In my sophomore year of college, the Government changed the rules. Our government said, “Hey kids, no more boxes”. What? In 1967, I got yanked out of college and told to go kill gooks.
Well, of course, that’s not exactly what the government said. What they actually said was, ‘We do not presently have enough volunteers to wage ‘police action’, ‘not war’, in Viet Nam. We want you!
I was ‘the f word’, with ‘ed’ at the end! I was about to serve the government of the US of A in the Army and go kill gooks. Well, they didn’t say ‘gooks’. But, once you’re in the military in Viet Nam, ‘Gooks’ became the official word for them.
What they wanted American boys to do was to go to Viet Nam and kill ‘Viet Cong’ soldiers who were against the repression of Vietnamese by landlords who repressed and controlled the Vietnamese peasants. The US provided military support for the landlords who repressed the peoples of Viet Nam; indentured servants trapped in a state of virtual slavery. This was a condition which the US had lots of prior experience.
In the 1960’s, the US would not even allow black people to register to vote in the south. They called Blacks, ‘Coons’ and ‘Niggers’. Yes, I know, “America is the Greatest Country in the World”. I’ve been told that a hundred times or more.
So, this is what happened. I was in college on Maui. It was October. I received a phone call from my Mom and Dad one evening and they told me I had received an invitation from our Government to be a member of the Military. I was told to report to Fort Shafter in Honolulu for my pre-induction medical exam. My mom and dad had called a few people and they wanted me to fly over to Oahu the next day. They would meet me at the airport and take me to the Navy Reserve Headquarters where I was going to enlist in the US Navy Reserves.
So, the next day I flew to Oahu where my mom met me at the airport. We went to Zippy’s for dinner where we met dad. Afterward, we went directly across the street to the US Naval Reserve Center. My dad introduced me to the commander and he enlisted me into the navy reserves.
My father was a navy reservist. As an officer, he went to reservist meetings and completed two weeks of active-duty every summer for as long as I could remember.
Yesterday I was in college, surfing on Maui and disguised as a student. Now, it was I who was in the Navy. I flew back to Maui that evening and went to bed in my dorm room. I laid there on my bed and thought about what had just transpired. This meant I was going to have to fly back to Oahu every Wednesday for the remainder of this semester and go to reservist meetings, then fly back to Maui. My parents paid for this.
My mom and dad met me every Wednesday evening at the airport. We would go to Zippy’s for dinner. I would go to my reservist meetings for two hours, and then they would take me back to the airport where I would fly back to school on Maui.
Sept 1965 – May 1966, Mauna Olu
May 1966 – Aug 1966 Royal Grove Hotel (Summer job)
Sept -Dec. 1966 Mauna Olu
Jan. – Aug 1967 Royal Grove Hotel
Sept - Dec 1967 Mauna Olu
Dec. 1967 Boot Camp, San Diego
Jan – Nov. 1968 Corps of Army Eng. Surveyor
Nov. 1968 Active Duty, GLNTC (Great Lakes Naval Training Center)
March 1969 USS O’Bannon
Oct. 1969 Saigon
Dec 22, 1969 Discharged (Honorable)
Jan – May 1970 Mauna Olu
June 1970 Married
I went to boot camp in December of 1967. I knew my life had been turned upside down when it snowed in San Diego while I was there. It was a big deal. Snow in sunny San Diego was the equivalent of the old adage, “When hell freezes over…” I would start my active duty the following year in November at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Waukegan, Illinois.
While I waited, my dad got me a job at the Corps of Army Engineers doing some surveying. I worked there from January until the next fall when I went to Great Lakes to attend Boiler School.
At the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, they told us, as an added incentive, the top two students could choose their active duty assignment. I managed to come in first place in my class and got to choose my active duty station. No daaa here, Pearl Harbor. I was stationed at Pearl Harbor on the USS O’Bannon DD450, a Destroyer.
When I reported at the O’Bannon she was in dry dock for overhaul. I had to check in, ‘muster’ every morning on pier, then released from duty until the next morning. For three months, this is what I did. I lived at my parent’s home. I, of course, could have stayed on base at the barracks and had my meals there. But my room, with my own bed, home cooked meals won out. I drove to Pearl Harbor every morning to muster, and then either went back home or went surfing or body surfing. Oops, what’s going on here? This is active duty? When is the shit going to hit the fan?
I met an old high school buddy of mine, Chuck Borner. Chuck was actually a friend of mine I’d known since high school. He worked for a summer at my dad’s place, Look Laboratory at the University of Hawaii. He told me he had a really cool job swimming at the Reef Hotel in a water ballet show called ‘Polynesian Aquacade’. He said they might need another swimmer and the job paid $100.00 a show which they put on for tourists on Friday and Saturday nights.
I went to their audition and got hired immediately. I made $150 dollars a week from the Navy and an additional $200.00 a week from these two shows. Not bad.
Our ship finally got out of dry dock and then for the next several months we had to complete the retrofitting on it at dock side. So, for the next several months I worked on the ship, Monday through Friday, while living at my parent’s house. My work as a boiler- tech was to re insulate all the pipes in our forward boiler room which had two boilers.
With the ship at dock side, we were supposed to have duty every three or four days where we were to stay on the ship. We did nothing but stay on the ship in the event of an emergency. But, you could pay someone to do your duty. The going rate was $10.00 so I routinely paid others to complete my duty. There were lots of takers.
Most of the guys on my ship were not from Hawaii. In fact I only remember two others on my ship who were from Hawaii. Most of the guys wanted to make some extra money. Hawaii, as everybody knows, is an expensive place. A little extra money helped out alot.
We had rehearsals at the Reef Hotel on Thursday evening and knew what parts we were going to be in for our Friday and Saturday night shows. The guys were Chuck Borner, Cappy Shealy, Paul Straught Jr., John Gross and I. Our routines consisted of some individual performances, the ‘Hawaiian War Chant’ group number, and three or four adaptations from the movie, South Pacific. The girls were Paul’s wife, Toni, and three other girls. Two of which were the main stars of the show having had water ballet experience in The Olympics.
Our division officer, Lieutenant Fry, was a pretty cool guy and I got to know him pretty well. He might have been a year or two older than me. I gave show tickets to him and his wife for which they were very grateful. The next thing I knew, the captain and the executive officer found out about my show, so, I of course got them and their wives tickets as well. As performers, we generally received two free tickets to a show, if we needed them, to give away, unless, of course it was sold out. Both the Captain and XO also really enjoyed the show.
There were two guys in my Division with whom I got along with well. Duane Snyder and Mike Ferguson. During that summer, Craig Findeisen, a high school buddy was home from school on the mainland. We would play volleyball at his house every Sunday at noon. We had been doing this all the way through high school with a large group of friends. I took Duane and Mike over there for volleyball, beer and a barbeque a couple of times. They said that it was the high light of their time in Hawaii. We had lots of friends there; girls and guys, all playing volleyball with tons of cold beer. We’d all go jump in the ocean whenever we felt it got to be too hot.
All this was the good part and the good parts were actually pretty great. But, there was one little hitch in all of this. We had a chief petty officer by the name of Boogs that was a thorn in my side. He had pretty much figured out I was home here in Hawaii. He saw my whole life style and it irked him something fierce. I could tell he just hated me. He started trying to do anything he could to try to get me in trouble. The problem for him was I never did anything bad. When I worked, I worked hard and did a good job. The guy immediately under him, 1st Class Petty Office, Seawright, liked me and Lieutenant Fry, our division officer immediately over him, really liked me, almost like a personal friend. Boogs tried to get me court-marshaled because I always sold my duty. The next thing that I knew, Boogs gets re-assigned to another ship in… well, who cares where?
So, by the end of the summer I am friends of the captain, the chief executive officer, our division officer, our newly promoted forward boiler-one petty officer-in-charge Seawright, Duane and Mike who were 2nd and 3rd in-charge who are like good friends.
We retrofitted the boiler rooms all summer long and into September.
One day at muster, the XO, Lieutenant Fry and another officer are standing there in front of us. I am next to Mike and Duane as I usually was. Duane suddenly says to Mike and I, ‘Hey, that officer is SEALS. What the heck is he doing here?!’
We complete muster, everyone is checked in and Fry calls me over. Mike and Duane look at me and say. ‘Nice knowing you Bob!’
Little did they know.
Fry introduces me to this SEAL guy and then says, ‘Let’s go get some coffee’. I look at Seawright who nods that he understands, so we all walk over to the mess hall. The Officer’s Mess Hall. We are joined by the XO. We chit-chat about ‘the South Pacific Revue, my surfing, etc., Then this seal guy says to me that he could use me to do some training if I would be willing to help.
He tells me he would like me to go to Vietnam and help him train other navy seals how to paddle zodiacs quietly and swim quietly and efficiently.
He goes on to tell me they need to use zodiacs, which were sturdy rubberized rafts, and he needs someone to teach them how to paddle quietly to avoid detection by the enemy.
‘You got to be kidding!’
‘They needed me to teach them?’
He wants me to train navy seals, the toughest, most well-conditioned fighting men in navy uniform?
“Nope! No Way” , I say.
He explains to me that SEALS are deployed by riverboats into zodiacs. He says it is a disaster. They sometimes just start spinning in circles. It’s ridicules.
I tell him, ‘You want me, a Boiler Technician to go to Viet Nam and train Navy SEALS how to paddle a zodiac and swim quietly?’
He looks at me and says: ‘No! I want you, a professional surfer and swimmer to go to Viet Nam and help your country by training our men. Your Captain, XO and Division Officer Fry think you are our man.”
I look at him while I am saying to myself the s word, ‘Look! I can’t get involved with combat! Nothing good is gonna come of this.’
“We are not asking you to go into combat. We are asking you to help train our guys two things. They just happen to be in Viet Nam.”
This whole time the XO and Fry are sitting next to us. Fry who knows me the best, jumps in. ‘I might have an idea. Look, it’s the beginning of October. Why don’t you offer Bob a 2 month training program and give him a early Honorable Discharge. He’s Reserve. Give him a early discharge and knock off his Reserve time. He wants to get back to college anyway.
The SEAL looks at me and says: ‘That works for me! You come over to Viet Nam and train our SEALS for two months and you will get your Honorable Discharge before the end of December.’
To myself: Shit! ‘Were is this place in Viet Nam?’
“I get a Honorable Discharge and am completely out of the service by the end of this December? No Reserve time?”
He holds out his hand to shake.
I contacted Mauna Olu College and they would allow me to resume my college studies for the 2nd semester in January.
I was transferred to the West Pac, Cam Ranh Station, Vietnam, Seals Unit and began an intense training course of swimming and paddling rubber zodiacs with plastic and aluminum handled paddles.
I trained navy seals, not to kill, but, just to get quietly from point A to point B in the water.
The seals I trained were apparently never told very much about me other than I was a professional swimmer and surfer. I don’t think they even know my rank. It was on a first name basis with them. Each of them was either higher ranking enlisted men or officers. Except at the mess hall, I never saw them in uniform.
I was assigned to officers’ quarters and given my own place with maid service. I ate in the Officers mess hall there. I always wore “civies”. (civilian clothes).
Vietnam was very hot and humid. It was really a saving grace that we were in the water as often as we were.
We trained every day from dawn to dusk. They did not have a clue about how to paddle. It was just like the Seal guy had told me. I first taught them how to paddle. We would all use the exact, or as close to the exact, same paddle stroke. I taught them how to extend the paddle ‘in hand’ out to the end of their reach, then enter the water with the paddle perpendicular to the water. Full blade submerged… then, pull the blade through the water, smoothly… then silently have the paddle exit the water. Then lay the blade flat across the water while they returned back to the forward reach where they would re-enter.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
I literally had them line up in knee to waist deep water and show them the stroke. First using the left hand, and then switching over to the right hand. My objective was to have them all paddle the exact the same way; the same identical stroke. I wanted them to be able to sit in any position. It didn’t matter whether that sat on the right side of left side of the Zodiac, I wanted them to paddle in unison with any other set of paddlers. In each of the four Zodiacs we’d have three paddlers on each side, with two extras in the middle. The forward left paddler was the lead. The right rear was the steersman. The lead paddler set his blade in forward extended stroke, held it for a couple of seconds, then lifted it a few inches and then in the same motion reversed and entered the water. Each of the other paddlers would focus on his pace and match it.
Together…pull together, out together, slide forward together and enter together, pull together, out together. Being all together… that was the key to it all. The steersman would occasionally correct for direction, but, each paddler was to maintain the matched stroke of the lead paddler.
After about three days they began to see where we were going with this training. After a week they started honing their strokes. After about ten days they were finally making occasional periods of sustained movement where the Zodiac finally glided silently on course through the water. I was in a leading fifth Zodiac so I could watch and coach them when they did it wrong. After two weeks, we could switch any paddler in and out of any rotation without there being a problem. For the next six weeks we paddled, every morning for two hours, and every evening for two hours. After breakfast we trained in the pool.
Now I had to teach them to swim. Me, teaching navy seals how to swim. Imagine that.
When it came to paddling, none of these guys had any real prior experience like this. So, in effect, it was easy to start from scratch and train them. No bad habits.
But swimming was a whole different story. All these guys knew how to swim and obviously the seals had allowed a great deal of latitude in the way they swam. I literally had to teach two of our ‘South Pacific Revue’ acts to teach them to be able to sustain their flotation using only their legs instead of their arms. This was the most grueling tiring aspect of the training. But, it worked… and it worked beautifully.
About a week before Christmas, I received my orders for discharge at West Pac Headquarters, San Francisco.
I said my farewells to everyone and packed up. I flew out on a military transport to Travis Air Force Base a couple of hours out of San Francisco. We refueled in Guam.
I could not believe it. After thirteen months in the service, I was soon going to be a free civilian once again and with an honorable discharge. No reserve time requiring me to go to meetings every Wednesday night on Oahu. No two week active duty every year for six years. Geez! It felt great!
I landed at Travis Air Force Base and bused into Fort Mason in San Francisco. My plane touched down around 2:00 PM on December 19th. A Friday afternoon.
I arrive at Fort Mason and stepped out of the bus. I stood there.
I look up and there is the Golden gate bridge. Wow! This is exactly were I was at the age of 6 when I was leaving to go to Hawaii on the USS Barrett. Surprise. Surprise. Very same dock. Very same month, December. What was it? 15 years ago almost to the date. I was 6 years old leaving with my mother, sister Bobbie Jean and my Grand mother to go to Hawaii and join my father already there.
I don’t have time to reminisce.
I went over to headquarters, walked in, and go up to the desk. The clerk looks at his watch, turns and looks at the clock on the wall behind him and tells me, still looking at the clock, like the clock is printing this out for him to read it to me, ‘Sorry, not enough time today to complete the paperwork for your discharged. Tick, tick, tick. You will have to wait until Monday Morning.’tick, tick, tick. He turns around now, to look at me, to see that I have understood the printed out message in his brain.
I had a choice of staying there on the base or go where I wanted but I was to return promptly at 8:00 AM Monday morning. Shit! A whole weekend. What to do?
I walked back outside and stood there looking at the Golden Gate bridge. What to do? There I was in my Navy Blues. I could stay there on base or leave for the weekend. What should I do? I decided to walk up to highway 101 and hitch a ride going north. I really had no idea where I was going. I just needed to get off base and find a little space of my own.
I walked up to the highway. Duffel bag over my shoulder. I stuck out my thump. A yellow mustang pulled out and came along next to me. He reaches across the passenger seat and rolls down the window.
“So, where you going, sailor?” he asked.
“Not sure”, I answered, “out of town for the weekend.”
“My name is Joe”, holding his hand out, through the window. He had red hair and a friendly, pleasant face.
“Hi…Bob”, shaking his hand.
“So, you really have no idea where you’re going?” Joe inquired.
“Well, no. I was supposed to have been discharged and heading home. I just found out I have to wait till Monday morning. It’s a military thing. Hurry up and wait!”
“Do you know anything about Marin?”
“Marin? Oh, yes it’s just over the bridge.”
“Have you ever been in this area?”
“No.” We are now driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge that I had walked up to and crossed over with my mother, sister and grandmother almost exactly 15 years ago. It has not changed. Did I think it would? I hadn’t thought about it at all. And this is not the time to think about it. A 16 hour flight. My ears are buzzing. All I want to do is sleep.
“What I would like to do, I think, is just find a nice quiet place to sleep. Away from anything military.”
We are almost over the bridge.
Joe says: “I know of a place that fits that bill.”
“I’m sure it will do just fine. If it’s quiet and has got a bed it will be fine.”
“Where’s your home?”
“Yeah, just about my whole life. I went there on a ship back in December of 1954. That was fifteen years ago this month. We sailed right out there, underneath the bridge. Wow, that was a trip.” My dad was already in Hawaii. I was sailing there with my grandmother, my mother and one of my sisters.”
“What ship did you sail on?”
“The USS Barrett. It was a military transport ship.”
“So, you were in Vietnam and now you’re getting out. What’s your plans?”
“Well, right now, I’m going back to college. I’m scheduled to be there on the third of January for the second semester. It’s a small college on Maui; a two year college. I was attending there when I received my draft notice. I choose to enlist in the navy rather than slammin’ me into the army without a choice.”
So, there we were, two guys tooling up highway 101 and passing through the lush green hills of Marin County . We exited off at Mill Valley.
“This place, The Fireside Inn, is locally owned. It has a good reputation. Clean, reasonable. They have a food establishment. Should be okay. They also have bus service into The City all morning long. You shouldn’t have a problem getting back to your base on Monday morning. They probably even have the bus schedule inside. The bus leaves from right there,” he pointing at the bus stop, he said.
He seemed reluctant to leave right away.
“Let’s go in and check” he added.
We walked in and right away we see the manager walking through the lobby. She smiles and asks us, “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
I replied, “I need a place for tonight, Saturday night and Sunday night. I’ll be checking out early Monday morning. Hopefully, you’ve got a real quiet room ‘cause I’m beat. I just had a very long flight and...”
She cuts my off. “So, just for you?
“Yeah, it’s just me.”I replied.
“Let’s see…you’re a fairly big guy. I got a king-sized bed far away from the street noise. I can even give you a military discount… let’s say, twenty bucks a night. So, sixty dollars for all three nights. Is that going to be okay?”
“You have solved my problems.” I take out my wallet and pay the woman.
“Is that all you have for luggage?”
Yep, just this duffle.”
“Okay. Fill in this register card, sign here. Here’s your key. It’s right down the hall, third door on the left. Our restaurant opens at 5:30 each morning and closes at 10:30PM.“
Joe, said, “He needs to be back at his base by 8:00AM on Monday. Do you know if you have a bus schedule for him?”
“Yes, sir. It’s right over there on the wall. So, you have to be over at Fort Mason by 8:00AM?”
“I would suggest the express at 6:45. You’ll have a little time to kill once you get there, but, at least you’ll be on time” she suggested.
“Do you know if I’ll need to have the exact amount for the fair?”
“It would be a good idea, but I’m sure you don’t have to. It’s going to run you three\dollars and seventy-five cents.”
“They might even let you ride for free if you’re in uniform.”
“Well it’s in uniform or nude”, I laughed.
I turned to Joe, “Thank you Joe. I’m just about done in. I should probably take a shower and get something to eat before crashing.” I reached out to shake his hand. “I really appreciate the lift and this place looks great. Thanks!”
“I have an idea,” Joe said. “You go take your shower and let me buy you dinner.”
“You’re, kidding. Your family will be waiting for you, won’t they?”
“I’ll give ‘em a call.”
“Well, okay. Thank you. Let me go freshen up.”
I went to my room, threw my duffle on a chair next to a chest of drawers. I pulled out my personal gear and jumped in the shower. When I walked back into the lobby, Joe was standing there staring out the window. He hears me and turns. “How you feel?” he asks.
“I’m a zombie, but, at least now I’m a clean zombie.”
“Good, let’s get some grub.”
“Sound’s good.” I added. “I’m actually very hungry.”
We sat at a table next to the window and we each picked up a menu.
“Do you drink alcohol?” he inquired.
“I could definitely go for a beer.” I answered.
Joe turned to find a waiter. Finally, a waiter came over to our table. “You guys ready to order?”
“What kind of beer do you have?” Joe asked.
“We’ve got Heineken on-tap. We also have Miller, Bud, Schlitz, and Coors. We have...”
“I’ll take a draft Coors.” I jumped in.
“And you Sir?”
“Get me a Scotch and water on ice.” Joe said.
“Okay, our special for the evening is prime rib. It’s your choice of either a twelve or sixteen ounce cut. I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
“I’ll definitely go for that prime rib.” I volunteered. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve been eating for the last two months.”
“That good, eh?”
“Yeah, I think I’ll go for some of that prime rib, too. It sounds good to me as well.”
“So, you know what I do, or did… So, what’s your profession?” I asked Joe.
The waiter arrives with our drinks. “Here you go gentlemen.” He sets them on the table for us and takes out his pad to take our orders, “You guys both going for the prime rib?”
“Oh, yeah! And, if it’s bigger than sixteen ounce, that would be okay with me, too” I said.
“We’ll see what we can do, and you sir”.
Joe chimed in. “Tell you what. I’ll go for the sixteen ounce cut as well, but, if you can, could you take about four ounces from it and give it to this guy.”
“That I know we can do”. The waiter winked and turned to go back into the kitchen.
“Hey, do you guys have any of your famous sourdough frenchbread?”
“Coming right up.”
The waiter leaves. I take a sip of my beer. Joe takes a sip of his drink. There is silence.
“I’m an insurance broker… you know, an insurance agent. My wife and I have our own agency, plus I also work for this broker friend of mine in the city.”
“What kind of insurance,” I asked, as if I was some expert in something about which I actually knew nothing. “You know… Life, Auto, Fire… that kind of thing”
“ Yeah,” he laughed, “all that kind of thing.”
I wanted to keep the conversation moving so I asked, “And, your family…?”
“Wife,.. two boys… two girls. The two oldest, a boy and a girl are both married. My youngest son is at Berkley and I have a daughter who just graduated from high and cosmetology. She’s a “beautician”. I just found out she’s skiing this weekend.”
“Sounds like a nice family, Joe.”
“Yep… it sure is.”
“And you? You mentioned, what was it… a sister?”
“Two sisters. Both of my sisters are older. Pat is eleven years older and Jeannie is seven years older. I was born right after the war. I think I was their last try for a son.” I said laughingly.
“So, tell me more about this college you’re going to?”
“It’s just a small college on Maui. Private. They have a four year Bachelors in Humanities Degree. I’ll be going back and finishing my second year in January.”
“Then?” I hadn’t thought much about “then”. I quickly covered for my lack of forethought for my future. “Then, I’ll be making that decision in the next five months.”
“You know… it’s a small world. I’m pretty sure my youngest daughter’s best friend might be going to this very same school.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I said. “I’ll have to look her up.”
“On Maui. Right?”
“Yeah, the University of Hawaii is starting a community college there, but, I think it doesn’t start-up until next year. So, yeah, Mauna Olu is the only college presently on Maui.”
“Well, it must be the same one” he insisted.
Our meals arrived. I had this huge slab of prime rib on a platter with… I don’t want to talk about it. It was simply great!
We eat and talked I don’t recall all of our conversation. Probably, stuff like his other kids, his house. He likes to build and do carpentry.
I was pretty much wasted. The more I ate, the more exhausted I became. We finished our meals. It was a wonderful evening. I do remember taking a bunch of bread and extra butter back to my room with me.
I thanked Joe again then he left and I went back to my room. I think I might have turned on the TV and flipped through the channels. I’m not sure. I was in dire need of sleep.
When I woke up, it was already mid-morning. Uhg! Where am I? Oh yeah, wow! Wow. Geee!
I crawled out of bed and started walking to the bath room when the phone rang. It scared the crap out of me that much I remembered. I walk over to it and picked up the receiver.
“How did you sleep?”
“Uh, I think like a rock.”
“This is Joe. I wanted to ask you something.”
“Hi, Joe. Good, is it morning?”
“Yes. What I wanted to ask you is if you would like to go into The City tonight to the ‘Playboy Club?”
There was a long silence. “Well, that’ll be a first for me” I responded.
“So, is that for a yes?”
“What time?” I asked.
“I’ll pick you up around eight.” Joe said.
“Okay, will it be just us?”
“Yeah… men’s night out” he added.
“Okay, then… eight it is.”
That day, I walked into Mill Valley and shuffled around this little Marin County town.
I ate a little here… a little there, and then bought a book. I bought a shirt, slacks, and a really nice pair of black shoes. I bought a matching black belt to tie the whole ensemble together. I was still wearing my navy pea coat and it fit in perfectly with my “civies”. Any thing would. A good pea coat can cover any violation of fashion law.
I bought a loaf of sourdough bread and some butter. I added some sausage and a bottle of inexpensive red wine then walked back to the Fireside. I might have taken a nap, I don’t remember now. I might have even watched a movie on TV. I headed into the dinning room in the evening and eat another prime rib dinner with a Coors draft. I couldn’t believe how much I was eating… I just couldn’t seem to satisfy my hunger.
I waited in my room until just before eight o’clock, and then went out to the lobby. I saw Joe’s car come into the parking lot and went out to meet him.
So, that night we went into the city to the Play boy club for a show and drinks.
It was an enjoyable relaxing evening. Joey Bishop was the performer. “Jeez... I was watching Joey Bishop” I kept thinking to myself.
It was around 1:00AM when we left the club and Joe drove me back to the hotel where he dropped me off. He said he had to go into The City on Monday morning and asked me if I would like him to drive me there and drop me off at the Fort Mason. I said that would be great.
On Sunday, I might have gone for a walk. I think I did... or I might have read in my room.
The next morning I repacked, ate and waited for Joe. He showed up right on time. When he dropped me off at the Fort, he handed me a picture of his daughter, Gwen, Maybe I would meet her someday.
I was processed out of the service and officially became discharged from the navy with an honorable discharge. I looked at it. It looked official. The clerk, the tick tick brain clerk handed me my discharge. He says to me, ‘If you’re a Boiler technician why were your discharge orders from Viet Nam?”
“Because I was training SEALs at West Pac, Cam Ranh Station, Vietnam, Seals Unit. See there?” Pointing at the discharge originating papers on his desk.
He looks at it again. Like it is just sinking in to this 3rd Class ranked clerk, who out ranked me. “What? You were in Cam Rahn? No shit?”
“Why would I shit you? You’re my favorite turd!” I turned and walked out with my discharge papers in my hand. It was 9:00AM on December 22. It had taken less than thirty minutes to discharge me even though I had to wait all weekend for it to happen.
I won’t tell you what the tick tick clerk said. It isn’t worth the time. And besides. I now ‘out’ ranked him.
I was free! Unbelievable! I hopped on the bus to Travis Air Force Base and that afternoon I was on a flight home. To Hawaii. Free!
My mom and dad would meet me at the airport. They seemed to be more excited than I was. Still, I couldn’t believe I was home for Christmas and New Years.
I had two weeks to get used to being free again before school would slap the cuffs back on me. All my friends were home for the holidays. We had parties… and parties… and more parties.
One day I nostalgically drove out to Pearl Harbor. The O’Bannon was gone. It was on a Westpac tour to Vietnam. It had departed the third week of October. Bye Duane. Bye Mike. Take Care. Aloha! I had just missed it. And to think, I would have been on it if I were still in the Navy. Jeeez.
I felt like I had dodged a bullet. This is my first time I’ve written about this aspect of my life. To this very day, there are still too many deep emotions for me
I would like to say something about this moment in my life that goes toward an explanation for the emotions I was feeling. I feel a little bit of disconnect from it all. See, what I mean is… usually you might think this emotion is routed in something traumatic…maybe part of something horrible. But, it wasn’t horrible for me. It could have been, as it was for a lot of people and a lot of families, but not for me. I was spared.
Where do I begin? I remember watching the news in high school; Walter Cronkite graphically showing us the events taking place in Vietnam. The bombings… the killings... the grim faces of soldiers… the bleeding… the screaming. I would cry out “Where is Jesus?”
There were demonstrations against the war at Mauna Olu College on Maui and over on Oahu at the Manoa Campus for the University of Hawaii. Some of our student body and professors formed a protest and marched on High Street in Wailuku. Ray Tyson and I took part. Vietnam was awful.
I remember having classes at school were we would discuss the Vietnam War and issues such as the historical influence of the French in colonial Vietnam. I learned more about how America became involved in that part of the world. Most people aren’t aware about how the initial request for help came from the Viet Cong which we rejected. Who made these decisions? Was it purely for greed? I would discuss these issues with my parents.
In World War II, my father had been in the Seabees on Okinawa having progressively moved through the Pacific from one isle forward to the next. He saw the Japanese delegations coming in for the surrender.
He brought home a Japanese rifle. I don’t know anything about its history. Was it off a dead Japanese soldier? Most of them did not surrender. He gave it to me as a souvenir.
I do not know what experience you have had with any war. I do not know what knowledge of war you have. This was mine.
I have read War and Peace. I have read the, The Red Badge of Courage. I saw ‘Saving Private Benjamin’, but I don’t know who will save you?
Will you just continue charging off to war?
My parents called me one evening during my sophomore year and told me I had received my draft notice. I can’t begin to tell you what was going through my brain. Go to Vietnam? NO WAY!
There are so many ways this whole situation could have gone, other than the way it did. Who would I have become? What if…
Another consideration my parents and I discussed was for me to go to Canada and stay with Pierre and his wife in Quebec. Pierre was an oceanographic engineer who had worked on a project with my dad. They had become friends over the years. We, my mom and dad and I, went to visit them on summer vacation just a year or two earlier.
Pierre was rich. He and his wife had a beautiful home in Quebec plus another home on the St Lawrence River. This quaint little riverside property had twenty-two bedrooms, an expansive property along the width of the river rising up from it with a pier and a nice little yacht with which they could play. I captained the yacht as the four of them, my mom, dad, Pierre and his wife proceeded to get hammered. Pierre and my dad would go to the bow and dive off as we motored along. They would dog- paddle to the dingy as it came by and then grab on. They’d haul themselves into it, pull themselves back onto the yacht, run back to the bow and repeat the whole process. It was a race.
Pierre was the first to the bow at the beginning. My dad was at the stern. To start, Pierre would say ‘Go’ and dive in. My dad would take off running to the bow and dive in. By this time, Pierre was swimming madly toward the dingy to get in it to complete the circle. The race was to ‘catch the other and tage them.
Some have described this little game as an “Australian Pursuit Race”. My mom and Pierre’s wife where laughing spectators. I was captain on the yacht and observed the goings on of my parents, each three-sheets-to-the-wind. Oh, by the way, did I mention that this was in the St Lawrence River? Just how cold do you think this water was? Well, one of the two blue guys won. Pierre won, actually. But, he almost drowned laughing.
He cheated of course. He climbed onto the stern and just jumped, made a canon ball and landed next to my Dad. They’d all laugh. I can remember my mom looking at me and trying to tell me that, ‘well, this is, okay… you know…’
So, like I say, if the navy had not worked out I actually might have really learned another foreign language, in the case, French Quebequoise.
So really, how did this all come about? How did I manage to slip through this quagmire? I mean that literally. How did I slip through unscathed and come out better than when I entered the service? What right do I have to all of this? Do I even have the right to talk about this when there are those who did not slip through this quagmire… this hell, as all wars are. I could not. I will not. I cannot. I grieve… that is what I do.
Stop. Take a breath. Get up and walk around the room, Bob. Look out the window and reflect. Say a prayer from your heart.
…. Really, say a prayer from your heart. O Dios! Mi Dios! Mi bienamado. El desio de me correzon!
My heart must be Spanish. Every time I see a Spanish girl in a beautiful dress, my heart goes crazy.
Back to Boxes! But this time I own the box. Why not? I’m paying for it. I got the GI Bill.
On the very first day back, I meet a guy from our college, “Rumzie”. He and I head down to the Baldwin Beach tennis courts to play tennis and then jump into the ocean. We walk along the beach after tennis in the hot morning sun and we come up to two girls. Rumzie knows one of them, Sue Peterson. Her friend is a blond. We sit down to visit and introduce ourselves.
“Hi, my name is Bob. What’s your’s?”
“ Gwen” She says.
I took a double-take. ‘Gwen?’
Interesting. Here we are for a while when Rumzie and I feel the need to jump into the ocean. Sue and Gwen join us. Gwen takes off her wig to reveal her red hair. Jeez.
So, could this be Joe’s daughter, I thought.
We body surf in the shore break and then climb back out and go sit back on the beach with Sue and Gwen.
We spent the whole day at the beach before Rumzie and I head back up the hill to the school. There’s going to be a party that night.
I had this crazy idea (ask anyone) about getting a motor cycle and had bought one once and had it shipped over to Maui . It arrived a few days later, so for now, I was ‘on foot’ until it would arrive.
Oh, about this bike. It was me or the bike. The bike died.
That evening after dinner, the guys went out to Station Nine and smoked. Everyone went to the party. The Men’s dorm was off of the main campus and we had to hike up to it. The trail is called the Ho Chi Men Trail. It still is an extremely dark trail at night and, at best, it is a difficult place to find. But, it was twice as long if you walked along the road to the main campus.
I was so stoned. I hadn’t a clue who I walked with, if anyone, up to the campus. The party was to be in the open field next to the ad building. There was a large crowd of party takers already there. I’m sure most of them were just as stoned as I was. Sue, her boyfriend Tom, were also there. Rumzie and I might have walked up from the dorm. I definitely know Rumzie was as least as stoned as me.
This Mauna Olu crowd was the perfect antidote for getting back to ‘my life’. Everyone was blitzed out of their gore. It was a total immersion back into fun. Mauna Olu summer camp for every sore that ails ya. Geez! What a place we found.
So, anyway, Gwen was there and she was also blitzed. She was sitting next to this guy I would later meet in due time. His name was Jerry. I found a place in the grass, and on this grass I place my stoned ass.
A guitar was playing. Beer and wine was everywhere. Joints were being passed around. Gwen, in her haze, realized I had arrived and the next thing I knew she was sitting next to me. The clouds in the moon light floated by. The valley was clear. The Wailuku and Kahului lights were twinkling away. Everywhere there was laughter. Everyone was everybody’s friend. Mauna Olu … and all is right with the world!
So, that was like the weekend before lessons would begin on Monday. For the next two days I would not get too much sleep. I camped out at Tom Pretty’s place, but, this was not Sue’s boyfriend, Tom, I was in a VW bus with Gwen. We didn’t get much sleep. It was a bouncy, bug bus that weekend.
On Saturday morning, we walked down into Paia through the cane fields. Along the way, we saw one of the most enormous, giant Mr. Centipedes I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I shit you not. This guy was as long as my foot. Gwen could not believe her eyes. Shit, I could not believe my own eyes. I’d seen a few as long as eight inches, but this guy was huge.
We ate at Larry’s and continued with bottled water to Baldwin. That day I would learn all about Gwen and her family from her version as Gwen got a rather nasty Baldwin Beach sunburn. We headed back and stopped at Larry’s to eat and have a drink. I remember how Gwen would tell me later about this dinner. Gwen was not twenty-one yet and she could not drink. I was. She is concerned and shares her concern about being under-age.
I said, ‘If you sit and act like an adult, they’ll treat you like one and serve you.’ It sounds like a shit thing to say, but like I said, Gwen reacted appropriately and we were served.
Up to just a few years ago, Gwen never knew I had met Joe before meeting her. It was only when I wrote my son Ryan and daughter Katie about their grandfather that I told them.
Joe was a really great guy. We hit it off from the very beginning.
It was so funny. Gwen sent me air tickets to come up to SF for Easter Vacation that semester. When I arrived, Joe and I got together the whole next day and puttered around the house and garden, planting some ice plant along the front drive, getting caught up.
He had really disliked this guy Gwen was dating in high school. Gwen was the apple of his eye, so to speak. So, for whatever reasons, Joe never clicked with his two sons. They were just incompatible. But Gwen was ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’.
Over the years that Gwen and I were married, Joe and I would always be doing something together when we were visiting. He really would have wished we could have settled closer to him. We would visit frequently and every time we did, he managed to have a whole bunch of projects for us to work on together.
Jeez, one time he was building this house at the end of Sunset Lane and we spent most of our days working on it together, he, Uncle Jack and I. We had this huge beam we were going to set in place and he had asked Greg and Gary to stop by just so we could lift it and set it into place. It was heavy. Anyway, as usual, they did not show. I looked at this beam and lifted one end and kind of figured I could manage it by myself.
Joe wasn’t for the idea and didn’t want me to do it. But, it was all ready to go and we had to get this beam into place before we could continue with our project. I lifted this huge beam and carried it from #4 Sunset down to #12 Sunset and crawled up the ladder and set it. It was done… just like that.
Joe, as meticulous as he was, was right on the mark with this beam. He had measured it perfectly and cut it preciously. Like a glove.
Joe got cancer and died.
Ryan and Katie, his two grand children would not really have an opportunity to know him like I had… as had Gwen.
Anyway, back to Baldwin Beach. Gwen got really sun burned that day and she was pretty miserable that night as well as the next day Monday. We still bounced the bug bus that night but it was very little sleep for the two of us.
On Monday she flew back to San Francisco. No more “what’s-his-name” and Joe has a smile on his face.