In a recent article in the Tribune Chronicle, there was a book review of a biography of Ava Gardner, a movie star of years ago. It caught my attention because as a young man, I found her to be very attractive.
In the Army in 1953, I was assigned to Fort Gullick in the Panama Canal Zone. One evening there, I went to a theater on the post to watch a movie titled "The Barefoot Contessa" in which she starred.
About half way through the movie, the lights came on and an officer came onto the stage and gave orders that all troops were to return to their barracks. We were to prepare full field equipment and wait for further orders.
I was in a smaller group of students studying communications. We did not have field equipment as the infantry troops had. So we got out our toothbrushes and toiletries and were ready to get further orders. All the while we were talking, speculating about what had happened to cause this emergency. The best guess was that the Russians had found a way to bomb the canal, which we were there to protect.
Gradually, troops who were on pass came back to the barracks with stories of what was happening in Cristobal, the nearest city in the Canal Zone. It was only one street away from Colon in the Republic of Panama. They reported that machine gun posts were being set up in the intersection of the roadways, and the shopkeepers were rolling down metal chain fences in front of their stores to protect their merchandise from rioters.
It was not until the next morning that we learned that the president of the Republic of Panama had been shot and murdered. He had been at the horse track on the other side of the isthmus. Three men from behind a row of bushes had gunned him down.
The vice president took charge of the country immediately and was made chairman of a committee to find out who the perpetrator was. We didn't learn until a couple of days later that the vice president himself was the organizer of the assassination.
Another point of interest was that one man who returned from the republic had gone out without a pass. Of course, he had to show a pass to get back into the post. He was not caught because he hid in the trunk of the car of a soldier who did have a pass. If he had been caught, both he and the owner of the car would have been in big trouble. They might have been court martialed.
Another experience that comes to mind, reading the article about Ava Gardner, was regarding my assignment to an underground communications center about eight miles form the main center of the post where we ate our meals and picked up our mail. Our communications center was out in the jungle, on the edge of Lake Gatun.
One time when we were driving back in our three-quarter ton truck, we spotted a boa constrictor crossing the road about half way to our quarters. There were no volunteers to get out and try to measure it but we couldn't see either its head or its tail, so it must have been pretty long. We didn't know whether it was a male or a female either, as no one volunteered to roll it over to determine its gender.
On another daily trip we spotted a three-toed sloth hanging from a tree. We stopped and shook the tree as hard as we could, but he wouldn't let go. Finally he did come down to a lower branch and we could smell him. It was awful!
Another memory is of the capture of a land iguana, which we barbecued. There was much debate over what kind of seasoning to use. One fellow found some red berries in the jungle, and we squeezed them over the rotating meat on a spit over the fire. He assured us the berries were safe, as he had seen them used in Puerto Rico where he grew up.
These many years later, I wonder what Ava Gardner would have thought about the memories her name brings to my mind!