Attention subscribers — Welcome to our new and improved website!
For the month of January, Press-Leader.com will be freely available to all readers. No login is required at this time.
When I didn’t have to work on the weekend, my friend Lizard and I would go to Pinetamare to go horseback riding. We’d been going there long enough that we no longer had to give the stable our ID to hold while we had their horses out. It was a great place to ride. We could ride in the Mediterranean Sea, piney woods, or across hills and meadows. Italy was really a beautiful place. If I got the right horse, I had a good time riding. I tried to always get Shamad. She was a tall black mare with an easy gait. She was nimble, fast, and a comfortable ride.
If I couldn’t get Shamad, I’d take Inos. He was a mule-y looking animal with a funny gait. It was like being in a rocking chair. If I got to the stables too late, I got stuck with a little white mare named Tinsianna. What a miserable barn soured horse she was. All she wanted to do was to go back to the stables and she had learned how to get rid of a rider to do just that. I got stuck with that horse one Saturday and everything went well saddling up and even as we started to ride off. The trouble started once we got out of sight of the stables. She took off on me and I might as well have not had a bit in her mouth. No amount of pressure would stop this beast. She ran full speed and made an abrupt right turn. She stopped with one foreleg out in front of her and off I came.
I did have the presence of mind to hold on to the reigns tightly and so when she bolted for the stable she didn’t get farther then snapping the reigns tight and pulling me a bit. While I don’t hold with mistreatment of animals, this one needed to be straightened out. I hit that horse. I hit her with a doubled up fist as hard as I could. I punched to a spot six inches beyond her head. Her offspring probably felt that punch. I got back in the saddle and you know what happened now. She tried the same maneuver again. This time I was ready for her and when the leg came out and she made her full stop I was still in the saddle. She actually turned her head and looked at me as if to say, “What are you doing still up there?” We begin again and things are going well but not for long. That horse took off with me again but this time she ran over to a pine tree and tried to rub me off of her back by rubbing up against the tree. The only thing she got for her effort was a skinned up side. I had raised my leg up over her back. She gave me that look again, the one about what are you still doing up there but I had won. No way was I letting an animal get the best of me. The rest of the day turned out to be a nice ride.
We had just arrived at NAS Sigonella, Sicily but when we arrived at the base, we were promptly told that all of the enlisted men would have to stay in area hotels until the barracks were ready for us. I ended up billeted in a hotel right on the beach. I swam, walked on the beach, fished with local fishermen; I was just living the life of Riley in that hotel. I ate breakfast and supper in the hotel restaurant, and here’s where things got interesting. I met a one-legged man who could speak English fairly well and he was friendly, so I spent my meal times at his table. It wasn’t long before things got strange. One day, he asked me to buy things for him on base. “I am in need of a stereo. Can you buy one on base?” he asked. I told him no, and he started laughing as if it were a joke. But the next day, he said he needed the stereo, several cartons of cigarettes, and a case of booze. “I cannot take no for an answer, signore,” he said. “You help me, and I’ll help you.” “Help me? Help me with what?”
The man said nothing; just pointed at his wooden leg, and smiled what can only be described as a sinister smile. My curiosity got the best of me, so I finally asked. “How’d you lose that leg?” “Shotgun to the knee,” he said. I didn’t need a second warning, and I high tailed it out of there. We had been warned before we left Naples to watch out for La Cosa Nostros, the Sicilian Mafia. We had been warned of the mafia working out of Naples, before we arrived there, but I’d never encountered any trouble so I chalked it up as just a scare tactic to keep us on our toes. I could have ended up with my leg shot off, or worse, doing hard labor at Leavenworth. I wanted no part of what this guy was doing. He was right about one thing though. He refused to take no for an answer. Everywhere I went, I saw him in my rear view mirror, he would be waiting for me every night when I returned to the hotel, and once, even went so far as to wait for me outside the base. I was never so happy as when I received word that the barracks were ready. It was a good month before I summoned up the courage to leave the base again. I never did see the one-legged man again, and I often wonder if he found someone else to do his bidding.