“Free Beer for the Americanos”

Digging out a crashed F-104 in a Spanish village in 1964, I made some unexpected friends.

An F-104D from the 479th Wing, and the author in Vietnam, with a backdrop of Southern Spain. (Background: Artur Bogacki; Inset photos: NMUSAF and Courtesy George C. Wells)
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The crash site was a half-mile outside a small Spanish village, Villanueva de Algaidas. There was only one automobile in the town, an old U.S. Army Jeep. The people were very friendly and seemed pleased that we had crashed literally in their back yard. The Spanish police, the Guardia Civil, showed up to monitor the proceedings, and even they seemed happy to see us. You would have thought we were filming a major Hollywood production—at times there must have been several hundred residents standing around watching.

The hole we were digging to recover the engine went so deep we had to attach five-gallon buckets on ropes to pull the dirt to the surface. Amid all this, a local set up a concession stand next to us and started selling beer. This was not a beer that any of us had ever seen. It came in very small bottles that sold for five pesetas—in our money, really cheap. About every 30 minutes or so, a loud voice resonated “free beer for the Americanos.” Every one of my airmen would come scrambling out of the hole for what they called nickel beer.

Around noon, I noticed a lack of progress. The hole was not getting much deeper. Quite a few of my men were lying around the hole, relaxing. I had to somewhat limit the nickel beer or we would have been there for months, probably to the airmen’s—and the concessionaire’s—great pleasure.

I bonded with the young Spaniard who owned the Jeep, even though he did not speak English and I didn’t know a word of Spanish. One evening I decided to stay in town rather than ride the bus back to Morón and return the next morning. I stayed in a boarding house for $1.25, which included a breakfast of coffee, sausage, and eggs. That evening my new friend insisted that I visit the local tavern. The bartender was so honored to have us that all we drank was on the house. After imbibing a little more than we should have, my friend invited me to his home for dinner. We walked down a path, along which all the houses were connected. When we came to his door, my friend knocked.

We were greeted by my friend’s wife, a pretty young woman with a child. As my host attempted to step over the threshold, he tripped, fell flat on the floor, and passed out for a moment or two. There I stood in front of his wife, her husband on the floor between us. Neither one of us could communicate. She started laughing, which greatly eased the tension.

My friend soon regained consciousness, and I was treated to a unique meal in a native Spanish home, an engaging introduction to international life for a guy who grew up driving a John Deere tractor on a farm in southern Illinois.

The next day, my friend told me he really liked my Air Force flying jacket. Would I sell it to him? I told him Air Force regulations forbade that. He then offered to trade me his Andalusian riding jacket for it. He had done so much for me that I agreed to trade.

Our squadron took up a collection and returned to Villanueva de Algaidas with school supplies and candy for the children. The villagers declared our return a holiday.

The silk-lined jacket is a work of art. I still have it in my closet. It fits me perfectly.

About George Wells

George Wells wrote about his 40-year aviation career in It’s That Way Everywhere, George, published in 2008.

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