When I returned to active duty after being released to complete my undergraduate degree, I was given a very unusual temporary duty (TDY) assignment: I was sent to Hellenicon Air Base, immediately south of Athens, Greece!
I arrived and reported to the Operations Center, ready to start flying whatever missions they needed me on, only to learn that I was excess to their needs at the moment. Well! I checked into the Transit Hotel (where visiting airmen are put up), got situated in my room, and took a quick shower before getting some sleep.
The next morning, I asked the kindly Greek hotel clerk how to say “Please” and “Thank you” in Greek and where I could get a map of Athens. He gave me a tourist map, and along with the map and a pocketful of drachmas (Greece’s money at the time), I got on a Number 30 bus and headed north for the short trip into Athens proper. During the next 30 days, after a morning check-in at Ops each week day, I visited every museum and tourist spot in the Athens area.
In the evenings, I discovered that the night clerk was an avid pinochle player and the two of us soundly beat just about every team that challenged us. When it came time for me to return to the States, I thought that it had been one helluva vacation. Some weeks after my return to the States, I was again sent to Greece, this time as a regular member of a flight crew.
Flying every third day or so was easy duty, but that wasn’t the gravy of this particular TDY trip. In the few weeks that I had been back in the States, the Hellenicon authorities decided that our aircrews were taking up too much space in their small Transit Hotel. We were “forced” to get rooms in the Air Force’s recently leased Voula Beach Hotel, located a few miles south of the base, very close to Glyfada.
The Voula Beach Hotel (these day, the Galini Palace Hotel) was a commercial hotel with private baths and civilian-style accommodations. Additionally, out its back door and less than 100 yards (100 meters) away was a major street in the city of Voula. Restaurants and watering holes beckoned enticingly, and no longer did we have to take an expensive taxi ride from the base to the bar district of Glyfada.
The VB Hotel had a decent restaurant right on the premises, and while the menu was limited, it was better than military grub at the base Chow Hall – and not terribly expensive. Further, since traveling to the Chow Hall was not always possible, we were compensated handsomely at official U.S. government per diem rates for “missed meals.” During one TDY, I made over $1,000 extra in missed meals.
Best of all, however, was the fact that the VB Hotel was directly across Konstantinou Karamanlis Avenue from a great beach. At night, parties using driftwood for fires and cheap booze from the base were common. All this attracted charming young Greek women from the surrounding area. As a single guy, I volunteered to spent all my time TDY to Greece. Wouldn’t you?