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This is quite lengthy but humorous ...... and TRUE !!
As a recent Aviation Ordnanceman Class "A" school graduate, I was eager to receive my sea duty orders to my first command. Little did I know what was in store for me and the difficulty I would encounter in arriving at my ultimate destination.
I checked out of NATTC Jacksonville, Florida on June 20, 1966, with orders to report to USS HANCOCK (CVA-19), Naval Air Station Alameda, CA. After two weeks leave at home in Dallas, Texas, I boarded a commercial flight to San Francisco and arrived at the International airport that evening. After picking up my seabag, I proceeded to the cab stand area and asked how much for a ride to Alameda Naval Base. I was told that it would cost about $15. Since I only had about ten dollars on me, I asked if there was a cheaper means of transportation. The disgruntled cab driver said that I could walk to the end of the sidewalk and catch a bus that would take me to downtown San Francisco and I could transfer to another bus that would take me to the base.
The bus terminal is located at Mission and First Streets in San Francisco and since I knew absolutely nothing about the city, I approached the ticked agent and was just about to ask her what bus I would take for Alameda, when she asked what ship I was going aboard? I responded, "The Hancock"
"Let me see if it's In port" she replied.
After calling ships information, she looked up at me and said, "She's out to sea. You want to go to the receiving station at Treasure Island. Go down the ramp to the last bus stop and that bus will take you over there. Good Luck."
Thanking her and taking her advice, I proceeded to the bus stop. Little did I know that her helping me, would lead me on one of the most bizarre trips of my life.
Naval Station Treasure Island in the 60's was a transfer station for the West Coast. Sailors were sent overseas or discharged from this one facility. Everyone who checked in was a number. I was informed upon my arrival that I was number 12-34 and that every morning I would muster in front of the barracks and find the square with those numbers, stand in the square so that my feet covered the numbers and await further instructions.
The next morning found me on my square at 0700 waiting with a hundred other sailors until the mustering Petty Officer had completed his muster. I then learned why it was important to cover the numbers. As the P.O. walked between the ranks, he wrote down the visible numbers. If you weren't standing on your number, it meant that you were AWOL. If you were standing on your number it meant that you or somebody was there.
Working parties were distributed after muster. Being an Airman Apprentice I knew that I would be shining or polishing something on the base. Luckily I was assigned to the galley to help prepare the noon meal. This one assignment would lead to a life long hate for one certain delicacy - Stuffed Bell Peppers. We were marched to the galley, assigned to our work stations and I considered that since I wasn't assigned to the scullery, anything would be easy. My assignment was to stuff Bell Peppers with ground meat. The cook had forgot just one small item, how many I had to stuff. After receiving proper instructions of how to stuff a pepper with a ladle, I was dispatched to the back of the galley and told to "commence stuffing until all the trays had been filled." Each "dolly" contained 10 trays and each tray contained 50 peppers. There were TEN dollies!!! Ever since that morning in July 1966 I have refrained from eating, touching or talking about stuffed Bell Peppers.
That afternoon I called a friend of mine who had attended AO "A" school with me the previous month. His family lived on the peninsula and after getting bus instructions from him I was off for a weekend of relaxation.
Returning back to the base Monday morning, I was informed that I was on report for missing muster yesterday. I was then informed that transit personnel were in Port and Starboard duty. I pleaded my case with the mustering P.O. and was relieved to find out that several other young sailors were in the same boat. But, we should have checked out before leaving for the weekend and we would receive a four hour working party. So, that morning I swabbed the deck of the barracks. Better than stuffing Bell Peppers !!
After our working party I asked to go to Disbursing because I had spent all but one dollar of my money and was running short of funds. I needed to purchase some toiletries as I was running short on soap, shaving lather, deodorant, tooth paste, etc. Permission was granted and at Disbursing I was informed that I would be paid at 1300 hrs on Wednesday. Just bring my pay record and everything would be handled.
Upon returning to the barracks I was informed to check the manifest that was posted at various times of the day, just in case my name would appear. With nothing else to do, I decided to take the P.O.'s advice and guess what ?? Down at the bottom of the newest list was one AOAA M.W.Johnson. I questioned the P.O. and was told, "Read the top of the manifest, Stupid!!" Oh, okay, thanks.
"ALL BELOW LISTED PERSONNEL WILL MUSTER ABREAST THE PERSONNEL OFFICE AT 110 HRS ON WEDNESDAY FOR FURTHER TRANSFER."
Finally, I'm going to get to Alameda!!
(Now you must understand, I was no brain surgeon in geography and getting on a bus to me meant that I was headed across the bay to Alameda where 250 other sailors were awaiting the return of the "HANNAH." She was coming back from her first WesPac deployment to Viet Nam.)
TUESDAY MORNING, 0700 HRS:
"Johnson, report to personnel, pick up your medical record and report to the Dispensary."
"What do you mean which arm?"
"According to your shot record and since you are going on sea duty you need ELEVEN shots. There are twelve doors in this passageway, six on each side, you get to stop at every one except door number 2.
"Now, which arm?"
(This was before "Let's Make A Deal", but where is Monty Hall when you need him?)
"Okay, give me six in one and five in the other." (Dumb, Dumb, Dumb)
"Hello Mom, yes, this is your lost sailor. I'm at Treasure Island, just across the bay from San Francisco. I don't know where they are sending me, but because I'm going on sea duty, I had to get eleven shots this morning. God, do my arms hurt. I didn't get this many shots in boot camp. But, everyone says that when you go sea duty you have to be prepared and I guess they are getting the shots out of the way first. No, the ship isn't in at this time. She is out on deployment and isn't due back for a couple of weeks. Don't worry, I have to be good, I only have a dollar to my name and I have to buy some soap and shaving gear. But, I'm supposed to get paid tomorrow. I love you too. Bye."
WEDNESDAY MORNING, 1100 HRS
"What do you mean I can't get paid?"
"Son, your pay record is in that envelope that you were just issued; along with your medical, personnel and shot record. When you get to your next command, they will pay you. By the way, why are you walking stooped shouldered? Someone punch you in the arm?"
Getting on the bus was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Never again will I ever get eleven shots at one time. And especially, I will never get them in both arms. One arm dragging at your side is bad enough, but to be scraping both sets of knuckles on the concrete is 100% pure pain. But, what the heck, I'm on a bus, sitting down, headed for my next command, going to get paid. YAHOO !!!
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, 1300 HRS
"You don't understand bus driver, I'm going to Alameda."
"Son, everyone who got on this bus, gets off this bus. Now, take your seabag and go talk to the Airman at the desk."
"ALL NAVAL PERSONNEL ARRIVING WILL PLACE THEIR ORDERS ON THE COUNTER AND ONCE YOUR ORDERS HAVE BEEN STAMPED WILL PROCEED TO THE SET OF DOUBLE DOORS ON YOUR LEFT AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS."
"UH, excuse me, I don't belong here. My orders say that I am to report to Naval Air Station Alameda for duty aboard the USS HANCOCK.
"ALL NAVAL PERSONNEL ARRIVING WILL PLACE THEIR ORDERS ON THE COUNTER AND ONCE YOUR ORDERS HAVE BEEN STAMPED WILL PROCEED TO THE SET OF DOUBLE DOORS ON YOUR LEFT AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS."
"Uh, Stewardess, Ma'am, there seems to have been a mistake. I am supposed to report to NAS Alameda to report aboard the Hancock and the pilot just announced that we would be landing in Honolulu, Hawaii in about four hours. Uh, could you....."
"Now don't worry, we are here to make your flight as enjoyable and comfortable as possible, could I get you something?"
"No, thank you."
"WE WOULD LIKE TO WELCOME THOSE PASSENGERS WHO JOINED US IN HONOLULU. OUR FLIGHT TIME TO CLARK AIR FORCE BASE, REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES...."
"...WILL BE ELEVEN HOURS. WE HOPE YOU HAVE AN ENJOYABLE FLIGHT AND THANK YOU FOR FLYING CONTINENTAL."
(You have got to be kidding me !!)
CLARK AIR FORCE BASE, 0100 HRS
"WELCOME TO CLARK AIR FORCE BASE. ALL NAVAL PERSONNEL ARRIVING WILL PLACE THEIR ORDERS ON THE COUNTER AND ONCE YOUR ORDERS HAVE BEEN STAMPED, WILL PROCEED TO THE WAITING AREA IN THE TERMINAL. IN THE MEANTIME YOU ARE WELCOME TO SPEND THE NEXT SIX HOURS IN OUR CAFETERIA OR LOUNGE AREA."
"Excuse me, is there any place that I can get paid around here. I haven't been paid in over four weeks and I only have a dollar to my name and that won't buy much in your cafeteria. Plus I'd like to buy some toiletries."
"If the Navy won't pay you, the Air Force damn sure won't pay you. You'll have to wait until you get to Subic and have the Navy Paymaster pay you. You are welcome to our Enlisted Eating Facility. It opens at 0500."
CLARK AIR FORCE BASE, 0900 HRS
"ALL PERSONNEL DESIRING TRANSPORTATION TO SUBIC BAY NAVAL STATION MUSTER ABREAST THE DOUBLE DOORS ADJACENT TO THE FRONT OF THE BUILDING. THIS IS A 42 PASSENGER BUS AND WE HAVE 65 PERSONNEL DESIRING TRANSPORTATION TO SUBIC. THE BUS WILL BE BOARDED ACCORDING TO RANK, ALL OFFICERS AND DEPENDENTS PLEASE START BOARDING AT THIS TIME. ALL CHIEF PETTY OFFICER. ALL FIRST CLASS PETTY OFFICERS. THE BUS WILL RETURN AT 1400 HRS AND SHUTTLE THE REMAINDER OF YOU WISHING TRANSPORTATION TO SUBIC. SIT TIGHT, WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK."
(You mean to tell me that the world's largest navy only has one bus to shuttle it personnel from one point to another. Oh well, at least I can go get something to eat.)
SUBIC BAY NAVAL STATION, TRANSIT BARRACKS, 1800 HRS
"WELCOME TO NAVAL STATION SUBIC BAY. ALL E-3 AND BELOW PERSONNEL ARE IN THE DUTY SECTION. ALL E-4 AND ABOVE PERSONNEL FALL OUT AND MUSTER TOMORROW MORNING. THOSE OF YOU REMAINING WILL BE ASSIGNED TO A WORK DETAIL. ANYONE WHO VOLUNTEERS TO WORK TONIGHT WILL BE GIVEN LIBERTY TOMORROW. I NEED FIVE VOLUNTEERS TO LOAD MAIL PLANES AT THE AIR TERMINAL TONIGHT. JOHNSON, SMITH, JONES, LEHAN & PINARD, YOU JUST VOLUNTEERED TO WORK AT THE AIR TERMINAL TONIGHT. THE BUS WILL PICK YOU UP IN FIFTEEN MINUTES."
(This makes sense. I left the world several days ago, crossed the International Date Line (skipped a day in my life), arrived in the Philippines at one in the morning, haven't slept since God knows when and now I'm volunteered to load mail planes. Welcome to the Navy - Fleet Sailor #1. Thank God it's Friday.)
SATURDAY MORNING, 0700 HRS
"Okay, you guys who worked last night can sleep in today. When you get ready to go on liberty come by the office and pick up your liberty cards."
(Thank God, finally I get to sleep and rest all day.)
"Excuse me, where do I have to go to get paid?"
"Today is Saturday, Disbursing doesn't open until 0800 Monday morning. You can go to mainside and get paid then."
SUNDAY EVENING, 1800 HRS
"NOW LISTEN UP, THE FOLLOWING PERSONNEL WILL MUSTER AT 2330 HRS TONIGHT FOR TRANSPORTATION TO CLARK AIR FORCE BASE. ADAMS, BRICKER..
(I don't have to worry, I just got here, whew !!)
".....ELLIS, GORE, JACKSON......"
( It will be so great, I finally get paid tomorrow!!!)
"...JOHNSON, MURRAY, O'HARA...."
(Must be some other Johnson)\
"Uh, excuse me, but you called a Johnson, which Johnson was that?"
"Johnson, uh, M.W. - AOAA. That you?"
"Well, be in front of the barracks at 2330 hrs with your seabag and ready to move out to Clark."
"But you don't understand, I'm supposed to get paid at 0800 in the morning. I only have a buck to my name."
"I don't know what to tell you son, all I do is read the orders and these orders say that you are going for a bus ride at midnight to Clark, for further transfer to ConUS."
"DO WHAT? I just left the states forty-eight hours ago and now they are sending me back?"
"I don't write the orders, I just read them."
"You mean to tell me that I got eleven shots in my arms for nothing!!!"
"Now calm down, someone made a mistake."
"Mistake!!!! I didn't sleep for two days, loaded five mail planes, traveled half way around the world with a dollar in my pocket, have been using a razor that is so dull that it pulls instead of shave! I've had to use soap instead of shaving lather, I need a haircut and now they are sending me back because someone made a mistake??!!"
"Don't worry, you will be in the states this time tomorrow and you will look back on this and laugh."
CLARK AIR FORCE BASE, 0400 HRS
"ALL PERSONNEL SEEKING TRANSPORTATION TO THE UNITED STATES PLEASE MUSTER ABREAST THE CHECK-OUT COUNTER AT THIS TIME."
"I'm sorry to inform some of you that you have been bumped from you flight. All E-6 personnel and above may board at this time. All E-5 and below are requested to remain in the terminal and await further orders."
"Uh, excuse me, when do you think that I might get a flight out of here?"
"The way it looks right now, it might take a week or so. Since you are only an E-2, everybody, and I mean everybody higher ranking than you, will be placed on the plane. Right now the only way you can get a flight out of here is if one is ready to depart and everyone senior to you is aboard and there is an empty seat. Keep checking in with us, we have flights coming in and out all the time."
(OK GOD, I'm sorry !!!!, I'll never do anything wrong again. If you can just get me out of this mess, I swear I'll go to church every Sunday, pray every night, donate to the church, whatever you want, just please don't leave me here for a week with only a dollar to my name. You're the Boss, you name it, I'll do it, just get me out of here. PLEASE !!!)
CLARK AIR FORCE BASE. 0900 HRS
"Hi Guys, I'm Staff Sergeant Moore. I'm the loadmaster on a C-124 and we are headed to the states. If you don't mind island hopping and taking a little time to get back to the states you are welcome to come with us."
(Thank You, God. Thank You, Thank You !!!)
"Our first stop will be Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa. I have to ask you to change into your dress blues because we are taking some officers with us. But once we drop them off in Okinawa, you will be able to put your dungarees on and relax. What do you say?"
"How long will it take to get back to the states?"
"Oh, about three days."
(Finally, I'm headed back to the states. Three other sailors, who were to be discharged upon their first port of entry, accompanied me to the plane. The flight to Okinawa was bumpy and cold. Good 'ol military hops. Nothing like them. Anyway, we arrived at the base in the afternoon.)
"You four sailors are bumped. There isn't any manifest containing your names."
"STAFF SERGEANT MOORE, PLEASE REPORT TO THE NAVY LIAISON DESK."
"Sarge, this guy says that we are bumped, what's up?"
"Now, don't you worry. I have you manifested all the way to the states. Let me talk to the Head Navy type here. He and I went to high school together."
(A few moments pass)
"See, I told you not to worry. You are booked all the way to the states. Now, go to the barracks, get a shower and I'll have a driver pick you up in a couple of hours. We need to go into town for a couple of "cold one's"
TUESDAY MORNING, 0700 HRS
"Morning sailors. The four of you just sit back and let me load this F-4 stabilizer and we'll be taking off in about an hour."
(After about 30 minutes, SSGT Moore had the stabilizer in the fuselage and had the bomb bay doors closed.)
"Nope, this looks like a load for a C-141. We can't have our card playing area blocked by a shot up piece of military equipment."
"Uh, Sarge, is it ok to be playing cards on the cargo doors? I mean you can look down and see the ocean through the crack."
"Don't worry, in order for those doors to open we would have to lose hydraulic pressure and if we did that the plane would crash anyway. Besides, according to aerodynamics, this plane isn't supposed to fly anyway. Short wings on a large fuselage. It's nicknamed the "Flying Boxcar". Now who's deal is it?"
"Ok sailors, I have to ask you to put on these life vests. It seems that Wake Island is at high tide and half the runway is under water. Nothing to worry about, it happens every once in a while. But just in case we happen to run into trouble, here are the emergency hatches. And wait until the plane stops before jumping ship."
(Oh, this is it !! Huh God?? You don't believe me so this is my punishment. Let me die on some God forsaken island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, that you decided to cover with water just about the same time we decided to visit this clump of dirt. And I have five weeks back pay coming. Can't you just wait a little longer? At least let me get paid and I promise I'll donate to the church. Honest !)
"See, I told you that there wasn't anything to worry about. We had about another hundred yards before we got wet. Now, don't worry, I'll get you a driver and he'll take you to the barracks. Oh, one bad thing, you won't be able to take a shower until the morning. It seems that the entire island is on water hours. So, between 0600 - 0800 you can take a shower. But, only get wet, soap up, rinse off. Try and use less than a couple of gallons of water."
(Now how in the world can an island be on water hours? Out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with billions of gallons of water and I can only use two gallons to wash my body!!! This can't be for real!!)
WEDNESDAY MORNING, 0800 HRS
"Morning sailors, how goes it?"
"Just fine!! We took our "Seaman Showers" and thanks for giving us the duty driver this morning to bring us to the chow hall. What's for breakfast?"
"Whatever you want and however you want it. This is the Air Force. Just order what you want and the cook will fix it up for you. How would you like your eggs?
"Ok, sailors, we have two more legs of this trip. Wake Island to Hawaii and Hawaii to Travis AFB. Just sit back and relax, we'll be in Hawaii in about 10 hours."
HICKEM FIELD, HAWAII, 2330 HRS
"It's tradition that the night before our last leg, the crew has a celebration and has a few cold one's. And don't worry Johnson, I know you only have 75 cents left to your name. I don't think that $1.50 for a six pack will break me."
"Hey guys, it's four in the morning, why don't we go to the terminal and get something to eat before we hit the rack? We won't be taking off until this afternoon and some grub will help absorb most of this beer we have been drinking.."
"So what if there is a Marine C-130 leaving at 0500 for El Toro MCAS? We've been with this group for three days and they are going to Travis. We can be home at this time tomorrow."
"We get discharged at the first port of entry. I live in Los Angeles. as soon as we land at El Toro, I'm home free and don't have to live in the barracks at Treasure Island for the next week and then hitchhike down to L.A. Come on, we'll leave a note to the Sarge and we can be home by the time they are taking off."
"Makes sense to me, besides this flight only takes 7 hours and the C-124 takes 12 hours. Let's go!"
MCAS EL TORO, CALIF, THURSDAY, 1700 HRS
"Now don't worry, at 2300 hours the Disbursing Officer is paying a battalion of Marines headed for Viet Nam and if you take your pay record to him, he will pay you. Or you can wait until 0800 in the morning and get paid. Here's your bunk number and which barracks you will be staying in for the night."
"Thanks, Partner, You have really put my mind at ease."
MCAS EL TORO, CALIF, FRIDAY, 0800
"What do you mean I have an old pay record?? I've only been in the Navy eleven months."
"You have an old pay record in that when you left Florida, you where paid up to date. That was about the 20th of June. July 1st is the start of a new fiscal year and all pay records must be closed out and reopened and until that happens you can't get paid."
"Sir, I've got 75 cents to my name. My orders state that I have until midnight tonight to get to NAS Alameda. If I'm not there by midnight, I'm AWOL. I have five weeks back pay due to me and I'm asking for your help to get me out of this problem."
"All I can do for you at this time is give you advanced travel pay. That means that I can give you first class air fare to Alameda and when you get to your destination you must fill out a travel voucher or else the advance pay will come out of your pay check.
"That's fine, how much is it?"
"Advance travel pay to Alameda is $26. Do you think you can make it on that?"
"Sir, I left Treasure Island last week with a dollar. I've been half way around the world and back and I still have 75 cents and you are asking me if I can go 400 miles on $26? No Problem, Sir."
(No wonder they say Ensigns don't know anything.)
"Oh, by the way, are you aware that you can't fly to the Bay Area. All the airline pilots are on strike. My recommendation is that you take a bus. It will take you a little bit longer, but you should get there before midnight."
"Thank you sir."
(Luckily, I got a ride to the bus terminal, purchased a ticket for San Francisco - $13 and felt like the richest man in the world. I had a whopping $13.75. As the bus made it's way up the state, I started watching my time and getting a little concerned about being in Alameda by midnight. About half way up, around 1800 hrs, a sailor got onboard. Maybe he is going to the same base as me??)
"When the bus gets to Oakland, get off. Go outside and for about $3.00 you can get a cab to the base. If you go to San Francisco, you won't make it in time and you will be AWOL."
OAKLAND BUS TERMINAL, 2330 HRS
"Yes, Sir, my seabag is booked to San Francisco and I want to get off here. Can you have it shipped back to here?"
"Yes, son, just fill out this form and it will be here in a couple of days."
"Yes, Sir, I have twenty-five minutes before I'm AWOL. Can you make it to the base in that amount of time?"
"Just get your butt in here and hang on. If we hit the lights just right, we will make it with time to spare."
NAVAL AIR STATION ALAMEDA, 2355 HRS
(Whew !! I made it !!!)
"Where you been boy? you just got here in time. Do you realize that another 5 minutes and you would have been AWOL?"
"Yes, Sir, last week I was at Treasure Island and I finally made it!!"
"You mean to tell me that last week you were across the bay and you just now got here? Where have you been? Forget it, there isn't any room on your orders for me to put a stamp. You have 20 stamps on your orders. Wow !! Welcome Home Son.
NAVAL AIR STATION ALAMEDA, MONDAY 0800
"What do you mean I can't get paid?"
"All personnel transferring to the Hancock will be paid once they have checked aboard. She is due in port in three days."
"Hello Mom, you aren't going to believe this, remember last week when I....
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