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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75. Cry Baby, Cry!

1963 – it was in the beginning of October when we discovered Diana was once again with child.  Thankfully I was still working at the Hotel Miramar and this, so close to home.

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One day our landlord informed us of our (one and only) neighbor making complaints to him, about us.  To be exact the man next door said there was too much noise coming out of our apartment. Really?

He said our neighbor stated, “The children are always screaming, the baby’s crying and I can’t get any sleep, they keep me up all night!”  What?  

I looked at Diana, she at me, we then looked at him and both said in surprise, “The baby’s not even here yet!”  The owner assured us he knew what the man complained wasn’t entirely true.

“I can see that your baby is still baking,” gesturing with his hand towards Diana’s belly, he spoke with a smile of confirmation.  He also told us he knew the man enjoyed the drink rather a bit much.

Diana spoke up as any defending mother would, “I promise you our kids are very well-mannered.  They play quietly for the most part, more so than most anyway.”

Once more in agreement the landlord said, “We have not heard your kids screaming at any time.  Of course children will make noises and occasional squeaks. We all know this.  My wife and I have the impression this man isn’t completely stable.  It’s rather sad.  We were hoping he’d always just live quietly in his own space and mind his own business.”

And that’s probably exactly what this man was trying to do but the little squeaks and occasional louder squawks were possibly not doing him any favors.  We’ll never know.

More curious than ever and fueled by the knowledge that our neighbor was not pleased with us, we’d look out in his direction more often.

I’m sure you can understand why.  After what my family and I recently experienced at the Pico apartment, there was a slight hovering factor of uncertainty.

This man lived alone and never really seemed to come out of his apartment.  He was an older German man, tall and of medium build.  Diana being home more than I told me that whenever she saw him which was rarely, he always wore his large military coat, even in the heat of summer.  

Diana said she wondered how he ever got food into his apartment as she never saw him bringing up any groceries, nor was it noticed that anyone visited.

Well, now that you know what I know of the back story we’ll get to the interesting part.

It wasn’t long after the landlord spoke to us when one day this man came to my front door and started pounding severely on it.  It didn’t even start off as a friendly little knock.

You know the kind, pounding which suggests, “Hey it’s getting a bit loud over here.  Would you mind keeping the little brats quiet?” or something to that effect.

No gradual escalation, just straight up violent.  Of course Diana didn’t open the door … he’d go away.  Then about 2 weeks later, wherein he had done this same thing a couple more times, we’d had enough and placed our own complaint with our landlord; this was becoming a very uncomfortable situation.

It was the wee early hours of the morning when I was startled awake by what sounded very much like a gunshot.  No one came busting in through our door or windows so I wasn’t too concerned and fell back asleep.

It was about 9:30 in the morning, we were up of course, when we heard a serious pounding on the neighbor’s front door and apparently after no answer, the sound of something being busted.  

I’m saying it was the front door being kicked in.  Shortly after that there was a serious knock on our door.  It was the Santa Monica police asking us if we heard or saw anything during the night.  I told them I thought I heard something like a gunshot.

Not much later, two detectives came to us and asked a few questions.  It turns out this neighbor of ours wrote a final note, took his Luger pistol and ended his own life.   What?

A terribly sad thing about all of this -aside from the tragedy itself-  is that his note stated he couldn’t take the noise of the crying baby any longer.  Our son and daughter were 3 and 2 years of age at this time.

Diana and I both witnessed the sheeted body being brought out of the apartment, not giving us a good feeling at all.  And then it happened.

The man’s body must’ve not been securely strapped on to the gurney because as the coroner’s staff started down the steps, to our and everyone else’s horror, the body slipped right out of their control and completely off the gurney.  

It was surreal almost, seeing the corpse in a bit of a rigid state, as it tumbled down the stairs.  Just try to picture the scramble which took place right afterwards and so I’ll leave it to your imagination.

Suddenly Diana burst out into a hysterical and seemingly uncontrollable laughter.  It must’ve been a whammy, what else?

While there weren’t any immediate neighbors, the ones in close proximity were chatting away after the fact.  Diana spoke for a few moments with them.

Naturally the police had asked them too if there was anything noticeable about the man, providing any clues to his state of mind.  One person said they were aware that he seemed to always be upset.  

He briefly spoke to that person at some point saying, he was upset by his neighbor’s crying baby.  He said he couldn’t sleep at night.  This person said they told the man to look at Diana’s belly and he’d see for himself that the baby hasn’t been born yet.

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27. ⚓️Voyage Across the Indian Ocean, And This Time I’m the Passenger; 🛳R.M.S. Strathmore –

Puri and lamb curry, yum!!  Yes, you read it right, the meal served on board the TEAL flight from Nadi to Sydney helped eased any tensions I experienced up there in that wild blue yonder!  I’m trying real hard to remember this; I think it was about a 6-7 hour flight and I’m sure I took a good long nap.

When we landed in Sydney there was a bus which took those of us who were continuing on to the P&O Liner towards Bombay and beyond (London), to a Sydney hotel for the night.  I believe it was called the Wentworth.

One of the Beautiful White Sisters by which the five sister ships became known, was awaiting our boarding the next afternoon; the R.M.S. Strathmore.  There would be four ports of call en route to Bombay.

I was set-up in a cabin which was shared with a fellow Hindu passenger from Fiji; nice guy, calm and kept mainly to himself.  He too was headed for England.

From Sydney we traveled south along the Pacific Ocean, turning right to now head west through the Bass Strait with Tasmania port-side, to dock at Victoria’s Melbourne.  We arrived the next morning.  

How exciting!  This was the first time I traveled on a luxury liner not to mention, as a free-to-relax-and-enjoy passenger and not the ship’s staff!   It completely changed the dynamics of this journey.  A different aspect and certainly not one to be missed!

We were there till nightfall and then onward in a northwest direction, passing Kangaroo Island and to the next port of South Australia’s Adelaide.  Another morning arrival for a full day’s stop.  

Once more we depart in the evening for our continued journey out on the open sea.  As we traveled west as we made our way through where the Great Australian Bight mingles with the Indian Ocean.

We went around the southern tip of Western Australia to arrive at the next port of Perth.  This would be the ship’s final continental port; it was just over an 1100 nautical mile journey from Adelaide.  Our ship docked for the full day and night.

Morning came again, as she tends to do, and we put out to sea.  This time our voyage took us clean though the Indian Ocean, crossing the Equator and looking towards Ceylon.

The air at sea to me was sensational!  It wasn’t hot or cold, it was amazing, it felt so good, so comforting and in a big way, helped to heal my soul.

At just over 3100 nautical miles this voyage was four nights at sea, setting us into the Northern Hemisphere, and on the 5th day we docked in Colombo.

This port was calling to me and so I disembarked in Ceylon to pay my respects to this ancient land and also to see and taste whatever I could in a full day’s time.  I enjoyed my visit, I did.  The seafood I sampled was absolutely delicious!  

The sights were fulfilling, the people beautiful and finally, a bunch of us took a bus up to Kandy Mountain where I experienced a real visual treat!

The following morning our ship departed for what would be my final destination via the R.M.S. Strathmore; Bombay, India.

There was plenty to do on board.  While strolling the decks was certainly my favorite, besides sampling the morning and afternoon tea spread, there was swimming, bowling, shuffleboard, poker, dancing and mechanical horse racing too.  

I probably should’ve used the gym more often but I thought being skinny was good enough.  The ship’s library looked interesting but in the end I ignored that to!

The ship took us around the southernmost tip of India and now in the Arabian Sea we passed Kerala, Goa and finally reached Bombay.  This journey, just over 800 nautical miles took nearly 3 days.  We arrived in the dark hours of the early morning.  

After breakfast it was time to leave this ocean voyage behind me and begin my adventures in India.  On  my way to London of course!  I disembarked this beauty for the final time and touched the soil of my father’s homeland for the first time.

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Strathmore and her four sister ships were given white-painted hulls and buff-coloured funnels.

http://www.pandosnco.co.uk/strathmore.html

R.M.S. Strathmore  ~  After a little research I have discovered this ship belonging to P&O Steam Navigation Co was launched by the Duchess of York  (the Empress Consort of India, wife of King George VI and of course the Queen Mother), 10 days before I was born – how about that!