82. Sorry, Say Again … This Ship Is Headed Where?

The next afternoon when Morris returned from work, we shared a lite meal and then he drove me the just over 30 miles east towards Concord -to the USCNWS to be exact.  

It was near dark by the time we arrived at the gate of this high security dock.  We looked curiously at the sign reading Concord Naval Weapons Station but really I didn’t think too much about it at that moment.  

I felt privileged to utilize for the 1st time my security clearance card which got us both into the facility.  We were instructed on where to park the car and told to walk over to the one and only ship at the dock.  It was the Trans Western ship to which I was assigned.  Again my identification was checked.

Morris was still carrying my suitcase for me and was allowed to walk onto the ship as well.  It was the Chief Steward who I was instructed to look for, one deck up.  He would be the one to give me further instructions which of course would include more paperwork.  

We found him soon enough.  He was friendly and didn’t seem to mind stopping his routine to break and usher me through the steps.  He mentioned I would meet up with the ship’s skipper tomorrow.

Morris’ curiosity has his eyes roaming our surroundings and he’s still standing beside me when the CS asks me this, “Do you know where we are headed to?”  

Actually no, I didn’t and said as much.  Immediately I also added my intentions which of course were to head to Fiji.  Yes Fiji and well, the CS laughed at this.  

Not understanding his laugh I cracked a little smile too; he saw this on my face.  He replied, “Did you happen to see what’s being loaded on to this ship?”  I answered him telling him I did notice the cranes loading the ship but I really had no idea what the payload consisted of.

“I’m afraid we’re headed in an entirely different direction.  Those are napalm bombs man, we’re headed to Vietnam!”  I was struck with disbelief and definitely in shock.  “It’s too late Blue, you already signed the papers back at the Seafarers’ Union.  Sorry to tell you this,” the CS shook his head, “..the rest of the paperwork to be signed, you’ll do with the skipper tomorrow.”

It’s true, I did sign the papers yesterday and now I would have to comply.   It was time for Morris to leave me, he was speechless until he found his voice and then, he assured me he’d get ahold of Diana and give her the news.  

There was nothing I could do, nothing.  I knew I wasn’t going back to Los Angeles till I didn’t know when.  I was headed into a terrible war zone.

When isn’t war terrible?  

I was absolutely floored, Morris was gone and now I’d have to shift gears in my thoughts and behavior, my attitude.  I had to get used to the idea of this radical change in my life.  It was a definite change that would affect my entire family, only I had no idea exactly how.

The Chief Steward, I’ll name him Phil, quickly picked up the pieces of a shell-shocked young man in front of him and took me to show the cabin I’d occupy; I would be sharing it with one other young fellow.  

Along the way we stopped to grab the linens necessary for me in my new home for however long it would be.  I would leave my suitcase there and then we’d tour the ship.

There was much to show me and soon enough (not that I really forgot my earlier surprise.  No, no!)  I was in grateful-to-be-employed mode and absorbing all the information which I knew would be useful to do the best in my job.  

Phil told me I wouldn’t be working in the main dining room.  Instead I was assigned to the captain himself.  I was to attend the skipper and at meal time, the officers of the ship were part of my space.  He showed me everything there was to see on this ship, offering tips and advice to be as comfortable as possible.  

“Anything you feel like eating, you just let the chef know,” he offered.  He also told me I was welcome to come into the kitchen and grab a snack or anything I needed in a moment, permission already granted.

Phil asked me if I wanted some dinner and honestly I was lacking an appetite.  I wonder why.  I had a cup of coffee and retired to my room.  I unpacked my things into the dresser/closet thing beside my bed.  

While there was a bed next the window I chose the one beside the door.  I made my bed, washed up and fell asleep, knowing I’d be sharing my rude awakening with my wife tomorrow.

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Concord Naval Weapons Station –  located in north-­central California about 70 miles southwest of the capital of Sacramento, in Contra Costa County. 

napalm bombs – often referred to as the  jellybomb; there’s a website called GlobalSecurity.org which gives the lethal, grim description of this weapon saying napalm can have a gel-like consistency, which would cause it to stick to the designated targets.

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.  

 

79. Heart Wrenching Fever

I’m feeling the need to recap slightly.  

Seven and a half years have now passed since I left my island home of Fiji to settle in America.  I’m feeling desperate to see my family.  I needn’t reiterate the hefty price tag attached to this desire of mine.  

A seed planted in my brain way back in my youthful Fiji days came to mind.  There was a friend of mine who had told me, “If you want to see the world, work on a ship!”  He worked on the SS Mariposa and if you can recall I did actually take his advice.  More to the current situation I previously stated the possibility of my working on a Merchant Marines ship going in that direction.  

This would make the visit a reality and at the same time I’d earn money for the support of my children as my family is my first and foremost dedication.  I’m seeing it as a win, win!  C - theatre dtlaSusan and Lisa right next door made it extra comforting.  Then Diana wouldn’t feel lonely and she’d have help with the children; the family is there for one another.  So let’s pick up from there.  

During this time, I asked around to people who may have worked or are currently working on passenger/cargo ships.  

I was advised to take a trip up to San Francisco where the Seafarers’ Union was located.  They would help me land a job on a ship a lot easier than if I tried without the Union in the Los Angeles area.  That was the word at the docks.

Again Diana and I had a serious discussion to reiterate my determination and what all would be involved.  The plan was made to go up north and clearly I would be taking this trip on my own.  I would move around faster and get straight to the points, not to mention financially, it would be easier.

As fate chose to have its way, a couple of days prior to my leaving for San Francisco both of our sons somehow became very ill and with rising fevers.  

We took them to the family doctor who after looking them over and in all his current wisdom made his diagnosis,  “… so keep them cool and be sure they take in as much clear fluids as possible.  Constantly check their temperature and if it doesn’t break bring them immediately to the emergency room!”  It was pneumonia and he wrote a prescription.

We returned home with the boys and their prescribed medication.  I prepared a large bowl with ice cubes and cold water, putting in some face towels.  We placed the cold towels on their foreheads and patted down their little bodies in hopes of relieving their fevers.  

For whatever reasons, this wasn’t working; Diana and I didn’t hesitate for a moment in getting them to the emergency room at Saint John’s Hospital.

Straight away they took in both of the boys.  Amar our eldest, was placed into a bath of ice cold water in hopes of reducing the fever swiftly.  They had taken the younger Alok into a different room.

The emergency room staff’s efforts with Amar worked and soon after, his fever broke.  They would release him after a couple of observation hours.  Diana and I were to say the least, relieved in that good news.  In the same moments we were being informed of their efforts with Alok in that, they were not so successful.

Of course we knew it was absolutely necessary to keep Alok in the hospital overnight at the very least, he simply must win this battle with the unrelenting fever which reduced itself only ever so slightly.  

We quickly talked it over and Diana took Amar home while I stayed in the room with Alok.  His tented bed was oxygenated and at the same time would keep out any nasty germs.  I promised my wife I’d call before bedtime and update her of his progress.  

I was so completely distressed to see my little baby boy lying there, knowing that I was helpless to do anything more but pray.  In light of my traumatic heart ache a few years back, I admit, I was scared.

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