Leaving San Francisco Bay aboard MSTS General (Something or other), I am assigned to a compartment in the bowles of the ship. The compartment is lined with two rows of hammocks - tightly stretched canvas tied securely to a steel pipe frame about six feet long by two and a half feet wide with a small pillow and scratchy blanket. These hammocks, attached to the side walls of the compartment, form two rows with a three foot aisle running down the middle. Hammocks are stacked eight-high from floor to the overhead...each hammock pipe set 18 inches apart.
To reach upper hammocks, one uses the lower pipe frames as a ladder, stepping on fingers, legs, arms or a head of occupants in lower hammocks. To roll over, one must climb out, turn around and roll back into bed. 18 inches is simply not enough for shoulders and hips to rotate beneath the tush-stretched above.
Having been on many boats, I quickly claimed the top hammock...no puke from sick guys dripping down on me. The top hammock is snuggled among various pipes and wire runs lining the ceiling...making it quite easy to move around ... even to roll over without climbing out.
Our compartment holds about 250 hammocks. Additional compartments with another 250 guys each extend fore and aft (front and back). A latrine (restroom/shower) is in between compartments.
Everyone in the compartment is assigned a job. My job is cleaning the latrine morning and again in the evening. After one week, I am reassigned to be a "guard" in the Dependent's Quarters. Our ship carries a large number of military family members, crossing the Pacific Ocean to Japan, to join their military sponsor (husband / wife). I must be doing an OK job because I remain guarding "wives" rooms in the restricted Dependent Quarters....with explicit orders to allow only those with written authorization to enter.
Little good it does.
Nearly all traveling wives instruct me to allow such and such to enter their rooms...in violation of my orders. During the entire voyage, officer after officer enter the restricted area...sorry, sir, but this is a restricted area...you'll have to leave...no problem, guard...I have orders to interview (Mrs......)...why don't you make a circuit of the other rooms...I'll just be a minute...and put in a good word for you to the Sergeant of the Guard...sorry sir, but you must have written authorization to....that is an order, Airman...go check the rooms on the other side of the compartment !!
...not the first nor the last time I run into RHIP (rank has it's privileges).
Our ship pulls into Pearl Harbor. I am rewarded a day pass to travel to Waikiki Beach...part of a group of military enlisted men closely monitored, are allowed to sunbathe and swim in the warm shallow waters. Upon return to the ship, a number of men are given punishment for reporting back with sunburns...interpreted as shirking duty; i.e., intentionally getting sunburned to avoid assigned duty.
Arriving in Yokohama, we are bussed to a local airport where I board a C-124 double-decker four engine transport plane. The ensuing flight takes only a couple hours. Our descent into Kimpo, the airport outside Seoul, Korea is quick and steep. I am lying asleep on the canvas seats, my head toward the cockpit (front) of the plane. The descent is so steep that I get an air bubble in my forehead, which is so painful I feel as though my head will burst. We come in steep because Kimpo (K-14), is only 30 miles from in-progress fighting between NATO and North Korean/Chinese troops along the 38th parallel..
Walking down the ramp from the C-124, I am directed aboard a military bus. As I board the bus, sirens begin blaring; guns start firing into the night sky, forming a solid wall of tracer fire (bullets that leave a trail of fire as they rise into the sky). It is a scene to be repeated every night I remain in Korea. The cause of this display is the nightly visit from North Korea of BEDCHECK CHARLIE...a bi-plane (wood and canvas airplane with two wings, one above the other) which flys slow and low over NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) bases, with the sole purpose to keep everyone awake all night...dropping the occasional bomb...sometimes with devastating results.
We run off the bus, jumping into a slit trenche lining the runway. Bedcheck Charlie, that first night, did not come over Kimpo. On many nights during the next year, I and Bedcheck Charlie have numerous encounters; Bedcheck Charlie flying so low over me I could easily hit him with a rock.
Climbing back aboard the bus, we drive through the night over rough dirt roads, arriving at K-13 Air Force Base, Suwon, Korea, some 30 miles south of Seoul.
* * * * * * * *
The past 3 days I have been guest of the Bellingham Hospital, admitted on Monday afternoon with severe stomach (gut) cramps. X-ray and CT (cat scan) reveal a weak spot in my small intestine which has become clogged with Mini-Size Shredded Wheat, which I foolishly wolfed down by the hand full, apparently causing the plug. The surgeon advised me that surgery was a probability.
For three days, I lay in the MCU (Medical Care Unit), waiting the decision ... surgery or no surgery. During that time, I am not allowed anything, including water for nearly 36 hours. The next 36 hours, I am allowed a bullion broth and apple juice. I finally suggest to the Hospital Administration Representative - who came around asking if I was content with my "treatment" - that lying three days immobile, waiting for a decision was surely costing a pretty penny...certainly to be only partially covered by Medicare and AARP Supplemental Insurance...she says, yes, you will have to pay the balance. I inform her that I have no way to pay ANY "balance" as I have no income and have not yet found a job.
Four hours later, I am released from the Hospital. No surgery...if the pain returns, come on back...the hospital pays for a taxi to take me to my apartment, arriving about 8:00 pm last evening.
This morning, I walk the 1.5 miles to pick up my MPV...the new (used) transmission installed and tested ($1,577.00). I telephone my "room-mate" of 12 years that I am on my way with the trailer to pick up my couch and kitchen table and chairs...well, says E, you can't do that...why?...because I am on a trip for the next few weeks...when I return you can come by...OK, have a good trip, as I click off my cell phone.
I drive to the apartment, hook up the trailer, and deliver it back to Circle A Trailers - from whom I purchased it in July for $3,200.00. Bill says he can probably resell it for me - on consignment - for $1,800 to $2,000...which is to be used to pay off the $8,000 + debt run up to rush to Pastor Steve in North Carolina to help his clan out of their peril.
This evening, my old high school chum, Wendell P (with whom I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner), brought by a bulging shopping bag of groceries for my empty cupboards...thank you ever so much, Wendell.