Daughter #1 Appears

In late February, 1964, I was awakened by my wife who, at the time, was frantically whacking me about the head and shoulders and telling me it was time.  Time?  Time for what?  Oh, THAT!  I leapt out of bed (flopped tiredly, actually) grabbed the phone and called my neighbor on the other side of the wall.  He was, fortunately, a Hospital Corpsman who calmed me down and told me to get over to the base dispensary.  “And don’t forget your wife!”  He admonished.

I’m not sure how we managed, but we did get there.  There was another young woman, and an equally frazzled looking guy, like me, and she was in the very same predicament – pregnant and about to give birth.  The duty corpsman was beside himself as he admitted he’d never before even assisted in childbirth.  Oh, that was a confidence builder for sure.  All that ran through my mind was the line from Gone with the Wind: “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthing no babies!!!!!”

As an added feature, there were only two ambulances available – a very boxy field ambulance (which now contained the gasping young lady I mentioned before) and no room for MY gasping young lady.  So, we carried the stretcher bearing my wife out to a huge Pontiac Bonneville station wagon ambulance (A’la “Ghostbusters”).  The first ambulance started off on the hour long journey to Cubi Point Naval Hospital down near Subic Bay.

Have I mentioned that it was a very dark night, windy, and misting with rain?  No.  Well it was.  I’m still not sure what time it was – even now – but it was around o’dark-hundred.  Once settled down in the back as best as she could be, the corpsman jumped in (not our friend, but the younger one) and off we went.

U.S. personnel were not allowed to drive the military vehicles off base in the P.I.  This was due to an agreement called the Status of Forces Agreement.  In actuality, it was a license to steal by the Philippinos; not that I didn’t agree with them, due to driving conditions which were, um, hazardous to say the least.  So, we had a diminutive native at the wheel that, with visions of Sterling Moss in his head, roared out of the parking lot and headed at almost full throttle towards the main gate – who had been alerted that two ambulances were on their way off base.

We squealed around the corner just past the gate and took off down the mostly-paved street called “The Roads” (for Crossroads, where all the guys hung out for liberty) and blew past seemingly hundreds of bars and ‘hotels’.  The paving, such as it was, ended at the edge of San Antonio.  Off between the rice paddies and cane fields we went.  For the most part, the road stayed straight.  Once in a while it curved, but the driver didn’t slow at all.  Every time we came to one of the single-lane bridges he’d pop on the red rotating light and blow over the bridge, then turn it off.  He was getting a kick out of this.  Too good to be true.

BOOM!  Flap, flap, flub, flub.  We swerved from side to side as only a squat, ungainly, heavy, station wagon can.  We’d blown a tire.  The driver edged to the side of the road as close as he could get to the rice paddy next to it.  I stepped out and directly down the short embankment into a water-filled ditch.  Not very auspicious.  The corpsman was next, but I managed to tell him about the ditch before he blundered into it also.  The driver refused to get out of “his” vehicle stating that (and probably quoting the regulation verbatim) ‘drivers weren’t to leave their vehicles at any time’.

Grumbling, I searched the back end tool area for a jack and found none.  We did find a spare tire, however, so not all was lost.  At this time, my wife was getting more and more agitated and began loudly letting us know things were getting urgent.  She was down to a contraction somewhere near every ten minutes and each time she had one, the corpsman got whiter and whiter.  We looked around for any sort of help or light, but all we could find was a Caribou standing knee-deep in muddy water and slowly chewing his/her cud.  “Mmmmmoooo”, was all he/she said.  No help there.

Finally, with a shout, I located the lug wrench where someone had thoughtfully placed it – under the front seat.  I held it up in the air and rushed back to the flat rear tire.  We still had not found a jack of any kind at all.  Not a sign of it.  There were clips for one in the tool compartment, but no jack.  I cast around in ever-widening circles looking for anything we could use to lift this fifteen-ton ambulance.  I fastened my eyes on a very long bamboo pole at the side of the road to mark where a trail went into the field.  This is an emergency I thought and ripped it loose from the wiring holding it to the uprights.

Between the corpsman and I, and a huge rock we’d rolled under the rear end, we actually got that damn vehicle off the ground enough (after loosening all the lug nuts) to pull the tire off.  Now we had another problem: How to hold the thing up while one of us swapped the tires.  As it was, we needed the two of us just to keep it in the air.  Enter the driver.  Under threats of feeding him to the Caribou, we persuaded him to exchange the tires.  He did, and we slowly let the vehicle settle down on the new tire.  It was soft, but held.  We piled back in and took off once again.

We pulled into the hospital with a roar.  This was because we’d hit a fairly big rock and loosened the coupling from the header to the muffler.  The driver was deathly afraid we’d make him pay for it’s repair.  Two attendants met us at the door and wheeled my wife into the waiting room.  She was established in a room with all sorts of attendants surrounding her.  I managed a quick ‘love you’ before being pushed out of the room.

In the most grand traditions of the military our baby decided to ‘hurry up and wait’.  I fell asleep around 0400 and wasn’t fully awake when the nurse shook me at around 0900 and said I had a daughter.  That got my attention.  I was led down a corridor and into another room.  My wife was lying back in the bed with her eyes closed.  “We have a daughter?”  I asked.  She answered “That’s what they tell me.  I’ve only seen her once.  I’m a bit groggy.”  Which was an understatement as she appeared to be looking at each of me in turn and trying to discover which one was real.

While I was describing what we’d gone through to get her here (she didn’t remember much of the trip), the nurse brought our daughter in and laid her down next to my wife.  I struggled manfully for about ten seconds and then broke into tears at the sight of my wife and our small baby.  It was pretty emotional.

A day later, there was a second lady in the room with her.  She was the wife of a Cubi Point airman with a very similar sounding last name.  The nurses, who were all Philippino, had a very hard time pronouncing either woman’s names so the routines when they brought either (or both) babies into the room was reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?”.  Her baby was a boy, so there was no real danger of mixing them up.

The very day we brought our daughter home, Maria took over the care duties and my wife rarely had to lift a finger.  We had increased her pay, from $30 a month to $40 (which she thought was way too much) so she was determined to earn it.  Even now, in the next century, we still look back fondly at the scene:  A barely twenty-year old young mother with a live-in maid to take care of her daughter.

Next:  Some short PI vignettes


Life in San Miguel, PI

It didn’t take us long to settle down into our new house.  The wife was still taking in the fact that she was away, really AWAY, from her family, the States, and everything else.  We were over the International Date line, which made us a day ahead of everyone else back home.  The only real communications we had was by mail.  Telephoning, back in the early sixties, was pretty primitive and cost both an arm and a leg.

I got put immediately to work.  I was on what was called ‘watchstanding’ status.  The way it worked was that we did a series of eight-hour watches – two evenings (or ‘eves’), two midnight to morning (or ‘mids’) and two days (normal daytime shift).  They were arranged as follows:

Day 1 – 1600 to 0000

Day 2 – 1600 to 0000 (then sleep for the 0800 to 1600)

Day 3 – 0800 to 1600

Day 4 – 0800 to 1600 (then sleep for the 0000 to 0800)

Day 5 – 0000 to 0800

Day 6 – 0000 to 0800

Day 7 and 8 – off until 1600 on Day 8.

Then the cycle started again.  The whole thing was known as ‘two, two, two, and eighty’.  Now, you might thing this was pretty harsh to have two short, back to back, watches, and it was.  But, once you got used to them, and were able to sleep during the day with bright sunlight pouring into the bedroom, it wasn’t so bad.

What was more problematic was that during your time “off” there were loads of extra assigned duties; some important, some pretty strange.  We had a commanding officer who was a Captain (O-6 – same as Colonel) who desperately wanted to make flag rank (Admiral).  He would volunteer his troops to do most anything to improve Phil-Am relations.  It was not surprising, therefore, to find that we had all volunteered to paint a civilian school during our time off.  This is where it gets into the realm of bizarre.

The only paint he was usually able to locate was either battleship grey or yellow chromate; both colors were hideous.  He’d haul a truck full of it to the school, set up huge tubs of San Miguel beer and sodas, start up the barbeque pits and load them down with hamburgers and hot dogs, and pass out paper plates to the natives.  These same natives were trying very hard to keep from laughing at us and our weird CO whom they’d named Frantic Frank.

We’d have a beer then erect scaffolding along the sides of the building.  With ramps and ladders in place, we’d have another beer or two and gather up our paintbrushes and buckets.  While we were working in the hot sun, the friendly natives would bring us numerous cold beers to help us through our day.  So, as you may have guessed, there was as much paint on the ground, and us, as there was on the building.  He never tumbled to the fact that he would get much better results if he held off on the beer until AFTER the painting was done.

You have to remember that these usually hit right off our last watch – which was a midwatch.  So, we’d been up since about 2300 the day before and here it was around 1600 or 1700 the following day.  No sleep, and perhaps ten beers or so, made for a very festive time to be had by all.  When we were released from our ‘voluntary’ duties, we’d go home and crash.  There went almost half of your time off.

– – –

Another pastime, off the mid, was to go down to the Nipa Hut.  Our base, San Miguel, is located directly on the shores of the South China Sea.  Our house was a very short walk from the beach.

NOTE: This was well before Mount Pinatubo obliterated most of it.  San Miguel can be found on Google Maps.  Look for “Philippines” first then Olangapo City (yes, that infamous liberty spot) and move north slightly and west to the coast.  There is a town called San Antonio.  San Miguel Naval Base is located just west of that.  If you zoom in closer, you will see two hook-like courts in the road to the south on the base.  Change to satellite view to see the actual houses.  We lived on the easternmost loop, in the center of three houses on the east side of that loop.  7156A Tripoli Court.

Anyway, here we were off the mid.  Keeping in mind that we’d been asleep from around 1800 to 2330 or so the night before, and this was our “afternoon” actually so we took advantage of it.  We’d hang around the Nipa Hut, drink beer and play volleyball, snorkel, ride around in Banca Boats (outrigger canoes), and just generally lounge around for a while.

– – –

Parties were called for pretty much any reason; and pretty much anytime.  We hung around with the same people we stood watches with.  A lot were unmarried, so when they came to parties hosted by the married guys, they’d show up bringing booze.  It was customary to always invite the couple on the other side of your duplex because of the noise.  They were really great parties.

Parties were often given when an individual got back of TAD (Temporary Attached Duty).  This usually meant they were back from some hush-hush location (Vietnam) where they weren’t supposed to be.  Official statement for our rate was “We have no Communications Technicians in Vietnam”.  We knew better.  Fortunately, when one of our guys went over there they were guarded by Marines 24/7, bless ‘em.  I will never have anything bad to say about Marines.

– – –

Another primary reason for a party was a typhoon.  When a typhoon blew into town, those of us who were off watch would gather at a given married person’s house and move all the furniture to the center of the building – away from the louvered windows.  Then, you would carefully pull all the glass louvers out of each window and lay them flat on the floor, or in a closet.  This reduced the chances of flying glass, you see.

We went from house to house preparing it for the blow.  At the last one (we took turns hosting typhoon parties) was where the party got under way.  Halfway through the typhoon, the sky cleared a bit, the winds dropped to just small wafts of current.  This was the eye of the storm.  Now, everyone (who could still stand, that is) would rush around frantically from house to house undoing the moved furniture and moving the furniture in the other half of the duplex because the winds would now come from the other side of the house.  At the last house, we’d re-party.

A great time was had by all.

– – –

One morning, not long too long after we’d arrived, my wife informed me that we were pregnant.  Well, gosh.  Now what?  We told our housegirl, Maria, about it and she immediately began bustling around making an already spotless house into a hospital zone.  She had her brother, who was our yardboy, hang a small hammock down in her maid’s quarters so she could iron and rock the hammock at the same time.

She went around hopping on one foot, pushing a halved coconut husk all over our tile floor like a human buffing machine.  Our cat, Sassy, loved this.  He would jump up on her foot and ride around while Maria pushed that husk to and fro.  The wife did a bit of reading on what to expect when expecting and I kept standing watches getting more and more nervous as the months went by.

– – –

First, a bit of background to a really funny incident.  Rumors were always rampant on a small base such as San Miguel.  Tell a story at one end and by the time you could walk to the other, someone would be bursting to tell you what they just heard.  In some cases, our little fun-loving group would START rumors just to hear how garbled they got at the other end.

When my wife was about seven months along, she went down to visit her friend in Subic Bay.  This is an hour long trip and was not undertaken at night at all.  So she remained there overnight.  Unknown to the both of us, another couple whom we’d befriended on the ship coming over, arrived to visit from Clark AB.  I put them up in our bedroom and slept out on the couch when I got home from my midwatch.

The resident snoop (doesn’t EVERY neighborhood have one?) across the street was actively scanning windows that night and happened to fall on our window.  Now, she knew my wife was gone for the night, and where she had gone, so when she spied a silhouetted couple on the drawn curtains she drew the conclusion that I had a ‘guest’.  She was on the phone immediately to Subic and reluctantly told my wife that I was seeing another woman.

My wife, whom I had already called and told her about our friends, answered sweetly “well, you know, Dear, since I’m very pregnant he just has to find comfort somewhere”.  There was dead silence on the line and then a strangled “really?”  She never bothered to rumor us any more.

– – –

Next:  Daughter #1 makes her debut.

A trip to the PI

A comment on my Veterans Day post made me think that perhaps documenting what the life of a young Navy man and his new wife was like back in the sixties.  Ignoring, for the moment, all the places here in the States we lived, I’d like to concentrate on the other places; those outside  and in the real world.

The tale starts in California, in 1964.  My wife and I were coming off thirty days of leave which we spent in Colorado visiting both sets of parents (how nice to have all four in the same town, eh?).  We traveled to Oakland Army Base in our own car so we could get it scheduled for shipment to the Philippines – our ultimate destination.

We arrived one sunny day, went through the gate, and we in search of our billeting area (place to sleep that night) to drop off our bags.  On the way over, we spotted the terminal gate that led to where we had to leave the car for shipment.  There was a guard at this gate.  When we asked him where to leave the car for shipment, he told us to put it at the end of the line he pointed to and leave the keys in it.

No problem.  We did just that, and I took the paperwork into the office and handed it over, along with several pounds of paper representing my orders.  Duly stamped, I left with a chit that I would use to pick up the car when it finally made the trip.  They were nice enough to take the two of us over to the little on-base hotel.

We checked in and were taken to our room.  I could almost reach out with my hands and touch opposite walls.  The “bed” was a slightly larger version of what the Army refers to as a ‘low back pain generator’.  How the two of us were going to get into it was up for discussion.

We did manage to however and, after a fairly sleepless night, we were duly picked up by a bus and taken to our transport.  This ship was originally built as part of the President line of cruise ships, but the Navy took over and renamed it the USNS Barrett after a Marine Colonel.

Our cabin was surprisingly large and, even more amazing, it was on the boat deck.  This is the deck that holds all the lifeboats.  In keeping with my rate, which was only an E-5, I expected to be put down below the waterline; possibly in steerage.  I found out later, that I happened to have the same name as the Port Commander of Subic Naval base and ‘they’, in their infinite wisdom, decided that they probably shouldn’t take a chance and tick off the big guy.  So I ended up in officer’s country.

The trip started that evening.  We were headed to Hawaii.  The on-board rules and regulations regarding passengers was that we were free to do most anything we wanted during the time on board, but we did have to wear uniforms for the evening meal.  The rest of the time we wore civilian clothing.  I got a few quizzical glances at my wife and I sitting at a table surrounded by officers, but after a couple of meals we were all friends.

In Honolulu, we were turned loose for ten hours to sightsee.  We were so broke that another couple and us took a bus into town and headed for Waikiki Beach, just so we could say we’d been there.  We were run off after about an hour because we couldn’t provide a room key for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, upon whose sacrosanct beach we were treading.

Pffft!  Who needed your stinky old beach anyway?  We retired to a bar and found out immediately why it was pretty much empty.  A single beer cost three dollars!  The wife and I only had thirty-five dollars between us for the whole trip to Subic.  Not good.  We went back to the ship by bus.

When we left Hawaii, I decided that I was going to be really bored just doing nothing.  I’d heard the Chaplain was looking for volunteers for this and that so I looked him up.  He saw the ‘spark and quill’ of my Navy rating and asked if I could copy Morse code.  I’d been able to do that since I was twelve so I said yes.  He sent me up to the radio room to help copy the UPI newscasts from the land station KPH out of Marin County, California.

When I got there, one of the radiomen was struggling with what appeared to be around twenty words per minute code.  As a radioman, he should have been able to do it but I asked if I could help.  With a smirk, he handed me the phones and stood up from his receiver.

I asked for a fresh ditto mat and rolled it into the ‘mill’ or typewriter.  By now, I’d attracted the attention of the Chief on watch.  He strolled over and asked me what the **** I thought I was doing.  I told him that I’d been sent up by the Chaplain to gather up news stories for publication in the ship’s paper every day.  He questioned the use of a ditto mat and I told him it was faster to do it this way directly instead of having to re-type it later.  His exact words were “You’re gonna just ****ing sit there and take that ****ing code and ****ing type it directly onto the there ****ing ditto mat?”  I nodded, sat back and began copying at the start of the next article.

Over the course of the next forty-five minutes I whacked away on that typewriter, taking time between articles to pull out the full mat and insert a new one.  When I was done, I had seven mats.  I had also been showing off a little by drinking two cups of coffee, and smoking three cigarettes while typing one handed.  At one point, I stopped to scratch my leg and then, in a furious burst of typing, caught back up.  Heh.  CT’s were much better than Radiomen!

“Well, now I’ve seen every ****ing thing.”  Was all the Chief said.

I also won forty dollars in bets off the radiomen in the shack by out-copying them at very high speeds.  The day I beat the Chief I was suddenly twenty dollars richer.  I copied the newscasts all the way across the Pacific.

The Barrett could have made somewhere in the vicinity of twenty knots, but, due to some sort of casualty in the engine room, we were only able to sustain around ten knots.  This meant that not only were we slow, but we rolled in the long Pacific swells pretty badly too.  We were headed generally southwest.  Our next port was Midway Atoll.  It turned out to be so small that if we dropped the anchor we ran the risk of sinking the island.  The main attraction was watching the Gooney birds as they attempted to fly.

We left Midway during the preliminaries to a fairly large storm.  The seas had increased to around fifteen feet and winds had picked up so that they howled around the lifelines and blasted you unawares as you turned a corner on deck.  Our next stop was to be the beautiful island of Guam.  But first we had to batter our way through a nice typhoon.

In the process of fighting the weather we crossed over the International Date Line.  Most of the passengers were pretty sick, but some of us managed to show up for the festivities – but they were brief.  My wife still has the Domain of the Golden Dragon certificate she was given when we stepped over the line.

Seas rose to main deck heights, we rolled up to around seventeen degrees, and pitched up over a crest and slammed down into the trough.  Out ten knots was being eaten up by winds that were practically canceling out our forward progress.  It was a miserable trip.  Finally, four days late, we pulled into Apra Harbor and those people who were to be stationed there thankfully debarked.

The next morning we set sail (in much calmer waters) for Manila, Philippines. Where we were to spend almost twenty hours unloading cargo.  This, we were told, was where the most pilferage of automobiles occurred.  We were thankful that our car was still back in California.  Passengers, having little to do anyway, stood along the rails or sat on deck chairs and watched the cargo booms steadily moving crates and boxes from the holds to shore.  By now, we were thoroughly bored to tears.

Our final leg began.  In one day, we were due to dock in Subic Bay.  We had sent a message to our sponsors (a husband/wife team at our new base designated to ease our move) that we would be there on a given date.  We were a bit late, but we thought we’d be able to phone when we made it to shore.  My wife was the first to tug on my arm and point.  “Isn’t that our car?”

Sure enough, the dockside crane was lifting our little ’58 VW convertible out of the hold and setting it down on the pier.  Now, we had been told that it might take as long as six months to get our vehicle shipped to the base, yet here it was.  The only thing I can figure out is that when the guard at the base told us to ‘put it at the end of that line’ that the line was of cars scheduled to be shipped on the Barrett.  Being at the end of the line, that meant it was the last to be loaded – and the first to be unloaded.

A couple we’d made friends with were incredulous that our car had actually come on the ship with us.  We couldn’t wait to debark now.  We said our goodbyes to everyone we’d traveled with in the huge hall on the pier and gathered up out baggage, such as it was.  I had a heck of a time trying to convince the Officer in Charge that my car was just outside on the dock.  He actually said ‘show me, petty officer’.  And I did – I even had a spare key that turned the engine over.  He was even more shocked than our friends.

Armed with a map, we mad the hour long trip up to San Miguel in a harrowing two hours at about thirty miles per hour.  We had to dodge buses, which we later learned were called “Rapid Rabbits” because they shot down the roads at the speed of light.  Numerous bridges were single-lane bridges and, until we learned that whoever got their headlights on first had the right of way, caused several heart attacks.  Our arrival the our new duty station caused a flap also – nobody knew what to do with us.  We hadn’t arrived in the prescribed manner; and we were in our own personal car, which stumped the Base Security team for quite a while.  Finally, we managed to call our sponsors and they came down to help straighten things out.

Our new home, 7156A Tripoli Court, was a bi-level, louvered window, house.  The carport and a small storage area at ground level, and the rest of the house on the upper level.  All the closets had a 75 Watt bulb in them to keep things from molding overnight in the 99.9% humidity.

Next:  Life in San Miguel.


Veterans Day 2010

I was planning on making a post concerning Veterans Day and did a little research.  There was one blog here on WP that really got my attention.  The blog entry was perfectly stated and I’m not really sure I can do better.  The post is here and I hope Amy will not mind because it expresses a lot of how I feel also:


Let me tell you a story – from the heart:

My contact with the military began when I was very young – born into it to be specific – in 1942.  My dad was a newly-minted Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps (the Air Force hadn’t been invented yet) stationed in Spokane, Washington in preparation for a tour throughout Canada while the AlCan Highway was being built.  He was to run a string of weather stations that ran between Edmonton, Alberta and Fairbanks, Territory of Alaska (not a state until January 3, 1959)

I became aware of my surroundings when I was somewhere near two or three up in Edmonton.  I remember lots of snow, football games in the snow, being pulled through the snow.  Have I mentioned the snow?  My memory is a bit fuzzy from there until I was five.  My mom and dad were now settled down in Fairbanks on 14th street.  Across from our house stretched endless tundra with an occasional stunted pine tree.  Ladd Field was home to a wing of B-36 bombers.  If anyone has ever witnessed a B-36 taking off you will never forget it.  The huge drumming of those six reversed-propeller engines moving all that weight down a two-mile runway – with the added high-pitched whine of four jet engines shook the earth.  I would stand open-mouthed and watch them every time they went overhead.

I grew older, we moved from Fairbanks to Washington, D.C. in 1950.  Our mode of transport was a 1950 Oldsmobile station wagon.  We drove all the way there, detouring through California, Colorado, and Nebraska.  It was a great trip.  I went from eight to thirteen in Maryland.  We lived very close to Andrews, Air Base.  The Army Air Corps was now the Air Force and my dad was wearing a new, blue, uniform.  I loved having him take me to the base on ‘bring your kid’ days.  I used to sit at his desk and draw weather maps.  Some of which, if they depicted real weather, would curl your hair.   He taught me basic Meteorology right there in his office and at home.

In 1955 we moved again.  This time to a thrilling place for me: Germany.  Keeping in mind that the war had just been over for only ten years, I found the natives were extremely friendly.  I joined lots of youth groups, went camping, bicycling, sleigh-riding, and generally hung out off base.  It was a walk from the housing area, but well worth it.  My friends would think nothing of walking up to complete strangers at school and starting a conversation.  We did that.  We were interested in where everyone was stationed, what they wanted to do when they ‘grew up’ and all that.  There were some rough edges, but basically the life as a military teenager was simply great.  No worries about your dad getting fired, or anything like that.  We were forced to act and be on our best behavior because we knew we were being judged by others.

In ’58 we moved yet again.  Going from the European formality of speech, way of dress, and manners to dive into the Californian culture.  What a change!  We lived just north of San Francisco, in Petaluma, and my dad was stationed at Hamilton, AFB.  This will have significance later in my post.  I had a very hard time fitting into school.  Kids would stare at me when I stood still on the sidewalk with my hand over my heart while the flag was being raised in the front courtyard.  I drew giggles, and, yes, even insults.  I also got a few bands and dings from trying to straighten out people as to their attitudes.  I graduated in 1960.  A fresh new decade to explore.

My dad moved in the middle of my senior year.  I stayed with the family of a Master Sergeant who worked for my dad.  Once I graduated, I went up to Montana where he was stationed at Great Falls.  Malmstrom AFB – a huge SAC (Strategic Air Command) base.  The sight of those massive B-52’s taking off would cause echoes of the B-36’s in Alaska in my mind.  You want to talk about the might of the United States?  There it is right there!

I attended the University of Montana at Missoula one year.  This took me to the fall of 1961.  My grades were so-so, but nothing to jump up and down about.  Vague, disturbing, news reports were beginning to appear about some struggle over in Southeast Asia.  We were trying to keep out of it, but at the same time, advisers were being sent there – and dying.  My dad would raise hell every time he read of that.  I started paying more attention to news reports.  I was no dummy.  I could read handwriting on the wall and I didn’t like it.  Draft numbers seriously close to mine were being called.  I did a lot of self-examination and talked to my dad and several friends of his.  I knew I would join the military, but I decided I would do it on MY terms.  I started with the Air Force recruiter.

The AF recruiter was a close friend of my parents and listened carefully to my desires, and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  We spent three hours together in his office.  He finally stated that for what I wanted, the Air Force really didn’t have the schools for me.  He arranged for me to see his good friend, the Navy recruiter.  I spent a couple of hours with him.  I know that everyone screams that the recruiter screwed them, but mine most certainly did not.  I wanted electronics.  Something in that field.  I was already a radio amateur and knew electronics cold.  He made several calls, and showed me a page in his jobs manual that seemed filled with vague phrases and circular statements.  It was for the naval rating of Communications Technician (later Cryptographic Technician).  I was fired up for this.  I also needed a clearance higher than Top Secret.  Oops.  Was I good enough to get it?  Only the FBI could tell.

I signed on the dotted line, raised my right hand and said the magic words “I do solemnly swear…”  Then myself and thirty-two other Montanans boarded the train down to San Diego.  Since I was the only one with military background I was appointed the leader.  The trip was like trying to contain several barrels of monkeys, only harder.  We did make it though.  The next 14 weeks were pretty hard but, since I again had the background, I was able to keep out of the line of fire.  Midway through my boot camp I was called over to the security office.  They were astounded to tell me that not only had my interim clearance had arrived, but also my final clearance – I was in!  From boot camp I went to Pensacola, Florida for A school (primary training).  Four months passed with relative speed and I graduated into the secret world of spooks.  Until we moved from the ‘basic’ portion to the ‘advanced’ portion not one clue as to what we would really be doing was given us.  I made the assumption, since the very first thing they did was teach us the Morse code, that we would be sort of super-radiomen.  I was also very wrong; and very right.  We were indeed going to be super radiomen, but we weren’t aimed at the US Navy.  Even now, 48 years later, I can’t tell you what I did but suffice it to say that I take a HUGE amount of pride in what I did.  We all did.  We were being entrusted with secrets on a National level.

I left Pensacola for Christmas leave  and came home.  This was December of 1962.  My brother talked me into going to a party with him (ewwww, high school kids???) but I enjoyed it very much.  Especially a soft-spoken brunette that stood almost eye-to-eye with me.  I was stabbed in the heart with cupid’s arrow.  I spent the rest of my all too short leave with her.  All two weeks.  Then I went to my first duty station (Lajes,  Azores).  We wrote each other letters and tried very hard to keep in touch.  During that time, a little flareup called “The Cuban Missile Crisis” popped up.  Things around the Azores got Very Tense for a few hours.  In the summer of ’63 I took leave again.  My best friend was also traveling with me to be my best man.  We got married on August first.  Most of her friends (and mine for that matter) were astonished that we could make a go of it after only being with each other physically for just four short weeks.  I left the Azores for good on November 22, 1963.

We all know what happened that day.  I was actually flying over Dallas in a venerable Boeing 707 when the Captain announced “something funny is happening down below us in Dallas.  Here’s a radio station…”  The announcer was trying his best to describe the chaos occurring in his city as the events unfolded.  The Captain kept changing ground stations all the way to Denver.  My seatmate, a newly minted Marine, and I listened and wondered what we should do.  My advice 3was to just head for home and stay by the phone.

My wife and I packed up and headed east to Laurel, Maryland.  Not a very good place at all.  We lived in an actual hovel and ate beans and franks because that’s all we could afford.  My pay, as an E4 (Third Class Petty Officer) was less than $400 or so a month.  Not a lot of discretionary funds there.  I had re-enlisted on a program that guaranteed me a “B” school.  This school was located at Fort Meade – home of the National Security Agency (or sometimes known as ‘none such agency’).  When I graduated I got promoted to E5 (Second Class) which, more importantly, allowed my new wife to accompany me to the Philippines.  We were given the choice of air or sea travel.  We opted for sea.  The trip took 32 days from Oakland Army Terminal, California to Subic Bay, Philippines.  We had stops at such exotic places as Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam, and Manila.  It was an MSTS ship (military owned, civilian run).  It was a wonderful trip actually considering that the two of us had bunk beds.  But that didn’t stop us.

The Philippines was great.  We had a nice house, a great club to hang around in, a maid, a houseboy; all the comforts of home – except we were a day ahead of everyone back in the States.  I did my sneaky stuff, while my wife just got more and more pregnant.  Shortly after my daughter was born, I ended up with orders.  These order short-toured me (meaning: instead of the nice three-year tour, you only get 17 months and then you get your can off to a ship).  We had to pack our house and ship everything home in 14 days.  After a harrowing van trip to Clark AFB we got exactly ten minutes in the terminal to say goodbye to each other over a steel fence.  I was on my way back down to Subic Bay to pick up the USS Oxford, a “technical research” ship (read spy ship).  We shoved off two days later for my first tour of Vietnam. [NOTE: Do a Google search on the Oxford.  It is very entertaining.  I have several articles on the web page that I wrote.  The ship is also featured in the book “Body of Secrets” by James Bamford.

I spent an entire year and then some on the Oxford.  Since tours were defined as anything over 90 days ‘in country’ I spend three four-month tours with brief rests in Sasebo, Japan, Kau Hsiung, Taiwan, Bangkok, Thailand, Subic Bay, and many Vietnamese ports.  I was run ragged, but loved every minute of it.  I also took the test for, passed, and was advanced to First Class (E6).  Not bad for only being in the Navy for just barely five years.  I was now deemed a leader.  I had 17 people working for me in my watch section.  I had status.  I was also ready to re-enlist again.

I left the Oxford and went to Norfolk, Virginia for instructor school and then back down to Pensacola for duty as an instructor.  This is the place I’d just left a few short years before as a trainee.  Now I was back teaching new trainees.  My wife and I bought a nice house and settled down for a good three-year tour.  I even spent some time with the Pensacola Shore Patrol which is the Navy’s police force.

Next, I got sent to Ramasun Station, Thailand which was way up on the Laotian border.  Since this was deemed a war zone, this was not an accompanied tour.  It would also count as two separate Vietnam War tours.  I bundled my wife and daughter into the car and took them back to Boulder, Colorado on my way across country.  A month after I reported in to the detachment, our Senior Chief (highest rated enlisted man) had a fatal heart attack.  I was next senior and had to take over as administrator for our detachment of seven persons.

When I left Thailand, I was under orders to Misawa, Japan.  Living quarters were very tight and I was not expected to get any for at least a year with my name on the list.  So, even after a long separation I was headed into yet another separation after a very short period of leave.  By my calculations, we had been together less than we’d been apart for the period of our marriage.  We were sad, we were miserable, but it was a job that had to be done.  If I didn’t do it, then someone else would have to.  That’s the meaning of the word commitment.  I lived in a barracks, dined in a mess hall, and worked inside a cipher-locked building.  On liberty, we had a good time just to forget our high-pressure jobs for a while.  I succumbed to it a bit much and began dancing closely towards being a functional alcoholic.  It didn’t alarm me, but once my wife and daughter were allowed to join me, it alarmed them.  I did my best to walk a straight line.  Our second daughter was born in Japan.

I was finally accepted as a computer programmer in my own right by orders to Skaggs Island, California.  This is a base just north of San Francisco’s bay area and sat (it is now closed and abandoned) on salt marshes.  We received quarters right back at Hamilton Air Force Base – which was then defunct as an ‘air’ base.  Only the housing was still active.  Midway through my tour, I re-enlisted for the last time.  My father, Colonel, USAF, Retired gave me the oath.  In total, I spent seven years there, going first to a programming school for the HFDF (High Frequency Direction Finding) and then onwards to teach programming at the school I just graduated from.  In seven years, which went by very fast, I knew my career was winding down.  At twenty years, I applied for retirement and the ceremony was held right at this base.  My military career had ended.

Now, as I look back over the years I feel a lot of pride in what I did.  Facing the naysayers, spitters, name-callers, and other unsavory folks I can tell anyone who asks that I never faltered in my support of what we were doing.  It was just that important.  Not just to us, but the rest of the country.  In the latter years of my service days, I had responsibilities that included being able to send messages that I knew, KNEW, the President would get within six minutes.  That, my friends, I responsibility with a big “R”.

I earned each and every one of my awards and medals.  I wore a three-bar ribbon set with 2 Navy Unit Citations, 2 Meritorious Unit Citations, 4 awards of the Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Combat Ribbon (with 4 stars – each star a tour plus the medal itself), National Defense medal, and the Rifle Sharpshooting Medal.  Some of them were for just being there, and others were for specific historical events.

So, if you happen to see me, standing stock still with my hand over my heart and tearing up at the sound of colors playing, come on over and join me.  Being patriotic won’t hurt you.  In fact, it will enlighten you.  If you do get near me, don’t you dare fidget, text, gripe or grumble at being delayed by everyone stopping their cars and waiting until the music is over.