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Chapter 52

The Nigerian Cardinal

April 11, 1980, day that will live in infamy..Ooops, that is President Roosevelt's line in his address to Congress in 1941. According to Nonie, it will live in infamy for two reasons. One, we closed on the house we live in at 11:00 that morning and I left for Holland that afternoon at four leaving her to move and set up housekeeping.

I returned to General Dynamics from Maui January 26, 1979 to work on the F-16 Fighting Falcon. After a few months in final assembly in the factory and almost a year on the flight line, I was selected to join a group headed for the Netherlands to help the Dutch recover production schedule. I was one of four Electronic Technician Specialists assigned to second shift.

I have always made it a habit to find out as much as possible about a place I plan to visit for the first time. Luckily, I worked with a technician friend who had just completed a six month tour at Fokker Aircraft located at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. He provided me with maps, names of people to meet and places to stay.

General Dynamics had obtained a Convair 880 from Japan Air Lines, overhauled it and installed the latest in electronic and new J-79 engines. They had divided the cabin in to First and Business class for about thirty six people and the rest of the space in the rear was devoted to parts. They hired off duty Airline pilots and flight attendants so it was hard to distinguish between that airplane and a regular scheduled airline, everything first class including meals and drinks.

We left promptly at four and after a brief stop in Gander, we flew direct to Brussels, Belgium. Great flight. No movie but delicious food and all the beer and wine we wanted. I teamed up with T.E. Wilson and his wife in one of the rent cars. We were instructed to follow our fearless leader, Dale, who roared out of the airport at breakneck speed. Having spent a year and a half in Germany with the Army, I felt pretty confident about navigating the autobahn. Sure enough, when we arrived just outside Amsterdam, Dale went past the exit that would take us to our hotel. We felt sure he would see his mistake and return.. and he did. Two hours later. We had registered, freshened up and were having dinner on General Dynamics when Dale and the rest of the crew arrived. Seems he had driven all the way downtown Amsterdam and had to pay a taxi driver an outrageous sum to steer him back to the Novotel Hotel.

The rest of the crew spent Sunday looking for apartments. Several of them had brought their wives along and they thought it would be cheaper than the hotel. I won't go in to the details of how I came to stay at the hotel in a suite with stove and fridge for less than an apartment. Nothing illegal about it, just takes up more room in this story. We were on per diem for goodness sake!

Work went well. We soon had Fokker back on schedule and I had made a lot of new friends in the The Pub and at work. One of my favorite things to do was take the streetcar, Number 4, downtown to The Dam [Dom] near the museum and Centrum train station. The cost was less than a dollar for an afternoon of sightseeing around historic Amsterdam. The price included transfers.

Forgive me here, I cannot remember the exact date. I do know it was a Sunday morning and I had agreed to meet several customers and staff in The Pub to watch a huge soccer match between Holland and Germany. If you think the World Series and The Super Bowl draw some excitable fans, try International Soccer Championship games.

When the elevator door opened, all I could see were wall to wall Nigerians. Some in Western attire, others in the clothes they wore in their villages at home. The cafe hostess told me they were Catholic pilgrims on their way to Israel. The charter KLM 747 had diverted to Amsterdam for engine trouble and the airline had put them up at Novotel.

A waiter friend of mine seemed to be having a problem with one of the women. I asked him about it and he said he had served her a soft drink and she was trying to pay him. He was trying to tell her that KLM paid for everything. I took some coins from my pocket, placed them on his tray. He made a gesture with his hand to indicate I had paid for the drink and that is when it happened. She fell flat on the floor, arms outstretched in my direction. I stood there with a dumb look on my face until a man who later introduced himself as Tony, came over to tell me she was thanking me for the drink. I told her to "Get Up!" before I had security take her to jail. Tony got a laugh out of that.

After a continental breakfast, I came back to the lobby. It was still three or four hours until the big game and I wanted to see some more living National Geographic. Tony approached and asked how much a taxi to downtown would cost. I told him about the good deal on the streetcar and how easy it was to navigate. He pointed out that most of these people had never been out of their villages and asked if I would guide them. There were only about six in the crowd when I agreed. I told them to go get their shoes, coats, change some money for Gilders and meet me back in the lobby in fifteen minutes. When I returned the six had grown to sixteen plus the Cardinal and his two seven foot body guards!

The Cardinal with Tony and Tony's wife

I had marched as many as 250 men in basic training and didn't see any problem. I had them fall in to a column of twos with the Cardinal and his two seven foot body guards in front. Oh yeah, that is the Cardinal in the picture, Tony on his left and Tony's wife on his right. We boarded Number 4 car, toured downtown Amsterdam and visited every dollar store on the main drag. All during the trip, the Cardinal insisted on holding on to my right pinkie as we walked and talked. I would point something out, make a comment. He would then turn, start talking in dialect and finish by saying in English, "Mr. Billy has spoken."

Back at the hotel, we gathered around TV sets and watched the game while Tony poured enough beer down me to float one of the barges on the canal. I was taking a nap when the phone rang. It was the Food and Beverage Manager. He said the hotel was hosting a banquet for the Nigerians and the Cardinal had asked for me. When I made it to the huge banquet room I found I was to be seated at the head table next to the Cardinal who promptly grabbed my pinkie again. He stood, made a speech in that dialect again and then in English, thanked me for taking time to help the people. All I could do was thank them for the kind words.

Next morning, six o'clock, the phone rang again. Food and Beverage again. The Cardinal was having breakfast with Tony and his wife and asked if I would join them. After shower and shave, I joined them in the cafe. Tony made a proposition that had promise. He offered me a large sum of money to help train the Nigerian Air Force. Turns out he was a high ranking general in the Air Force and had flown the F-16 in Arizona.

Somewhere, there is a photo with me standing between the Cardinal and Tony. Yes, he is holding my pinkie.

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