May 1, 2016


Tangier is a North African port city located on the upper tip of Africa, in Morocco, facing Gibraltar. When I was in the area, Tangier was recognized as a self‑governing “internationalized zone” or “free city”, able to conduct banking operations without the restrictions on currencies found in most other countries. Internationally, currency prices fluctuated as supply and demand dictated. This was not the case in Europe and other surrounding areas where established exchange rates existed. For example, at the time, the British Pound was officially valued at $4.05 when purchased at a port of entry in Britain. In Tangier the price was around $2.30. Similar disparities existed with the Spanish Peseta, Moroccan and French Francs, the Italian lira and others.

In Morocco, at the air base where I was stationed, we were expected to buy our Moroccan francs at the legal exchange rate. This was controlled by the base disbursing office. Our pay was not given to us in real dollars, but in scrip. This was paper money issued by the United States for use in lieu of standard green stuff. Scrip was intended to circumvent the currency black market, for even then the regular U.S. dollar was a stabilized and desirable item. In addition, to further discourage illegal money exchange the scrip was changed periodically, without warning, and all the old scrip was then useless. The Muslim money changers tried very hard to avoid exchanging francs for scrip, but a few did at very poor rates.

With real dollars you could buy Moroccan francs for about half the established price. Understandably, the dollar became a coveted item, and many of us had dollars sent to us from the States. We could also obtain dollars when flying out of the country, so we basically had two sources for the so‑called, “long green” dollar.

Now for the ringer. You could buy more Moroccan francs for a dollar in Tangier than you could on the black market, and with far less risk, and you could also buy European money at a much better rate. Our squadron aircraft often flew north to Europe on our “Ferret” missions and foreign money was needed. The trick was to get to Tangier, and this was where I came in.

Soon after arriving at Port Lyautey, the officer‑in‑charge of our detachment, LCDR Pollard,  checked out a small two- seater plane and told me to come along for a flight. We were going to Tangier, where I was to be instructed in the fine art of currency exchange. Under the plan I would check out the plane, fly it to Tangier, exchange dollars for whatever money had been requested by the scheduled flights, and then return. This was fine with me. It gave me a chance to fly, and also to visit a fairly exotic city, both at the same time.

We arrived in Tangier on that first flight, and as we left the airfield to go to town a medium sized, decent looking Muslim man, wearing European clothes and red fez, stepped out of the crowd and waved to Pollard. Pollard waved back and the two shook hands. Pollard then introduced us. “This is “Friday”. He is the best guide around, and we trust him, so always look for him and use him when you are changing money.” Enough said.

The three of us went into town, sat down in the shade of an umbrella at a café, and Pollard gave Friday some money with written instructions telling him what currency was wanted. Friday disappeared, and in about fifteen minutes returned with the foreign cash. Pollard counted it, made certain that all was correct, and we left. I assume Friday received his cut from the money changer. Nothing to it! I had learned how to launder money – Moroccan style!

For the next six months or so I would periodically fly up to Tangier, look for Friday, change money and fly back. It always made for a nice day, but the folks on the base began to associate me and the SNJ aircraft check-out with money exchange, so I was going up with ever increasing amounts of green dollars – mostly for Moroccan francs. Usually it didn’t matter since the amounts rarely exceeded four or five hundred dollars, but one day I unexpectedly found myself with about $5,000.00 in green cash and a laundry list of foreign currencies that was staggering. In 1949 this was an immense amount of money! Several of our detachment flights were headed north at the same time, and the non‑squadron folks on the base had also found out about that scheduled flight and asked me to exchange their dollars for Moroccan francs. Ouch!

As usual the flight up was uneventful, and Friday was at his regular location, but even he was non‑plussed when I showed him the money list and the cash. Still, he said he could manage it and off we went into town. This time, however, we did not sit down in some nice café in the modern part of the city. Instead, he led me into the Medina, the ancient walled area where most of the Muslim population still lived and worked. Down we went, following narrow, curving, dark whitewashed passages until we arrived at the Muslim equivalent of a café, somewhere in the bowels of this exotic native maze. I was in my khaki uniform, and Friday was in his European clothes with fez, but everyone else was wearing traditional Berber muslim garb (djellaba) with its longish robe and attached hood, so we very obviously stood out. It was not a calming experience, and it was made worse when Friday spoke to a swarthy looking gent in the café, who then disappeared into the outer passageway. We sat there for another ten minutes, when the messenger returned, followed by a rather porcine Berber Muslim, also in traditional garb. Friday and the new Muslim greeted each other, talked for a few minutes in Arabic, then turned to me and asked for the cash and the list, which I handed over. Now the wait began, and a long wait it was. Probably about half an hour, but a half an hour that seemed like twice that. First of all I was completely vulnerable and in a part of the world that I scarcely knew. Any one of these mysterious looking Muslims could slip in, skewer me with a knife (which many of them wore slung at the hip) and slip out, both unknown and almost unseen (except for Friday, and by this time I figured he was in their camp). Secondly, even if I survived, $5,000.00 bucks was a huge amount of money to have stolen, especially back then, and I was responsible for it.

Fortunately, the chubby Muslim finally showed up and the three of us counted out the money and put it into its requisite piles. Friday escorted me out of the labyrinth of twisted walkways and into sunlight again. I was not dead, I had all the money and a new life lay ahead. Whew!

But I learned a valuable lesson. Never disclose the time and date of a money-run in the two-seater, and I never again did.

NOW, were there other hazards? Well, of course.

I doubt that there is any silence louder than the sound of an aircraft engine that suddenly quits in flight over the ocean. One minute you are cruising along safe and secure, and the next you are all eyes, hands and spinning mind trying to figure out your next move. This was the situation on a return trip from Tangier on 16 September 1948. We always had to fly well offshore to avoid a transit over what was then Spanish Morocco. I was flying at about 1,500 feet in the clear and able to keep the coast in sight. Suddenly, silence.

Rule one when an engine fails is to maintain flying speed, so I set up a nice glide, but at the same time I was scanning the instruments to see what had happened. The scan revealed that I did not have any fuel pressure, meaning that the fuel pump had failed. With a sort of pathetic hope I began to frantically pump away at the manual fuel pump (colloquially known as a “wobble pump”). I say pathetic because I had never done this before in the air. We used the hand pump only when initially starting the engine, but theoretically it should work in the air as well. In any event, the wobble pump was the only solution I could think of, short of ditching at sea, and luckily that decision was correct. I wobbled frantically away, and the engine roared back into life and we were safe. I no longer recall the exact wobbling frequency required to keep fuel pumping to the engine, but my guess is that it was about fifty cycles a minute and we had about thirty minutes of flying to reach Port Lyautey. As you can imagine, wobbling for that length of time was not appealing, and wobbling in the landing pattern was even less so, but luckily on this flight I had a passenger. His rear seat had a wobble pump of its own, so by taking turns, and by getting him to do the pumping in the landing pattern, we got her home. I think we were supposed to kiss the ground, but we went to the O’club instead and had a beer.





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