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Senior Memoirs- My March Reading - Have you sent yours yet?

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  • vonbargenr@aol.com
    Wednesday s meeting of the Senior memoirs Group had some very interesting and emotional presentations. If you have not already done so, please submit your
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 18, 2010
      Wednesday's meeting of the Senior memoirs Group had some very interesting and emotional presentations. If you have not already done so, please submit your reading to Seniormemoirs@yahoogroups.com.  This will allow members who were unable to attend to share in our enjoyment of your talents!
      Be well!
      My contribution is below:


      During the 1960’s and 70’s I flew Air Force cargo missions into the Panama Canal Zone. I remember the area as a pristine military preserve that extended on both sides of the canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean. I flew into Howard AFB on the west side of the canal, at the Pacific end. I stayed a few times at Albrook AFB, closer to Panama City, when quarters were not available on at Howard. At other times my crews were billeted in very nice hotels in Panama City. The military facilities in the Canal Zone were impressive. Everything was orderly and neat. The area was beautiful; albeit that it was hot and humid most of the time.

      In 1979 President Jimmy Carter signed a Treaty with Panama giving them the entire Canal Zone … with virtually all its contents. The treaty went into effect on December 31, 1999. Panama has controlled the canal for the past ten years. There is no U.S. presence in Panama today.

      Last month my wife and I had the pleasure of going on a cruise that transited the Panama Canal. Our cruise ship left from Los Angeles and made enroute stops in Mexico and Costa Rice before reaching Fuerte Amador at the Pacific entrance to the canal. Here we took tenders to shore, and I had the opportunity to revisit the sites of my earlier travels to Panama.

      Fuerte Amador was built by the US Navy in 1913 to protect the pacific end of the Panama Canal. It was created on two small islands that were joined together with fill excavated from digging the canal. A mile long causeway was constructed to connect it to the mainland. During World War II it was highly fortified; missiles were positioned there during the Cold War.


      Tender from Cruise ship

      Today the former Naval Base is a large marina providing berths for a multitude of huge and luxurious yachts. Tenders from cruise ships arrive daily to deliver their passengers … who then disperse on tour buses to explore the canal, the city and the region. I took a tour that visited the former American bases in the Canal Zone. It was a melancholy experience.                                                                                                    

      The first stop was Fort Clayton, formerly a key US Army installation. The pristine nature of the old Canal Zone was gone. It has been replaced by a chopped up series of enterprises that were poorly landscaped and run down. Many of these businesses were Chinese. The journey through the former Albrook AFB was equally disconcerting. The Air Force discontinued flight operations at Albrook in 1961, as the runways were short and a large hill loomed at the end of one runway. Military aviation was transferred to the newer Howard AFB on the other side of the canal. I was amazed to see Albrook, now called Marcos Gelbart Airport, in full operation. Large corporate jets sat on the tarmac. How they get them in and out of that short runway has me baffled.

      Albrook AFB and Fort Clayton were home to the US Southern Command until the mid seventies. Upon transfer to Panama these facilities were subdivided and sold to the highest bidder. Housing areas were sold as individual units, duplexes and condominiums. Some units are well kept and look good; other areas are appalling. The total impact is discouraging. At a high point of land at Albrook they are building a 5 star hotel. It is surrounded with concertina wire.

       Howard AFB – now Panama Pacifica

      I was unable to get to the former Howard AFB, now called Panama Pacifica. It is used by technology companies. Plans call for its future use as a business, residential and recreational area.                                        

      A visit to the locks on the canal shows business going on without any discernable change. Equipment has been upgraded and the locks all look to be in excellent condition. Some things have changed however. The ports on either end of the canal are controlled and operated by a Chinese company. The Panamanians tripled the toll for transit of the canal when they took over. Our cruise ship, the Coral Princess with approximately 2,000 passengers, paid over $330,000 to pass through the canal. The Panamanians are currently building a parallel set of locks that will accommodate the largest cruise ships, super tankers and container ships.

      Panama City is experiencing a huge building bonanza. Many skyscrapers are under construction. Huge cranes dominate the skyline. Large sections of the waterfront, formerly slums, are being bull dozed and additional high rises are planned; mostly with Chinese financing. This building boom is as impressive as it is frightening.

         Many buildings in the foreground have been gutted and will be demolished.

      One has to wonder what will happen if a national emergency requires transit of US Naval or military cargo ships through the canal … and this action is not in the interests of the Chinese communists!         Oh well, I never thought that my opinion of Jimmy Carter could ever get any lower. My Mom told me that if I could not say anything good about a person, I should remain silent. After this visit to Panama it would be best that I refrain from saying anything about “Good Old Jimmy” again.

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