Chapter 6 – Pakistan (1963-1964)

When we arrived in Karachi, Pakistan, Dad was waiting, dressed in tropical whites. With tears of joy, he ran up and embraced us all. The “F” word was never mentioned.

Now that that’s over, let me tell you about the trip.

Dad went solo to Pakistan several months before the rest of the TPF. Mom, Becky, Debby, Dan and I took a Greyhound bus to St. Louis to spend some time with Ma.

Once, I heard someone say, “Only bums travel by bus.” The exact opposite is true. You meet people who are living in the moment. At ground level, fellow travellers are willing to tell you about their lives and the hard and soft reasons they are making their journey. Addresses are exchanged, and a sincere invitation to, “Drop by any time”, is always offered. I decided that only bums say, “Only bums travel by bus.”

We treasured time spent with Ma. We called our grandmother “Ma” because the word was easier for us kids to learn to say. Time you spend with ones you love is limited. Learn to say their name ASAP. (i.e. Pappy)

Ma was a Christian. She witnessed to our family, and my eternal thanks go to her for letting us know the way to be saved.

After too short a time in St. Louis, Mom, Becky, Debby, Dan and I took a TWA flight to Charleston South Carolina. There, we processed in for multiple military flights which we trusted would get us to Pakistan. My Mother was not a fan of air travel. How she was able to keep four kids in tow and navigate the reams of printed orders required to allow us transit, is material that should be examined by the Noble Peace Prize Committee.

In Charleston, we boarded an old friend… a propeller driven C-54 (Douglas DC-4) aircraft like the one we took to Greenland. What did you say? “Didn’t you think flying in an antique propeller driven airplane was dangerous?” My reply is, “What could possibly go wrong with an antique propeller driven airplane?”

I had heard the term, “point of no return” before. Over the Atlantic Ocean, several hours out of Charleston, the pilot made an announcement, “We have a problem with number three engine. If you look out the starboard side of the aircraft, you will see that I have feathered the propeller to reduce drag.” Looking out a starboard window, I could see smoke, flames and a distinct slowing down of one of the propellers. Another announcement, “We have reached the point of no return. We will continue on to Bermuda.” The calm, practiced voice of the pilot was so reassuring that I felt the situation was not SNAFU, it was just SN (situation normal).

Our runway approach to Kindley Field, Bermuda, was greeted with a wonderful reception. The runway was completely lined with fire engines, ambulances and all manner of emergency vehicles.

The plane landed perfectly and came to a gentle stop. When the pilot announced that we had arrived in Bermuda, I thought I heard a hint of relief in his otherwise calm voice.

Bermuda was intended to be nothing more than a refuelling stop. The loss of an engine meant we had a three day wait while a replacement engine was flown in from the mainland. There are worse places to be stranded than Bermuda. We kids had fun exploring the colonial town of Hamilton and the picturesque harbour. Mom, on the other hand, was busy checking shipping schedules for berths on a ship… any ship, back to the USA.

Fortunately, there were no ship passages available.

When our plane was repaired, we got on board for the next leg of our journey, another fuel stop in the Azores. We arrived and left Lajes Field in the middle of the night and were soon on our way to Torrejon Air Base near Madrid, Spain. At Torrejon we traded our ageing propeller driven plane for a four jet engine C-135. The C-135 was a Boeing 707 which had been converted to a military transport plane. All of the passenger seats faced backwards, and there were no windows or fancy panelling in the interior… just a bare metal tube. When we gained altitude, ice formed on all the rivets. When we descended, the crew kindly passed out rain hats in advance of the rainfall produced by our aeronautical micro climate.

From Spain, we proceeded to Tripoli, Libya. A hard class hotel with unmade beds and stained sheets welcomed us to Libya for an overnight stay before we moved on to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

The layover in Dhahran consisted of all passengers being ferried in one USAF station wagon, six passengers at a time, to the ultramodern new terminal. The desert sun was fierce, and it was a relief when our turn came to get out of the oven like interior of our metal tube. The terminal was air-conditioned and I imagine that all of the machine gun toting guards and goats wandering around were thankful for the cool.

Compared to our other “hops”, it was just a few short hours more until we finally arrived in Karachi, Pakistan. Mom had managed to keep four kids in one piece for an epic eight day journey.

Do you recall photos of the US Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima, or Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr frolicking on the beach in the movie From Here to Eternity? Not even close to the explosion of emotions when the TPF were finally reunited on the tarmac at Karachi airport.

Dad, in starched whites, looked like a character out of a Somerset Maugham novel. We looked like refugees. Dad scooped us all up and loaded us into a posh staff car which transported us to the Saltine Club, a way station for travelling American officials, and a great oasis for getting acquainted with Pakistan. During our two days in Karachi, Dan (age 12) and I (age 14) took off and explored the area. Used to being allowed to roam free in Japan, it was great once again to experience foreign soil.

Karachi was more like a freewheeling Indian city compared to our final destination of Peshawar in the conservative North West Frontier. Not third world, Karachi was out of this world… the streets were filled with horses, camels, donkeys, trucks, buses, women covered from head to toe in black veils and the occasional stark naked “pilgrim”. The visual blast was accompanied by smells of diesel, wood smoke, dried cow dung, sewage and spices. It somehow made you feel hungry and nauseous at the same time!

Snake charmers and street performers were on every corner. My favourite was a magician. As he squatted in the dust he made ropes tie and untie and then disappear without ever touching them. One at a time, he swallowed eight pool balls. Then, he asked you to name a colour… sure enough, he regurgitated the correct coloured ball into his waiting hand. It wasn’t magic, it was real!

“A journey is not over until you arrive.” We still had 900 miles to go. The reunited TPF completed the journey in a PAL (Pakistani Airlines) DC-3 two propeller aircraft. It seemed like the wings were flapping as we flew low level over desert scrub before finally landing in Peshawar. Peshawar was the capital of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).

TOC | Next Chapter