Monday, April 12, 2010

Underway At Last - To The Murry Incident

I've started this blog entry several times and maybe this version will be it. Instead of making a mountain out of a mole hill, let me say that 1965 Long Beach wasn't very exciting. The word at the time was that it was either a “sailor's town” or a Hell's Angels town, or both. Looking back, it probably didn't matter whose town it was, it was boring and not a nice place to live or visit, unless you wanted a pawn shop, a bar or a porn movie. I reported aboard the USS Princeton home-ported in Long Beach in September 1965 after a month leave (a Navy vacation) and a year in Vietnam. I'd had enough of Vietnam, at least being “in-country,” and really wanted nothing more to do with it. At the time, I blamed the generals and admirals for the war. But, years later I figured out that it wasn't them at all; it was civilian leaders and their concocted ideas that get us into silliness. The generals and admirals simply follow orders, even stupid orders.

But, as usual, I was lucky when I started my USS Princeton tour of duty. I was assigned as the financial records keeper, the OPTAR, Operating Target, Storekeeper, a position usually given to more qualified and experienced Storekeepers. The OPTAR was the ship's checkbook and its keeper had better have his stuff all in one sock. I had doubts, but I wasn't going to argue about it. I immediately knew that I would be excluded from the usual menial duties, such as three month mess deck duty pealing potatoes or scullery duty, and the quarterdeck watch in the cold and rain or hot muggy days. Instead, I would be a duty Supply Office Storekeeper, a pretty cushy job, every three days. That was okay with me. Loggins was the senior duty Storekeeper in my duty section and he brought his guitar for those slow duty nights. So, I became interested in buying a guitar in those first few days on the Princeton. Loggins was a very good guitar player and played with a country-western group around L.A. But, he was teaching himself folk music, specifically Bob Dylan. I understand now why both he and I liked Dylan – Dylan couldn't sing worth a dime. Neither could we. My playing never got better than playing rhythm, of sorts, while his continued to improve. It wouldn't surprise me to hear that, after leaving the Navy, he made a living playing in a professional band, but not as a singer.

Staying on ship 24/7 was not an option for sanity, however. I did go into Long Beach. A Saturday night at the YMCA and spending time at the USO was not unusual for me. One trip to “The Pike” was enough, however. The Pike was where the carnival was with the typical rip-off booths to win a stuffed doll of some kind or ride a ride. I didn't need a doll and wasn't interested in the rides. The Pike also had a heavier concentration of bars, along the route to the carnival, that catered to Hell's Angels, and Hell's Angels didn't like sailors, so it wasn't the best place to be. If I had to walk The Pike and noticed more than a few motorcycles, I took a detour.

Only three memories stand out in my mind about Long Beach that lead to the conclusion that went to my head at the time: that I had a nice butt. Joan once told me, when I was complaining that summer about being too skinny when I grew about six inches between my Sophomore and Junior high school years, that the only thing holding my pants up was my butt. I didn't know it was a compliment at the time. I wouldn't have gotten that particular compliment in my baggy Dress Whites. So, these events occurred after October 15 th , the day we finally changed into Dress Blues that fit me a thousand percent better. All pay-grades below Second Class Petty Officer were required to wear a dress uniform on liberty (remember that term? - it's an evening or weekend on the beach) in those days.

On one occasion, I was walking back to the ship along Ocean Boulevard, probably to catch a buss to the base, when I heard a woman behind me say, “Nice ass.” I couldn't keep myself from turning to look at, 1) who said it, and 2) who she was talking to. I saw a young, nice looking woman about my age walking with a big, burly guy wearing a leather jacket and about one hundred pounds heavier than I was. I turned and kept walking. “ Stuck up, too,” she said, which confirmed, to me, that she was talking to me. I kept on walking, about 100 times more self-conscious that probably added an extra twitch in my step... and butt.

The second time occurred at the USO as Gary Cook and I entered to get a morning cup of coffee. I seem to remember that he and I were complaining about the lack of girls in Long Beach and a waitress overheard our conversation. She said something like, “it shouldn't be a problem for you with that nice ass.” Cook burst out laughing and said something like, “him?” in a disbelieving tone. Well, if you live with a bunch of guys who need an excuse to pick on someone, don't tell them personal secrets or give them an excuse. Cook, of course, couldn't keep his mouth shut back on ship. From that day until I left the ship I heard “nice cheeks” more than I cared to.

The third time just made matters worse since I was once again with Cook. We stopped at a coffee shop for breakfast and we were in line to pay our bill. As we waited, we were both watching a very pretty girl in line behind us through a mirror along the wall. And, she knew we were staring at her. The next thing I knew, she said, “nice ass,” and grabbed a hand full of my butt. I jumped, and probably yelped out loud, and Cook burst out laughing again. Once again, he couldn't keep his mouth shut on ship. My “nice cheeks” fate was sealed.

In a San Francisco incident, however, Cook got his comeuppance in a most embarrassing way, and it added to my own embarrassment somewhat. In December 1965, after my 21 st birthday, the ship went to San Francisco for a week of R&R, rest and recreation. We may have thought we were smart and worldly, but we were about as na├»ve as we could be. The Hell's Angels was something we understood and could avoid. San Francisco held a new surprise on our first night there that we hadn't anticipated. We decided to go bar hopping, the “we” included myself, Cook, Mike Dover and Patereau, all of us now over 21 years old. As soon as the brow (gangway) dropped, we were on our way to the latest center attraction in those days, Haight and Ashbury, the center of hippie-dom and free love. We'd already heard about the place although it wasn't as famous then as it would later become.

At first we had a good time. We had drinks at four or five bars and talked with several girls our age, but who didn't quiet meet the criteria to divert any of us from our bar hopping. By ten or eleven that night, all of us were feeling pretty good and we had wandered out of the Haight and Ashbury district into the Market Street area (my memory is foggy on where we were, though). It was about that time that Cook spotted a very good looking, tall woman entering a bar that had a bouncer at the entrance, Pinocchio's. The bouncer, we thought, made the bar a little more upscale. Cook lead the way, with Patereau right behind him, never wanting to be left out. The bouncer smiled and opened the door for us and we walked in, but we all stopped simultaneously about ten feet into the bar. Something was wrong, but I don't believe any of us could say what was wrong at that instant. The woman Cook had been watching came up to him and said something like, “come on in, honey,” and she grabbed him in the crotch. I wouldn't call Cook shy by any stretch and he, as I could have guessed, grabbed the woman back in the same location. Then he yelled, turned and grabbed Patereau's and my arm and pulled us toward the door. At that instant it dawned on me what the problem was – it wasn't the type of bar we expected. It was a gay bar. The woman wasn't a woman. As we left as fast as we could, someone yelled, “Hey, nice ass, come on back.” The bouncer laughed as we hurriedly walked away, just barely keeping ourselves from running flat out. We were sober by the time we walked aboard the ship about twenty minutes later. Cook told us that he'd kill us if we said a word about it on ship. None of us did, although I had every right to.

By February the single guys in our division were ready to leave for the Western Pacific. We'd had enough of Long Beach. We stopped in Hawaii for a few days to load a battalion of Marines, about 3,000 men, and the battalion equipment, and to load last minute supplies that we would not likely find in WESTPAC. The Supply Office was hopping. Four or five of us spent a few nice days on Waikiki Beach and at a new, at the time, U. S. Army hotel on the beach, the Hale Koa . It is a five-star rated hotel specifically for U. S. Military personnel on the beach near downtown Honolulu. Beer at the hotel was half the price of anyplace else in Honolulu.

We pulled into Subic Bay, Philippines a little over two weeks later and I was introduced to Olongapo City, Shit River, Monkey Meat and Manila Rum, not necessarily in that order. First things first, however, was getting a few emergency parts on board, and that meant “Walk Thrus,” that is walking an order through the Subic Bay Supply Depot. I volunteered just to get out of the office. Of all of the Supply Centers and Depots I've dealt with, Subic Bay was the worst and my experience with it on that first day in port left a lasting impression; pack a lunch, if you can, if you have to order anything from the Subic Bay Supply Depot. It's going to take a while and you'll run all over the place needlessly. So, my first working day in Subic Bay was spent mostly walking, with a few short rides, about ten miles between warehouses and the central requisition office, spread all over the base, trying to get a part. The one bright spot was that I found a small on-base restaurant that served a new treat that I hadn't tried, lumpia, a Philippine egg-roll. Lumpia, with the sweet sauce, was delicious. I must have eaten about thirty or forty of them for lunch, I was that hungry, after a very long, 100 degree day walk. All I got out of it when I finally returned to ship with the part was, “Where in the hell have you been?” My uniform was drenched with sweat. I didn't volunteer to walk thru anymore orders after that.

It's ironic that if you Google “Subic Bay Philippines,” one of the images returned is of two sailors at a bar table with three bar girls. Ironic only because anyone except a sailor would not expect to see that kind of image from the search. If you were there back then or had seen a single picture like that, then you've seen every picture ever taken in Olongapo. That's the way it was. Those two in the picture may have had wives back home, who may now be seeing for the first time their husbands with bar girls on their laps. My advice is don't get your panties in a knot. It isn't worth the fuss. It's the way it was. That was Olongapo in the 1960s, one long red clay, unpaved street of bars with bar girls. It was a rough city. It is no longer that way. I believe it is a resort now, and probably a nice, tropical paradise to visit.

On that first visit, the Princeton was tied along the Cubi Point Pier, near the air strip, to unload the planes we carried and a long way from the main gate and main street into to Olongapo. We had to walk a mile to catch a bus that ran every thirty minutes and stopped every five minutes along the way. By the time we arrived at the gate, sailors were hanging on the sides of the bus and it was so crowded, in 100 degree weather, that we all needed another shower. Finally we reached the main gate nearly one hour after we left the ship. Then came the inspection on leaving the base, “put your watch in your pocket or hold it in your hand,” “put your ID in your sock,” “if you're going to hang your wallet on your belt, make sure to slip it between your pants and your belt,” (Dress Whites had no rear pockets) on and on, we were checked for a proper uniform as well as getting advice on keeping our stuff. We soon learned why. The next gauntlet was over the Shit River Bridge, and that's precisely what it was, Shit River.

Olongapo had no sewage system, so all sewage drained to the bay via the river. In the river children in bum-boats begged us to throw them money. There were twenty or thirty children on the bridge for every one in the boats, simply a swam of kids, all reaching their hands around our faces, slapping our pockets and patting us on our backs or butts. These were terribly poor people, so we frequently gave in to their pleas. But, we also held on to our wallets, watches and ID cards, or tried to.

Cook learned that one could easily be distracted crossing the bridge. We had already exchanged money, bought a fist full of Monkey Meat on sticks at a street vendor, made it to our first bar and ordered drinks, approximately fifteen minutes, before he realized that his watch was missing. I don't think the fact that the watch was gone bothered him as much as figuring out how they took it without him knowing it. Those kids on the bridge were extremely skilled pick pockets and jewelry thieves – and you wouldn't feel a thing. While you were giving them a dollar out of sympathy, they were taking your $50 watch. Ten minutes later, the watch was on sale at a street vendor.

If I had to name the best things about Olongapo and Subic Bay, I think I would say Monkey Meat, Lumpia and the Enlisted Club on base. It never dawned on me in the first year or so of visiting Subic Bay that monkey meat wasn't really monkey meat – it was pork. It was very tasty, barbecued meat on a stick; a shish kabob. Buying a dozen sticks going into Olongapo and again when returning to base after a hard night of partying was the best. Frequently, a dozen wasn't enough and I usually lamented not buying more. Everyone did it. Lumpia was just as popular at the tiny on-base restaurant. Everyone ordered it, it was always in short supply and you couldn't find an empty seat in the restaurant from morning to night.

But, if you wanted to party, the Enlisted Club was the place to go, on-base, just inside the main gate. The club usually had the best touring bands, for example Chicago in 1969, and it wasn't unusual to start the night at your own table and by the end of the night have most tables shoved together into one huge table to make a bigger dance floor and the party was notched up to high gear. The girls were there for fun, not business, and many girls who worked or lived on base were there. It was a better environment.

There were bad times in Subic Bay, as well. There were several race riots on base in '65, made up mostly of drunken sailors, especially when the Princeton was in port. There was also the problem of marines and sailors mixing. Fights were common. Then there was the USS Evans accident in 1969. The Evans was a destroyer that collided with the HMAS Melbourne, an Australian aircraft carrier, and was torn in half by the collision. The forward half sunk, killing around 80 sailors, but the afterward half was towed to Subic Bay and tied to the Ship Repair pier for all to see. The surviving sailors were hospitalized at the Subic Bay Hospital and it wasn't unusual to see and talk to them at the Enlisted Club, some of them wearing hospital issued clothing and slippers in those first weeks after the accident.

Subic Bay served a purpose, I thought, and that was relieving the stress of the gun-line, especially for Marines who had it a lot tougher than sailors did. The only person that I knew of who didn't take advantage of Subic Bay was Murry. He was an odd bird. He didn't seem to fit in the Navy camaraderie that the rest of us shared. Perhaps that was the reason we, well I went along with it so I guess I'm just as much at fault as the primary perpetrator, did what we did that got several of us in a load of trouble.

One evening as night approached and the Marines were forming in the hanger bay with weapons and packs and helicopters were positioning for loading and takeoff for a beach assault, several of us were lounging in the Supply Office when Murry walked in. “Murry!” Patereau, I believe, said, “Where have you been? They're looking for you.” Who's looking for me, Murry said. “The XO. You're supposed to go ashore with the Marines for supply support,” Patereau said. “They're waiting on you in the hanger bay.” Well, Murry left like a shot and everyone laughed. But, Murry didn't come back. An hour or so later, the ship's Chaplain came into the office and ask if we'd seen Murry. We hadn't since he had left an hour earlier. He left and returned about fifteen minutes later; Murry couldn't be found and he was worried. We began to worry, too, so we began our own search, two guys headed for the storerooms, and I and Dover, I think, headed for the catwalks around the flight deck, one of Murry's favorite quiet places.

An hour later we were all back in the Supply Office still unable to find Murry, and we were sweating. Crap! What if he actually did go ashore with the Marines, somehow? How could that happen? We called our division officer and he got the entire division, about 25 men, out of bed and we all searched the ship. We mustered at the Supply Office an hour later and still no Murry. We asked the Officer of the Deck in control tower to announce for Murry to report to the Supply Office. But, he didn't come. Our worst fear was that he fell overboard. Finally, close to midnight, Patereau told our division officer what happened and he took us, the five culprits, to the XO's stateroom-office. The XO listened to our story and it was about as somber in the room as you can imagine. He gave us a short lecture, told us that Murry could not have gone with the Marines and told us that, since a beach assault was in progress and Marines were engaging the Vietcong, the ship could not go to a man overboard condition to search for Murry. Compared to the danger for the Marines, Murry was expendable. I felt the blood drain out of my face when he said that. The XO hoped, he said, that Murry could stay afloat through the night until morning when he could be better seen and the ship could send a couple of small boats to search for him. Meanwhile, we, he said, should think about court marshal. My stomach was in such a knot that I couldn't swallow. On our way back from the XO's stateroom, we called Patereau every name we could think of and we would have likely killed him if we could have. Patereau was as pale as a sheet. None of us slept that night. I stayed in the Supply Office nearly the entire night.

The next morning we were hoping to hear something about Murry, but the hours passed. About two in the afternoon, I was called to the XO's stateroom alone where he and the ship's Chaplain were waiting. The XO said only, “It isn't funny, now, is it Clark?” No sir, was all I could say. I had never felt worse. The Chaplain then told me this story. The evening before, a marine Lieutenant had ask him to look into a young sailor, Murry, who was standing in ranks with the Lieutenant's squadron waiting to be loaded on helicopters. Murry was wearing dungaree trousers and a t-shirt. The Marines he stood with were in full battle dress. The Lieutenant, he said, reported that the sailor said he was supposed to go ashore for supply support. The Lieutenant was concerned that Murry was unstable, considering his uniform, in contrast to the marines' uniforms, and the seriousness of Murry's intent to go with the marines. After hearing Murry's story, the Chaplain took Murry to an empty officer stateroom to spend the night and made sure he had soap, towel and a razor to take a shower. He ordered Murry to stay in the room until he said he could leave. In the meantime, the Chaplain, XO and CO decided to let us sweat a while. “Do you have anything to say?” the Chaplain finally ask me. I'm glad he's okay, I said. The XO told me not to say anything to anyone and then told me to leave.

Patereau was the last to be called to the XO's stateroom. He was physically ill, he was so worried, as he left the Supply Office. When he returned, he was elated and relieved that nothing had happened to Murry. Patereau wasn't court marshaled, but he was restricted to ship for thirty days, one of several restrictions he received. Patereau took Murry under his wing for the rest of the WESTPAC cruise, although Murry never went on liberty with us. But, Murry's life became a lot easier after that. If you wanted to say something to Murry, you had to go through Patereau first. Murry became a policeman in Florida after he left the Navy a year or so later.


1 comment:

Dan said...

Well...isn't this an interesting story to hear? Thanks.