THE AZORES, A LOST PARADISE
In 1969 all men born between January 1943 and December 1950 received notice from the Selective Service System (the Draft Board) to report for duty in the military. I was born in 1943, so I was eminently qualified. I was in a Residency Training Program for General Practice that finished in July of 1970. In August 1970, I was sent to Witchita Falls, Texas, for basic training. I never thought that a doctor would be taught how to march, shoot, and crawl under barbed wire, with live gunfire above (at least that is what they told us), but I was. The US had just included Cambodia in the Vietnam War. I was expecting to go to Vietnam.
But then a miracle happened! I was sent to Portugal as an Air Force Captain. I was able to bring my wife, and we were stationed on Tercera, the third largest island in the Azorian archipelago, a virtual paradise. The Azores were the first place Christopher Columbus stopped on his transoceanic trip to discover the Americas. The church where he prayed for guidance still stands and was the site of many a picnic we had with our Air Force friends. Angra de Heroismo is the largest town of about 35,000 inhabitants. Frédéric Chopin also stopped there during his search for a place that would be better for his lungs, which were besieged by the Tubercle Bacillus. I even sat at the piano, where he gave an impromptu concert for Angra. If you ever get to Angra, you must try the regional specialty, “Alcatra Regional,” a beef stew cooked in an earthen pot on charcoal, which is absolutely outstanding.
Our base was composed of about 4,000 troops, mostly Air Force, but there were also Marines who did the security, the Navy who surprisingly did the flying, and Air Force that did the support, including the hospital. I “fought the war” for the next two years on a semi-tropical island doing health care for basically healthy young people. We bravely kept every Viet Cong from making landfall there. I didn’t know it then, but it was probably the best time of my life. I was young, full of energy and enthusiasm. There was a lot of time to pursue hobbies. I learned to work with wood in their wood hobby shop. Mary and I built shelves using an Acacia tree, the hardest wood in the Azores, that was split just for us. We also built a copy of a 15th-century Savanarola Florentine chair. I became a more sophisticated photographer and even learned to Scuba Dive to look for treasure. Lobster was plentiful in the Atlantic just for the taking, and we did. The harbor near our house had been the scene of great battles between the English and Spanish with treasure ships laden with gold that were sunk by Sir Francis Drake. Unfortunately, all we ever found was a few barnacles-encrusted canons and the occasional shark that lost its way. But sculpting was my favorite hobby. I had always loved to sculpt. My beautiful wife served as a model for several works, one of which is seen here.