Old Friends

Ben H. Swett
Torrejon Air Base, Madrid, Spain
8 September 1960

The first time we went to Spain, my aircrew had a batch of in-processing to do on the day we arrived, before we could go on alert the next morning. By the time we finished all that paperwork, it was too late in the afternoon to go downtown and start exploring Madrid. But we still had an hour before supper, so we decided to walk over to the base parachute shop and see if we could talk them into making some little personal survival kits that we had designed.

As we were walking toward the parachute shop, the three of us were chatting about something and I wasn't paying attention to anything else. When I glanced up to see if we were headed in the right direction, I saw a woman walking toward us - and the whole world went away. That's the only way I can express it. I distinctly remember that all the buildings in the background simply disappeared. My peripheral vision was the same: no buildings, and no pilot and copilot walking beside me. Where everything had been was now a vast meadow of green grass. We were alone in that meadow, surrounded by a light haze or mist - just this woman and myself - looking into each other's eyes and smiling.

We walked toward each other. I held out my hands and she took them. I said, in a language that I first thought was Spanish but then thought was not Spanish, "It's so good to see you again!" She said, "Yes, it's so good to see you!" Then the world came back. We were both embarrassed. We dropped our hands, stepped back and around each other, and then turned away and continued in the directions we had been going. I looked back once; she looked back at the same time.

Smitty, the copilot, started to say something appropriate for the occasion: "Hey, Ben! What do you mean, this is your first time in Spain?" But Dick stopped him with a sharp little motion of his hand. A few steps later, when Smitty asked him, "Why? What was that all about?," Dick shrugged and said, "Old friends."

Dick was right, of course, but how? Two days later, Smitty said he had asked about her, and seen her picture, at the base personnel office. She was a local Spanish woman who had come to the base for the first time on the day we met, looking for employment. She got a job as a cleaning-woman in some other part of the base.

I saw her once after that. When I went to the base headquarters building to get a new ID card, I saw her walk across the intersection of another corridor several doors away. She did not see me. I did not speak to her. I thought it better that way.

So, we were strangers ... and yet old friends. You may draw your own conclusions as to how that might be. But I remember a swift series of thoughts at the moment I spoke to her. I knew the language I spoke was not English. I first thought it was Spanish; then thought it was not Spanish, and a word popped into my mind: Etruscan. I looked it up in an encyclopedia. The Etruscans were an ancient people who lived in what is now Italy. They were conquered by the Romans about 200 BC.