You Need a Passport to Take the Off Ramp

During one period of my military service, I supervised a team who travelled each month from London to every American Air Force base in England. Part of our mission was to disseminate information to promote Air Force mission preparedness, which also included family participation and comfort.  One month we urged servicemen with families to insure that their dependent’s passports were updated at least 6 months before returning to the United States. That message also advised parents of children born outside the Continental United States to obtain a Certificate of Birth Abroad, which was essential to verify the newborn’s American citizenship. Shortly after our son Kenneth was born in June 1961, I followed the procedures and secured all necessary documents for our return.

Seven months later, January 1962, movers came and packed our household goods and automobile for prompt shipment to our next assignment at Dow AFB, Maine. We packed the essentials for a family of five to travel and moved to a hotel to await transportation to another base for our flight home. At approximately 10:00 a.m., on the morning before our scheduled departure from the London area, my wife, Judy, and I decided to make one last run through our travel checklist. As each item was mentioned, either she or I would say “check” to confirm completion or possession.

We started: all English money changed to U.S. dollars, check; military orders and travel vouchers, check; sufficient baby bottles with formula, check; passports, silence; passports, silence. Within the next three minutes we rightly concluded that our passports were indeed in a safe place — in our shipped household goods. To avoid the appearance of panic in the presence of our children, ages six, five, and seven months, I very calmly asked Judy to prepare the family for a ride to the American Embassy in downtown London. I closed the door and had a very serious talk with God, and then I made two urgent telephone calls; one to the passport clerk at the base to request copies of my entire passport file, and the second call to borrow a car.

Shortly after noon we entered the American Embassy.  Without fanfare or stutter, I announced to the receptionist, “My name is Sergeant James Edward Alexander. This is my family. We are due to fly home the day after tomorrow. Our passports are in our household goods, and they are aboard a cargo ship in the middle of the Atlantic. Now, please let me speak with someone who can help me, even if you have to call Ambassador David Bruce.” 

Just then a man, who overheard my plea, calmly walked over to us, and said to me, “Do you actually think we can issue you a new passport in one day?”  I calmly answered, “I do believe it can be done, and this is where I should begin.”

Another ten seconds passed with our eyes locked, but neither of us spoke. Then, as though struck by a thunderbolt from Zeus, he became very excited and issued some orders: Give me your paperwork. Go directly to a passport photographer (he provided the directions), bring the pictures back to me, then take your family to a movie, and return here at 2:30 P.M.”  Then he smiled and said, “You are one lucky fellow. My job is taking care of such emergencies.”

Thirty minutes later I put the pictures in the official’s hand. We decided to forego the movies and chose to walk around London for a final tourist visit. 

At 2:25 we returned to Grosvenor Square and climbed the steps under the giant eagle resting atop the front of the Embassy. As we opened the door, the official handed me an envelope and told me to examine the contents.  After my inspection, we just looked at each other and nodded our heads.  As we turned to go, I searched for words to express our appreciation. Three words were sufficient. I simply said, “God bless America.”

Good memories are treasures that we horde for ourselves.

Sometimes they are the only currency that can buy peace of mind.

They give us safe passage to where we were once content.

Good memories are not exhausted by time.

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