Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On The Good Ship Breckenridge

In a recent post I mentioned the naval troop ship U.S.S. John C. Breckenridge and, my personal memory thus aroused, I began to recall the experience and realized I was looking back fondly at a few weeks loaded with discomfort.
We (a thousand other military personnel and I) boarded the ship in Tokyo Bay for the return home after service in the Far East.  I spent the first night vomiting in the ship's toilets (or 'heads" as the Navy calls them).
This happened with the ship at anchor.  We were not underway yet!  Not a good sign.
I spent the next few days vomiting and trying to complete the cleaning details assigned to us to keep us busy.  A sailor in the boiler room advised me to eat saltine crackers until I couldn't eat anymore.  He said it helped fight stomach acids and reduced throwing up.  I waited in line for an hour at the ship's store to buy a box of crackers and learned I had been given good advice.
Our 'quarters' were the ship's hold with row after row of hammocks stacked 5 or 6 high with ladders to gain the high beds.  Hot, sweltering, smelly.  Meanwhile, each morning, a one or two page info sheet was distributed with weather information, a couple of news headlines, and a handrawn map of the Pacific with a tiny representation of our ship showing our progress across the great ocean.  It looked like we hadn't moved. Depressing.
Free movies on deck each night it didn't rain.  Calamity Jane, which most of us had already seen.  But I stayed to watch it again.  I remember Doris Day riding a horse on a trail telling us that she used to have a secret love but now she was shouting about it from the highest hill, she was even telling the golden daffodills that her secret love wasn't secret anymore.   
While at ships' store, I had bought a paperback novel, The Royal Way by Andre Malraux.  I read some of it on deck but most of my reading time was spent in my hammock.  The atmosphere of that hold augmented the atmosphere of the book which is the story of two men searching for treasures from royal ruins in the jungles of Cambodia.  The themes were the usual Malraux interests of death, individual quest, and adventurism with side trips on art and sculpture.  I enjoyed the book, admired Perken (I think that was the main character's name) even when he was not being nice at all.  A good read, but I know the book is rarely mentioned in any critique of Malraux.
To enhance the malaise of the trip even more,  I got a severe toothache.  Fortunately the ship had a dentist, and he pulled the tooth.  So when the ship flowed into the bay of San Francisco, I was  better able to enjoy seeing the Golden Gate bridge, the prison of Alcatraz, and the shoreline of California, the USA.
After two years absence, it looked very good.

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