97. Alphabet Sea With White Paper Crests

In the wee hours of the dark sea morning, we were already on our way to France before my necessity to be awake.  

Up and at it, for Skip’s breakfast needed serving.  I tidied up the Captain’s quarters after having my breakfast.  Then priority duties and my cabin were the remainder of the morning.  

Now while it was known that I knew the ins & outs of my job like the back of my hand, Phil must always inspect everything to cover his own Chief Stewardly butt.  Did I stock the upstairs saloon with fresh everything for the normal day’s wants?  Are the Captain’s quarters exactly as it should be?  

Last post I mentioned the main bulletin board just outside the Bridge; there was a second board just outside the mess hall … posts were consistently on white paper and it wasn’t long [the days in & out] before black type-written words were like a sea of alphabet,  just floating around an ocean of white papers.

About 9:30 that morning I got a surprise … well really, we all did.  I was walking out of the mess hall towards my morning deck time when an outstanding colored piece of paper on the bb caught my attention.  

I read the words.  There was my surprise, a change of destination; France was scrapped.  Now instead of due west, a slight adjustment due northeast was already being made by the time I finished reading the notice. 

Just as this was sinking into my brain, I heard Skipper’s voice over the P.A. announcing our new destination to be …Yokohama.  Japan 35.4434°N 139.7024°E 🇯🇵

Wow!  Well considering I’d never been neither to Europe or Japan, an adventure was still in my forecast.  I went about my stroll on deck knowing I’d have to get back inside real soon.  Lunch duties were close at hand.  

I noticed the waves seemed a bit busier than they had been the past couple of days but hey, isn’t that exactly what the ocean does, keep one guessing?  I’ve always enjoyed anything I’d experienced on the open sea, so, bring it on!

The rest of the day went along as my usual routine always did.  All of us, we were rather excited to be going to Japan, so much so that we held a little party later that evening after dinner and duties were complete.  

What fun would a bunch of guys have, enclosed together on a moving ship?  Well let’s see, we’re negotiating the South China & Philippine Seas, set on to yet another voyage and this time,  just over 1700 nautical miles!  

We were most prepared with excellent meals and lots of cold beer, exchanging plans about what we would possibly do in Japan, and most importantly thankful we safely left Vietnam behind.

I turned in a little later than usual and slept solid for about 4 hours.

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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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87. Some Things Do Change

We’d only be reminded once; miss the boat coming back, guilty of not obeying the rules, considered on our own and most critical of all, placing ourselves at grave risk.  Curfew is impressed upon us and well, bottom line, I had no interest in finding myself in this position.

For legitimate reasons, war zone dinner time was bumped up by about an hour. The best result of this in my mind was how it freed up the crew for the rest of the evening.  We were eager young men looking for adventures. After clean-up and the next morning’s breakfast set-up, we readied ourselves to go ashore.

Our ship soldiers were fed dinner and ready for rotation with the swing shift. These morning Marines were also our ride into town.  It would be the graveyard shift Marines who’d return us to the ship and we’d best be on their boat coming back this way.

Bright Lights & City Nights.  The Marines installed for safety on our ship, these very large lamps. They’d burn bright, one forward, one aft, and aimed down at the water surrounding our ship, all night, every night.  I must say I did feel rather unassailable with all that the Marines were doing to keep the ship, its contents, us included, safe, day and night.

Getting ahead of the story with a personal thought here; I wished I would carry an AK-47 with me whenever I went ashore.  Man I tell ya, once the soldiers allowed myself and a couple of the other guys to hold and get a feel for their weapons which had become an extension of their own bodies.  

Admittedly it grew on me real fast!  They demonstrated the gun and then offered to let us shoot them.  We were surprised but accepted the offer of course! The guys made certain we understood that we would only discharge the weapon into the ocean.  I fired off a few rounds aimed at the sea.

For many reasons I’ll say here and now, what an insane time that was.  War I mean and the way people’s thoughts change … doing things which under other circumstances may never have taken place?

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