99. Afloat, Towed and Finally Docked 🇯🇵

Our vessel was being washed with salty waves of the Philippine Sea as she pushed herself through this part of the Pacific Ocean.  I wondered how much longer till we’d reach our designated Japanese port of Yokohama.

Relief from the turbulent storm as well as from the Skip, it couldn’t come soon enough.  Our Captain has been fed and even better was that I would have my breakfast and boy did I savor the feast I requested!  The Officer’s saloon was empty save for this little brown man eating alone in a sea of white table linens.  I had what looked like a mini-banquet laid out for at least 2 or 3 but it was all mine.

CS Phil walked in, saw me tucking-in and with a grin he addressed me, “I see you’re enjoying your breakfast?  We’ve got a lot to do this morning so eat well and report to me just as soon as you’re finished in here!”  He knew, as did the Captain, they could count on me to be present and attend to my duties.  

A moment here and there to myself, they allowed me.  Ha ha! I remember one time when I slipped onto the Captain’s chair on the Bridge.  Whaat?!  I went in there to ask him a question, he wasn’t in there.  I had turned to walk out when I realised I was looking at his vacant chair.  I so wanted to see what it felt like to sit in it!  As I observed the present crew, they all had their focus out on the sea.

No further thought and I was in the chair!  Oh it felt real nice!  Truth?  I felt like a little kid playing Captain of his own ship!  I dare not stay perched too long, wouldn’t want to get caught!  

I kept a little stereo in the saloon and when no one else was around, I listened mostly to my Indian music cassette tapes.  I can fondly recall Captain occasionally coming down to the saloon to grab a coffee or something and if my music was playing, I’d see him enter the room bopping and groovin’ to the music’s beat.  

The expression on his face was as if there wasn’t a care for him in all the world … at least in that moment.  I can’t tell you how much delight this brought me.  It would be one of those feel good moments amidst such situations I found myself in!

As our ship traveled her hindered pace through the ocean, it would be just after midnight of the second night/third morning, four mighty strong towboats came out to us from Japan, to bring us the rest of the way in.  

I found myself going outside at least 3 times to watch these little (but very powerful) boats hauling us to safety!  It was about a 20 hour tow into the Yokohama Port.  Thank goodness the seas cooperated for a mainly uneventful tow.

With the patched-up holes, the busted boilers and the somewhat shakey disposition of our well-being it was good to see some excited hubbub begin to surface among a lot of the crew. 🎼 “These Boots Are Made For Walking” was once again blaring out of the father & son cabin.  Cold beers and happy conversations were passed all around.  

I took to my cabin fairly early that evening.  Dan, my cabinmate was in and out, visiting with his friends.  I just relaxed and enjoyed the calming float on the sea.

We arrived at Yokohama Harbor late that night. 

The two tugboats which were to either side had left us and the two in front brought us near to our parking spot for however long we’d have to be there.

Our ship was braced and tied in to place during the night while we slept.  Physical examination begins under the flood of lights so bright, one would mistake for daylight.

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横浜港  The port is located at a latitude of 35.27–00°N and a longitude of 139.38–46°E

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 Việt Nam and the war region.  I overheard, “Anything goes!”  Well that sounded a lot like the 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 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 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 takes 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.”  I took a moment or three to let that statement sink in.

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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