A Dedication to Those of Us Who Served: The Formative Years
My “A” School complete, I was ready for another ship, the USS Monticello (LSD-35). My most memorable and turbulent times came from my time aboard the “Mo Boat”.
- I was married to my high school sweetheart while on leave in Colorado, before going to my new duty station in San Diego.
- I played football against Jim Wolfe, who during the game almost ripped my ear off.
- My daughter was born in February. I was prevented from seeing her birth because after listening to one of the men aboard the ship who told me that birth is the closest a woman comes to death, when my wife was in labor, begging for something to help her with her pain, the medical staff was calmly eating lunch. I almost became very physical with the doctor and staff, thinking that she was going to die.
- Later that year, in September, my wife asked me for a plane ticket back to Colorado in order to show off our daughter to her folks. Once she arrived, she promptly told me that she was not coming back. She filed for a divorce within the week.
- I was asked by a chief that I worked for if I was “a descendant of those nip-flying buzz bombers” in front of over 15 other chiefs. In my embarrassment and defense, the chief that I worked for took offense. The chief who asked me that question thought he had a right, since he was married to a Japanese.
- My second trip to the Philippines resulted in meeting a very special lady, a dietary consultant who on one night introduced me to the infamous President Ferdinand Marcos, and his wife Imelda at a floating casino in Manila Bay.
- During a stop in Busan, South Korea, two friends and I went on walkabout, touring the city. We happened to take a turn up a mountain, only to be escorted at gunpoint by ROK army regulars.
- While in Hong Kong, I not only toured the Tai Pak gardens, but spent a lot of time skulking around tiny shops and businesses in the notorius Wanchai district.
- In Japan, I had a chance to visit relatives on leave. It was the first time I met my cousins, Kozo and Willy, who showed me around Tokyo and the Ginza district.
- Upon our return to the U.S., I had no one to greet me at the pier. This time, I felt no empty feeling. I wanted to stay abroad.
It would be 1979, when the USS Monticello would make its way up the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon for a shipyard overhaul. I lost a good friend there one night, his body was found in a river, we were told he had been stripped of his shirt and shoes. The police thought it was a “carny”, since there was a carnival in town that week. We had other suspicions, that turned up a dry well. Portland was a time of revelling for me. I would begin to haunt nightclubs and dance places for one night stands. Women I spent time with, some destitute, others just looking for a good time like myself. I would find myself at the Copper Penny Two in downtown Portland, or Earthquake Ethel’s in Beaverton, or even the Pigeon Toed Orange Peel Bar and Grill, that catered to the college crowd that no longer seems to exist. It was when the town of Spirit Lake closed in early 1980, that I began collecting articles from The Oregonian. The mountain that people loved to travel to see in Washington, Mt. St. Helens had spit out plumes of ash and soot. Something was happening, I could feel it in my bones. It was on May 18, 1980 that the newspaper clippings I had been collecting came to fruition when Mt. St. Helens finally erupted, spitting out a plume of ash and soot that covered 3 states. That occurred 30 years ago. What many people do not know today is that we were not affected by ash from the volcano for 3 days. We suffered from the fallout, the day becoming like night when the winds shifted. Portland had come to a standstill.
These are my memories of a time when I was in the service. It was my first 4 years, which eventually would lead me to another 16 years in the Navy. When I left the service in August of 1980, to return to my native Colorado, I never thought that I would be returning to the Navy. I was finished, I’d had enough. Besides my uniforms, I had one memento from a very special lady in my life at that time, her name was Ruth Larson. I can still remember one of our last telephone conversations when I called her from my friend Bob Berry and his wife’s apartment. My final gift was from Ruth, that I received in Colorado on September 5th, 1980. It was a small package containing a pen filled with what looked like white dust. Wrapped around the pen was a short note, “Just thought I would give you a piece of ash. Love, Ruth”.