86. Qui Nhơn Harbor

It was the 12th day and after many nautical miles into the Pacific Ocean, I’ve faced every day as a new adventure, which had up till now been spent in daily routine.  

I remember the announcement of land being spotted, blaring through the overhead speakers and my preconceptions seeping deeper into my veins, now even more than during the journey in this direction.  

We approach the 12 mile neutral zone, skirting Vietnam and the war region. I overheard, “Anything goes!” That sounded like a voice of experience talking: not comforting, yet exciting.

Entering this boundary I’m seeing lots of ships anchored off the Qui Nhơn Harbor shoreline.  Not one was docked at land and I already knew our ship would never go to shore either.  Once we received our ‘parking’ location anchor was dropped.

As our ship was one of the napalm carriers, there would be about a dozen Marine (the naval infantry) assigned to protect the cargo, us and of course the ship itself.  A couple of hours had passed before our assigned ‘on board’ armed guards arrived.  They’d stay with us now for as long as our ship was here in this ‘parking lot’.  

The Marines would rotate in 3 shifts throughout the course of the day and night.  Naturally it was our responsibility to feed these guys. They would eat in the main dining room so they didn’t fall under my care.  Remember I was assigned to my ship’s officers only.

As supplies were needed the Marines would come out to us in their boats and get what they needed at any given time.  Think floating super-store!

And as far as personal weapons already on our ship and to my knowledge, no one was armed save for our Skipper.  In retrospect I’m thinking perhaps the 1st Officers may have had guns as well, I should think. It made sense if they did but at the time I did not bother to think about it.  

As the crew and I were engaged in our duties later that afternoon, the ship’s Captain came down to into the dining room to brief us of our disposition. Remember there are no more than 30 of us on this entire ship and so the gathering was intimate.

The Skipper said to us, “Now you’re entitled to the combat zone paycheck.  During our time here, if the Việt Cộng take a shot at any of us, we’ll have it made,” he said with a smirk I couldn’t forget and finished that statement with, “…if we should survive.”

There had been no conversation with any family since leaving California and the thought of what the Skipper just said was resting bittersweet on my heart.  While thinking big bucks for my family, I really wasn’t looking forward to taking a bullet!

Looking into his eyes I felt our Skipper must’ve lived this scenario many times already.  “Keep your eyes and ears open at all times. Be sensible men, this is a different world. Always look over your shoulder … watch your ass!  I’m telling you, there’s no trusting anybody!”

He looked at all of us carefully and continued, “In your off time you are free to go ashore but you’d be wise to follow protocol.  Should you go into town and act stupid, like disobeying local law and obviously our own civilized sense of behavior, you’ve then made the decision to take your safety into your own hands and you are no longer protected under these United States War Zone Rules.  In other words, your ass is null and void!”

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81. Puffed Up Arms in San Francisco

Early 1966

I thought about it most of the night and chose not to return to the hospital that morning as I knew it would be far too difficult to leave at all.  

I trusted Alok was safe and I hugged and kissed my children before leaving for the few days I assumed I’d be away.  My previous job at Santa Ynez I had left on good terms and with positive reference, as was my habit of doing.

I knew in my mind that if I was going to get to Fiji it was now or never.  Diana drove me to the station so I would catch the 10a Greyhound into San Francisco.  After dropping me off she went back to the hospital to bring Alok home.

For the most part it was a straight through drive up north with only a few key stops along the way.  I arrived some time that evening just after the dinner hour.  Upon arrival in San Francisco I took a taxi to a friend’s apartment.  I’d known Morris since Fiji.  This is where I’d stay for nearly a week.  

It just so happened the Seafarers’ International Union of North America was across the street from his apartment building.  What were the odds?

Next morning I took that fateful walk across the street and made myself known to them, stating my intentions and then fell into their process.  One of these things was to take their form to a doctor (choose one from a list f I didn’t have one up there, which of course I didn’t) for shots, check-up, etc.,  whew!  What a lot of technical to-dos.  

I returned to Morris’ apartment late that afternoon with the certificate of completion of the union’s medical requirements.

I also had the need to go to bed.  My arms were loaded with shots, painful, swollen and these caused me to feel quite ill.  Well I was forewarned by the doctor this most likely would be the side effect.

I did manage to call home and check with Diana about Alok’s health, how Amar and Asha were doing, how she was getting on, things at home and you know, stuff.  

She comforted me, telling me that all is well and how wonderful it was having Susan and Lisa with her young son just next door.  I told her about the not-so-fun time at the doctor’s office.

Fortunate for me, Morris’ wife nursed me a bit, fed me good Indian food and I was able to rest the remainder of the day and the night through.  The next two days I was really a mess.  I felt much better the third day.

In that next morning I returned to the Seafarers’ Union office to submit the doctor’s completed form and certification showing I had all the proper vaccinations.  

After what appeared to be a thorough review the staff behind the counter gave back to me all of my papers, the ID clearance card which I had previously obtained in Long Beach and my identification to include my British passport and my Green Card.

I was instructed to sit with the other fellows over in the reception area.  We would wait. Little conversations took place, something to pass the time.  I noted I was the only Indian, there was a small handful of African origin gents, a couple of Irish men and the rest were American or something.  I’m guessing.  It’s not really important, is it?

My name was called and I went back up to the counter.  I was told,  “We need a waiter.”  The one agent asked if I was experienced.  I replied, ‘Yes and I have worked on a ship before.’  I was then instructed to throw in my ID card, like literally.  

It felt like a gamble; it’s the way they do it.  Other people reviewed my papers and near immediately I was accepted for the position.

Next thing is I’m being told where the ship is docked.  It was at my own expense to get to this ship.  The location is on Suisan Bay at Concord, California.  I’ve been given everything I need to report to that ship.  Grateful for the job I returned to Morris’ apartment and shared my exciting news.  

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Suisan Bay   a part of Contra Costa County which is located in north-­central California.  This is where you’ll find the Concord Naval Weapons Station.  That’s about 70 miles southwest of the capital of Sacramento.  

 

72. Prejudice or Just Plain Crazy?

Hotel Miramar kept me busy just as our children kept Diana and the grandparents busy.  Our home was more and more lively with each passing day.  The little bundle of a daughter was still with baby needs but not causing too much commotion, apart from when she decided it was time to test her lungs and then oh boy, look out.  Our son had barely started walking and that’s plenty going on there already, isn’t it?

In all of this Diana was just as effectual in the air mail communications with the family in Fiji, all together with current photos and detailed letters; she wanted to be sure they were up-to-date on their son’s family life in California.

We took our children to the park whenever we could, usually twice a week.  As a quick flashback being at the park with children always reminded me of the family outings from my youthful self back in Fiji.  Then just as quickly I’d return to the giggling voices of my two little ones.

The boy he’s running around happy as a clam just having a ball and my daughter not at all minding the fresh sea breezes and chirping birds.  Of course it was a great way to work up a nap too, for all of us.

We had been living in the Pico apartments for quite some months when a new neighbor moved into the vacant unit upstairs, directly over our place.  I clearly recall this man was of brawny build and with him was (I can assume) his wife and older teenaged son.

The neighbors to our side had been there quite some time and we had long since become regular friends with them.

You know to this day I really cannot figure out an exact reason why this man upstairs behaved the way he did; we can still only guess he may have felt offended by the fact that my beautiful wife, clearly an anglo lady would have married a non-white man and then make children to boot!

Diana and I discussed his behavior briefly chalking it up to well, possibly he was nothing more than a mixed marriage hater?  Before you decide, read on!

The trouble began not too long after he moved in.  He’d pound on my door shouting in a strong southern American accent, “Open the door you damned Mexican!  Come out here, I’m gonna kill you!”  Wait, Mexican?  He’d already made up his mind about me, to include a label on my persons?

Interestingly he’d only do this when I was at home; it never happened while I was at work.  I mean this person never troubled Diana –thankfully- not once had he harassed her or shot an ugly glance her way.  He didn’t come out of his apartment else he wasn’t there at all, probably at work but either way it was clear he was out to torment only me.

He must’ve watched and waited for me to come home in the evenings.  Which is why we would assume his threats were just for me; he being appalled that I even had a place on this planet.  My skin was brown and my wife’s was not.  I mean we’ve really never known what else to think.  Why else he was so adamant to label me?

Forgive my thought for a moment but as you my readers should know me by now, I tell you my story with honesty in all things.  That was then and I am alas, always me. Those life experiences have brought me to who I am now.

And so to tell the story properly, in context I must relay my thoughts as I had them then so all of you can follow the narrative as it occurred.

He’d cause quite a ruckus and the neighbors would call the police.  I think it’s important at this point to mention we didn’t have a telephone.  This man would hear the sirens and dash back up the stairs to his apartment.  He’d actually get arrested but as his fate had it he was released the next day, out on bail each time in fact.

Three separate times he was arrested and 3 times he returned the very next day.  From what little information anyone had on him, he worked at a car dealership; we’re guessing he got them to bail him out?  That’s the rumor we caught in the wind but who really knows and what did that really matter?

It was approximately an 11 to 13 day period in which this went on at the rate of about every other day.  As I mentioned a few moments ago he seemed to wait and watch for me.

One afternoon round about 2 o’clock, the upstairs man came down and immediately began kicking at my front door.  He shouted crude language continually kicking at our door.

I slightly moved aside the window’s curtain to peek out at him.  To my complete disbelief I see in his hand, there’s a pistol.

I swiftly directed Diana to make haste and with the children go into the bedroom.  Not being able to come up with any further plan of action, I was right behind them heading into the bedroom, the only thought being, ‘this could buy us a few precious seconds.’

We sat on the floor under the window and I quickly told her about the gun our neighbor was brandishing.  I raised myself up to look out the window there hoping to see someone downstairs, anyone I could ask to contact the police.  I look out the window there hoping to see someone downstairs, anyone I could ask to contact the police.

At first I saw no one and I turned to look at Diana and the children.  She held them tight.  The poor little things, my son looked frightened, his parents not behaving normally and our daughter well, she’s just being a baby.  Our son softly whimpered but I know Diana encouraged him to stay quiet and fortunately the baby didn’t choose now to test her lungs.

I’m almost certain my wife saw the panic in my eyes.  I looked out the window again and this time I saw a man down there in the alleyway.  ‘Oh thank God!’ I thought to myself.  This man was swerving along his way and for any number of reasons that could’ve been the case why, it was not important to me.

I knew we had a glimmer of hope now and so, shouted out to him through the open window to please make haste and get the police.  I spat out there was a man at my front door with a gun and there are small children in here.

I‘m pretty sure he listened, he looked at me yet he did not respond.  The man then continued swerving along his path.  My heart sank.  Diana looked at me with pleading eyes that cried, Urgent, I’m scared!

At this point I thought for sure it was the end for us.  And then I sank back down to the floor, desperately looking at Diana and my 2 children.  ‘I fear this is it, there’s no one to help us,‘ my voice trailed off.  I took hold of my son and she held our daughter tighter still.

In my mind all I could see now was a dreadful scene of us dying together, as a family.  I really tried to shake it off … I just didn’t know what to do.

 

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