83. Still Tied Up at Dock …Fire in the Hold! 🔥 Fire in the Hold!

Next day.

I awoke and went to find Phil, the Chief Steward you’ll remember.  He showed me our Captain’s quarters, the rest of the quarterdeck, some basic supply areas and at last the private dining area.  

If I’m remembering correctly we were on the top deck now where this dining room was situated.  Phil told me it’s where the Skipper, First Mates, Engineers, etc., would have their meals.  “You’ll give them the menu after they’re seated and take their orders.  Well, you know what to do,” he said to me with confidence.  

“They’ll be coming up in about an hour,” he pointed out the coffee machine as he spoke along with the table linens, sink, refrigerator, dishes & silverware, you know all that stuff to lay a neat table for the officers in their exclusive dining room.  

I’d always have my right hand man to assist me in the dining room.  I would utilize the dumbwaiter system for the food to come up from the kitchen below.  At the end of the meals we’d make use of it again for the return of the meal dishes.  I would also wear a starched white waiter’s jacket and those were kept aside on a few hooks… always at least three or four clean ones.

At this time the ship wasn’t fully staffed so only a few crew I would tend to.  As they took their seats they introduced themselves to me and were kind.  When the Skipper came into the room Phil pointed him out.  

And when the diners departed the room, my assistant and I had our breakfast and then cleaned up, changing the table linens,  making sure the floor was cleaned up and putting everything put away.

Phil arrived in time to see that all was done.  “You’re off for the next three and a half hours till lunch duty so have your time.  Go ashore if you like or rest or whatever.  And yes, Masala you have an appointment with the Skipper at 2:30 this afternoon.  You’ll be done with the lunch well before that.  He’ll be expecting you in his quarters.”

I left the ship to walk around Concord and most important to call Diana myself.  I walked up to a pay phone, pick one, any one, there were many scattered about here and there.  I deposited my coins and made the call.

Yesterday Phil had provided much useful information to me of which now I would share with my wife.  After asking after Alok’s health, I asked about Amar and Asha (I was missing my children even more now that I realized I wouldn’t be seeing my family anytime soon … maybe even never again).

‘How are you doing?’  I gingerly asked her knowing what I was about to lay on her.  It didn’t sound as though she was suspicious so I began to let it roll out.  ‘I didn’t get the opportunity to sail in the direction of Fiji.’

“Oh no, why not?” she asked rather casually.  In the quiet moment that followed she then of course wanted to know, “When are you coming home?”  My heart began to beat a little faster as I replied, ‘I don’t know.’  Diana plainly put it forward, “What do you mean you don’t know?”

‘I’ve been assigned to one of many ships belonging to Hudson Waterways which has been contracted by the U. S. Government during this war.  This is what the Chief Steward has explained to me dear.’

I listened for a few moments for her feedback but all I would hear was her deep breathing and so I continued, ‘I’m headed for Vietnam at the end of this week and the return date is unknown.’  Heavy silence remained on her side for a moment longer. “Did I hear you say you’re sailing to Vietnam?”

I told her she heard right and I begin speaking quicker.  I fed her all the information I had.  Diana just listened … or fainted, I don’t know.  I added that I was now technically employed by the United States Merchant Marines.  I also said that I couldn’t get back to Los Angeles before we departed and that we would be sailing under the American flag as a division of the United States Coast Guard.  

For added comfort I added the fact that the U. S. Marines would always be protecting us.  We were after all transporting vital supplies for the war effort. “I don’t believe this is happening!”  Okay she was still with me on the phone.

I told her about the pay, how it would be administered and that when we were within the border of the war zone (hazard pay), it meant double pay.  I don’t know what comfort that really brought her at the moment but there, I put it all on the table.  I think harder than the fact of my destination was the realization that we couldn’t see each other before I left.

Vietnam would have plenty of time to sink in.  What else did we have?  I know I didn’t need to remind her but I did; Susan and Lisa being there really was such a huge advantage.  Diana told me the kids were playing with their cousin (Lisa’s son) having a happy time and so I chose not to speak to them on this call.  

Unless I said something to them about what was happening they wouldn’t know but hearing their voices I expected, would devastate me and so I did not speak to them.  To be sure I would on the next call.

Conversation about the rest of everything transpired, I gave her an address to where she’d be able to write to me (everything went through New York) and so it came to pass and I sensed Diana was attempting to project strength on her part, for my sake and that didn’t occur to me till after I hung up the phone and opened the glass door, stepping outside of the phone booth.

The meeting with the Captain went well and why wouldn’t it.  He seemed a nice man speaking plainly with me and also with decency.  We finalized my employment that afternoon.  The Skipper had asked me questions mainly in regards with pay distribution to my family and final wishes should the need arise.

“And if you choose to go ashore at any port, be it known it’s your own discretion.  Also you’ll be given a ‘shore allowance’ from your own pay if you require it, you need only ask.”  

I smiled when the Skipper mentioned all the ports we may encounter.  “Oh yes and if you choose to go ashore in the not-so-favorable parts of the world and get your ass blown off, know it’s your call.”

One day as the last of the supplies and bombs were being loaded, there happened a fire in the hold, the bay if you will.  A few of the guys (not your everyday warship crew) and myself panicked, having never been in such a situation before … ever, decided to run off the ship and were stopped at the gangway.  “Where you running off to?” we were questioned.

Blank looks on our face, wondering why we were stopped and told straight up, “If this ship blows the whole town goes up!”  It was clear we couldn’t outrun the explosion should one occur.  We remained on the ship.

The fire was quickly handled by the crew who (thank God) knew what to do and in the end well, in the back of my mind this fear would stay with me every night …day time too actually.

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50. An Unexpected Yet Benevolent Layover in Honolulu

🛳 My ship ticket was booked through only to Hawaii and then

The ship arrived in Honolulu and I was at the thrilling roundabout in my life; time to redeem my sealed envelope which carried the efforts I had been working on most of my life.  Standing in the immigration line still on board the ship, my adrenaline was certainly raised a bit more.

There was just a few of us and now it was my turn to come forward.  The sealed envelope was opened and along with my passport, I was recognized, stamped and received.  “Welcome to the United States.” the immigration officer said to me pleasantly.

I was given my golden ticket (legal resident-green card) and now I could leave the SS Orsova.  As I disembarked the ship, there was a line of island girls dressed in their grass skirts ready to greet us.  Aloha!  they warmly said to each one of us along with a few extra Hawaiian words I cannot recall exactly.  

Perhaps loaa i kou makaikai as they placed fresh and fragrant flower leis around our necks, each with a sweet and lovely smile.  Aloha indeed!  🌸

Going into the Customs Building I found a big locker to store my suitcase.  My flight was not until the night time so first thing on my to-do list, food!  

I called a cab and asked the driver to take me to a decent and nearby Chinese restaurant.  The man’s attitude was pleasantly laid back and he was more than willing to help.  He promptly delivered me to a street where there were a few eateries; I didn’t miss the Chinese writing on many of the business signs.  

I began to look into the windows hoping one would call to me quickly.  As I was looking into the window of this one restaurant, I saw how quickly the seats were filling – it was lunch time and now I am even more hungry because I’m smelling the food too.  

Remember I just disembarked a ship where I was constantly being fed!

As though breaking into my thoughts of a delicious lunch, the front door opened and a caucasian man stepped right up to me.  He said, “ I see you there and I think you were hoping to come in and have some lunch, am I right?”

I replied without thinking twice, ‘Yes I’d love to but I see there are no open tables.’  He smiled and said “Don’t worry about that, if you want you can join me as there’s no one else at my table.”  

I didn’t have to mull anything over when it came to the increasing sounds in my tummy and so with a gracious smile I went in with him, following him to his table.  We sat down and he handed me a menu.  He mentioned his order was already placed.  Right away I saw a couple of items I desired and ordered them.  My food came shortly after his hit the table.

He introduced himself as a basically retired U.S. Marine, having served during WWII and a few years after that; beyond Pearl Harbor, he loved the islands and decided to plant himself in Honolulu.  

This kind-hearted American man, James, would’ve been my dad, by age I mean to say.  He was at least 25 years my senior.  We enjoyed a wonderful conversation over lunch, and yes the food was good too.

James asking me where I was from, where I was going ….I told him I was from Fiji and he said, “Oh I know Fiji!”  and I told him San Francisco is where that evening’s flight would take me.  

Seeming slightly alarmed James said, “Oh Blue you’re gonna freeze over there, especially coming in from Fiji.”  I had to laugh at his unexpected concern for me.  

He thought to tell me that San Francisco is definitely into winter now and it’s very cold there.  He then made suggestion that I consider remaining in Hawaii, “…at least through the winter and let the western U.S. warm up a bit!” he said with a chuckle.

I thought that a marvelous plan but then I had to say, ‘I think that’s a great idea but I haven’t anywhere to stay, I mean to say I hadn’t planned on a detour.”

James didn’t miss a beat. “You should stay with me.  I have a big house and it’s only my wife and our dog.”  Say, that’s a fabulous idea I thought and said as much with a grateful smile.  I think he would read my face.

I agreed and we talked more about what he wanted to do to help me; he seemed to enjoy this very much.  James said he could take me to the office of employment and that he’d help me get on my feet in no time.  “At least we can try, right?” he offered.

James wouldn’t let me buy my lunch treating me as his guest.  That was such a nice thing and I was feeling comfortable.  We left the restaurant together and as we walked towards the parking lot, we stopped at a phone booth to ring up his wife.  He told her he was bringing home a friend for a couple of nights.

We first went to recover my suitcase and then he took me straightway to the Employment Office.  “Might as well get you registered right away.  We wouldn’t want you to miss any opportunities.”  Thankfully that was a fairly quick and easy process.

James drove me around the town, pointing out this and that and Pearl Harbor too as we went by it.  James told me he was grateful to have survived it but was deeply saddened by the losses, some very personal.  

After leaving the town area we began ascending the hills towards his home.  It was such a beautiful neighborhood, lots of green of course and spacious lots with large ranch-style homes neatly placed upon them.

I turned to look in the direction from where we came and the view was sprawled out clear down to the Pacific Ocean, truly a brilliant blue from that vantage point!

We approached a driveway which he turned the car into.  As we pulled in a car was pulling out.  “That would be my wife.  She’s gone to visit her family.”  He stopped in the driveway up by the front door.  

I’m sure you can picture this in your mind’s eye;  the circular drive, the small flower garden in the center and the relaxed laid out home, glorious in its day, fantastic today too I’m sure!  We got out and walked into the house.

James warmly welcomed me into his home, “Well here’s the house.  I’ll first take you to your room so you can leave your suitcase there and I’ll show you around.”  

As I am experiencing an American’s home for the first time in my life, I was wowed to say the least.  It was something like a palace of sorts to me; so spacious and well, just beautiful.  He showed me the bathroom, the kitchen, the den … do you remember dens?

He then walked over to his telephone and I took a seat nearby; at this point we were taking care of changing my flight.  He called Pan Am and after a few words like calling on behalf of his friend who’s feeling under the weather and needs to cancel his flight, it was done.

I remember thinking to myself about who this man James really is when I heard him say to the person on the other end of the line something about his military status, it somehow reassured me in a calm way; it was like he was well known or something.

While we sat in the kitchen I had a soft drink although he had offered me the run of his entire liquor cupboard.  “We had a fabulous dinner last night, are you interested or should we go out?”  James asked me.  

My honest thoughts; I didn’t have a lot of money in my pocket, he had already treated me so kindly and anyway I was feeling tired, I said whatever he had would be perfect.

He attacked the refrigerator breaking out all the goodies.  There was a large, neatly wrapped in aluminum foil package he opened up.  It contained several delicious looking pork chops.  All the trimmings were there and we feasted.  

🇺🇸 Good choice to stay in – first American dinner in an American’s home.

All in all it was a nice night.  I enjoyed it very much including an evening stroll around his property.  And this time I enjoyed looking at the island lights from the opposite end of where I had seen them before, for the very first time; I’ll never forget that feeling, that sight.

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James:  fictitious name for the real mcCoy!  What a sincere, caring human being and what a perfect welcome into American life!  

Sometimes we just cannot help but to say with a twinkle in our eye and a fondness in our heart, “Ah, the good ‘ol days!