Woznicki, Robert, : Libya: 1956 – 1957: Wheelus Air Force Base

I arrived in Tripoli, Libya from MacGuire AFB on or about August 24, 1956. Aboard the plane were several other personnel newly assigned to the base. We were flying a MATS four-engine plane.

We were assigned to the male bachelor quarters for none of us had families with us. My family could only come after I established quarters off the base and that took some time. They finally arrived just before X-mas and the AF band was at the dock to greet them. My family came by ship.

Wheelus was a big base and it housed about 10,000 personnel and it was considered the largest base overseas at that time. It was a gunnery practice site for pilot training with most of the pilots coming from Germany on a regular basis. It was a SAC base and a very important one. Major General Mooney, commanding the 16th AF, was stationed there.

Don Trull was the Principal of the high school, which had about 160 students in grades 9 – 12. Fred Polla was the elementary Principal with about 230 students. The schools were not in one section of the base but were about a mile apart. A Jewish American science teacher was to arrive to teach Science.

He was not allowed to land in Libya. I therefore taught science in his place along with history and physical education. We had an excellent faculty and during the school year we put on an Ed Sullivan” talent show whereby the faculty showed their sundry musical and singing abilities to the PTA. It was warmly received. It was one of the best faculties I have ever been on.

There were no facilities for dining on our high school campus. Each day we drove in our private cars to the other side of the base to the dining hall or we went to the Officers Club dining hall.

The dorms where the singles lived were co-ed dorms which were very unusual for that time. There were many glorious parties in the evening and weekends for there was little to do in Tripoli where the Mohammendan culture curtailed any nightclub or bar activities. Therefore a German band of 12 pieces played six days a week in the Officer’s Club and most of our formal parties, dances and bingo nights were held there. Several English and Scottish regiments stationed in the area would come to the Club and we would often see them. The German band was terrific entertainment and a great morale booster. Life in the area as a whole was dull. There were some famous Roman ruins to see in the area and a beautiful beach was ours during the good weather.

The Suez invasion happened while we were stationed at Wheelus. We were on a war footing with sandbags and all military were fully armed. School was canceled. Sandbags were all over the place. It was an international crisis. However we were not participants in the actual invasion and we took a neutral stance.

Our sports program was extremely active for morale purposes. On the high school level we participated on all levels with the base teams. We also played the Arab and Italian teams. There were many Italians in Tripoli. Our high school team won seven and lost seventeen games during a long season. We had no gym but we played outside. There was also a faculty volleyball team with some of the gals participating. On the base level in football, Mr. Taylor Lewis and I refereed all the football games and we were paid three dollars a game. We were not paid anything extra for coaching our high school basketball team and this made us very angry. We petitioned for the extra pay to this day. It was unfair. (Mr. Lewis was finally paid but I have not received my pay to this day.)

The climax to the basketball season was the spring finale between the winner in the Arab league and the Italian league. It was naturally a bitter rivalry for they simply did not like each other. Two neutral referees had to be picked. The AFB Veterinarian and I were chosen. We had a police escort. We played the game before a big sell-out crowd. The game was very intense and it was played outdoors with a big wind. The Italians won and I remembered leaving the game with a police escort and very happy that it was over. We were paid ten dollars each for the experience.

USAF uniforms were never worn off the base. The road to the base had some unusual scenery for many times we saw camels and oxen. We had some heavy rains and many floods made it difficult to go along the crooked road and the camels sometimes would get in the way for they loved to play in the water.

I enjoyed my year, with my wife and two children, in the Arab lands of Libya and I learned a great deal about the Moslem world, which I narrated to many of my students for years and years.

Copyright 2004 American Overseas Schools Historical Society