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An Unlikely Traveler

My paternal grandfather was the exact opposite of a traveler. When my dad was growing up, summer vacations were usually spent at the Jersey Shore, but that was about the extent of his traveling wanderlust. Once he retired, a time when many embrace traveling, excited about visiting all of the places they never had the time or money to when they were younger, he preferred staying put. Visits to my family and me in Philadelphia were the furthest he traveled (about a 90 minute car ride) and even then they stopped once my grandmother could no longer drive. The grandfather I knew was a slightly gruff old man who adored watching the Philadelphia Phillies on television and smoking his “cigs” at his home in northern New Jersey. And yet, when a young man in his twenties, he truly saw the world.

My grandfather was the son of Eastern European immigrants and from what I could garner, he most likely had a tough childhood. He grew up in a steel town in northern Pennsylvania and dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. After the United States entered World War II, he enlisted rather than being drafted. His reasoning was that he “could not see himself doing all that walking” (being an infantry soldier). And so he became part of the 12th Army Air Corps, specifically a top gunner on a B-17.

Image courtesy of aviation-history.com

When my grandmother was planning a trip to Las Vegas, she obviously wanted my grandfather to come along with her. He declined, saying he had already been there. Well he had, only a half a century ago, long before Las Vegas was the glitzy and cosmopolitan place it is today. He had gunnery school there before being part of a formal unit in the Air Corps. In the 1991 film Bugsy when Benjamin “Bugsy” Segal takes his mob associate Meyer Lansky to post-war Las Vegas to show him around, Lansky is less than impressed with the desert city and asks Bugsy, “What are we, Bedouins?” I’m sure the “Bedouin” landscape is what my grandfather would always remember of Las Vegas,and surely not recognize the city it became.


Image courtesy of classiclasvegas.squarespace.com

My dad remembers his father telling him about the less than ideal traveling conditions when flying across the Atlantic Ocean. He was apparently flown from a base in the United States to Labrador (a region in the Canadian province of Newfoundland) and from there to Europe. The flight was 14 hours and the bombers were strapped in the entire journey. We travelers of today think we have it rough in regards to flying, and yet they really aren’t in comparison to previous times.

By the time the United States had entered the war, the British had already been battling it out against Germany’s Rommel and his Afrika Korps in Libya and Egypt. With his unit my grandfather participated in the invasion of Algeria and French Morocco in November 1942. As the infantry would advance, taking more land, the Air Force would move up and establish new bases. He was in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, for most of us countries that epitomize the foreign mystique.

After the Allies had successfully won the North African Theatre, my grandfather moved on to the liberation of southern Europe, specifically Italy. From Tunisia they went to Sicily and then up Italy’s famous “boot.” His bases were in the south of Italy and once it was apparent that the Allies were indeed winning the war as they had been able to keep advancing north, he and his flying mates were able to get leave and be “tourists.” On one leave, he went to Naples and from there took a boat to the Isle of Capri and swam in the Mediterranean. A boy with immigrant parents from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, swimming and sunning in one of Europe’s most popular and well known locales.

Bizerte, Tunisia during World War II
Image courtesy of galik.com
Isle of Capri in the 1940s
Image courtesy of galik.com
He never again was the international traveler he was during the war. Ironically, war or no war, he was an unlikely traveler and yet a genuine world traveler. 

Here’s to you Pop Pop.

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  • Reply
    July 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    What a nice story about Pop Pop and a nice documentation of a part of his life!

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    July 19, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Thank you! I hoped it would be interesting to other people besides just me πŸ™‚

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