Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Flawed Legacy - 4

Basic training was a breeze and we were all excited to go home.  My plans had me reporting to Camp Kilmer NJ, after the first of the year.  I was disappointed at home as no one seemed to understand my excitement on going to the Philippines and worse, my girl friend understood we would be apart for 2-3 years and wanted me to say it was OK for her to see other guys.  Of course, it had to be OK, I was going to be a long ways away and for longer  than I had planned.

Turns out that one of my mother's friend had a son reporting to Camp Kilmer at the same time, so we decided to go together.  That was interesting as I was about to discover that his mother's sister was a well known stripper by the stage name of Margie Hart.  She was in a chorus and playing in New York city while we would be nearby, so we made plans to see her.  Camp Kilmer was a good place for us as it we could get into the city easily.  One of the guys I knew from basic training and I "buddied" up and we went into NYC regularly, especially New Year's Eve, 1946.  That was quite an experience and as we were walking around I heard some guys singing, "Boola Boola, Boola Boola" and I knew that the Yale University' "fight"" song so we joined in.  When they heard I was from Yale, MI, not the university, they began to laugh and share their drinks with us.  I had two and said that was enough, but my buddy kept drinking and passed out.  So, I found a place where he could sit down out of the way and stood by him until he woke up.  Then we discovered the trains had stopped running, so we spent the rest of the morning waiting in the train station.

A couple of days later, I went into NYC to see Margie Hart and we went back stage where half of the girls were naked from the waist up.  Guess what.  I was so embarrassed.  That was the first time I had ever seen naked women, so they really began to tease me.  About that time, Margie came out and met us and gave us tickets for her show.  Writing this, it is hard for me to believe how really embarrassed I was, but her nephew really enjoyed the show.

We were set to sail on January 10.  It was the General Pope and there were 1,700 of us and as we were boarding, I looked over and saw others debarking from another ship.  They were coming home from Europe and our fresh faces made quite a contrast with theirs.   We could stay on deck until we had passed the Statue of Liberty and the lights along the shoreline of Long Island until we plunging into the darkness that was the Atlantis Ocean.

The next morning I was awake at 6AM and realized that half of the others were already up and out on deck and when I got out there I realized it was cold.  The waters were black and most of the guys had climbed up away from the deck, just watching the huge waves.  I found a place along the railing and it was exhilarating, feeling the spray hit your face, until I put my hand up to wipe it off and suddenly realized, it was not the water, but the vomit from the guys up front.  I was soaked in it.  I went down below and discovered I wasn't the only one with that problem.  They had taken their shoes off and took a shower in their clothes.  There is always a first time for everything, so I joined them and later on - after we had warmed ourselves next to the big heaters in the middle of the bay, we headed back up on deck.  By this time, it was time for breakfast.

It got warmer and warmer as we traveled Southward.  Lots of the guys were on deck and playing cards and when I found some of my buddies from basic training, we sat around and told stories of our adventures in NYC.  We would eat twice more before it was time for bed.  At least we were being fed well.  The next morning I was up earlier than usual and went up on deck to discover we were passing the island of Jamaica.  By evening, we were just outside of Colon, waiting for passage through the Canal.  Now, It was really warm.

Going through the Panama Canal is an exciting experience.  There were all sorts of animals, birds and colorful foliage.  The further we went, the more we attracted young native boys running alongside, begging for coins.  When we cleared the last dock, we were at Panama City and the ship was pulling into a dock.  We would learn that we would stay there for a couple or more days while they were making repairs to the screws that propel the ship.  This was an older ship with plenty of trips across both the Atlantic and the Pacific carrying troops to and from the war zones.

The next morning we awoke to the sound of music being played on the dock.  When we got up there, they had quite a lay out, bands, singers and an MC who kept repeating, "You can't go into Panama City, so we bring Panama City to you."  They kept playing and singing for two days and when we were still there on the third day, we discovered they were taking many of us for bus tour around the "old" city.  I was one of the lucky ones to be chosen and it was a fascinating tour,

Finally, we were on our way and as we moved away from the shoreline, we discovered hundreds of dolphins and sail fish escorting us along our way.  Next stop - Hawaii

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