Increase the Battle tempo
April 1st to May 4th, 1943

April 1, 1943, Thursday. Steaming on base course 265° True, speed 18 knots, with vessels of Task Group 18.6.

0650 Entered Sealark Sound. 0740 Entered Tulagi Harbor, and came alongside Erskine M. Phelps to fuel.

1115 Condition Red over Guadalcanal; we spent 20 minutes on battle stations until the enemy planes were dispersed.

1600 Underway from Tulagi with Task Group 18.6. I worked on safety valves of No. 2 boiler as we steamed up the “Slot.”

Hit the sack at 2200, then went on watch at 2330.

April 2, 1943, Friday. Steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 18.6 on base course 122° True, speed 20 knots. We are not going anywhere, just keeping an offensive patrol up and down this nasty highway.

I had the midwatch, then at dawn alert until 0600. We arrived in Tulagi Harbor at 0700, so I got off my back to fuel ship. My first sleep of the day was from 0930 to 1100, at which point general quarters sounded because of Condition Red over Guadalcanal.

On watch 12 to 1600, and at 1530 the Task Group got underway for New Georgia: Honolulu, St. Louis, Nicholas, O’Bannon, Jenkins, Radford, Fletcher, Strong and Chevalier.

I crapped-out on deck (in the life raft cradle) 1900 until 2330. There was no rain, and I felt refreshed.

April 3, 1943, Saturday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 18.6 on base course 122° True, the southeast leg of the patrol, at 21 knots. Strong reported a surface radar contact, 210° True, distant 1.5 miles, which alerted the Task Group for an emergency turn . . . Just the right place and distance to recall the first battle of Savo Island.

This kind of radar contact improves the circulation and maybe tones the heart. The contact turned out to be a radar shadow, therefore false.

We entered Tulagi Harbor after sunrise and fueled from Erskine Phelps, then anchored. Enemy planes appeared north of Savo Island, which kept us from sleeping until they were dispersed. Secured from battle stations at 1130.

Tulagi and Purvis Bay are surrounded by a wall of jungle, you can’t see into it, so it is like the dark to a child, an unknown. I found myself wondering if it might be worth the effort for the enemy to mount a small assault at night to take the port facilities. It was certainly easy to get up close by daylight . . . the facilities couldn’t be held very long, so it was not a serious consideration. But . . . the jungle wall had gotten menacing again!

I dropped down the engine room hatch to take the auxiliary platform watch 12 to 1600, then to the main throttle for the first dogwatch.

Expecting the run up the “Slot” again, at 1830 I crapped out alongside No. 1 stack. The Task Group passed Savo Island going northwest just as I got off watch, as anticipated.

April 4, 1943, Sunday. Steaming as before in company with vessels of Task Group 18.6, on base course 120° True, speed 20 knots, Honolulu (OTC), St. Louis, ComDesRon 21 in this vessel, DesDiv 41 in Strong O’Bannon, Radford and Jenkins.

The possibility of a battle tonight was distinctly “a lusting” and I surprise myself. If anyone other than the Old Man or the Squad Dog had confessed to such an emotion I’d have declared it phony. We have one more cruiser than usual, that you have more company is a comfort of strength. There is the long frustration in not being able to clean them out, then get on the next bastion. Whatever, for a few minutes I felt like Admiral Dewey.

I had the midwatch and waited up for dawn alert. We are still in the “Slot” on patrol, now going back to base.

0640 stood into Tulagi and fueled from Erskine M. Phelps. I crapped out on the tank top in the fireroom after fueling. The fireroom has some air moving, which is superior to the living compartment.

1015 Condition Red over Guadalcanal and we went to general quarters. They are being effective if they only keep us awake. They do that! We were coming out the channel and the planes never even looked at us closely. The raids come at the same hour so frequently and predictably. Why? Dawn takeoff? Doctrine?

On watch 12 to 1600. I took the 16 to 1700 in the forward engine room.

It was announced that we are going after a Jap reinforcing convoy tonight. We sortied at 1550 from Tulagi Harbor.

I had the 20 to 2400 watch, and afterwards crapped out in the life raft cradle; it is the best topside spot if there is no rain. Unlike on the hard deck, the cool air circulates under and all around the body. It looks forbidding and I try to keep it that way; when I leave I put the floats back in the middle.

April 5, 1943, Monday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 18.6 consisting of Honolulu (OTC) and St. Louis, screened by destroyer in cruising disposition, Nicholas (ComDesRon 21), Taylor, O’Bannon, Jenkins, Strong and Radford.

At 0215 Strong got a surface contact, a submarine. O’Bannon and Taylor were sent to assist in sound-ranging and depth-char attack. They reported strong evidence of sinking their target.

I had the 04 to 0800 watch, the dawn alert not costing me one wink this day.

We entered Tulagi for fuel at 1330, then anchored until the Task Group sortied again at 1600.

On watch 20 to 2400. We are patrolling northwest in the “Slot” as before. There has been no announcement as to the object of this patrol or operation. Are we covering for another task unit? Do we know? We must be playing position—if something moves to the northward we are in a position to intercept.

April 6, 1943, Tuesday, at sea with vessels of Task Group 18.6, at various courses and speeds. I had the midwatch, and after watch we had an hour and a half of battle stations around dawn. We were about 20 miles from Tulagi while the attack was on. We watched the dive bombers and the AA bursts around them, hoping that they would not see us under the low clouds. We watched the bomb burst flashes; and when a plane was hit, it burst in a ball of fire. The anti-aircraft fire winked all over the sky like fireflies.

We patrolled Sealark Sound between Tulagi and Guadalcanal all day. At 1945 during another air attack we could hear the AA bursts over Guadalcanal.

April 7, 1943, Wednesday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 18.6 at various courses and speeds in Sealark Sound. Beginning at 0600 the Group began entering Tulagi Harbor to fuel from Erskine Phelps. In the harbor we found an Army transport at anchor and its destroyer escort; there was shipload of fresh troops. A promising enterprise for up north . . .

We got underway to sortie at 1115. The general alarm sounded during chow, and it was a scramble to exit half the ship’s company from just two hatches. There was enemy air close and distant, and there was a low ceiling. The inevitable happened. A plane in the clouds (a radar blip) approached our formation without showing IFF (Identification-Friend-or-Foe). The ships trained their guns on the radar target; some opened fire just as he appeared below the overcast. He was recognized as a Navy SBD soon enough for some ships, but Fletcher’s opening salvo got him.

Apropos, many in the squadron had been long irritated by quick claims of credit over the radio net when an enemy plane was splashed. Some said Radford was the worse offender, with multiple painted trophies displayed on her gun director. A plane is seen to smoke and falter amid a barrage of black AA bursts from several warships. Then “Ours!” is broadcast on the circuit.

A Nicholas officer couldn’t resist as the SBD fell apart: the TBS radio net heard, “Yours!”

To Fletcher went the unpleasant duty of recovering the pilot’s body.

Beginning with those radio claims of credit came the Nicholas and O’Bannon disdain of painted-on trophies of war. The disdain spread through half the squadron, and it looked like the other half painted on the Squadron total. We returned to San Francisco bare of trophies as did O’Bannon, and the question was put to the vote by the whole ship’s company—disdain won at 80%.

1530 General quarters again, from Coastwatcher warning of many planes, a big raid is making up. The task group moved southward when the estimates of the incoming raids went as high as 100 planes, including dive bombers. (They amounted to near 150 planes, eventually.)

We watched the attacks from twenty miles away as we retired, the diving planes and the black puffs of AA projectiles. Darkness and distance soon covered us.

2200 Strong caught a surfaced submarine with radar and sent her under with 5-inch shellfire, then depth charged the position. Oil and wreckage confirmed the kill. Strong and O’Bannon made sonar searches of the area afterward; for there might be a twin.

April 8, 1943, Thursday, steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 18.6 on various courses and speeds awaiting rendezvous with other vessels. I had the 04 to 0800 watch.

Word was received that Aaron Ward (destroyer) and Kanawha (fleet tanker) were sunk in yesterday’s raid in Sealark Sound.(I remembered Kanawha also as a red-leaded hulk moored in reserve in Mare Island Strait in 1936.)

In the forenoon watch our task group joined up with a carrier task force on orders from Halsey, and to return to the operating area.

During the forenoon watch Fletcher left the formation to hold burial services for the SBD pilot.

I slept most of the day until my watch at 16 to 2000. From 2000 to 2200 I was on the generator platform learning power transfer.

Our augmented task force is one converted carrier, Chenango, two cruisers and ten destroyers. Wilson, Saufley and Cony had joined up.

April 9, 1943, steaming in company with vessels of Task Group 18.7 and with ships of Task Unit 11.6 in carrier cruising disposition. On watch 04 to 0800. We are burning fuel and finding nothing. I slept and read the morning away. And I spent some luxurious moments feeling sorry for myself until it became funny.

After noon HMNZS Leander joined the formation. At sundown the forces separated.

April 10, 1943, steaming as before in company with vessels, of Task Group 18.6 on base course 142° True, Honolulu OTC, St. Louis, Helena, Leander, screened by Nicholas, Fletcher, Radford, O’Bannon, Jenkins and Strong.

I had the 04 to 0800 watch. Then I worked all day on a leaking safety valve on No. 2 boiler.

1425 Proceeded into Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo, N. H., and moored alongside USS Tappahannock to fuel. After fueling, moored starboard side to O’Bannon in Berth #24.

I took the first dogwatch (in-port auxiliary) to 1800. For a day without battle stations it was short, 4 a.m. to 6 p.m.

April 11, 1943, Sunday, moored alongside O’Bannon in Berth #24, Segond Channel. 0700 Strong moored alongside O’Bannon.

Worked until 1400 on preventive maintenance. The safeties on No. 2 boiler seem to be holding, and I looked at the atmosphere exhaust frequently and with feeling. If working hours on them mean anything they should never leak again.

Old Bath shipmate, W.V.D. Stuart, machinist mate second, was sent to a hospital today. And Lt. Morrison off to Stateside. In late afternoon Lavender brought another letter from Furman Fox’s widow. She wanted more details on his death. We discussed what to tell her. Ask Dunn to confirm that he died from a five-pound chunk of shrapnel in the crotch? How would that help? But she had a right to know what she wanted to know. We concluded that the organs involved were not what she wanted to know. We thought she wanted to know if the wound had to be fatal, but also how Furman spent his last hours. Was he cared for? Was he in pain? I hadn’t seen him after he was carried out of the sickbay. I was with Settler and the two De Haven men when I heard that he had died. I made no copy of the letter we sent, but tried to remember it that night in my diary: “Fox was gun captain in No. 5 mount, and that is where he was when hit with a bomb fragment that lodged in his abdomen; the fragment was too big to be removed. He was kept comfortable by a corpsman until he died.” Lavender wrote the rest of the letter.

April 12, 1943, Monday, moored as before in Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo. I worked until noon on some more preventive maintenance.

A snooper aircraft came over the area and we went to general quarters for 30 minutes.

Bobolink and Talbot. Castor and Farenholt stood in to anchor.

In the afternoon I got with the Rec Party and two beer tickets. Too many men and too little room to play ball, but there were some lively crap games on blankets.

April 13, 1943, Tuesday. Moored starboard side to O’Bannon as before.

Worked until 1930 on No. 2 boiler to repair an accident. During the auxiliary watch, dripping fuel from a dirty burner had ignited and burn-damaged some easily-repaired parts.

April 14, 1943, Wednesday, moored as before. Received two new men from a Stateside draft, and started them out right—no band music, no marching, lots of hard work.

Scuttlebutt and rumors, visit to Australia! If you dream, dream like that!

April 15, 1943, Thursday, moored as before.

Underway in the morning watch with Jenkins and O’Bannon. We held torpedo exercises at sea, then held short range battle practice with the main batteries. In the afternoon we returned to the anchorage and fueled from USS Sabine.

I couldn’t judge Sydney, having never been there, but it set me to remembering duty in Squadron Forty Tare in the Omaha (1938 and 1939), based in Villefranche on the French Riviera. Nice was three miles from our anchorage.

Just off the Place Garibaldi in Nice was the cafe Le Chat Noir. More noise was permitted in Le Chat Noir, so my rowdier shipmates liked it better and I liked my rowdy shipmates. There also the mating dance was more direct and the girls were pretty and available.

The town bulged with refugees from the Spanish Civil War and from Germany and German-threatened areas. No one doubted the imminent war, and for that reason the party tempo was high. With the favorable exchange rate, one could dine and nurse a good brandy until ten p.m. on about 5 bucks-dollars. The record players were free, and we wore out the Stateside imports and the current French torch songs: Music, Maestro, Please!, Parley-moi d’Amour, Joseph! Joseph! and J’Attendrai.

One spring night in ’39 Whizzer White showed up at Le Chat Noir; he must have been directed to the American hangout. We followed Stateside football by the ship’s radio, and there was no bigger hero than an all-American running back. Everyone wanted to shake the man’s hand. I marveled at the kind of muscles I had never seen before, shoulders that began just under the ear lobes. His party, a woman of about forty and Ambassador Kennedy’s sons, was ignored until the sailors pulled three tables together. At some point I found myself talking to the lady, when all the others were getting up a tour of the town with the visitors, an enterprise my funds couldn’t support. So then I volunteered to see the lady back to her hotel, The Negresco. We walked back across the Place Massena, and she was so interesting that I bought her some onion soup at Cafe Madrid where I had credit.

A week later I got a thank-you not from the lady, and the Exec called me up on gallantry charges the same day. She had made a point of calling the Captain.

In the Navy you get a compliment about every four years (at shipping-over time, usually), so you remember it. I kept her note.

April 16, 1943, Friday. Anchored as before in Berth 24, with 75 fathoms of chain to the port anchor. At morning quarters I got a compliment from the Chief Engineer, and right on-time: 1939 to 1943.

We worked all the day in the plant. We have gotten so far ahead on upkeep that we began some cleanup.

Since we expected to have our repair availability to expire at midnight, followed by sailing orders to Guadalcanal and points northwest, I got authorization to go ashore to find a tire pump. We had steam regulators that had to be pumped up like an automobile tire, and we didn’t have even a bicycle pump.

I walked some miles that afternoon. I saw Quonset hut shops, messhalls and beerhalls; some enterprises were wired-up in jungle clearings that should have been under cover. But nobody admitted to owning a tire pump. The ratio of officers to enlisted, my observation seemed to be 50:50, all in starched khaki. (And I thought of Bill Cunningham’s column.) Enlisted men wore blue dungarees or a dark green uniform I’d never seen before. After a couple of tries I avoided asking questions of officers for my white hat evoked snotty answers.

I walked and was grateful for the exercise. There were few footpaths, for the traffic was like a small city with jeeps and weapons carriers careening along at relatively high speeds for the graveled roads. All in all, with the beerhalls, the accommodations on Santos were better than Portsmouth, Virginia.

Returning to our anchorage in a boat I could see our nest of destroyers, also a plume of steam from an atmosphere exhaust. It was number 449 in the middle of the nest with the leak. My stomach went AOL.

I worked on the safety valves until 9 p.m. before the leak was stopped.

April 17, 1943, Saturday, at anchor as before. Up at 0500, lighted off main plant. Underway at 0600. Then in the afternoon I slept a little until word came down to open up the boilers watersides and to start cleaning them. We are surely going to have time in a safe harbor if we are disabling a boiler.

Our announced destination is Nouméa. On watch 16 to 2000.

April 18, 1943, Sunday, steaming as before in company with Fletcher enroute to Nouméa.

1400 Entered Great Roads, New Caledonia.

1450 Moored portside to USS Pasig to fuel. I worked until 8 p.m. on No. 1 boiler watersides, then washed clothes. Running no risk, I scrubbed my long-unused dress blues. While we worked the ship moved to berth 1152 to anchor.

April 19, 1943, at anchor as before. Up at 0330 to start work I got a dental appointment on the Whitney. The dentist took the tooth instead of filling it—too far gone. The Whitney sickbay gave me a palliative for whatever has kept me feeling sick, weak, or as my mother used to say, “bilious,” whatever that means.

Underway at 1300 on dispatch orders from Halsey, in company with Whitney and Fletcher—at last are confirmed, it will be Sydney, Australia. Un-double-believable!

There are ShipAlts to perform, and some new 20mm guns to add on, and which we need. There is a lot of work to do.

The Admiral Halsey touch again: he sent a dispatch wishing us well in the pursuit of girls in his 1920’s Navy metaphor, “ . . . seagulls and other seabirds known to inhabit the area . . . ”

Some collector pilfered the message flimsy from the crews’ bulletin board.

April 20, 1943, steaming on base course 233° T., with Whitney and Fletcher, enroute Sydney, Australia.

Up at 0730, morning quarters. We were informed with some emphasis that we would receive the regulation venereal lecture from Doctor Ramsey, himself. I wondered at the emphasis. I’d heard a thousand and my mind goes to sleep with the ritual. We had heard Doc’s opposition to the VD thing had caused a ward- room row, so the Captain had ordered that Navy Regulations would be followed.

That’s how it came to pass. That afternoon, after working hours a boatswain’s mate passed the word: “Now hear this, personnel of C & N Division off watch, lay aft to the fantail for a VD lecture.”

I saw some C & N Division loafers coming down the bridge ladders in response. Doc Ramsey’s unmilitary approach and whimsy was enough to intrigue me, so I went along out-of-turn.

On the fantail Doc had a small group assembling, and with him was Pharmacist’s Mate Frank carrying a swab and a bucket of prophylactic packets. Ensign Mitchell showed about the time I did, screwing on his toughest expression while maneuvering into the shade of No. 5 gun mount.

Doc Ramsey unrolled his Mississippi accent: “Navy Regulations require that I give you a lecture on the terrors of venereal disease every month—isn’t that right, Mr. Mitchell?

“Well, you have been at sea nine months without one, so you know that I have been good to you . . .

“If I had my way you would miss this one too, because I hate to inflict you with the sexual horrors at a time when you’ll need all the strength you can get . . .

“Be that as it may, we are talking about women, umm—and how bad they are.

“Gotta look at my notes . . .”

The sailors were beginning to look at each other, grinning. Doc’s face was working painfully in his unnatural seriousness or something.

“A note . . . here it is: The Female Sex Organ! If you’d looked into as many of those things as I have you wouldn’t put your foot in it! But, unless I scare you to death, it won’t be your foot!

“The book says they are diseased, women I mean. All of ’em. That means officer’s girlfriends, too! Suppose now, you steal an officer’s girlfriend thinking she’s clean or something special . . . Whoa! She’s diseased, too, like all the others!”

Ensign Mitchell spun on his heel and left.

“Frank hand me that swab.” Doc straddled the swab handle and adjusted it so that it stood out just at the right exaggerated length and angle to start the sailors to laughing.

“Quiet! I’m not through! A packet, Frank.”

He held up a rolled condom and showed it around slowly in a semi-circle as though he had an audience of thousands.

“Now, you homeless rakes, if you don’t know what you’re doing you could tear this delicate device with unnamable consequences . . . You don’t put it on like a sock because it is not a sock!”

Doc set the rolled-up condom on the tip of the swab handle. The sailors were hooting and Doc was trying to control himself, his belly heaved and his eyes streamed tears as he fought to stifle his mirth. Finally he gasped it out: “You roll it on!”

I went back on watch and we continued running power-driven wire brushes through the boiler tubes.

When I got off watch I showered, then borrowed a flatiron to press my dress blues. Money was a problem, and more so with the dental bridge I had to buy . . . But so help me, those blues glowed with the deep, satisfying dark-blue luster of Middlesex wool. The ladies ought to appreciate my uniform if not me personally.

Started a very good novel today, The Wine of Hope—Stuart Cloëte, a South Africa locale. Had to put it down in favor of sleep before the midwatch.

April 21, 1943, steaming as before on base course 233° True, with Whitney and Fletcher enroute Sydney, Australia. While on watch I could feel the sea building up. We are far enough south that the terror of being trapped inside a boiler diminished—there is no quick way to exit a steam drum in case of a torpedo hit. It had become noticeably cooler because the southern hemisphere was in autumn. Showered after watch and hit the sack.

April 22, 1943, steaming as before 233° True, in company with Whitney and Fletcher . Slept the morning and woke with a bad toothache. When we get near a ship with a dentist it is a repair vessel whose function is to repair ships, not sailors—at least that is the way it works. “Caries” don’t get the attention that engines and guns get. I had just been to a dental appointment the week before on Whitney.

Torpedoman Rooney came around as promised and gave me a session on torpedo propulsion. Fascinating. They go in seconds from ignition to full speed on steam-driven impulse turbines. How that was done was what interested me. Back on Omaha, Freddy Leroy Smith had put me off with a smart-ass comment on the complexity of the subject.

We dogged the watch, so I got the 20 to 2400.

April 23, 1943, steaming as before on base course 230° True with Whitney and Fletcher.

A RAAF Lockheed Hudson medium bomber came out to meet us and provide air coverage. At 1000 we entered the swept channel to Sydney Harbor, and then passed through the degaussing range, then proceeded to moor alongside USS Dobbin for “availability.”

Out list of new equipment to be installed was pretty long. Among the items was replacement of all the air-inflated steam reducing valves. Ten days to do it all—take a deep breath . . .

USS Dobbin; I hadn’t seen this ship since 1937 when she was moored in San Pedro Harbor in Base Force, U.S. Fleet. Medusa was the other repair ship. Sailors joked that neither ship could get underway because they were stuck tight in their own coffee grounds.

I dressed full of excitement and crowded across the brow with the rest. Chief Sexton held everyone up on the brow while he pretended to study the water depth. “They’ve been moored here eighteen months, twelve days-and-a-half, give or take two hours,” he announced.

It was a fascinating contrast, the faces of Nicholas and Fletcher sailors, all suppressed excitement versus the work-a-day, factory gate-air of the Dobbin men going up the pier. I fervently hoped that they suffered guilt with this cushy duty . . .

But that is expecting too much for human nature; man forgives himself swiftly and readily for inequities.

A cab took us to a pub near King’s Cross and we waited for opening time. The mixed crowd was four-deep around the bar, but the barmen were meticulously fair in the distribution of the beer. The two super-keg allowance ran out in less than an hour; by then I had gotten three mugs of marvelous beer.

I walked the streets until 2 a.m. just looking, mostly at women. Once or twice I tried a black-hole smile. One lady even jumped. Lacking teeth was not something I was paranoid about, I knew it to be a handicap: one evening in Lewiston, Maine, I was in a party of six having just met them, and was enjoying the manifold pleasures of getting along with a beautiful young woman. Encouraged, I waxed witty if not eloquent. At some point the girl quit laughing and edged away. A cool stare was all that remained of the friendship that so recently bloomed. While combing my locks in the head I saw a brass-colored frame where a sparkling tooth had been—my first bridge had disintegrated. In fairness to the lady, the roles were reversed on an occasion while in a lip-lock of passion, I saw a rubber tit roll across the floor and under the bed.

April 24, 1943, moored as before alongside USS Dobbin, Sydney, Australia.

I walked back to the ship in time for three hours sleep, and began the day with big wrenches and weakened muscles on the over-haul work.

The first day Captain Hill announced a hard-nosed policy: any overleave, even minor, would be subject to restriction during our whole visit, and summary court martial afterward. He guaranteed what he sought to avert. This morning four chiefs, Scott and Wallin among them, plus thirty-or-so lower ratings were missing. What the Old Man wanted was all hands at work, and what he got was fewer men every day . . . how could he not have known that the intrinsic value of a day-and-a-night in Sydney is higher than anything a captain can take away?

The next time ashore I carried essential supplies to Scott and Wallin, such as clean laundry and money, theirs not mine.

I got special liberty, so called, it was one hour early to find a dentist. Then I waited two hours to see him. Yes, he could make me a bridge, no, not tomorrow. It takes time—a month for government authorization to dispense the gold. Maybe they’ll hurry, since you are combat bound. Twenty-one pounds Aussie, in advance, worked out to $95. He took the money and a wax impression. I took a receipt and the hundred-dollar-chance. My horde was down to the low forties with eight days to go.

Walking and asking questions led me to a hotel that posted a respectable menu and a wine list with unfamiliar names. While enjoying my dinner, surreptitiously watching the women, Scott and Wallin came in with two of life’s treasures.

“Wing’s here, so the chow is good!”

End of compliment, for they took a distant table. They didn’t want the party diverted to finding me a companion, and that is just what I would have worked on. The revenge could be plotted later and leisurely.

I walked the streets stopping in a few places only long enough to learn I couldn’t afford it. I heard a Bing Crosby song for the first time that night; White Christmas was playing everywhere. And I heard again, You’re In My Arms and a Million Miles Away by a throaty Aussie torch singer, Vera Lynn. Near midnight I found a hotel dining room where I could get a half-bottle of wine and a sandwich for three bob, less than a dollar. The waitress was pleasant, and still pleasant after I accidentally smiled. I had been trying to talk with my mouth closed.

Nevertheless, I won the wondrous privilege of walking her home after work. She was warm and open. She said she had been in Sydney just three months, have been raised in the country. As we sat in a park she told me she was a virgin.

A bit further on, that she intended to stay that way.

We necked and wrestled in the accepted fashion: Take all the advantages you can short of dirty tricks. A lip-lock leads to an arm-lock and a grab for a tender organ. We rested up by talking, then back to the sexual maneuvers. She played the game fairly despite that disadvantage, and she had given me pleasure. I took her to her door, expecting to see her again. She made a vague promise of success on a return engagement.

Using my homing instincts, I started across town toward the Wooloomooloo Docks. It was near to four a.m. and my fatigue was beginning like in the Solomons, a deadening of the senses. Then in the business district I came upon a street that I couldn’t cross.

Curb-to-curb was packed with people like a football stadium without aisles. This was not a mere crowd, this was a solemn mass. I asked what was going on . . . A man said, “Sssh!” An organ sounded but I couldn’t see it, and the crowd began to sing:

Lord of our far-flung battle-line

Beneath whose awful Hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

I recognized Kipling’s Recessional, not knowing it had been set to music. The demeanor of the people and the emotion of the hymn-poem evoked in memory the historical splendors of these people. My senses responded.

The lights went out in all the streets; there was total darkness and total silence.

Sound, indistinct in the faint distance at first, became recognizable as marching feet, in cadence, route cadence . . . The sound got closer, and I knew these were World War One hobnails on cobblestones—closer, leather-against-leather, a slapping of wooden stocks, and the squeak and rustle of side arms and rifle slings. “CLOMP-CLUMP, CLOMP-CLUMP, CLOMP-CLUMP,” nearing and closing upon us, the relentless force of a body of marching infantry.

Would they halt before they ran into the crowd? I forgot to breathe . . .

There was no halt for they passed right in front of my face in the darkness, close enough to touch, leather-upon-leather and the soft swish of woolen cloth. I couldn’t see anything . . . And the phantom regiment marched off into the distance until the sound faded away . . .

Until that hour I had trusted my senses. How could it have been faked? My skin tingled. When the lights came on I didn’t have the will to move. An Aussie accent spoke into my ear, “Anzac Day, Mate!”

He had belatedly answered my question. In 1939 I had read Churchill’s World Crises, 1915. April 25th was the anniversary of the landing at Gallipolli, an Australian-New Zealand Army Corps operation that failed everywhere except at the troop level.

I walked down to the docks under a splendid Easter Sunrise, passing people going to church. My fatigue was gone, relieved by enjoyment of the life around me.

When I hit the floor plates to work I had had no sleep at all. Some men got an hour off to attend church, but the rest heaved-around all day on the repair work. The lucky or the liars recounted how they had scored. George Washington, no one doubted, had to fight off the women; but even Mauricio, who from where I sat was uglier than me, had scored he said.

So you count your other blessings: a dog face in Tulagi had given me a new pair of boondocker shoes.

At 1745, having the duty, I took some token food and a shower, then spent the full night in the sack; and it was cool enough for a blanket! It was a restless night, as usual nerves won’t let you have it both ways—so I dreamed that I was awake.

April 26, Monday, moored as before alongside Dobbin.

I was up at five and went below to put some things in order that took more strength than I would have tomorrow. We turned to all day, and I got into the shower at 1630, and was off the ship by 1700. No time to lose!

To borrow money from a shipmate was to deprive him unless you had a payday coming before he needed it. Friday was payday, but the $6 I had coming was no collateral for a loan. Counting without contingencies, I could spend $2 per day for the rest of our stay, not counting every third day of duty.

And every day I telephoned the dentist: no gold yet. When April 30 came and still no gold, I was sure that I had been snookered.

Unlikely as it may seem, $2-per-day was plenty for the beer because it would buy more beer than could be found. A gunner’s mate had done some thinking and some asking; he found in-town pubs’ hours were out-of-sync with a suburban pub. A taxi took five sailors for one bob each, fifteen minutes to the suburban pub, which left 30 minutes to closing and the keg-allowance only half gone. It was time enough for two pints. So we met at 5 in the afternoon, using the same taxi to race the beer-level in the suburban barrel.

There were other amenities The barmaid out-of-town was of such tender female attributes as to render speechless the long-deprived seamen. Also, she was uncompromising in her stated dislike of “Yankee.” While pumping beer she recited our collective defects with fervor. Keeping my mouth shut, I deprived her of one more fault. Perhaps, I thought, she had over-indulged (like chocolate), and it had left a bitter taste. Or, perhaps she detested the bandwagon, and gets off as soon as the crowd gets on—I understood that feeling. She could not, however, affect the pleasure of looking at her. I wouldn’t have needed the beer just to look, but they locked the door when the beer ran out.

My friendly hotel waitress was off duty; next she was on a different shift. After three tries I let it fall.

I walked a lot. I walked to save bus fare, and I saw the city from all sides, hoping for a happening. A happening to me was something in my price range, like free. Something like that almost happened.

Walking into a city park before sundown on Thursday, April 29th, I noticed a pretty, adolescent female following close behind. I sat on a bench and she stood a few feet away looking at nothing and everything except me. I knew that all I had to do was speak.

There was a thirties novel, The Old Goat. The protagonist, Douglas Firestone, amused us with this: “ . . . If I should die tonight and Old St. Peter should ask me what I died regretting, I’d hate to say that I had rejected bliss, for he is wise, a sage and a philosopher, and he’d ask why . . . Wouldn’t I look silly sitting there on a cloud explaining, ‘She’s a leetle-bit too young’; or, ‘Her father had done me some service’: or ‘It was against the law in that country’ or some silly excuse like that . . . “

I looked at the girl a long time, and fear overcame the chemistry. If St. Peter asks me, I’ll tell him I was scared shitless, for I understand the rage associated with plucking flowers wherein jealousy is as strong as any other motive. She was the stuff of dreams back in the Solomons. But I didn’t speak. Perhaps she endowed some other sailor.

Monday, May 3rd. I telephoned the dentist and he told me to come and be fitted with a new bridge! That kindly Exec let me have a half-hour head start. One more night ashore and I could zing the ladies with a newly-minted smile.

That cheerful practitioner laughed and joked while he cemented in the metal, recounting how government bureaucrats caved in before his relentless efforts to obtain the gold. I believed him, too.

Then he cemented in the “faces,” the parts that are supposed to resemble the missing teeth.

These resembled nothing I had ever seen before. Illogically, they were china-white, making a contrast to my natural teeth like a brown picket fence. Worse, in all the animal world (above the microscopic, I know) there are no perfect-circle, round teeth. My Sydney dentist didn’t explain what animal he had imitated, I saw them first in his mirror . . .

Anguish is a word I don’t think I understood until that moment.

Shipmate humor was yet to come.

Uptown, walking. I had a sandwich instead of dinner to conserve the resources. Walked some more. My Time Magazine had arrived in the last mail, and I was carrying it rolled up to read in case of boredom. Letters-to-the-Editor was as far as I got. There was no boredom looking at girls. I dared not smile lest I evoke laughter, and eleven p.m. was already here. Then I saw Leo Boling coming toward me.

Leo was one of my firemen, a guy with a mission to overcome obstacles with passion and frenetic energy, the kind of guy who kill flies with a hammer. He asked me how I was making out. I asked him how the hell could anyone make out with the tools I had been issued. When he saw my new dental work he whistled, “Yeah, you’ve got a problem!”

“But we’ll get you a piece-of-ass,” he vowed. With that he began to challenge passing young women with a pitch that went, “It’s not for me, but here is a good guy that sails tomorrow and he’s never been laid!” He never tried to explain since when . . .

“L’audace, toujours l’audace!” — Maréchal Foch.

“Sheep-eyes ain’t worth a shit, it’s the askers that get the poontang!” — Sam French, Seaman First Class, USN.

Knowing the principle, you’ve still got to have balls enough to make it work.

I watched dumbfounded. The women took it good-humoredly, I think, for most of them laughed.

Three girls walking abreast didn’t effect to notice us, but Leo went alongside and kept pace with them. I followed on the other side, with nothing to lose but bad luck. Two girls dropped off at a corner, Leo striding along with them. I stayed with the girl that remained. She didn’t encourage, nor did she complain. She was as polite as a stranger in an elevator. It was so dark I only knew that she was brunette and petite.

We came to a vacant lot. She indicated something in the dark and said, “I live just there.”

“Do you have to go in?”


“Sit here . . . “

“Not for long.”

“You have warm, conductive lips.”

“What is conductive?

“Transmits electricity and emotions!”

If it’s maybe the last woman you’ll ever see, and your game-plan worked as badly as mine, you need a trick play, inspiration, luck and the shortest route to the goal: Off with the panties!

“What are you doing?”

“Hold still!” Damn, she did!

I’ve always had trouble with algebra but I can tell when the defense is disorganized.

« « «

   She got up brushing and rearranging. “I must go in now . . . “

“You know that I’ll remember you all my life and I don’t even know your name!”

She laughed a pleasing, throaty laugh, as though the confession had touched her. “Goodbye!” she said.

I was ten paces away when she called me, “You forgot your paper.” She gave me my Time Magazine. I needed but couldn’t think of a fitting gesture for that sweet, generous woman. I only reached out to touch her again.

A block away I shinnied up a street sign to at least know where it had happened. The sign read, “Mountain Street.”

I walked all the way across town using the Southern Cross Constellation as a guide. The hour hadn’t come to mind at all, not until I crossed the Nicholas quarterdeck. I was thirty minutes late at 0230. The officer of the deck looked up from the log book and smiled. The crime-of-time had become history.

The duty section lighted off while I slept. I was up at 0700 to take the underway watch. We cast off all lines from Dobbin at ten, ran the degaussing range, then dropped the harbor pilot at 1330. We were the at sea with Whitney and Fletcher enroute back to the war zone.