Finding Our Quest


Helen A. Toelle-Cunha

“It is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness. – George MacDonald

As my time in California slowly drew to a conclusion, I was informed that the requirements of my military specialty as a linguist required an additional period of training for all graduates of the language program. There was no way for me to anticipate this requirement prior to arriving in Monterey, since it only became a policy a month or so before I was scheduled to depart. When I realized the next training program would take place in Massachusetts, at the very same station where my adventure began, it felt like more than just a coincidence. I attended a closed briefing a few weeks before I was scheduled to transfer out, and learned that I would be training as a “Cryptologic Traffic Analyst.” It wasn’t clear to me what the term meant at the time, but it didn’t seem to matter. I was required to attend and was looking forward to returning for a second tour in Massachusetts, especially since I would be arriving in the spring and would be spending the summer in New England.


Once the last few days of my tour in California were upon me, I began to feel a real sense of melancholy. So much had happened to me in those hills, and in spite of often feeling a bit lost and alone during that time, there were just as many remarkable and beautiful experiences to reflect upon. Graduation Day from the language school was an exceptional day. In spite of all my setbacks during the course, I had finished with my class, and had managed to earn a final grade in the top ten percent. I had made a few friends among my classmates who would be following me to Massachusetts, and several who had already taken the additional training who would travel to the overseas assignment in advance of my arrival, who promised to catch up once I got there. Our instructors had a small reception for us and we were able to express our gratitude for all their efforts in their native tongue. One teacher in particular grabbed me at the reception and expressed great satisfaction in my success. In one of our last grammar classes with her, we had learned a particular form of expression–in German it’s the “so…wie,” construction. In the German language, there are many idioms and phrases which do not translate well into English, but this form worked fairly well. A group of us were standing together when the teacher turned and asked me directly if I was glad that school was finally complete, I said, “So froh, wie moglich!” (As happy as possible!) We all laughed and knew that we had learned our lessons well.


In the last few weeks, I was given an option to either take a military flight home to the East Coast, or to drive myself there, since I was of sufficient rank and time in service, so I traded in the old VW bug, and bought a brand new Volkswagen Fastback, a sportier version of the VW which was a dream to drive in comparison to the old one. I decided to take the southern route across the country, driving all the way up to Oregon to visit with a dear friend of mine who always bragged about his hometown there, and then back down to Southern California and turned eastward at a little town called Needles. When I got there, I stopped into town to find a hotel for the night, and noticed an electronics shop that advertised “car stereo installation.” It was going to be a long ride to Binghamton, New York where my co-pilot for the trip lived, so I had a stereo system installed there and bought a handful of 8 track tapes to listen to along the way. We stopped in Flagstaff, Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, and I stopped into the only country outfitter in town and bought myself a new hat.

John5 002

I really hadn’t noticed at first, but the transition from the younger, safari-hat character, to this much different western-movie looking character was fairly startling in retrospect. Since I was on leave for several weeks in between stations, I even felt comfortable growing a beard for the trip, and upon my arrival in Pennsylvania to see my parents and family, it must have been quite a shock to see me this way. Somehow, though, it felt just right to me. The journey across the USA in April of 1975 was an epic flight for a young man in his first new car, bound away from the astonishing beauty of, what was to him, a strange new land, and having narrowly escaped death, creating something akin to a near-death experience within him. This young man had clearly been altered beyond recognition, to others mostly, but also to himself.

The time was quickly approaching to depart from everything I had ever known as a young American lad, prompting me to narrow my focus even more, and to find my quest, it would require giving a great deal more than I could possibly have known at that time.

…next time…. back to Massachusetts…

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