A Few Days More
August 16th to August 22nd, 1942

August 11, my 72-hour liberty began. I went ashore at 8 a.m. and took a train to Everett to accept an indefinite invitation of a young woman, formerly of Bath: “When you are in Everett . . .” I perceived some definiteness because she had supplied an address. She was absent, so after that roundtrip ticket I had one dollar left. I hocked my Harvel self-winding watch for five, and I bet two dollars on a forty-to-one shot in a horse race. It was my first and last racehorse bet, but it had its moments—my horse was fifth.

Walking up Washington street in Boston I was hailed by Lois “Chickie” (never learned the last name). She sold magazine subscriptions and I had met her the year before in New York. She had taken me to church in Brooklyn the morning that Hitler crossed the Russian boarder: To me a monumental day. We went back to Manhattan to celebrate Hitler’s new enemy as far as $5 would take us.

We talked briefly, and Chickie told me where to find her after working hours; I hoped to find the funds to follow through. She was the Palmolive Girl; the Varga Girl from Esquire; also she was a soap bubble and might never be seen again.

Continuing up the street someone nice, a pretty face, asked me where the Lyons Building might be. Inasmuch as it stood directly across the street I was emboldened and invited her to lunch. She was from The Bronx, staying one day in Boston. Where pretty girls vs. cash reserves were concerned, I had mental arithmetic down to what sailors called a “gnat’s ass.” That lunch wiped out the value of my watch. My earlier appeal for telegraphed funds from a brother in California produced the $30, but too late to buy a dinner for the girl from the Bronx.

August 12, 1942. On liberty in Boston. I spent the whole day in the movies, the ones I had wanted to see and missed.

When I first arrived in Boston, December 2, 1941, I had searched the city to get behind their cafe menu, which, like most cities in the U. S. of that period boasted regional dishes wherein flavor was what you read into them. In Boston, New England boiled dinner topped the menu unless Boston Baked Beans topped the menu. I like cabbage and I like beans, but not every day and unvaried in preparation. There were identical folk customs in operation in Virginia, in Ohio, in California and Washington State: bland regional dishes. Wherever, the color of beef was grey, the color of veal was “breaded” so that the color was not known. The preferred adjective for turkey was “Tom.” The race survived.

In Boston, I had found Freda’s in Haymarket. The food was Continental. When you asked for rare, the result was rare. When you asked for wine, wine arrived as opposed to Virginia Dare or some other syrups.

On the subject of wine in that prewar period, it was rarely legal, but it was more often legal than palatable. A small exaggeration, for in New York and San Francisco wine was obtainable for a price.

Freda’s had most of what I was looking for. They made much of their occasional radio hookups Saturday nights when the cover charge was high, and they were “on-the-air” (that prestigious line!) for one half-hour. The chanteuse sang songs of the Continent of 1938 (She was billed as Our Chanteuse.); they were what I liked. With all that loot, watch retrieved, there was still over $25, I asked “our chanteuse” to join me for a drink and she accepted. She was exceptionally pretty and she laughed easily. I was happy and thought that I was getting through. On parting she unlatched the trapdoor: “Write me in care of the radio station, I receive all my fan mail there.”

I spent the balance of the evening at the bar in the Cocoanut Grove. A couple of ladies rendered a dutiful dance without warmth. And I eavesdropped on a pickup between a pretty girl and a patron.

“What do you do?” She inquired.

“Me? I’m an archie-tek,” he replied.

I watched her face carefully in the mirror and her interest remained as keen as if he had pronounced Rockefeller.

The year before, when it was still legal to wear civilian clothes, women’s’ interest in the job a man worked at gave me perverse amusement at their expense. To the question, “What do you do?” I had the answer ready: “I’m a sailor,” all smiles.

“But, I mean, how do you earn your money?”

“That’s how I earn money; I’m one of the very high-ranked ones. I earn $56 a month. Of course, that means I can only come ashore about twice a month . . .”

I treasured the girl who laughed. However, not many did laugh.

August 13, 1942. I was up at seven and read of our interesting and promising operations in the Solomon Islands. The hours were counting down on shore. After breakfast, I went for a walk on Boston Common. Two high school, or perhaps junior high school, girls made unmistakable overtures—they were picked up by the police five minutes later. I encountered two working girls, and walked with them through the Common to their offices nearby.

I took the train to Revere Beach with most of the days left. Due to some rain there were fewer people around. I responded to a signal from two girls in a car. The parents were somewhere playing bingo, so I sat with the girls in the car all afternoon, and in the end, holding hands. A Woman’s Touch, I need no instruction in the appreciation of. Like at the end-of-the-world, there was more whimper bang when I let go.

To the ship and my bunk at midnight. To sleep . . .

August 15th. We lighted off and got up steam and started jacking over the main engines to keep them evenly heated and ready to spin. We topped-off the fuel tanks and took on more stores. Our sailing orders were on board. 1300 Underway to sortie Boston Harbor with USS Barton. At the channel entrance we conducted a sonar search, and then joined up with USS Savannah.

Upon reaching the Cape Cod Canal we were immobilized by the fog. We transited the next day, and we screened Savannah and left her at the Naval Operating Base, Norfolk at noon on the 17th.

At Norfolk we got mail, and I received a letter from Carl Anderson, the druggist at Bath—also with a note from Martha! He included a clipped column of Bill Cunningham from a Boston paper, wherein Cunningham waxed wrathful on “The glory bandits who had inveigled themselves on a commission and fought the war at the Stork Club.” Very neat. There were lots of commissions; not many seamen.

At 1700 we sortied from Norfolk and formed a screen on Massachusetts with Barton and (our old buddies from Bath) O’Bannon.

As we steamed north, at 2330 we got a radar contact. When the searchlights were trained out the contact disappeared. A submarine can sit low on the surface with but slight buoyancy so that an engine surge can send her under at the wink of an eye. We delivered Massachusetts to Casco Bay and screened her while she exercised her gun crews at sea. Joining the screen was Tillman.

At noon on the 20th, CinCLant ordered us to New York.

August 21. We cleared the channel into Buzzards Bay at 1100. Then we went to general quarters for two hours before entering port. Passing through the swept channel, we arrived in Brooklyn Basin and moored at 35th Street Pier, Brooklyn. It was 8 p.m. before I could get dressed and get off the ship with Jab Bauer. We went to Fourth and McDougal in Manhattan as fast as possible, with time winding down.

Walking from the Fourth Street subway station we ran into my old friend Bill Mancini. He may have had other plans, but he was such a helluva guy we had to take him with us to San Remo’s on the corner of McDougal and Bleecker Streets. Joe Santini was on duty behind the bar owned by his father, so it was a real reunion and kept getting better. Jab got his first taste of sautéed kidneys à la San Remo with a good Cucamonga wine. Jim Coit dropped in (a hilarious monologist, who used his friends for his fanciful stage). We drank, talked and laughed, the kind of evening that only the failure of stamina could end. But Jab and I were on a different schedule; we had to try our luck with the ladies.

We took the Eighth Avenue subway uptown to Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant. Unlike before ’41, we didn’t have to work at it, we got picked up. The two women were not shy; they initiated jokes and innuendo. Then suddenly there was a freeze. I remembered her statement but could not guess at what had provoked it: “After all, I am a major’s wife!” Jab and I immediately pooled on the check and left them.

Some months later in the South Pacific, Jab came up with a theory: “Maybe she was trying to tell us that officers wives bathe and wear clean skivvies!”

But the night was gone, wasted. Subway and taxi got us back to Pier 35 before reveille. We labored in the plant all morning before the ship got underway to anchor in the stream, Brooklyn Basin. Captain Brown went aboard USS Washington for a conference with the battleship and destroyer skippers. We lay at anchor in the stream overnight with no liberty.

When we told Ira Allen our story of the last night in New York, he said: “In the Old Navy, what was known as “hangin’ in the bight!”