Captain Jon Cook, USN (Ret) enlisted in the Navy June 1962, graduated from the Naval Academy 1967, earned his naval aviator wings 1968, and started his helicopter career as a gunship pilot in Viet Nam, then as a rescue pilot, then as an anti submarine pilot aboard frigates and destroyers. He was the commanding officer of two squadrons and retired in 1992.
During a Mediterranean cruise on USS America, an aircraft carrier, from June to December 1971, we had port calls in Rota, Barcelona, and Palma de Majorca, Spain; Naples, Sicily, Italy: Athens, Crete, Corfu and Rhodes Greece. Our detachment had four H-2 Sea sprite rescue helicopters, nine pilots (seven of us had been helicopter gunship pilots in Vietnam in the same squadron), one warrant officer, one chief petty officer, 45 maintenance personnel and five air crewmen.
An aircraft carrier can only anchor out when in most foreign ports, so we took a ship’s launch from the ship to shore. There were several memorable events during our ashore times. We were in Naples several times, and the downtown waterfront is a bit grungy. Naples in 1971 was not very clean. Several detachment spouses followed the ship from port to port. Jim Harrison’s wife, about 8 months pregnant, got her bottom pinched on a bus in Naples. There were scruffy bars that had many hookers – now the interesting thing is if you really wanted to know what your next port of call was going to be – ask the hookers, they knew – their business depended upon it.
A two-day trip to the Isle of Capri was memorable for five of us without spouses. We had a few days off so we took the hydrofoil to Capri. We debated whether to take the fast or slow way for $2 difference, but we decided faster was better. We landed near the grotto portion of Capri – a small port area that was not memorable, then we rode a tram up a steep slope to the top of the island. The crest is probably 2-3 miles long with the main area on the ridge of the island with restaurants, homes, shops and small hotels. We needed a place to stay, so we decided to walk down the main road, stopping at all the possible places on the right side to inquire about lodging, and when we got to the end of the road, we were hot and thirsty. A small store sold red wine by the liter bottle, so each of us bought two bottles at a dollar each. We walked back towards the main area stopping again on the right, still looking for lodging. We had no luck, but we each had finished off one bottle of red wine and were feeling – well relaxed.
Finally, we found a place to stay about a block off the main road. It was a large room with one king sized bed and a huge bathroom which would accommodate the five of us fine. The bed looked inviting, but it was not comfortable, and we had a place for the night. We ventured back to the main road and the main square in town. The square was quite large and had several restaurants, all with tables on the main square. We found a table and ordered dinner and drinks. Later, several tour busses stopped close to us, enough so we could see who was getting off the bus. I was truly shocked. It seemed over 80% of the passengers were older women, and it was at that moment I said, I would not let that happen to me. I think most of those women would have preferred to have had their spouses with them, but they were not there. I was really taken aback by that.
The next day, we took a bus down the main road and went to a beach, where there is no sand in Capri, only gravel that is not comfortable to walk on. The water was so clear you could see the bottom a hundred feet down from a float about 100 feet off shore. The water was also very cold. Later we returned to our lodging, showered, and changed for the afternoon. We rode the hydrofoil back to Naples, which, as my grandfather Meyer told me, “you could smell Naples 25 miles at sea,” and that was still true in 1971. Their sewage went directly into the harbor.
Later in the trip, while in Athens, our detachment rented a hotel room for about six days, those of us who were off duty could use it as a place to stay ashore overnight. Again, there was just one bed. During that one night,I distinctly remember, we had been to the Blaka district (near Constitution Square) for drinks and dinner, and I think that was the night our bachelor, Terry Black, found true love – well a lady from New York City anyway. We all had a good time singing and dancing. Later at the hotel, I drew the short straw and did not get the bed, so I laid on the floor. Then it got cold, so I used the window drapes on the floor to curl up in until I rolled over and onto the pins that were holding the drapes together. I screamed and woke everyone. Athens was a fine city, very large, and the Greek people were friendly.
By Jon Cook, United States Navy