Casablanca

I don't know what it is about the movie "Casablanca," but it is one of the very few movies I can watch more than once. I always remember the scenes where they play, "La Marseillaise" and when Rick and lisa part at the airport.

I have never been in Casablanca. Perhaps it is the authenticity of the scenes that bring back memories of Oran, Arzew, Algiers, Bone Or Tunis, more specifically, memories of Bone, but even here the same flies that Signer Ferrari so deftly flicked away after each coup, far outnumbered the people.

We were Quartered in a hotel near Bone's waterfront after our ship was crippled by fire. Lopez, a wiry Mexican-American, and I were assigned night watch to guard the LCT which had been towed in and pushed ashore near the outskirts of town where a twisting road meandered over to the beach at St.Clair.

Every afternoon Just before dusk, we took our Springfield 03's and went across town to relieve the day watch. Dressed in an Army fatigue hat, field jacket. Navy dungarees and Army boots, (Most of our clothes had been lost in the mishap) we each appeared to be 145 pounds of trouble looking for a place to happen. At the LCT, guard headquarters was located in the chain locker at the port bow. From here we could watch everything that came over the lowered ramp.

There was of course the desperation raids of the Luftwaffe which came just after sundown and just before dawn. Every night was like the fourth of July as they shuttled back and forth across the Sicilian Straits in a vain attempt to save the Afrika Korps from defeat. The air was filled with smoke from the generators, burning hulls and warehouses. Rockets screamed into

the night, planes dove and strafed amidst the barrage balloons and every caliber of gun imaginable was firing at the same time. Then came the dawn with the slowly lifting haze revealing the half inflated barrage balloons sinking to ground, but the birds resumed their quest for food and sang as they had since time began, and the two sailors came out to stretch.

On one particular morning, we were sitting on the pile of chains when we heard footsteps on the ramp. It was too early for our relief, so we remained in the locker , out of sight. We let the group come aboard, for there was no way off the LCT except by us. They went to the pile of half burned c-rations where they diligently proceeded to sort the mess. While they were so occupied, Lopez and I quietly gathered our rifles and stepped out.

There were 4 or 5 men going through the rubble while an officer with the demeanor and uniform resembling Prefet Renaud stood in their midst. I addressed him in French, learned in the patient Mrs. Matherson's class at Rockland High, "Arretez! Que voulez vous?" Big Mistake! For all identifiable purposes, here were two young, ambitious Arabs come to rob him, and he knew how to deal with them. His hand flew to his sidearm. What happened in that infinitesimal part of a second, I'll never know. Maybe it was my use of the formal vous instead of the familiar tu, or perhaps it was the realization that he could not hope to survive against two quick youngsters. One of us would surely have got him, but I like to think it was our utter innocence.

He hesitated, then saluted. I pointed to my head indicating, "no chapeau." I could not salute back. He fumbled in his breast pocket and produced a paper showing he was the original consignee of the cargo. He was down here to salvage what he could for his beleaguered forces protecting the American left flank somewhere up around Tabarka. Two brash, and very lucky, Americans had faced down a soul crushing officer of the "Legion Etrangere."

Yes, I guess the movie does remind me of the many like conditions and characters I met in North Africa during the war and subsequent peace time tours. I even found a Rickie's American Cafe in Tangiers, but Rick had stained teeth and boasted that a word from him could fill a washtub with wristwatches on any given night. Nowhere did I find a character with the integrity, outward toughness and inner tenderness of the original, nor did I ever see a woman with the grace and beauty of lisa.

"Here's looking at you kids."

 

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