Travels to Spain

Posted on December 2, 2018


Long ago, in some old history textbook, I probably saw the name of Cadiz in Spain first mentioned. It didn’t quite resonate with me as much as other European cities I was learning about as I wandered through school. Berlin, London, Rome they all stuck out as places where big–often bad but sometimes stellar–history was made over the centuries. Europe seemed to me to be at the epicenter of world history in the 20th century.

Then in August 1964 I got my first trip to Europe, courtesy of that great travel service, the United States Navy. I flew a Pan Am jet chartered by the military from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey to Rota, Spain. Assigned to be a courier for that leg of my trip, it was exciting as I got a .45 caliber weapon to guard my parcel on the long flight to Rota. I’m not quite sure who I would have to shoot once we boarded and lifted off the runway at McGuire, but I kept it and the secret contents of my parcel close to me for the entire trip.

We touched down at Rota and I delivered my NATO super-secret parcel to a waiting petty officer, and I eventually caught up with my ship in Valetta Harbor, Malta a few days later and started my career as a commissioned officer in the Sixth Fleet.

As I got to know the Navy better, I downgraded my courier experience. My package was, instead of a super-secret NATO message on how to repel Soviet missiles raining down on our carriers, probably the admiral’s clean laundry done for him just the way he likes it by his wife back home.

I returned to the Rota area, located on an open estuary across from the ancient city of Cadiz on the south end, a few weeks ago, almost half a century since my first visit to Spain. I traveled this time to be inducted into a royal academy and had a grand time in a magnificent setting as I regaled my listeners with a talk on how Americans have treated Hernando de Soto over the centuries, from mythic hero to desperado.

The day after my induction don Enrique P. García-Agulló y Orduña took my 27-year-old pilot son Carlton and I for a whirlwind tour of some of the most famous sites in his beloved city which has preserved its narrow streets and alleys like they were built hundreds of years ago. But that is part of its charm.

Here at home we tend to think as something from 200 years ago as really old. Cadiz dates from Phoenician traders who built their first settlements there at least 1000 years before Christ. The Romans who came in the third century B.C. (or B.C.E. if you prefer modern) were not exactly Johnny-come-latelies.  But they left a deep imprint on Spain, in language, culture and other fashions which included the introduction of Christianity during their watch.

I was especially interested in Cadiz and the southern regions of coastal Spain, both facing the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, since I’ve had a long interest in early Christianity in Spain, called Hispania or Iberia by the Romans. The Apostle Paul made three missionary journeys beyond the Holy Land, or Judea and Galilee of the Hebrews, between the end of Jesus’s ministry in the early 30s A.D (or A.C.E.) and when he was executed probably in Rome in the mid-60s.

For example, he declared that he intended to go to Spain in Romans 15:24,28, and statements in early Christian literature said he took the gospel as far as Spain, probably between his first and second imprisonment in Rome. He may have traveled for up to two years in Hispania. So, one of my questions is: where did he go? And one of the possible answers is the ancient Phoenician settlement of Gades, or modern Cadiz, facing the Atlantic Ocean.

My next question was: was there a Jewish community in Cadiz at the time Paul may have traveled to Spain? He tended to seek out fellow Jews with his message of Jesus Christ. I since have found evidence of a Jewish presence in Spain as early as the third century BCE, and my sleuthing continues. To actually walk the narrow and sinewy streets and alleys of the old City and breath in the long age of people inhabiting this land was a thrill, a connection with the Jewish and Christian past, a bond that continues today.

Published as “A second journey to Spain” in The Tuscaloosa News, Nov. 25 2018.


Posted in: Navy, Spain