As a young boy living a sheltered life in a predominately Sephardic Jewish enclave in pre-WWII North Africa, Gino Narboni dreamed of a military life in service to his country. Little did he know how far his dream would take him.
The opening salvos of WWII were clearly heard in French North Africa as Germany overran France. Foreign troops occupied much of the country and a compliant Vichy government extended its control to French armed forces based in Algeria.
Gino, 18 and part-way through his pre-college exams, was drafted and sent to an army post in Algiers, far from most military action. Hearing a call from General Charles de Gaulle, he deserted his Vichy unit, and traveled across the North African desert to join the general’s Free French Forces. Eventually, he was sent to an air base in the Lebanese mountains. There, he waited for orders that would launch his remarkable aviation career. He was to serve as an Overseas Volunteer (Machal) pilot in Israel’s war for independence and as a captain in the Israeli Air Force before becoming one of the first pilots for El AL Airlines. His aviation career concluded as a Colonel in the United States Air Force.
Although Gino’s life was shaped by the events of WWII, he never gave up his dream of combining two loves, aviation and medicine. After completing medical studies in 1961, he served in the USAF as a medical corps officer, chief flight surgeon, and medical oncologist.
There’s much more to this story…Gino continued to serve patients until his retirement from private medical practice at the age of 79.
In 2013, as he was about to celebrate his 90th birthday, Gino realized it was time to record the turns and events that shaped his life and career. With the help of his wife Charlotte, Gino is finally telling his remarkable story.
Our lives changed July 16, 2016, when Gino Narboni passed away. The last years were physically challenging for Gino, but he never gave up. His spirit never failed and his remarkable outlook on life gave us hope that we could keep him with us well into the future. That did not happen. In spite of our loss, we are grateful that we had all that time with our beloved husband and father, uncle and friend. This Third Edition adds the closing chapter in Gino’s life.
In a time and place that seems so foreign today, we were part of the Jewish diaspora, only ours started three centuries earlier as Columbus set sail for America.
A self-imposed ghetto without walls in the midst of a large Arab population. Living in peace with our neighbors . . .
The war seemed far away in 1940; that was, until France surrendered to the Germans. From that point, the Vichy government controlled our lives, including my military service.
General Charles de Gaulle called and I answered . . . with my unauthorized Vichy French Army unit departure for service in the newly created Forces Françaises Libre.
At Rayak Air Base, it was a matter of hurry up and wait.
At last, a mission and a chance to earn my wings . . . with a Southern accent.
Back to the books; as it turned out, temporarily, in a country trying to readjust to peace.
Adventure again, and a return to my first love, flying!
Back to Paris and back to the books until my immigrant visa arrived.
A brief recounting of my time in Paris with thanks to those who made my life richer.
One more Atlantic crossing, this time as a US immigrant
I got the memo, finally . . . and finished my education!
Calling Dr. Narboni . . . an intern and new adventure . . . as a husband
The start of another chapter in my life . . . this one in the USAF Medical Corps
Even bad assignments can turn out well.
An autobahn with speed limits, a travel-hungry spouse, good food, and a pleasant assignment . . . and the arrival of a second daughter.
Back to studies, in an area with great need for the development of effective drugs in the fight against cancer.
Responsibility and command, ending one career.
. . . and beginning a 19-year medical oncology practice in San Antonio, Texas.
Reflecting on a life without regrets.
Looking at Gino’s life since his 90th Birthday party in 2014 and the original publication of this book.
Reflecting on Gino’s passing and his memorial service.