Destroyer Duty – On Liberty

The US Navy maintained a supply line where patrol destroyers could find a fuel tanker or other supply ships on a regular basis. We stayed in these island ports just long enough to take on the various supplies, usually about four hours. A third of the crew could go ashore on liberty. Segments of the local populations adapted to the sailor’s specific needs, alcohol and sex. In return, they receiving an income from the sailors far surpassing their national average.

On my first visit to one of these islands, Taiwan, the communications officer selected me for the three hour liberty period. I followed along with a small group of other sailors from the ship’s operations department. There were three radar operators and two signalmen, all second and third class petty officers, and me the only seaman.

The traditional village surrounding the harbor had recently expanded to include a strip of sailor bars. When we entered the nearest bar, attractive and well dressed young women greeted us at the door, randomly pairing up with us before we even reached a booth.

The pretty young woman who sat on my lap, calling herself Linda, seemed to be inexperienced and nervous while another woman at our booth appeared to be instructing her. We were told the young women could leave the bar with us if we paid the older woman who operated the place. The pretext was, we could take them to the US Navy operated Enlisted Men’s Club up the street for dinner and dancing. But we could actually bypass all that and go directly to a rented private room for sexual purposes.

At first, I experienced a mixture of lust, pity, and contempt for, Linda, the enticing young female sitting on my lap. The contempt faded quickly as I compared my actions to hers and came up even, at best. The pity lingered. I could sense her fear, of me and of the other women. If I turned her down, she would have failed at her job. I felt obliged to pay for her release from the bar. When I opted to take her to the enlisted men’s club for dinner and dancing, the woman instructing her seemed unhappy about that. Her sailor, along with all the other sailors in our group, except me, had opted for private rooms.

Fear radiated from Linda’s young eyes as we stood alone in front of the bar and her body began to shiver when I put my arm around her. By the time we reached the EM club she was almost hyperventilating.

“Relax, I’m not going to hurt you,” I whispered softly in her ear before sitting her down in a chair at a table in the large, nearly empty dinning room with jukebox and dance floor. I ordered a bottle of red wine to drink with our steak dinners and another bottle to wash it down. She ate heartily and after a few glasses of wine she even began to smile and laugh. Cautious curiosity replaced the fear in her eyes as we attempted to communicate despite my inability to speak her language and her very limited command of mine.

As I held her in my arms on the dance floor, barely moving to the music playing on the jukebox, I wanted to take her to a private room and make love. But would it be love making for her? I could show her more love, I concluded, by not forcing her to go with me to a private room for sex. I knew the opportunity had passed when some of the other sailors showed up at the EM club without their women from the bar. It was time to return to the ship. As I walked her back to the bar, Linda seemed giddy from the wine and relieved of her previous fears.

After the ship got underway, one of the radar operators stood in the passageway outside the radio shack and proclaimed: “John had the prettiest little girl. She looked like a virgin. And he brought her to the EM club for dinner and dancing.”

“You didn’t get laid?” Fred asked, turning to look in my direction as I sat at the telegraph operator’s key getting ready to send a Morse code message.

“You’re not a queer, are you?” Ned chimed in from the transmitter room.

“No, I’m not a queer,” I replied: “And I’m not an animal either.”

“Oh, yes you are an animal,” Fred countered: “Apparently, you just don’t know it, yet. You haven’t been at sea long enough. You’ll probably go back looking for her on your next liberty. But when you find her, she will no longer be the sweet little virgin you remember. You should have taken her when you had the chance.”

Fred was right about one thing. I did go looking for Linda on my next liberty, about six weeks later. I found her working at one of the more Americanized bars, a portrait of a sophisticated lady, perched on a sailor’s lap.

Her eyes passed over me and then immediately came back. “John,” she screamed, jumping from the sailor’s lap and running over to me with a big smile on her face, saying: “I am so happy to see you.” Behind her, another woman climbed onto the sailor’s lap before he could complain.

The strength of her emotion overwhelmed me. Surprised, I muttered: “You remember me.” She replied: “Of course I remember you, John. You are my good friend. You are different from other sailor. This time, I go with you. You not pay.” I followed her through the village into an area where sailors usually did not venture. When we entered her humble home, she introduced me to her mother and her younger sister, I could tell from their response that she had talked to them about me.

“Sister too young work in sailor bar,” Linda said as we sat together in a small parlor. I pondered the joys of having sex with all three beautiful females, finding the mother most attractive. Her personal dignity under the circumstances impressed me greatly and I couldn’t stop looking at her. She acknowledged my obsession with a smile and, when our eyes met, I experienced an unexpected flood of agonizing emotions. My lust for her remained yet something new emerged into my consciousness from deep within my soul. Nothing from my previous experience had prepared me for it: except, perhaps, singing the Requiem Mass with Father David.

Linda translated the words as her mother explained their situation. She didn’t want her younger daughter working in a sailor bar. And she didn’t want her older daughter, Linda, working in a sailor bar either but they needed the money which she earned there, to survive. They previously had lived in an interior village where her husband was killed in a grudge fight, forcing her to flee with the children. She would like to see her daughters educated, legitimately employed, and living somewhere safe.

It would break their hearts, I felt, if they discovered I wasn’t the man they anticipated. Therefore, I concluded, sex with the mother or her daughters would be out of the question: for the present, anyway. I gave her all the money I had taken with me to spend while on liberty, less than a hundred dollars. I promised to bring more with me next time. Before I left, she gave me her mailing address and I gave her mine.

Linda walked me back through the village to the boat landing. Before we parted, she squeezed my hand, and said: “You good man, John. Not many good man in this world like you.” I could see the resemblance to her mother as I bent down to kiss her lips. She returned my kiss with such passion I regretted having to leave so soon.

“I want you come back,” she shouted as I walked down the ramp to the boat waiting to take the last stragglers back to the ship before getting underway.

Fred shouted from the O1-level as I climbed aboard the destroyer: “Hey, John, tell me you got laid this time.” When I stopped for an instant to look up at him, I noticed a few other sailors laughing, and I decided to ignore the comment. I could still taste Linda’s lips on mine, I could still feel her passionate embrace, and I wanted the memory to remain fresh in my consciousness. Trying to explain myself to anyone aboard the ship would only serve to tarnish the memory, I concluded.

Our ship experienced problems with its sonar equipment and we were relieved on patrol by another destroyer while we went into a dry-dock in the shipyard at Yokosuka, Japan. I sent Linda a small package containing a hundred dollar bill and a letter explaining my circumstances just to see if it would get through to her. When she replied with a letter acknowledging receipt of my package, I sent her a second package containing five more hundred dollar bills. In a letter acknowledging the second package, Linda sent a picture of herself standing with her younger sister and her mother.

While in dry-dock for over a month, we updated our sonar, radar, and communications equipment and, before going back out on patrol in the East China Sea, we joined an aircraft carrier group for anti-submarine warfare exercises to check our new equipment in the North Pacific Ocean. We regularly went alongside the carrier to top off our fuel tanks and, while alongside, we had mail coming in and going out.

I sent a third package containing five more hundred dollar bills and when I didn’t receive acknowledgment in a letter from Linda I began to worry. The money didn’t matter to me. They could have my money unconditionally. I worried about them. When I stared at their picture, Linda’s eyes looked directly into mine and I could still taste her lips. I longed to have her in my arms again just as we were when kissing good-by. That moment became the focal point of my imagination.

We returned to Yokosuka for minor adjustments before heading back out on patrol in the East China Sea. On my first liberty back in the Taiwan harbor town, I went searching for Linda’s house but US Navy Shore Patrol stopped me from entering that area of the village. As I walked away, I heard Linda’s voice, shouting: “John, wait, don’t go.” I turned and she ran into my arms. “What happened,” I asked when our lips finally separated enough to speak. She replied: “We go EM club, we talk.”

She looked down at the ground in front of her as we walked together, and said: “Mother say, thank you, money help us. She find husband for sister. She look husband for me. I no work sailor bar now.” The irony of it almost made me laugh: when I really needed to cry. I wanted her more than ever.

We talked over drinks while waiting for our dinners to be served at the EM club. She couldn’t look directly into my eyes without wincing. We finished our dinners quickly and in silence. Whatever bothered her, it had not spoiled her appetite. She started to cry after another round of drinks, and said: “I wish you be my husband, John. Mother say no, American sailor not make good husband, even you.”

When our eyes met, it was me who winced this time. “Your mother is probably right, Linda,” I said: “I have almost three years remaining in the navy and who knows what I’ll be doing after that? You need someone right now. Someone who will be there for you all the time.”

Staring off into space, she replied: “That what mother say.”

While slowly moving to music on the dimly lighted dance floor, she laid her head on my chest and began to cry. I could find no words to express my feelings and we silently communicated our mutual anguish and desire in a passionate embrace until it became time for me to return to the ship.

At the boat landing, I gave her money, and said: “Let’s think about it some more. I can keep this coming for awhile. Tell your mother to wait on finding you a husband. Write me.” She began to cry again and I could taste her tears as we kissed good-by.

I didn’t receive a letter from Linda during the next two months at sea. In that period, I found it possible to send her money twice. During my next liberty in Taiwan, the Shore Patrol again restricted my movement through the village. I wandered where I could, hoping to find her like before. Then, after checking the EM club, I wandered the bars. Overwhelmed by disappointment, I gave up and returned to the ship.

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