For the next forty-two days the group enjoyed an all expense paid tour of the southern hemisphere - all alone on a vast expanse of empty sea where the nearest land was straight down and nobody in a hurry to get there. The nights were particularly beautiful and it seemed that we had more than our share of moon light under which the music of volunteer orchestras and singing groups took on a nostalgic sweetness.
We touched briefly at Wellington, New Zealand, then south around the island through the Tasman Sea across to Australia where we were given the hospitable townspeople. We headed out to sea once more, our next stop being Bombay, India where we smelled the smells and saw the sights.
On the third day we pulled out and started a dizzy zigzagging course across the Arabian Sea into the Gulf of Eden towards the Straits of Bab el Mandab. The latest rumor that we were doomed to patrol the Red Sea was seemingly confirmed, they gave us pocket guides to Egypt and phonograph records of the Arabic language. The hospital bay filled up with the first victims of a run of GI's and much progress was made in learning the new language for among numerous other things, the guide books said that " Fayn-ma-ra-heed" meant "where is the toilet?"
March 29th, Suez. End of the route, all out! We anchored in the stream at 1000hours and went ashore in the rickety native boats about the size of harbor tugs, held together as far as we could see by baling wire and grass rope. The engineers crowded on all steam the rusty boilers would carry and , amid the hoots and jeers of the winners, the boats raced for shore. Here we were herded onto the dinky, narrow-gauge train for a ride to the field -- El Kabrit on Little Bitter Lake beside the Suez Canal.
Our new home was one vast expanse of sand which made the pitching of our tents no easy job but by supper time the camp was pretty well shaken down and we took our first look around. We saw our first evidence of war in the gaping roofs and shrapnel- perforated walls of the hangers and were suitably impressed when the Flight Echelon - old timers who had been there a week or so - casually mentioned that Jerry raids were a daily occurrence, further pointed out that the prisoner of war camps across the lake were brightly lighted at night and served to guide the Stukas to our location.
we heard the sage of the Flight Echelon - how they travelled by train to Battle Creek in accommodations which were not what they were accustomed to expect as the "cream of the crop" How Captain Bailey practically tore to shreds an engineering major who had ideas about the kind of ships he was going to turn over to the crews for the long ocean ho. Naturally , they snowed us under with their tales of difficult navigation, beautiful gals and wild parties and their final mad dash to Cairo with thirsty engines consuming gallons of oil.
Most of the boys made it but to the grief and sorrow of their comrades in some of the squadrons, there had ben n a few losses -- boys who had left the states with high endeavor in their hearts and , while they had not seen actual combat, had in fact sacrificed their lives to the cause in which they believed. Can any of us do more?
The former Luxury Liner the SS America converted to the Troop Ship USS West Point, which transported the 486th Ground personnel to North Africa.