Around the World in 30 Days - Back in the World

I left MASS-3 and Vietnam for my trip to Israel a year after I arrived.  As an incentive for Marines to stay longer in Vietnam they gave you a free air ticket anywhere in the free world and a 30 day additional leave.  I thought about Polynesia, imagining lolling around the island with beautiful women.  But I also thought it was a shame to waste a free ticket for a place so close to Vietnam.

I had been interested in Israel ever since reading Exodus by Leon Uris. This book portrayed the gallant Israelis fighting for their survival. Plus of course the history of Israel is fascinating.

I flew back on military air to Okinawa and then California. I stopped off to see my relatives in western South Dakota, and then visited my family in Chicago. Then I flew to Rome and spent several days there, wandering around the city in the constant rain.  Fantastic city. I wandered into the Vatican on New Year’s Day. All kinds of people were kneeling in St Peters Square in the rain. I thought they were crazy.  I could not figure out what was happening until I realized the Pope was blessing us all from a balcony.

My father had also been blessed by the Pope when his outfit liberated Rome in World War II. His experience was much more intimate. He and some guys from his outfit were in the cathedral. A priest summoned them inside a smaller chapel and about twenty of them had a private audience with the Pope and were blessed. His interesting story about WW II on the link below:

Both my father and I were pleased to be so blessed, but felt guilty as we were not Roman Catholics. A shame to waste a good Papal blessing on Lutherans.

I then flew on to Athens. Unfortunately I could not get leave the terminal.

I then arrived in Tel Aviv. Great city. I rented a car and drove to Jerusalem. I did not have a credit card so had to deposit most of my remaining dollars with the car rental agency. 

Jerusalem is fascinating with so much our collective biblical history in the area. I then drove to Jericho, picking up Israel soldiers all the way. They were all carrying automatic weapons. I sometimes had five guys in the car.  They would ask to stop in the middle of the desert and then walk out to their halftrack or tank out some distance from the road. Talking to these guys was very interesting.

I also talked to some Israeli women soldiers.  We had heard about how well they were integrated into the military and doing combat jobs. They told me that this was not so and that most of them were doing support jobs.

I turned the car back into Jerusalem. They refunded my US Dollar cash deposit in Israel pounds.  I did not realize the problems that would create.

I then flew to the resort city of Eliat on the Gulf.  Pleasant time on the gulf.  I fell in with some Israeli Army Lieutenants and we spent some time together. They were very cocky and contemptuous of their Arab enemies.  As a Vietnam guy, I had a lot of respect for our adversary and thought that they might be too confident. They were as the 1973 war demonstrated. 

Back in Tel Aviv I spent some time with an elderly American Jewish couple and an Israeli writer.  The writer was trying to persuade them to move to Israel. They told him Israel needed their money, nor them. He did not recruit me, although I was interested in whether Israel wanted any Lutherans.

I looked a bit out of place in Israel. I was 6’2 and about 190 lbs, deeply tanned with a very short blond military haircut and wire rim glasses. I looked a bit like a Nazi storm trooper and I could tell that people were looking and talking about me. One young kid asked his father if I was a Nazi. His father told the child I was an American, so he could tell the difference. My appearance did not help me with the Israeli women either.

When I had left Chicago the previous year for Vietnam I had flown through Madison, Wisconsin enroute to South Dakota.  I had an hour layover in the airport. Madison is very liberal and the home of the University of Wisconsin where the anti war sentiment was very strong. We were required to fly in uniform. I was in my Green Uniform and the hostility was apparent. No one said anything, however.

I had viewed Israel uncritically. However I could see that a lot of the Arab population lived in very poor conditions.  Israel is in a very tough spot. They are surrounded by hostile nations with an internal Arab population that is angered about their situation. A tough situation with no easy solution.

After the service I had a good Palestinian and a good Israeli friend. Both very smart and good guys who saw the problem from their own perspective.  The Israeli felt that their Palestinian population were ingrates. The Palestinian felt that his country had been conquered by the Israelis and he had been displaced.  No easy solution to such a problem.

When it came time to leave I asked the Airline if I could trade my ticket in for a trip directly east back to Vietnam.  This was a considerably shorter distance then going the long way back through the US and I liked the idea of flying around the world. The airlines said yes if the Marine Corps said OK.  So I went to the Embassy and met with the Master Sergeant in charge of the security detail. He wrote a note saying it was ok with him.

The airlines changed the ticket. He noted as an aside that I could not leave Israel with more than 50 pounds. Most of my remaining money from the rental car refund was in Israel pounds, so I kept my mouth shut and flew out of the country. I was very concerned that I would not be able to change the money in the next countries I visited.  But the airport in Bombay had a long string of money changers who gladly changed my Israeli pounds for Indian rupees.  Then I changed it later to Thai Baht, and then back to dollars, losing money on every exchange.

Bombay was fascinating. The city is on a large curving bay, with a string of street lights called the “Queen’s Necklace”.  A beggar tugged my sleeve and I looked down and saw that he was a leper with various parts of him disintegrating.  Huge numbers of people were living in storm sewers and low cardboard shacks and sleeping on the street.  

I walked around late at night, with lots of people watching me. I had more cash in my pocket then many of them would earn in a year. It was sad to see so much poverty. It reminded me of an American inner city, but much worse.

I took a short tour of the area around Bombay. We went to a sacred cave, to a water buffalo dairy, and to various temples. We also went to a carnival on a beach, complete with elephant and camel rides.

Bangkok was great. I had a fine time there. The temples and the Klongs (Canals) are fascinating. The people are very nice and women are beautiful.

One of the interesting things in Thailand are the massage parlors. You enter the facility in a dark quiet bar looking through a large window at a large number of attractive women. Some of them are flirting with you, while others are ignoring you. Each one wears a large number. You choose your number and the young lady gives you a terrific massage and other services if you are so inclined.

My wife and I have visited Thailand many times. She knows that I like a good oriental massage. We were staying in a very nice hotel in the resort town of Phuket and she sent me to the hotel lobby.  They directed me through a tunnel and surprise surprise – there was the same type of massage parlor that I saw while in Bangkok during the war. I brought my wife down to the parlor for her inspection – they offered us package deals.

I left Bangkok for Saigon down to my last few Baht / Dollars, flying into Saigon, the only time I was in that city.  I had taken the entire around the world trip with my old camera without a battery, confident that I could guess the settings. But all my photos were all overexposed.

Flying around the world does get you screwed up, since you are one rotation off the rest of the globe. Fortunately my wife and I repeated the trip in 1999 in reverse, getting me unscrewed, although she is now screwed up. We took six months this time to travel around the world.  Much better the second time around.