94. Anchors Up! Onward to Subic Bay

Easy targets required a strategic move …

Our ship, along with several others were instructed to relocate immediately.  In the first place we were never in a favorable location along the Vietnamese coastline but there we were, sitting ducks just waiting to get blown out of the water.  With this sudden (?) urgency our ships made haste!  

Traveling over 1000 nautical miles and 4+ days later, we arrive at Subic Bay, an American Naval base in the Philippines.  Our ship would remain here for a few weeks; we were still loaded with the greater percentage of Napalm cargo.  

While docked here, my normal work routine continued and so did the shore visits.  I remember the first time out.  For a day trip into Manila, a bunch of us would gather to take an air-conditioned bus ride into the city.  Feeling excitement once more for a place I’d never been, I took a seat on the bus and for the most part, would quietly gaze out the window.  I looked back only for a moment to see my ship get left behind.

I admired the coconut trees (reminder of home) situated in the back and forefront of passing scenery along open spaces.  There were plenty of farm lands most of which were being toiled by beasts of burden & human labor alike.  

We passed a little village or three and the roads shaped up nicely.  Manila, she formed  gradually in the near distance.  In eager focus on what lay ahead, I noticed tall buildings rising as we drew near and before I knew it, we’d arrived.

There were these brightly painted bus-like modes of transportation driving all over the place and I tell ya, what a site to see!  At the very moment of my wonderment, I overheard someone on our bus say to another curious passenger, “…these are called Jeepney.”  Besides being colorful, there were balloons, flowerpots and toys on sticks hanging off the sides and well, so much more including people!

We get off somewhere in what felt like the middle of town and began walking around.  It didn’t take long at all to feel a bit weary in this heat.  We had been cruising in and out of shops and eventually our only focus became search for the nearest bar and frankly, that wasn’t hard to do.

I was all but soaking wet and yes, it was definitely time to have an ice cold beer.  Truth be told, one didn’t even have to walk anywhere, simply being outside was enough to do the trick!  We’d leave one bar to go into another couple of shops only to make our way to the next bar along an unplanned route.  It was just hot and I was constantly thirsty for the next cold beer.

Something else I can clearly recall is just how nice the people seemed to be.  I mean they had a relaxed feeling about them and a smile was received from nearly everyone I made eye contact with.

One week later we had to return to one of the Vietnamese ‘parking lots’ as our cargo was once again needed.

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93. Children Shouldn’t Play With Hand Grenades

In bewildering fascination, Saigon, formerly the capital of French Indochina, held me captive for about a week.  The rich blend of people, some in fancy western threads and others staying true to their native attire, were walking about in a fairly normal city scene.  

Some were shuttled around in decent cars and yes, there were clunkers to be seen as well.  Others took cyclos without a second thought and there were quite a few people going about on bicycles.  Then of course there were the troops going from here to there on foot and in military transport.

The smells coming from restaurants, fresh food vendors and street-food stalls were definitely interesting and I found some delicious too.

While sitting in a local bar on yet another sweltering hot evening, engaged in the usual sipping of ice cold beer, I was startled by what I was certain to be the sound of an explosion.  A little shaken to be sure but more so curious, I walked over to the open doorway and peered out.  A couple of more distant bangs followed.

The scene outside was that of the city’s people going about their daily routines, intermixed with our G.I.s and some foreign visitors … and children playing around the streets.  I then heard a siren in the distance.

Seeing nothing out of the ordinary I returned to my table, not really sure what to think or how to react.  I say this because most everyone else in the bar seemed relatively calm about the boom and bangs.   

Timing such as it was, these bangs became the discussion at our table.  My friends and I were told by a couple of Marines standing at the bar, to be aware of the children and youthful people here; perhaps an occasional grandparent too.  They must’ve sensed my concern.  

There have been occasions wherein children pretending to play ball outside, were actually culprits of (most likely forced) no good actions.  They were usually near an establishment where a good number of G.I.s were to be found.  A ‘ball’ would roll inside.  

Now either someone will pick it up and roll it back outside or it was ignored but sometimes, before one could realize it, kaboom!  Not only the visually dense population of American and Allied troops but the average citizen of South Việt Nam, all were targets in this damned war.  

And as was the wartime usual, you couldn’t really trust anyone.  Decidedly we were unable to distinguish the difference between North and South Vietnamese citizens; who had the grenade … or worse?

As if on cue, a ball rolled in through the open doorway and right then and there, my heart stopped beating.  I was sure of it because I don’t remember taking another single breath!

After what seemed like forever but only a moment or two later, a youthful lad came in after it and took it back out straight away.  Clearly I’m still here to say, that wasn’t a hand-grenade, or for that matter any other exploding device that evening.

Towards the end of our Việt Nam stopover I wanted to stay back in the city for an overnight.  Though I knew I’d have to rise before the morning sun to get back to the ship via the 5a boat at shore, I will admit I chose to engage a female companion and so retained a hotel room.  

It was after only a few minutes of being in this room (probably for the best) when the moment about to be, was disturbed.  There was sudden (again with the heart-stopping) and loud non-stop banging.  I instantly opened the door to see guns staring me down.  

There were 4 that I could see and two of them were pushing their way into my room; these gunslingers didn’t wait for an invitation to enter.  They briefly looked around.  I definitely wasn’t going to argue or question these 2 Vietnamese (n or s? don’t know) soldiers with -credit to my imagination- itchy trigger-fingers on those cold & scary (what looked like) AK-47s, surely loaded and ready to shoot!

No English was spoken and they left shortly after arrival, taking the girl with them.  The only conclusion I arrived at was the girl must’ve been North Vietnamese, posing as a South Vietnamese family girl.  Or was it the other way around?

Okay I’d finally had enough of my own shenanigans; no more shore time for this boy, I would stay in the ship for our remainder of this Việt Nam stopover.

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68. My First Love Calls Me Back

I found myself missing the northern California city by the Bay just a bit …apparently I really did leave my heart in San Francisco.

C - View up to Coit tower -signed

Diana’s father Ralph was working for McDonnell Douglas and had been a divorced man for a while now so he had a little extra room in his home.  That turned out to be a big help for us when we returned from our Mexicali adventure.

Ralph had previously made the offer to shelter us and so Diana and I moved into his place, temporarily of course.  I’m so glad I got along famously with her father, really blessed.

Diana and I talked between ourselves and with her dad about what we ought to do next and it was decided fairly quickly, less than a week in fact that we ought to give San Francisco a try as a newlywed couple.  Why not? With a little guidance from Ralph we made the choice to move.

My father-in-law took a couple of days leave and drove us up north.  We got a hotel room and Ralph spent the night with us before turning around and going back to Los Angeles the next day.

We were pretty lucky in that in 2 days time we found a nice apartment up on a hill, it may have been on Ellis.  This was absolutely perfect. A furnished one bedroom, one bathroom with a kitchen, living room, yes it had a great view and there was a staircase leading up to the roof for even more enjoyment!   

One evening very soon after settling into our apartment in San Francisco the two of us were discussing employment.  I told my wife I should try the Italian restaurant where I worked before; I felt confident about the way I left their employ and I near completely trusted they’d take me on.  

I then suggested to Diana she try for a position at the Government of India Tourist Office (at 685 Market Street), the very same one I used to walk past nearly everyday.  She smiled bright at the thought but then said, “You really think they’d want to hire me, a non-Indian?”  

I reassured her this: with all I knew of her uncanny knowledge they’d be fool not to take her on.  I took hold of her hand, ‘How could they not want you?’  Well, that smile increased across her face and her confidence rose tremendously.  Diana has always been very intelligent, she knew I was correct in theory and well, that settled it.  The next morning we hit the streets of San Francisco together taking the bus down to Market Street.

After a brief interview Diana was hired on the spot.  They asked her to start that very next day. I know we were both pleased but she was extremely happy because she could now really put her knowledge to practical use and get paid for it.  We were both feeling pretty fantastic about things.  And it was also nearing lunch time, you know what that means!

We walked towards the ocean and over to the Italian joint I worked at before.  It was crowded but we got a counter seat. During the course of our meal, a couple of employees had recognized me, said hello and before I knew it the manager had come out to the dining room to greet me.

He approached with a big smile and reached out to shake my hand heartily; evidently he was happy to see me again.  He smiled at the lovely lady seated beside me and naturally I was real pleased to introduce my wife to him.  

Clearly he was happy for me.  He asked if we were in town just visiting and I told him we had moved up here.  “Are you interested in working?” came out in conversation and of course I responded, that would be desirable.  

The manager stated there were no openings at this city location.  However before I could pull too large a frowny face, he advised me to take a short drive south near to the airport, South San Francisco to be exact, and check in with their family owned second location.  

“They sure could use your help there.  I’ll call the manager and let him know you will come in …if you’re interested?” he finished with a sharp Italian smile.  We both nodded our heads and it was settled.

The next morning Diana and I left at the same time and after she got off the bus to go to work I made my way to Mission Street to take a bus heading south.  That’s it, one bus caught on Mission took me straight there, talk about convenience!

I was rehired at the Italian joint by the family at their second location, brought in as wait-staff and it was the perfect setup to pull in really great tips.  The boss here was a great guy too.  His employees were well taken care of, meals were included everyday and he often had parties up at his ranch to which he sometimes invited his employees and a guest.  

Life back in the arms of my first love was working out very well for me and my wife.

Not too long after we were set in our routine, I met a nice young Mexican man at a bar where I sometimes stopped in after work to have a cold beer and play some billiards.  We got to talking after he had asked me to shoot a game with him.  He asked if there were any openings at the place I worked.

Within the week there actually was an opening and I told him about it.  He went and applied and ended up getting the job. Good for him, glad I was able to help someone out.  He had a car and before we knew it, we had the same shift (breakfast and lunch) and we began carpooling to work.  Now I’m being helped, nice!

It wasn’t long before most of my friends from my previous life in San Francisco and I were back in touch and they started coming around again.  At first it was comfortable enough, there were delicious crab curry nights and always some ice cold beers to go along with that spicy 🦀 curry.

Now the scene was this: the guys are still single and eventually it began to make Diana uncomfortable and to be honest, myself included in that statement but just a little.  As for my wife, she was overcome with her emotions, her hormones and very soon it was discovered she was pregnant with our first child.  Understanding this from experience, I surely didn’t misunderstand her state of being.

I think it must have been her maternal instincts causing her to experience a driving force to return to Los Angeles.  As it turned out she’d received news that her mother and sister were also moving back to California from the Midwest.

We talked it over and it didn’t take much for the two of us to be in complete agreement.  It was going to be better for the both of us and our coming child to have the love and help of some family.  It would be her family’s first grandchild too.

For good references down the road, we gave proper notice to our employers and landlord, we both worked through the holiday season into the new year, Diana was in her 2nd trimester of pregnancy and we were making the preparations to return to the City of Angels.  

It was near the end of January in 1961 when we were back in the county of Los Angeles. As before we were welcomed with open arms by her dad for as long as we needed it.  In about 2 weeks time we were able to accomplish a lot.  We moved into a sweet little cottage set up in the back of a private home, just near to Montana, above Wilshire Boulevard on 20th Street and this was conveniently close to her father.

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Government of India Tourist Office 🇮🇳  (this particular office in fact) in the 60’s displayed in advertisement the ‘great sport of shikar’.  The goal was to entice the public to come to India and partake in killing the magnificent tigers of India, purely for one’s hunting pleasure and their own profit of tourist rupees no doubt.  I want to make clear neither LBM, Diana or myself support such a thing, never have.  It is shameful and regretful this ever happened.  I understand ‘Project Tiger‘ was launched in 1973, a conservation effort by the Indian Government but the damage had already been done.  I am glad to know India is taking this conservation effort even more seriously than ever to protect these beautiful wild cats.  To the best of LBM’s recollection, at the time of Diana’s employment in 1960, these advertisements were not yet posted.