Saturday, June 28, 2008


Dear Friends,

I have been told that everyone likes a mystery. It somehow intrigues the human psyche to try to unravel those things that we do not understand, or that defy human explanation. Only a few weeks ago, I encountered just such a mystery. Oh, it wasn’t the kind of mystery that culminates in a best selling novel or an “Indiana Jones” type movie; it was just one of those mysteries that pique one’s mind...even if for just a few moments.

I happened to be inside the Church of St. Titus in downtown Iraklion, just a short way from Lion’s Square and not far from the Iraklion harbor. There, in a small chapel inside the Church, but to the left side of the main sanctuary, is a shrine of sorts – and in that shrine, encased in an ornate gold casque, replete with delicate carvings and ages-old, hand painted icons, is the purported skull of St. Titus. There is a hole in the top of the gold casque through which one can peer down upon the skull of St. Titus. Many people come into that little chapel every day, kissing the numerous icons that adorn the walls, incessantly crossing themselves, and kissing the glass globe that sits over the gold casque housing the skull of St. Titus. Some are the Greek Orthodox faithful, and others, like me, are there a little out of curiosity, a little out of morbidity, and with a little bit of tourist crammed in somewhere between the two. After taking a few photographs, I had sat down on one of the benches in the little chapel to insert my Nikon D-200 back into its carrying case before moving along. A middle-aged Greek man came and sat down on the bench beside me while I was fiddling with my camera. “You like our Church of St. Titus?”, he asked in a quiet voice, but with a heavy Greek accent. “Yes, I like it very much. It is a beautiful Church", I whispered. “It has the original skull of St. Titus...preserved for two thousand years”, he said, with obvious pride. I turned to face him. He was a neatly dressed man, smiling broadly, sitting there with his legs crossed. He kept nodding his head, as if expecting a response from me. “Yes, that is quite remarkable that the skull of St. Titus has been preserved and protected here for such a long time. But, how do you know that it is “THE” skull of St. Titus?”, I asked. He frowned and deep wrinkles suddenly appeared on his forehead. “Because”, he answered, a little more loudly, “it is well documented”. “But”, I replied, “it is my understanding there is a small Church up in the mountains which also claims to have the “original” skull of St. Titus. The only difference is that the skull of St. Titus in the mountains is somewhat smaller than the skull which you have here”. I was curious to see how he might reconcile the existence of two skulls, supposedly from the same man. He thought for a moment. I knew what he was thinking. Being the devout Greek Orthodox Christian that he was, he did not want to admit that either of the two Churches might be perpetrating a fraud. After a rather long silence, he spoke, choosing his words carefully, “Well, the smaller skull in the mountains must have been from St. Titus while he was still a boy”. He was straight faced, serious as a heart attack, and not smiling. With that, he got up from the bench, brushed off some imaginary dust from his pants and strode off. There was no way that I could challenge that type of logic. Now friends, I don’t know about you, but have you ever been in a situation when you wanted to burst out laughing, like in a funeral home or during a church service? I knew that if I so much as parted my lips, uncontrollable laughter would spew forth from my mouth like the lava and volcanic ash that erupted from Mt. Vesuvius when it covered Pompeii! I bit my lip so hard that I thought I would cry...I held my breath until my eyes nearly crossed. For a moment, I thought that I would wet my pants. I got up from the bench, and as casually as I possibly could, sauntered out of the chapel, through the giant double doors of the Church, down the steps, around the corner, and out of sight from all onlookers...and then let loose! I doubled over so hard that I thought I would vomit. My entire body heaved with laughter. Surely anyone passing by would have thought that I was either having convulsions, or that my body was shaking and writhing from some sort of demonic possession! After I had somewhat regained my composure, I immediately left the area outside the Church of St. Titus, and began working my way through the crowded streets of Iraklion, back toward the bus stop where I would catch the bus back to Amoudara. Each time that I would think back to what had transpired just a short while before, I would again began to laugh. Now, laughing is not a bad thing, but when you are by yourself and walking down a crowded sidewalk with throngs of people at every side, and you began to laugh out loud for no apparent reason, people will stop and stare. But now it just didn’t matter – at long last the age-old mystery of the two skulls had been solved!!!

Take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.

Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,
Bob (Midget) Armistead

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Dear Friends,

Well, I finally did it! I mustered up enough courage to return to the base on Sunday, June 15th. It was sort of a surreal experience but not as emotional as I thought it would be. After disembarking the bus on the main highway in front of the base, I slowly walked toward the main gate. The little guard shack which sat in the middle of the road was now empty and silent, and the familiar sign mounted atop the guard shack which identified it as, “IRAKLION AIR STATION”, had now been replaced by a sign that read, “CRETE AQUARIUM”. How many times I had walked (or stumbled) toward that little shack in years past, and how many times I had been challenged by an Air Force Security Policeman to produce my military I.D. before I could gain access to the base. Now all was quiet and still. I kept hoping against all hope that some smartly dressed young S.P. in his neatly pressed 1505’s or in his dress blues would step out and ask me for my I.D. I looked inside only to see all of the wiring and lighting ripped from the walls and ceiling, and the floor littered with debris. I continued past the guard shack to the Base Chapel on the left. It looked as if the building was in pretty good condition, but the grounds were a mess. The grass and weeds were waist-high and the trees and shrubbery were in obvious need of trimming. As I stood there looking at the Chapel, I was somewhat amazed that not a single panel of the stained glass window at the front of the Chapel had been damaged – it was completely intact! Even though there were signs posted both in Greek and English to “Keep Out”, I still had to try each door to see if I could get inside, but to no avail. I remembered during the two years, eight months that I had been stationed on Crete, I entered the Base Chapel only on four occasions: Once when I “in-processed” upon my arrival, once to attend a memorial service for an NCO on another flight who had been killed in a car crash, again when I attended the memorial service for Kent Pahling and Dave Griewank, and finally when I “out-processed” to leave Iraklion Air Station. I never once attended a Christmas service or an Easter service or a regular Sunday service. That’s not a very good record for a young man who was raised in the Christian tradition. But then, perhaps that’s what young men do when they first gain their independence; they forget the upbringing that formed the identity of their youth and they forge ahead to form the identity that proclaims their independence as young men, now out on their own. I left the Chapel and headed north until I reached the first street that turned to the right. I think the name of that road may have been “Olympic” or maybe “Olympia”, but I’m not sure. Perhaps some of you who read this entry might help me identify some of the streets on base, as well as some of the buildings on this blog. The first building on the left was the Base Gym and it also looked as if it had been maintained and not simply abandoned to the elements. Immediately across the street was a building which had been the Base Library; there is now a sign in Greek which reads, “Biblio...”, so, it may be that it is now used as a Greek library. Next, there was the Base Snack Bar, the barber shop, the Base Exchange (BX), and the Service Club (Recreation Center), all on the left. On the opposite side of the street was a barracks-styled building which I think housed the Squadron Commander’s Office, the CQ’s office, perhaps classrooms for the University of Maryland, other administrative offices, and where linen, blankets and pillows were issued. I think there were also rooms on the upper floors of that same building which were used to temporarily house newly arrived enlisted men until they could be assigned to a flight, or until they had completed “in-processing” and could assume the duties for which they had been trained. As I continued down the street, I noticed the wind had picked up considerably, and dust was being swept up from the antennae field and across the street, sometimes carrying with it some paper debris. It began to remind me of a ghost town from a Grade B western. I halfway expected Gary Cooper or John Wayne to suddenly appear at the end of the street and challenge me to a confrontation. How the mind can play tricks! I came to the first barracks (dorms) on the right. There were chain linked fences around them and signs in English and Greek warning intruders to “Keep Out”. I ignored the signs and found a breech in the fence and stepped through. I wandered past the first barracks to the barracks immediately behind it. At first, I mistakenly thought that I was at the west end of Dorm #307, but it was actually Dorm #308. I could hear the breaking of glass and a crashing sound accompanying it. There were workmen who were removing debris from the second story of Dorm #308 and tossing it to the ground below. When they saw me approaching, they motioned for me to go away. I told them that I was an American and pointed to my camera, as if that gave me some legitimacy to be there trespassing and breaching the fenced-in area. I tried to enter the building but the doors at the west end of the barracks were locked shut. There was a sign posted on the door which read, “FEMALE VISITORS MUST BE UNDER ESCORT BY AN OCCUPANT OF THIS DORM AT ALL TIMES FROM ENTRY TO EXIT FROM THIS BUILDING BY ORDER OF THE BASE COMMANDER”. I recalled how we were forbidden to have ANY female visitors in our dorm, but I was glad that those Airmen who came after us were permitted to have female guests. I decided to take the outside stairway and make my way to the second floor, where again I was met with a locked door. After retreating down the outside stairwell, I walked around to the back side of the dorm, where I found they were doing obvious repair work and renovations. How my heart soared! Perhaps some of the dorms would be salvaged and be put to good use. I took a couple of photos of the outside of the building, still thinking at that point that it was Dorm #307. I retraced my steps back to the hole in the chain-linked fence and then proceeded down the street to the next set of dorms. Here I made my way through a stand of tall grass and weeds past the first dorm to the dorm immediately behind it. There, stenciled in large digits on the west end of the dorm were the numbers, “307”. I froze. This was where I had lived! This had been my home for two years, eight months. I looked at it. My heart pounded. Could I gain access? Did I even have the courage to venture in? My thoughts were suddenly shattered by a sharp banging noise – the wind was causing the outside door of the second floor to slam open and then shut...then open again...then shut again. Once again my mind wandered to a Grade B western with tumbleweeds and wind and doors slamming open and shut in an old abandoned ghost town. I approached the west end of the dorm and tried to open the door. It was unlocked! I ventured in...carefully. The first room at the end of the dorm on the left side had been mine. I took a few steps down the hallway and peeked into the room on the left. There was debris on the floor, the wall lockers had been broken into, and the windows had been smashed. My first thought was, “My God, this will NEVER pass inspection!” I took some photos and then stepped out into the hallway and peered toward the east end of the dorm. As I stood there I closed my eyes and could imagine Steve Gregory coming out of his room; “Hey, Bob, do you want to go over to the chow hall and grab a bite to eat?” Or Mike Dusek coming out of the latrine with just a towel wrapped around his mid-section; “Bob, wanna go over to the snack bar and get a coke and sandwich in a little while?” Or Ernie Arguello and Willie Like approaching me and asking, “Hey, Midget, what are you doin’ just standing there in the middle of the hallway? Come with us to the Airmen’s Club and have a couple of beers.” I ventured down the hallway and looked into the latrine. The urinals had been smashed, the commodes were missing, and most of the copper supply lines had been ripped from the walls. The large shower room with four nozzles coming out of one wall and four nozzles coming out of the opposite wall had been replaced with individual shower stalls. Here again, I was glad that those airmen who came after us were afforded a greater degree of privacy than what we had enjoyed. I walked further down the hallway toward the dayroom. It was lounges. I took more photos and then decided it was time to leave. As I walked back toward the west end of the dorm, I turned again for one final look – those images from the past were now only memories, and the sound of laughter and talking were now nothing more than echoes in my mind. I walked out of the dorm from the past; the door slammed behind me, and once again I was back in the present!

I will continue with additional photos of the base and another commentary in the coming days.

Take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.

Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,

Bob (Midget) Armistead


Dear Friends,

I have had some difficulties posting these photos with captions. These are just the first few photos that I have taken of the base when I visited it on June 15. I hope to post additional photos of the base in coming days. If you place your cursor over an image and click, it should enlarge the image for a better view.


Upper Left Photo: Main entrance to Iraklion Air Station
Upper Right Photo: Base Chapel - Iraklion Air Station

Upper Left Photo: Base Gymnasium - Iraklion Air Station
Upper Right Photo: Service Club & Recreation Center - I.A.S.

Upper Left Photo: First floor entrance to west end of Dorm #308
Upper Right Photo: Second floor entrance to west end of Dorm #308

Upper Left Photo: West end of Dorm #307
Upper Right Photo: Bob Armistead in his room in Dorm #307

Upper Left Photo: Day Room in Dorm #307
Upper Right Photo: Outside view of Bob Armistead's room in Dorm #307