Toritto on the left, then Francis, Tim and Jim – Eritrea, 1965
My roomie Francis died today.
He and I shared a room in Africa together in1965 while we defended the nation on a mountain plateau in Eritrea. We got to be good friends. He was one of the finest human beings it has been my good fortune to get to know.
We were young and full of piss and vinegar then. Twenty three years old and far away from family and friends. No smart phones then. No computers. No Skype. Even if one wanted to call home you had to make a reservation 24 hours in advance and you couldn’t reverse the charges. Besides, on the Army pay of the day it would have cost you a month’s salary. In those days when you went far away, you were far away. One wrote letters and looked for mail.
Francis and I hit it off right away. We were both Italian and from the northeast. I was from Brooklyn and Francis was from western Pennsylvania. One had to be lucky when getting a roomie although we had a lot of choice as to who roomed with who. If you weren’t drunk all of the time you didn’t want a roomie who was. If you weren’t a whore monger you didn’t want to room with someone who brought crabs or the drips back from down town all of the time.
Francis picked me. I was Italian, from the northeast, wasn’t a drunk and wasn’t down town with bar girls, I was married. We got along great.
We served together in the Army Security Agency, an intelligence gathering and electronic eavesdropping unit under the operational command of the NSA. The ASA doesn’t exist as an independent command anymore; it was merged into the various combat commands. We liked to call ourselves snoops. Yes, we had them even 50 years ago.
Francis and I worked together as well as lived together. Together in the electronic search room we looked for unexpected signals or lack of same. He would spin the dials, copy the signals and it was my job to identify them, even if we couldn’t read the signal. And we were good.
In our 18 months living and working together a life time bond developed. Though separated by the miles, when we did get together it was as if 40 or 50 years had not gone by. We went to the beach on the Red Sea together and spent some evenings at the Oasis Club or the roof top bar at the Hotel Torino. We spent two Christmases together, sharing our care packages from home.
I last saw Francis about 8 years ago at a reunion when we were in our mid-sixties. I had lost my wife a couple of years earlier and he was sincerely sorry for my loss. He didn’t just say it; he meant it. He recalled me writing letters to her in our room so long ago.
I heard through the ASA grape vine that Francis was ill. I didn’t know how ill he was. That same G.I grape vine let me know that he passed away today.
It’s been a long time since I shed a tear for the passing of a friend.