Posted tagged ‘History’

Ann Hides Her Bush

November 4, 2010

Ann works in her autumn garden while her husband, Buddy, along with their son, Bud Junior, and his school chum, Mickey, are out in the now empty grain field playing ball games. And that’s how she likes it. She would rather see the men out there playing with their balls than hanging around the house fighting, which are the only two things they seem interested in doing, or watching others do.

Her garden provides her with a unique natural sanctuary. Lined with trees to the north, it’s rimmed all around with selected vines and bushy vegetation. Working alone, she builds a fire, burning dried twigs and branches in a crudely constructed rock pit. In a small kettle of boiling water, she steeps leaves freshly picked from a bush she keeps hidden in a protected area of the garden. She drinks the tea warm, sipping slowly, enjoying its sharp, bitter taste on her lips and tongue, mixing it with saliva before swallowing.

Her consciousness expands to include an immediate perception of eternal time and infinite space. Earth is alive and speaks to her of knowing. The material world transforms through stages into its ethereal essence until she is pure thought in a universal mind of cosmic consciousness.

When the men return hot and sweaty, she has their favorite beverage waiting. It’s a fermented mixture of grains from the field along with herbs and spices from her garden, made with pure water from the flowing well. Buddy’s a big man with a big thirst. Throwing back his head, he empties a large foamy mug with one long, pulsating gulp. The two younger men sip from their foamy mugs and laugh, shaking their head to acknowledge Buddy as the winner in that category of competition, if none other.

Ann drinks with the men before serving dinner but she prefers her beverage made from fermented grapes. On the kitchen table there’s a tossed salad of garden greens topped with an oil, vinegar, and herb dressing. There’s butter and cheese to go with fresh bread still hot from the over. And there’s a thick soup of mixed beans, turnips, onions, and sweet basil.

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Destroyer Duty – Home Port

April 10, 2010

Early Monday morning, ships exited Long Beach harbor following a standard order of egress. Minesweepers went first, sweeping for mines. Destroyers went next, for sonar purposes. Heavies followed through their cleared channel.

As we passed through the breakwater to the open sea, a lookout on the bridge reported seeing a periscope and a whip antenna extending from the water. The captain called down to sonar but their equipment hadn’t warmed up enough to give an accurate reading yet.

We sent a message by flashing light to the destroyer in front of us asking for their confirmation. Finally, the destroyer coming out of the harbor behind us confirmed the sonar contact. The Captain immediately authorized the transmission of a submarine contact message, addressed to the appropriate fleet commanders, which I transmitted over the local ship to shore circuit using Morse code.

US Navy aircraft from a carrier at sea were already in the air running anti-submarine warfare exercises. Within minutes of sending the contact report, they were flying over the water nearby and communicating with our ship’s Captain on the bridge through a voice circuit patched in from the radio shack. Sonar had finally locked on the target by then and we were maneuvering north along the California coast at high knots.

I climbed up to the signal bridge for a quick check on the action. Prop-engine planes, flying low around us, were dropping sonar transducers with flare markers. Helicopters hovering just above the water, were extending transducers beneath the surface.

The ship made an abrupt maneuver at high knots and a voice came from the squawk box, saying: “Bridge, sonar. We’re losing them.”

When the Captain saw me there, he said: “Radioman, take this message.” The submarine had turned westward, heading for deeper waters and the Captain wasted no time in making his report to our immediate operational commander, stating that we were breaking off from the chase and returning back to our regular assignment.

While operating in US coastal waters, we were often in port on weekends, either in Long Beach or in San Diego. Many sailors lived for these weekends. Even the Captain did his part, getting us into port as early as possible on a Friday afternoon to assure a good berth. He usually had us doing an all out power run on the way in as an engineering exercise. I went on liberty a few times just to check out the bookstores, the restaurants, and the bar scene. But I mostly stayed aboard the destroyer, enjoying the peace and quiet with many other sailors gone for the weekend.

Instead of writing letters and not sending them, I started a journal. Interspersed with my philosophical thoughts on life, I recorded dates and places traveled. The fact that I spent more time looking through my dictionary and grammar book than writing did not bother me, I enjoyed it. I could read almost anywhere, including the sleeping and eating compartments, sitting out on deck, or standing in the chow line. But the seclusion of the radio shack became my preferred writing location.

Before we departed for the Western Pacific, I passed the examination for advancement from seaman to third class radioman petty officer. My duties in the radio shack did not change but everyone aboard the ship treated me differently. Even the two seaman strikers, Fred and Ned, who worked with me in the radio shack now accepted my authority as the leading radioman without question.

A lending library formed aboard the ship as our departure to the Western Pacific approached, the range and quality of reading material surprised me. The sailors who made their books available also surprised me. I would have thought some of them didn’t even knew how to read, judging by the way they talked.

While looking through the library, a collection of Henry Miller and Aleister Crowley works caught my attention. I wondered who would own such books. To my surprise, they belonged to the First Class Boatswain’s Mate, now a Chief, from my earlier cruise in the Western Pacific. He didn’t seem to remember me when I asked him about the books. Or maybe he just decided to ignore the past and start all over again. Now that I was a Third Class Petty Officer, he showed me more respect, with the hint of a possible friendship centered around our mutual interest in books.

And I finally learned his full name, Benjamin Burnside Bingham. Everyone called him Big Ben, of course, since he was one of the largest men aboard the ship. As I began to know him better, I realized he was also one of the most intelligent, and most mysterious. He could be cynical and pessimistic yet inspiring and motivating, all at the same time. I wondered why he lived his life as a Boatswain’s Mate in the US Navy. And I wondered if I would become like him when it came time to either reenlist or return home. Had the destroyer become his home? Was it becoming mine?

On the day our division of four destroyers departed for the Western Pacific from Long Beach, California, dependents and visitors were allowed on the pier to say good-by. Since I had no one seeing me off, I watched from the signal bridge. Couples were hugging, kissing, and crying while their children stood close around them on the crowded pier. Big Ben stood out amidst a large group of well-wishers, mostly attractive middle-aged females in evening dress: which added to my level of curiosity about the man.

I welcomed the solitude during the long voyage at sea, and every other sailor aboard the ship seemed to be experiencing a similar inner-directedness. After performing our duties with mechanical precision, we had ample time to ourselves. Like many others, I developed the habit of sitting on deck and staring out to sea. The ocean itself has a spiritual presence.

Destroyer Duty – On Liberty

April 9, 2010

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.

Destroyer Duty – On Patrol

April 9, 2010

The two non-designated seaman strikers, Fred and Ted, seemed more mature and self assured after their experiences with the ship’s landing party to help out the Marines in Korea but they had not basically changed.

When Fred said: “We had the radio equipment they needed, so, as soon as we landed, we were taken right up to the front line to work with target spotters. I swear to god, I thought we were dead, for sure. I’m telling you, bullets were hitting everywhere. And explosions were going off all around us. When the ship started firing, and the Chinese retreated, I was never so happy in my life to be alive.”

Ted interjected: “You call this living?”

Fred replied: “It’s a heck of a lot better than what them Marines have. I’ll take living on this ship in relative comfort to living in a muddy hole in the ground with bullets whizzing over my head as I sleep.”

“If a torpedo hits this ship, you’ll wish you had a muddy hole to crawl into,” Ted countered.

I understood the significance of Ted’s words more completely just a few days later when we moved in closer to the Chinese mainland to get a better fix on a military instillation. We were using electronic countermeasure equipment aboard our ship to locate and analyze their communications and radar capabilities.

Our shipboard surface-search radar spotted Chinese navy torpedo boats coming at us. I went up to the signal bridge to watch events unfolding, thinking we would turn away and go further out to sea. For some reason, the Captain decided not to run. We turned slowly in the water and prepared to fire our big guns at the torpedo boats. When we hoisted the international signal flags, indicating our intentions, the four torpedo boats coming into view immediately turned and headed back the other way.

“The captain’s playing chicken with them,” I heard the first class signalman remark to no one in particular as he hoisted the flags up to the yardarm.

The communications officer, while still looking through his binoculars in the direction of the retreating torpedo boats, responded: “No, they were too far away to have accurately fired torpedoes at us.”

“We’ll know soon enough,” the signalman shot back.

Pulling the binoculars away from his eyes, the communications officer said: “If torpedoes were in the water, we would be hearing the sonar officer’s voice crackling through the squawk box on the bridge, reporting that information to the Captain.”

“It’s too close for comfort,” I heard the signalman saying as I headed back down to the radio shack wondering: What made the Captain so sure they couldn’t hit us with their torpedoes? And why was he challenging them on it? What kind of statement was he trying to make?

Later that night, while the communications officer worked in the adjacent cryptographic room encoding our nightly report, the Captain came by the radio shack. He sat down at the desk to read the file of recent teletype messages received over the fleet broadcast circuit. I sat in the telegraph-key operator’s position right across from him waiting to send the long encrypted nightly report on a ship to shore circuit using Morse code and I thought about asking the Captain some questions concerning the torpedo boat encounter. That opportunity passed when the communications officer entered the radio shack with the encrypted report in his hand ready for me to send.

I became self-conscious with the two officers watching as I listened through headphones to a receiver in front of me, looking for a frequency clear of other traffic and also clear of static interference among the several frequencies assigned for ship to shore in that area. I lost awareness of the two officers when I finally made radio contact with a shore based US Navy communications center and began sending the message.

Morse code was music to me, all about rhythm. I enjoyed sending it with clarity, not going too fast, not running my characters together, just as the radioman chief on the aircraft carrier had taught me. If it required all night to send a long encrypted message and get a receipt from a receiving operator at a US Navy communications center, I would patiently deal with that. Although I experienced more satisfaction when receiving operators could copy the message without interruption the first time through; plus, I could usually detect the receiving operator’s mutual satisfaction by the way they acknowledged receipt of the message.

When I finished sending the ship to shore message, the two officers were still in the radio shack and the overhead lights had been turned off. A small light above the typewriter illuminated the message form in front of me. A desk lamp illuminated the Captain’s face. A few feet away, separated by near darkness, a light from the teletype machine illuminated the communications officer’s face. Interspersed throughout the darkened compartment, red and orange indicator lights dimly illuminated the operating equipment.

Neither officer spoke but they both seemed pleased with the improved condition of the radio shack. Once again I thought about questioning the Captain. Before I could open my mouth to speak, a loud signal, coming from a bulkhead speaker, interrupted my train of thought.

“It’s an SOS,” I said reflexively; then, using headphones, I copied the Morse code distress signal directly from the receiver that I had previously tuned to the international maritime distress frequency, five hundred kilocycles. Both officers looked over my shoulder while I typed.

As details became clear, the Captain said: “No, we’re not going to respond to that. Turn it off. We didn’t receive it.” But minutes after he departed the radio shack for the bridge, an emergency precedence message came over the teletype machine from the Admiral’s staff directing our attention to the distressed ship.

I immediately ran it up to the bridge where found the Captain alone on the forward weather deck sitting in darkness on his elevated chair. Glancing at the message dimly illuminated by my red-filtered flashlight, he responded: “Damn it.” Then, taking a deep breath, he said: “Give it to the navigator to plot a course.” I saluted and quickly backed away, saying: “Aye, aye, sir.”

One of our patrol tasks was to report all merchant shipping encountered, just as other destroyers reported from their patrol zones up and down the coast. We sometimes challanged ships at sea with our big guns if they didn’t respond properly to our demands for information about their port of origin, their cargo, and their destination. Occasionally, we went so far as to board them for a firsthand look.

The distress signal came from a large merchant ship that had run aground on the rocky entrance to a cove located on an isolated island just outside our patrol zone. The cove was not a proper harbor and the ship should not have attempted to approach it.

Our destroyer arrived in the area a little before dawn. I had just awakened from two hours of sleep in the transmitter room adjacent to the radio shack and, in a dreamlike state, I climbed the ladder to the signal bridge. At first light, a big ship appeared through the fog, listing to port, slamming against a rocky ledge. A group of smaller ships and boats, attracted by the distress signal, surrounded the cove entrance. Several boats had managed to approach the merchant ship and were in the process of attempting to remove passengers and cargo.

Chinese navy torpedo boats appeared on the horizon shortly after we arrived but the Captain ignored them. We lowered the motor whaleboat into the water with the same train of rafts trailing behind it used to tow the wounded Marines from Korea. The Captain gave orders to remove passengers and crew from the distressed merchant ship after first inspecting its cargo and making a determination of its overall condition.

When it became clear that the cargo was nothing more than an assortment of western consumer products intended for black market distribution, the Captain gave orders to evacuate. The motor whaleboat with its train of rafts then distributed the remaining passengers and crew among the non-military ships waiting nearby. None were taken aboard the destroyer. With that phase of the rescue operation completed, we unceremoniously departed the area.

Destroyer Duty – At War

April 7, 2010

The ship’s Captain and the communications officer were both standing by the teletype machine when I entered the destroyer’s radio shack. “Do you know how to make this thing work any better,” the Captain said when he saw me: “We’ve got an important encrypted message coming in but it’s garbling badly.” I quickly tuned another receiver to a different designated frequency and then patched it into the signal comparator at the front end of the demodulation unit feeding information to the teletype machine. The message stopped garbling immediately, earning me a pat on the back from the Captain.

The communications officer now had the beginning and the end of the long encrypted message so that he could start the decryption process in the cryptographic room, a tiny compartment next to the radio shack. When the fleet broadcast center retransmitted the message a short time later, a complete version became available. The Captain took the decrypted version from the cryptographic room into his stateroom without allowing anyone in the radio shack to read it.

I didn’t have time to worry about the contents of the message because I found myself busy sending Morse code on a ship-to-ship circuit. Other ships in the Western Pacific Ocean copying fleet broadcast on the teletype circuit were having problems receiving a complete version of that message and some other messages, including weather forecasts, due to storm related atmospheric conditions. Even my previous ship, the aircraft carrier, using a task group call sign belonging to the Admiral’s staff, wanted me to retransmit fleet broadcast teletype messages for them over the ship-to-ship circuit using Morse code.

When the communications officer learned I was relaying fleet broadcast traffic to the Admiral’s staff aboard the carrier, he told the Captain and they both stayed around the radio shack until I had completed the task. At one point the Captain even had hot coffee and fresh donuts brought up from the kitchen. Then, before he left, he handed me the decrypted message, and said: “Type this up on a message form and file it away without signatures.”

With the Captain gone, I read through the message. It seemed like many other messages I had typed while working in the aircraft carrier’s radio shack. The Communications officer noticed me reading the message before typing it, and he said: “You know better than to be talking about this stuff to other members of the crew, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied, inserting a message form into the typewriter. Yet, as I typed, I wondered about the significance of the message’s contents, an operations summery filled with military jargon. To follow along, I visualized a map of the Western Pacific Ocean, with the carrier in the open sea, where it could launch air strikes in support of US ground troops in Korea. Our destroyer, among its other duties, was in a position to assist pilots who might find it necessary to ditch in the East China Sea. To do this, we maintained a continuous listening watch on an aircraft distress frequency. But it wasn’t until later that evening when I heard the news broadcast over the Armed Forces Network that I finally understood the message’s significance. The Communist Chinese Red Army had entered the war in Korea and driven US ground troops back to the south. In the process, they had a large force of Marines surrounded on three sides with the Yellow Sea as their only escape route.

When I went into the wardroom with the message board, I realized the Captain was holding a meeting, and I started to leave. But he motioned for me to wait in the shadows behind his chair and then he continued speaking to the officers assemble around the large wardroom table, saying: “We would normally wait for the Admiral’s permission to do this. But there isn’t time for that. Marines are dying. We’re going in to render assistance. Talk to your men. Get a landing party ready to go ashore.”

The Captain turned to me as the officers dispersed, and said: “I don’t want you going with the landing party. Since you’re the only radioman that can copy Morse code, I need you to stay aboard the ship.”

I returned to the radio shack to find the two seaman strikers already dressed in leggings and guard belt, each with a 45 strapped to his side. “We volunteered,” one striker said, pointing to the portable radio gear sitting on the deck mat. “Yeah,” the other said: “Lt. Jones volunteered us.”

We approached the Korean coastline well before dawn with lights out and battle stations ready. As the landing party assembled amidships on the port side main deck, I watched from above in the darkness of the O1-level weather deck just aft of the forward superstructure, a few steps from the radio shack within. They lowered the large motor whaleboat into the water and attached a train of rafts to be towed behind it. The landing party climbed over the side and within minutes they had disappeared into the darkness.

As I started back to the radio shack, I heard a voice behind me, saying: “What are you doing out here?” It was the first class Boatswain’s Mate on master-at-arms duty and he followed me into the radio shack, saying: “Your not supposed to open that hatch to the weather deck without permission from the bridge during condition one. What were you doing out there, hiding from the landing party so you didn’t have to go ashore?”

I said: “No, I wasn’t hiding. I was checking on the other radiomen. The Captain told me to stay aboard.” He responded: “Yeah, right, you’re so important, the Captain can’t live without you. But I still should report you for cracking that hatch. Give me a good reason not to.” Jokingly, I said: “Are you asking me for a bribe?” He said: “You got nothing I want. I’m stressing the importance of getting permission in the future before opening that hatch to the outside weather deck during condition one. Consider yourself informed.” As he backed from the radio shack, he barked: “There better not be a next time.” Then he disappeared up the inboard passageway towards the ladder to the bridge.

We were at radio silence while waiting for word from the landing party, meaning no transmissions. A voice circuit listening for the landing party was being monitored on the destroyer’s bridge and a voice circuit listening for aircraft in distress was being monitored in the combat information center. Both circuits were using equipment patched into them from the radio shack but they required little or no attention from me after the initial tuning. Even the teletype machine printed only an occasional weather report to interrupt the otherwise continuous test pattern. With zero message traffic, I put my head in my arms on the desk and fell asleep.

The bell on the teletype machine signaling high precedence traffic started ringing just before dawn. One after another, every message rang the bell. I didn’t need to alert the communications officer or the ship’s Captain. They heard the bell ringing and they came running to the radio shack. The tiny cryptographic room became the center of activity when an encrypted message arrived from the Admiral’s staff addressed to our destroyer. We were ordered to leave our patrol position in the East China Sea and proceed at best possible speed to the Korean coastline in the Yellow Sea for the purpose of rendering assistance to the surrounded Marines. A larger naval force to evacuate all the Marines would take days to assemble in the proper locations. Meanwhile, other destroyers were on their way to join us in supplying ship to shore gunfire support for the embattled Marines. Radio frequencies were assigned in the message to coordinate target locations between the Marines and the destroyers.

The Captain smiled grimly as he read the message, and said: “We’re already there.”

The motor whaleboat returned to the ship shortly after sunrise, towing the train of rafts behind it filled with wounded Marines needing immediate attention. Plus, a group of Marine officers came aboard to help coordinate gunfire support from the ship’s combat information center. I had transmitters and receivers already tuned to the frequencies given in the message so they were able to communicate immediately with spotters in combat locations ashore.

While delivering an updated weather message in the wardroom, I heard the Captain speaking to a group of officers, saying: “This is a tough decision to make. But we can’t take on any more wounded while maneuvering into position to give gunfire support. There isn’t much we can do for them, anyway. Our medical facilities here are very limited. They need to be airlifted to a carrier or a hospital ship.”

From my position in the radio shack, the effectiveness of our all-out gunfire support was difficult for me to determine. Even the radar operators working in the combat information center couldn’t say for sure when I asked them about it. A news broadcast over the Armed Forces Network said aircraft from several carriers were attacking Red Army supply lines, keeping the battle at a stalemate until an evacuation could be completed. But no mention was made of a destroyer giving ship to shore gunfire support. When I asked Lt. Jones, the communications officer, for his opinion, he said: “Our big guns have definitely made a difference, yes. Several other destroyers are now moving into positions along the coast, but the Captain’s decision to move in early probably saved many lives.”

We have departed the Korean coast and returned to the relative quiet of our patrol duties in the East China Sea. Yet the blast of the big guns firing broadside salvos still echoes in my ears and I can still feel the ship violently recoiling. The pained faces of the wounded Marines are embedded into my consciousness and I can hear their agonizing cries echoing throughout the ship. Even in my sleep I dream about round after round of tracer ammunition lighting up the nighttime sky.