90. Next Stop, Sài Gòn

After pulling up anchor, the Trans Western skirts Vietnamese coastline along the route towards Sài Gòn harbor and as before, we stayed away from the actual shoreline. Remember our cargo was not allowing us a near-to-the-shore ‘parking’ spot.

That first night we all stayed on board, no one left our boat.  However, the next day most of us were more than ready to get off the ship and explore this new frontier.  

Sài Gòn was a city larger than Quy Nhơn.  Streets, buildings, shops and hotels were bigger.  Some of the bars and cafés were of equal stature for the most part, perhaps with a little more flair and variety.

And hard to miss were the tanks and jeeps everywhere; a constant reminder that I was still in the middle of a war zone.  American soldiers strapped with weapons were always visible. 

Occasionally we were stopped and asked for our identification.  We carried ID cards of the Merchant Marines (seaman). Let me tell you it was a bit intimidating being questioned by a guy with a loaded gun somewhat pointing at your persons, even if they are our own soldiers, which they were.

There were people walking around all over the city and some drove from here to there in their cars.  A good percentage of these people were dressed in western-world clothing, my guess is that I was seeing the French influence from when France occupied Vietnam.  

Although the hotels, automobiles and restaurants were modern, I couldn’t help but notice the simple folk who stuck to their culture in everything they did, from the clothing they wore to the way some kept shop and definitely down to the street food preparation.

|||


 

 

 

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?

|||

______________________________________________________________________________

 

 

82. Sorry, Say Again … This Ship Is Headed Where?

The next afternoon when Morris returned from work, we shared a lite meal and then he drove me the just over 30 miles east towards Concord -to the USCNWS to be exact.  

IMG_0254.jpg

It was near dark by the time we arrived at the gate of this high security dock.  We looked curiously at the sign reading Concord Naval Weapons Station but really I didn’t think too much about it at that moment.  

I felt privileged to utilize for the 1st time my security clearance card which got us both into the facility.  We were instructed on where to park the car and told to walk over to the one and only ship at the dock.  It was the Trans Western ship to which I was assigned.  Again my identification was checked.

Morris was still carrying my suitcase for me and was allowed to walk onto the ship as well.  It was the Chief Steward who I was instructed to look for, one deck up.  He would be the one to give me further instructions which of course would include more paperwork.  

We found him soon enough.  He was friendly and didn’t seem to mind stopping his routine to break and usher me through the steps.  He mentioned I would meet up with the ship’s skipper tomorrow.

Morris’ curiosity has his eyes roaming our surroundings and he’s still standing beside me when the CS asks me this, “Do you know where we are headed to?”  

Actually no, I didn’t and said as much.  Immediately I also added my intentions which of course were to head to Fiji.  Yes Fiji and well, the CS laughed at this.  

Not understanding his laugh I cracked a little smile too; he saw this on my face.  He replied, “Did you happen to see what’s being loaded on to this ship?”  I answered him telling him I did notice the cranes loading the ship but I really had no idea what the payload consisted of.

“I’m afraid we’re headed in an entirely different direction.  Those are napalm bombs man, we’re headed to Vietnam!”  I was struck with disbelief and definitely in shock.  “It’s too late Blue, you already signed the papers back at the Seafarers’ Union.  Sorry to tell you this,” the CS shook his head, “..the rest of the paperwork to be signed, you’ll do with the skipper tomorrow.”

It’s true, I did sign the papers yesterday and now I would have to comply.   It was time for Morris to leave me, he was speechless until he found his voice and then, he assured me he’d get ahold of Diana and give her the news.  

There was nothing I could do, nothing.  I knew I wasn’t going back to Los Angeles till I didn’t know when.  I was headed into a terrible war zone.

When isn’t war terrible?  

I was absolutely floored, Morris was gone and now I’d have to shift gears in my thoughts and behavior, my attitude.  I had to get used to the idea of this radical change in my life.  It was a definite change that would affect my entire family, only I had no idea exactly how.

The Chief Steward, I’ll name him Phil, quickly picked up the pieces of a shell-shocked young man in front of him and took me to show the cabin I’d occupy; I would be sharing it with one other young fellow.  

Along the way we stopped to grab the linens necessary for me in my new home for however long it would be.  I would leave my suitcase there and then we’d tour the ship.

There was much to show me and soon enough (not that I really forgot my earlier surprise.  No, no!)  I was in grateful-to-be-employed mode and absorbing all the information which I knew would be useful to do the best in my job.  

Phil told me I wouldn’t be working in the main dining room.  Instead I was assigned to the captain himself.  I was to attend the skipper and at meal time, the officers of the ship were part of my space.  He showed me everything there was to see on this ship, offering tips and advice to be as comfortable as possible.  

“Anything you feel like eating, you just let the chef know,” he offered.  He also told me I was welcome to come into the kitchen and grab a snack or anything I needed in a moment, permission already granted.

Phil asked me if I wanted some dinner and honestly I was lacking an appetite.  I wonder why.  I had a cup of coffee and retired to my room.  I unpacked my things into the dresser/closet thing beside my bed.  

While there was a bed next the window I chose the one beside the door.  I made my bed, washed up and fell asleep, knowing I’d be sharing my rude awakening with my wife tomorrow.

|||


Concord Naval Weapons Station –  located in north-­central California about 70 miles southwest of the capital of Sacramento, in Contra Costa County. 

napalm bombs – often referred to as the  jellybomb; there’s a website called GlobalSecurity.org which gives the lethal, grim description of this weapon saying napalm can have a gel-like consistency, which would cause it to stick to the designated targets.

Photo credit:  I took this photo 12th of May, 2019 when passing through on the way to Reno, Nevada from San Francisco.