An Inadvertent Eyewitness To History
Fifty years ago today, June 5th, 1967, I was in Naples, Italy. I had flown into Naples the previous night from Rome and spent the night at a beautiful old hotel right on the Bay Of Naples. I was up very early that morning so that I could get an early start in making sales calls on the doctors at the U.S. Navy Hospital – Naples. Before heading out to the hospital, I had breakfast on my hotel balcony overlooking the bay. As I did so, I became intrigued watching the busy activity all across the big Naples’ harbor. Big ships were heading out of the port while others were arriving. All around the harbor small boats were buzzing around like bees around their nest. Having never before witnessed the activity at a busy port from a vantage point like my balcony, I had no idea whether the activity that was occurring below me was normal or not.
After I finished breakfast, I went down to the street and engaged a cab, telling the driver to take me to the U.S. Navy Hospital. After about a ten minute drive, we pulled up at main gate of the U.S. Naval Base Naples. – the home port for the U.S. Navy’s Mediterranean 6th Fleet. After we stopped and I presented my official, military “Invitational Travel Orders” to the shore patrol guard manning the gate, he advised us that we were at the wrong place. He told us that the U.S. Navy Hospital, which had previously been on the Navy Base, had moved, a couple of years before, to a new facility in the hills over-looking Naples. He gave the cab driver directions and we proceeded to drive to the new facility.
When the cab driver dropped me off, I took a couple of minutes to stand on the portico of the hospital’s entrance and enjoy one of the most fantastic views I had ever seen. Below, I could see all of the city of Naples with its shimmering , red tile roofs. To my left, was Mount Vesuvius – the dormant volcano and below it the ruins of Pompeii. Directly below me, the Naples harbor and the U.S. Navy base blended into the beautifully blue Mediterranean Sea with the Isle of Capri off in the distance. I stood there for a couple of minutes enjoying the magnificent view and watching the hurried activity in the Navy Base’s harbor. Some of the larger Navy ships were putting smoke out of their stacks as if they were preparing to go to sea while what seemed liked hundreds of tugs, small boats and barges scurried about the harbor. However, I had no reason to think that the activity at the base was in any way abnormal. To me, it seemed as if it was just a normal Monday morning for the 6th Fleet.
How wrong I was. When I came out of the hospital about 1 PM after making all of my calls on the Navy docs, I once again stopped at the hospital entrance to enjoy the great view. Naples, Vesuvius, Capri and the Mediterranean were still as beautiful as they were several hours before, but something was different? It took me several minutes to figure out what it was. Then it struck me, the U.S. Navy Base, that several hours before was filled with ships and was a beehive of activity, was now very still and quiet. All of big warships were gone and the tugs, small boats and barges, that were so busy earlier, were nowhere to be seen. I noticed the lack of activity and the absence of the warships, but didn’t think that much of it. I just assumed that the fleet put to sea every Monday morning.
A Washington friend of mine, Tom Jones, who was the government sales manager for Dow Chemical’s pharmaceutical division, was also in town and while we both were working at the Navy Hospital that morning, we had agreed to meet at my hotel, have a late lunch and do a little shopping before heading back to Rome that evening. That afternoon wherever we went, people, recognizing us as Americans, would stop us and ask – “Where is the fleet?”, “Where did the fleet go?”or something similar. Both Tom and I sensed that something different or strange was going on but neither of us had any idea what it was.
It was not until later that night that I found out. When I was back in Rome and was walking down the busy Via Veneto, I noticed that all of the newsstands and newsboys displayed newspapers with big, bold, black headlines. The English language papers proclaimed “ISRAEL & EGYPT AT WAR”, “MID-EAST BATTLE ON”, etc. Only then did I finally realize why the U.S. 6th Fleet had so abruptly put to sea. It was not, as I had presumed, a normal Monday morning. No, it was in response to the war that had broken out in the Mid-East that morning. They had done so to protect American interests in the area and to be ready to intervene if necessary.
What was later called “The Six Day War” had started that Monday morning 50 years ago and I inadvertently was an eye-witness to a small part of its history.
Posted by Frank Fleming on June 5th, 2017
In Loving Memory Of
1936 – 2016