09 April 2010

A CALIFORNIA GODDESS AWAITS

The next day, Thursday, 11 December, we reported to the Transient Facility at Danang Air base to begin processing for our trip home. After the fun that we had had at the DOOM Club, I hit the rack early. This was one flight that I did not want to miss.

On Friday morning, we mustered. About 150 of us then moved to a C-130 for the trip to Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa. Take off was routine, and about 10 minutes later, the crew chief announced that we had just left Vietnamese air space. There was a cheer, but it was almost anticlimactic. The aircraft was a standard C-130, with canvas bench seats along each side of the aircraft and a back-to-back arrangement of canvas bench seats down the centerline of the aircraft. I dozed for most of the trip.

We landed at Kadena in early afternoon and were trucked to Camp Hague to be processed. Our orders were collected and stamped and busses ran us over to 3d Force Service Regiment to collect the baggage we had stored the year before. We were billeted in Quonset hut barracks for the night.

A few of our TBS classmates who were still on Okinawa formed up with us and led us to a genuine Kobi beef restaurant for dinner. Afterwards, we decided to visit a steam bath. The guys who had been on Oki knew just where to take us.

It was a little hole in the wall place. We paid our tab and were ushered into a locker room and handed towels. After stripping down, we were led into a room holding perhaps a dozen old-fashioned steam cabinets. After being locked in, the steam was turned on and we sat for 15 or 20 minutes. When the cabinets were opened, we were streaked with dirt that had been steamed out of our pores. We were then led into a Japanese style bath and soaked for another 20 minutes or so.

Next came the massage tables—in private rooms. The masseuse initially gave me a rub down and ended with the traditional walk on my back. Then she asked if I was interested in the “special.” When it dawned on me just what the “special” entailed, I declined. I was getting married in two weeks, for crying out loud!

On Saturday, I went to the barbershop to get a haircut, to the MCX to get the proper ribbons, pressed out the uniform I would wear to California, polished leather and brass, and just relaxed. We were wearing the Winter Service “A” uniform: green blouse and trousers with khaki shirt and field scarf. We were also wearing the fourragère earned by the Fifth Marines in France in WWI. It was our only opportunity to wear it, and it was a big deal.

We ate off base that night, but ended up in the Officers Club for a late night. The next morning, I got up early to go to Mass and then packed away my utilities and waited for the time to return to Kadena. Finally, we were on the bus and heading home.

At Kadena, we checked in and at about 2200 on Sunday night. We mustered and then walked out to the plane that would take us home, taking off at 2300. I sat with Tom Pottenger and Mike and Jerry were across the aisle from us. The flight was uneventful. Because we were headed east, we had the advantage of the jet stream and the earth’s rotation working for us. We flew non-stop from Kadena to Travis Air Force Base outside of San Francisco. There the plane refueled and flew on down to Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, where we landed at about 1800 on Sunday. Thanks to the International Date Line, we landed about five hours before we left Okinawa!

Tom walked out onto the aircraft steps in front of me. Suddenly, he stopped.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Where are the bands? Where are the flags?”

“Not that kind of war, Tommy,” I replied. “Let’s go home.”

We picked up our bags and headed into the terminal at El Toro. A Lance Corporal was waiting for us. He collected our orders, officers, then Staff NCOs, then NCOs, then non-rated men. A few minutes later, my orders were returned and I was directed to pass through customs. A PFC was the Customs inspector.

“You got anything to declare, Lieutenant,” he asked?

“I do declare I am glad to be home in one piece!”

“Yessir. See you next time.”

I headed through a glass door into a lobby which was dominated by a ticket office. Mike, Tom, and Jerry were already inside. I found a ticket agent and bought a ticket from LA to Saint Louis. I had two choices: there was a TWA flight to St. Louis that left at 2230 and another to Cincinnati via St. Louis that left at 2245. I knew that Tom would be on the Cincinnati flight, but I wasn’t going to “waste” 15 minutes waiting for him.

It was now 1845. As I came out of the ticket office, Tom, Mike, and Jerry were headed out the door to the taxi stand. Pot waved for me to doubletime. “Jerry has a flight out of LA in an hour. Last one until tomorrow morning. We gotta move.”

Jerry and Mike were at the curb. The taxi driver was a grizzled old gal.

“Can you get us to the Northwest Air Lines terminal at LA by 7:45,” Jerry asked?

“Fifty bucks a head,” she replied. We paid up.

“Well, get in. Get in. What are we waiting for? Time’s a-wasting,” she shouted. We dumped our bags in the trunk, jumped in the cab, and took off. I don’t think we ever flew more than 5 feet above the roadway, but it was scary. For the second time in three days, I feared that I was going to die in an accident before I got home. We got to LAX at 7:42 pm.

Jerry grabbed his bags, shook our hands and ran for his 8:10 flight. (He made it.) Tom, Mike and I took our bags and stood there in the street looking at one another.

“I’m on United to Chicago, over there,” Mike said. Tom and I were headed for the TWA terminal, so once again we shook hands. “I’ll see you at the wedding, Mac.” And he was gone.

Tom and I grabbed our gear and headed to the TWA building. As we entered, we were greeted by a golden California goddess, dressed in a bright red TWA uniform. She had long legs that stretched from the floor all the way to….., well, let’s just say she was exquisite.

“Good evening, gentlemen. What can I do for you this evening?” Her smile was dazzling.

“Oh, my dear, so many things,” Pot replied. "But I just don’t have the time.” The goddess blushed!

“Please pardon the lieutenant,” I interjected. “Is there a bar in the airport?”

She gave us directions and I led Pot towards the TWA check in counter where we dropped our bags. Then we found the bar. It being Sunday, we took our anti-malaria horse pills as we would have to do for six weeks. They went down a lot easier with cold draft beer.

We headed for our respective gates at about 9:30. Tom’s was right next to mine. I boarded at about 10:00 pm, and had just settled in when the Captain spoke over the PA system. “We’ve had a little problem with the plane and we are going to have to shift you to another aircraft that is also headed for St. Louis. The good news is that it is parked at the very next gate.”

We disembarked and moved to the next gate. When I boarded the airplane, I was looking for Pot. (These were the days before boarding passes and assigned seating.) I spotted him in a window seat, already asleep. His seat mate was a little old lady. The aisle seat across from her was empty and I dropped my awol bag on it.

“Excuse me, Ma’am, but I have been sitting next to the Lieutenant all the way from Vietnam. Is there any chance we could swap seats?”

“Of course, Dear.” She moved into the new seat.

I sat down and smacked Pot on top of the head. “Sorry, Leatherneck, but you’re still stuck with me.”

The aircraft took a long roll down the runway and we were headed home.


© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

2 comments:

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