

 

Once again, I boarded a Navy Transport plane and flew back to America. I had to spend a couple of days at the Receiving Station, getting processed out. I thanked the officer who tried to recruit me into signing up for another four years and received my Honorable Discharge and hopped on a New York bound train. It was good to be home after my long and wonderful journey.

The plane that took me home.