95. Vinh Cam Ranh – Việt Nam

We had traveled just over 660 nautical miles, a near 2 days journey when we reached our new destination of this amazing assignment.  Because you see, in spite of some hair-raising predicaments which I had found myself in so far, I was really being amazed.

And now, to carry on about my last stop in Việt Nam, which of course at the time, I didn’t know this would be as such.  

So, in the Khánh Hòa Province of Việt Nam, Vinh Cam Ranh (the Vietnamese way to say Cam Ranh Bay) is beautifully situated on the southeastern coast.  And if I were to grab a jeep and drive north east out of Sài Gòn, I’d travel about 180 miles.

You know I gotta tell ya, I really was amazed when I learned of this extraordinary deep-water bay.  What makes it such a special place is that its waters are well, very deep as they are met, immediately off the coast.  

And then there’s the way it’s located at this particular inlet off the South China Sea; it seems to bring year-round protection from a temperamental ocean for anchored ships in the bay.

Notwithstanding there’s some protection assistance in that area from the peninsula jutting out from the northeast at the bay’s forefront as well.  And it was here we temporarily became part of the impressively expansive U.S. Naval sea and air base.  I’m pretty sure all of our Forces, some allied too I think, utilized the area.  

By now there was one thing I became accustomed to and that was listening for the sound of the heavy cable lowering anchor; that way I knew we’d arrived at our new home for however long -which at this point really seemed irrelevant- it would be.

Officially parked and dinner was served.

Early in the next morning I began feeling very, very sick; gut-wrenching stomach cramps and oh I just knew I wouldn’t be able to do the breakfast shift, to say the least.  

My co-worker/roommate Dan, quickly called upon our CS Phil, and he rushed to our room.  Taking only a couple of moments to look me over, he radioed the Captain.  Shortly thereafter, Skipper arrived at my bedside.  

He took his turn at looking me over, “Oh you don’t look so hot my friend,” he said with a slight grin, then added, “I’m gonna send you out for repairs!”  And with that he nodded to Phil who clearly knew what that meant.  

I was too busy clenching my fists and grinding my teeth to be laughing and carrying on with Skipper’s sense of serious humor as he left my room, “Now who’s gonna fix my breakfast just right and make my coffee?” he said to no one.

Phil called the radio operator and it was all arranged before I even knew what was coming; the Air Force Hospital had been notified of my arrival.  Within I’d say no more than half an hour, I was blanketed and strapped into a basket.  

I was alert enough to notice the cable (as in the only thing between my pathetic self and the chopper) only raised slightly up into the Huey and oh my goodness, if I wasn’t so distraught in pain, I quite possibly would’ve declined the ‘lift’ -no pun intended.

And there I was, dangling precariously (to me most certainly) in the sky, riding a freewind, airlifted to a waiting ambulance at the shore and they took me to the Air Force Hospital up on the hill.  And while quite simple a process this was in the eye of a professional, for me, all I can say is, what a ride, short and not so bad after all!

After I’d been loaded into the ambulance, I remember looking out of windows on both sides.  More than anything in all the surroundings, I took notice of the ever so many jeeps.  For whatever reason, this picture burned its image in my mind.

When I arrived at the hospital, staff was waiting to take me in immediately.  Ha, ha! star treatment must’ve been on the Skip’s good word?  Admitted immediately, no time was wasted sticking me with needles and drawing my blood.  Oh if I could only call Diana!

I was on an unplanned, mandatory mini-vacation of sorts …well it’s what I told myself anyway.  For whatever reason it took nearly 2 days to determine what was my ailment.  

And that, of all things, was food poisoning.  Rather interesting I thought as I hadn’t eaten for several hours before the pain began.  

Oh yes and I just want to add one more thing to this segment.  I remember at 5a each morning, if one is well enough (and able of course) to sit up, you sat up!   

A Colonel, possibly a General or the Base Commander would stop in to see the patients; a morale boost I’m thinking. 

And on the 3rd day I was well enough to surrender my mini vacation.  The hospital discharged me and I was promptly returned to my ship. Well, for nothing else, a good rest was had and there were no more Huey rides.

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91. “We’re Americans, Don’t Shoot!”

Day 5:  Sài Gòn.  Two of us, my cabin-mate (I’ll call him Dan) and I are busy sucking down a few ice cold beers in one of the bars and as was becoming the norm, flanked by local femme fatales.  Before we realized how late it was, already we had broken the curfew missing our boat back to the Trans Western.  

Desperate to get outta there we made quick inquiry for a way to return to our ship, to anyone who’d listen.  We needed someone with a boat who’d take us out to the anchored ships, for pay of course.  One Vietnamese man with very little English stepped up to the job.  We three made haste to his boat.  

So now we’re putt-putting through the dark waters under black velvet skies, studded with stars brilliant as diamonds.  I see little twinkling lights of the ships anchored all around the harbor.  

In my mind I’m thinking, how on earth are we gonna find our ship in all of this?  They seem so close to each other from a distance but as we get nearer, they’re all really far apart from one another.

Marines on constant patrol are no doubt hearing the putt-putt of the small gasoline engine of this little man’s smallish boat.  Suddenly there were two spotlights splashing us in harsh white light and our boatman quickly shuts off his motor; he definitely doesn’t want to get his ass shot off in any language, of that I’m sure!

Feeling the panic, Dan thinks quick and takes off his tee shirt.  He stood up and began to wave his white shirt, “Don’t shoot, we’re Americans!” he yelled out in fright.  I didn’t think twice and removing my shirt, I too stood up and did the same. ‘Don’t shoot, Americans, we’re also American!’  

We’re waving our shirts and they’re getting closer; upon reaching us, I’m guessing they relaxed only a small bit, assessing we are most likely harmless.  

They cuss us out. “What the hell are you guys doing out here after curfew …(then pointing the barrel of their guns at the boatman)… with him!?”  ‘We missed our boat outta town and … and we made a desperate decision’, I nervously explained.  

They talked amongst themselves for a moment and then ordered us to climb aboard their boat.  The Vietnamese man was also brought on board.  His little boat was tied up to theirs and after identifying us with our ID cards, we were transported to the Trans Western.  

Boy did we get an ass-chewing and that was just by the Marines who picked us up!  The Skipper had yet to have his go on us.  Upon arrival we had to of course, be re-identified to the guard soldiers on board our ship; up the rope we went.  

The patrolling Marines left with the little man still in their custody; I’m thinking most likely they escorted him back to shore.  This type of scene may have happened to others before us and most probably would occur again in the years to come.  

Dan and I made tracks for the mess hall.  All this excitement made for a great appetite.  A few of the Marine soldiers were down in the galley enjoying some grub.  

We made fresh coffee, tuna fish sandwiches with some crunchy pickles and proceeded to eat as though that would fix anything.  I tell ya, what a night!  To our immediate relief, the Skipper’s ass-chewing was not on tonight’s menu.  

Retiring to our cabin I was on autopilot until my head finally hit my pillow and I was able to think for a moment.  I was filled with gratitude that my butt was not blown to bits by the US Marines!  Or anyone else for that matter.

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66. A Sense of Belonging …

From Summer Place forward, Diana and I went out and around with one another every weekend.  We were certainly entertained enough with what we were doing together yet we hadn’t committed to exclusivity.

Then the time had come in both our minds that I should meet her family.  Her parents were previously divorced and so it would be one at a time meetings.  Besides that her mother and sister had returned to the Midwest after the separation.   

I met her father and I felt he approved of me, at the very least, as his eldest daughter’s companion.  Now I said it this way because interracial relationships were still not easily accepted.

The only real prejudice I had previously encountered in my life was that over religious views.  California was certainly more relaxed than say, the Midwest states where her parents were raised and there was just a little concern that her relationship with me might’ve been frowned upon.  

We weren’t discussing marriage or anything and she assured me that her parents were well aware of her lifelong interest in all aspects of foreign cultures; this shouldn’t be too difficult for them.  

Well the fact is we got along quite well.  He really liked me as a human being and I felt him to be genuine.  One day he invited Diana and myself to dinner at a real nice restaurant in Westwood Village.  

Halfway through our time there at the table, Diana’s father gently placed his hand on our waitress’s hand when she stopped by, yet again with her very big smile and he said, “Doris I’d like you to meet someone.  You already know my daughter … and this is her wonderful friend, Parma.”

I knew it!  I had been pondering the obvious friendliness between Diana’s dad and our waitress.  Maybe they were just casually flirting? I thought.  Here it is, confirmed.  He had a real nice friend there who quite clearly was looking out for him and as a bonus, a nice 20% discount (he told us later) whenever he dined there.  As a single man that turned out to be quite often.

My days and nights moved along at a steady pace and that brings me around to the autumn.  🍁 One day a tenant called me to help her move something heavy in her place. I accidentally left my apartment door open when I went there.  In that time frame someone came into my residence and stole a few things.

Naturally I was alarmed and informed the owner of the building.  She in turn released me from my position and I found myself suddenly unemployed.  In fact she took me to court suing for I cannot even remember what but the judge dismissed the charges.  Apparently he had better things to do.

I say take that whole scenario any way you will because I know what I thought about it.  As might be expected I filled ‘mom’ in on what happened.  In her ever-luvin’ way she said to me, “Honey you never mind all that, I’ll fix things up for you.”  Mrs. Elson had another set of friends up Hollywood way and I found myself in a similar situation up there; resident caretaker of tenants.

As was anticipated Diana and I were still right on track even though we weren’t as close, geographically speaking.  She remained in Westwood and I now lived on Sherbourne Drive.

I was given a nice furnished studio apartment and also had a sort of guardian looking out for me.  This would be an older lady, a very dear friend of ‘mom’ – she’d call me over to her place for coffee or something to eat and ask me how I was getting on, a personal evaluation if you will.  

And Dave’s mom still called up regularly to check on me. We certainly didn’t want a repeat of the previous scene.  Speaking of Dave, we still found time to hang out together and we were both glad of it.  And whenever I could I’d give him advance notice of Diana’s visit, he’d happily make arrangements for the 4 of us to double date.

Out came the lite blue Ford Fairlane 500 again and off we’d go!  A favorite place of ours to dine at was up Malibu way. Just pick up your rotary dial telephone and place the call to GLENWOOD 7 2567 for your table!  We’d take the drive on Pacific Coast Highway to Trancas Restaurant at Zuma Beach for the best swordfish steaks ever.

Back up into Hollywood, the tenants of the building I looked after were nice people.  They all seemed to have everything they needed and most of the times, I was just called upon to help them bring up their groceries from their car.  

And though not in lifeguard capacity, I attended the swimming pool too.  I really felt comfortable here in Hollywood.  Yes the Hollywood of the late 50’s … hindsight, where are you?

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GLENWOOD 7 2567      love those phone numbers of the past.