Aeropets of the 91st Photo Squadron

LOOP

During World War II the 91st Photo Squadron Wing operated throughout Central and South America.  Our principal base was at Talara, Peru, just south of the equator and located on a good harbor. Talara is the westernmost point on the South American continent in a desert devoid of any living thing save for monster scorpions.  Our primary mission was to photograph and map many uncharted areas of South America.

Our base was an isolated and barren place.  It had a good landing field, but hardly anything to help us pass the time when we weren’t on duty.  So we had a number of pets.

TAXI

We were certainly not the only Army Air Corps unit to adopt animals as pets, but we did have some unusual ones.  My favorite was LOOP, a miniature dachshund.  LOOP was born in a hangar at our base at Talara. LOOP flew with me occasionally on low altitude flights, such as tests or supply trips to the depot in Panama.  His favorite “seat” was in the nose. He never saw a tree or fire hydrant he didn’t visit; his urinal of choice—the nose wheel of my plane.

TAXI was one of the dozens of wild burros who adopted us.  The burros spent their days wandering around looking for the scant weeds in the rocky arroyos which surrounded us.  As night approached they would bed down on our runway, warmed by the constant sunshine which protected them from the cold of the desert.  TAXI had a definite preference for the concrete volleyball court, which happened to be beside the mess hall. TAXI was the best fed animal of the bunch.  TAXI helped us chase the sleepy heads off the runway at dawn so we could take off.  He seemed to enjoy the sirens and shotgun blasts which served as alarms.

We tried without much luck to organize burro races.  The squadron prankster somehow managed to get one of the smaller creatures into the “old man’s” plane late one night.  The perpetrator was promoted to “sanitation engineer” and grounded for a week—beginning after the cleanup.

KITTY, a cuddly little Calico kitten, belonged to Gus, my navigator.  When we were ordered to move from Talara to Santiago, Chile, it looked as though KITTY would be left behind.  But Gus talked me into adding her to the manifest.  She hopped onto my shoulder and then up onto the top of the instrument panel, where she soon drifted off to dreamland.  I pulled out my trusty little camera and “shot” her.

KITTY

Several years later, this picture was lifted and published in a magazine and a couple of books. The caption “outed” me for violating Army regulations prohibiting carrying animals on aircraft.  Nothing came of it; it was one of the few times that my age and the Statute of Limitations came to my rescue!

[Photos by Ole Griffith]

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu by Georgianna Palmer  

(We climbed with friends the stones of Machu Picchu, one of the Wonders of the World.)

In the late 1970’s, my husband Mike and I were members of the Paradise Valley Racquet Club.  We met interesting couples there with whom we played tennis and with whom we socialized.

We became very close friends with one of the couples that we met.  Suresh was a physician who was born in India; his wife Trudy was a vivacious redhead born in Germany.

They had two bright and charming children, Miriam and Robert, both of whom I adored.

Suresh was invited to attend a conference of physicians to be held in Lima, Peru.  Suresh and his family urged us to accompany them.  We jumped at the chance, not only to enjoy the company of our good friends, but to enlarge our experiences of the world.

We had never seen such poverty as we saw in Lima.  Children followed us everywhere begging for a handout.  Young mothers sat on blankets cradling their tiny babies, holding their hands out, their eyes entreating pitifully.  Our guide warned us not to be too generous or they would tell their friends and we would have no peace.  Miriam and Robert could hardly believe what they saw.  They had been raised in luxury with private schools, tennis, and riding lessons.  They were learning about how others in the world lived.  It was an education for us all.

We also got the opportunity to see in the Andes one of the Wonders of the World–Machu Picchu–a city built by ancient Inca tribes on the top of a high, steep mountain.

The Incan civilization began in the 13th century until they were conquered by the Spanish in 1572.  Their religion was centered around the worship of Inti, their sun god.  They built Machu Picchu in honor of this god.  They mined stones from a quarry at the site, lined them up and shaped them to fit together perfectly, so perfectly that they have remained in place for centuries without the help of mortar.

To be able to visit this ancient city we traveled by bus which spiraled the steep mountain roads.  There was a young boy who stood silently by the door of our bus as we boarded.  He could have been about 10 or 11 years old.  He watched us with sad eyes.  We saw him again on the next level of our spiral up the mountain, and we realized that he had run straight up the mountain to wave at us in the bus as we turned through the hairpin curves..  On the next spiral level, there he was again.  He was wearing rubber goulashes.  He appeared again every time we made our turn all the way to the top.

After our tour, we boarded our bus and spiraled down.  We saw him again each time we circled the mountain on the way down.  At the bottom, there he was with his hand out as we stepped out the bus door.  Of course, everyone gave him at least a dollar and smiled at him appreciatively.  This enterprising young man must have gone home with what was to him a fortune.

We returned to Lima and took some pictures of the city and the natives.  Everyone on the street seemed to be carrying bags of wares to sell to the tourists.  We noticed that many of the men and women wore distinctive hats with high crowns.  These hats, we were told, designated a special status of which they were particularly proud.   They were mestizos, which means half-breeds.  They walked proudly, aware of their specialness.

The trip was quite an adventure.  My husband seemed to enjoy that everyone on the trip assumed that he was a doctor, letting him pretend and enjoy a special status of his own.  He gave fleeting thought to changing careers.