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His mind started working, and he found himself sitting on his duffle bag. He was looking around. The barge was being pushed by a tug boat. It was moving slowly. The bay was calm, and he could hear the lapping of the water as the barge was pushed slowly forward. As it progressed, the sun slowly sank in the west. It was getting dark when the barge was pushed to the pier where the troopship was moored. There were only black out lights that lit up the pier. The men were ordered onto the pier and told to lay down their duffle bags. Charles sat wearily on his bag and began to feel lost. It was the pain of the loss of the familiar. He was leaving the United States for how long? This question rolled back and forth in his mind. There was no answer. As he looked around, he could see the outlines of buildings. Out in the bay he could make out the outline of an island. He wondered, "What is its name?" In the midst of this revelry, he heard a harsh barking command. He was told his ship was on the other side of a big warehouse. This ship was a Dutch freighter converted into a troopship. Its name was the "Flying Dutchman". There was something foreboding about this ship. The approaching fog enveloped the ship and gave it a ghostlike appearance. He wondered if this ship was to be his grave. When he reached the other side of the pier, he immediately went up the gang plank. He was told to go down into the cargo hole of the ship and find his bunk. There was a stuffy odor in this cargo area, so here he was to bunk for 50 nights.
As he searched for a bunk, he became aware of the structure of this previous cargo hole. There were tiers of bunks stacked in fours. The top bunk allowed only 18 inches before it reached the ceiling. These bunks were off to the left of the stair case. They extended the length of the cargo hole. To the right were the latrine and the showers. There was no privacy. He tested the water in the latrine and found that it was salt water. He put his duffle bag on the nearest bunk. He had no inclination to sleep there. He left and went to the top deck. There was a cool breeze blowing, and he felt refreshed. As he stood by the rail of the ship, he saw and heard much activity on the pier below. Men were lifting the ropes and chains that held the ship fast to the pier. There was much shouting of orders, and he heard the starting of the engines. The boat started moving forward and rubbed against the side of the pier. When it cleared the pier, a tug boat appeared and began maneuvering the boat into the main shipping channel of the bay. At this point, he became aware that the pilot had come aboard. The tug boat pulled away, and the ship picked up speed. He could feel the power of the ship and the confidence of the pilot. As the speed increased, he passed the island (Alcatraz). All of the buildings lining the shore were dark. He looked forward and could see the dim outline of a huge bridge. It was the Golden Gate Bridge. It seemed the ship moved all too rapidly as it approached the bridge. He knew that the Pacific Ocean lay beyond this bridge. Quickly he looked up and saw the ship was exactly under the bridge. There were some cars going over the bridge. He wondered if they had black out lights. As the bridge receded, he saw an empty black space. He looked down at the water and realized that the ship had entered an ocean of large swells. The Flying Dutchman had started to roll and pitch. At first, this didn't bother him as he was too involved with his feelings connected with his leaving his home and his country. He was thinking of Camp Stewart. It was a camp in a remote part of Georgia, near Hinesville, Georgia. At first, he was supposed to be trained in anti-aircraft artillery. As the need for this decreased, the training became basic infantry training. His thoughts were interrupted by the swells six to eight feet high. Soon he was retching and vomiting over the rail. He was not alone as many of his comrades were in the same condition. This seasickness was to last throughout the night and into the next day. During this time, he began to ask himself, why had he not developed any buddies. He felt all alone. He had been in the Army since May, and here it was mid-November.
As he explored this, memories came into focus. His first memory was of his experiences in grade school. He was two years ahead of his age in grade school. He had been advanced two grade levels as he had performed higher than his grade level. His classmates felt he was too young for them. His mind had matured, but his body had not. To make it worse, he was not athletically endowed. He tried to compete but was not successful. He had wanted to develop friends, but the only people interested in him were the ones that had the same problems. He reacted to this by being as smart as he could be. This was a very lonely solution. His mother had come from a wealthy family and constantly reminded him that he was better than most people because of his background. This gave him no comfort. All it did was encourage him to feel he was better than others when he really knew he was not. With this thought, he became aware that he was very hungry. It was then that he learned that food was only served two times a day. Breakfast started at 6:30 a.m., and it took until 11:00 a.m. to feed the 1200 enlisted men. The second meal started at 2:00 p.m. and lasted to 7:00 p.m. He looked at his watch and saw that it was 6:30 p.m. He rushed to the chow line and was among the last to be fed.
When he returned to the main deck, he saw the last rim of the sun sink below the waves. The surface of the sea darkened and the blackness of the night descended on him. There was no land in sight, and the darkness was oppressive. It was almost 48 hours since he had left San Francisco Bay. He had been told that the ship made eight knots an hour. He figured that he was about three hundred eighty-six miles at sea.
He decided that he would try to sleep on his bunk in the hole. He felt filthy from the residues of his seasickness and decided to take a shower. The shower area was empty, and he proceeded to shower. When he finished, he tried to dry off. It was impossible to get the layer of salt off his skin. He was very uncomfortable and slept poorly throughout the night. He decided to never bathe in salt water again and to sleep on the deck.
All enlisted men on this ship were replacements. There were no organizations to which they belonged. The officers, who were quartered on the stern of the ship, were in the same boat. They assumed no authority over the enlisted men. There were no organized activities. Everyone took care of themselves. There was no buddying going on. Groups of men were playing cards, but usually the men wandered in their space and tried to escape from their boredom. This was the situation of Charles' life for the next two weeks.
He got his sea legs and he lost his nostalgia. It was the passing of the big island, Hawaii, when he had an awakening. It all started with his finding a small paperback book the Army had issued to soldiers that were going overseas. In this book was a chapter on how one could determine their position in the ocean as they went to their destination. Charles read the following, "Find Your Place in the Sun." The easiest time to determine one's position is when the astronomical bodies pass overhead or reach their highest elevation above the horizon. Solar noon was when the sun was highest in the sky. On a clear day, it was easy to determine the time of a solar noon. A measurement of the sun around the solar noon could be used to determine longitude and latitude. This information started Charles on his first productive effort on a voyage that was to last many days.
The first thing he did was to build an instrument to determine the solar noon. From this, he determined the latitude and the longitude. He wanted to check his efforts and found a crew member, who had access to the ship's navigator. When the crewman showed his findings to the ship's navigator, he was surprised at the accuracy. Here again, Charles' knowledge gained him a new position. Not only did it give him a new friend, but it also came to the attention of the officers on the stern of the ship. They requested that he give a lecture on this process. The lecture was well received, and the officers gave him permission to spend time with them on the stern of the ship. They wanted him to give further lectures, which he did for the rest of the voyage.
This experience brought to mind many experiences of the past. His first memory was of his first grade teacher. He was in a one room school house in Riverton, Louisiana, and he was with children from the first to the sixth grade. His teacher quickly became aware of Charles' quick ability to learn. She advanced him and was excited to have him as a student. She praised him, and he blossomed under her teaching. She was his first love. She was a pretty, petite, young lady. She had dark brown hair and dark blue eyes. She was Miss Fourshey. There were many other experiences of this type in grade school, high school, and college.
In grade school, he had his first experience of the difficulties in jumping a grade in school. He was too advanced in his knowledge to stay in the third grade. His teacher recommended him to be advanced to the fourth grade. This displeased his fourth grade teacher as she felt that she would have to do catch up work. She wanted to prove that he was not capable to be in her class. She focused on him with the idea that she could prove that he was not able to be in her class. She put far more pressure on him than her other students. She would assign more home work to him with the idea that he was behind the class. The more she would expect from him excited him. He felt that they were in a race trying to see who could win. Each of them was determined to win. He was for knowledge, and she was for proving he didn't deserve to be in her class. As it progressed, she began to realize that she was really giving more of her teaching time to him than the other students. He was becoming her main student. She also realized that he was becoming more advanced in her class. If she continued, he would be eligible to go to the next grade level. One day she asked him to stay after class. It was about 4:00 p.m. and everything in the building was very quiet. All of the noises of children were gone. He was uneasy as he knew that she didn't want him in her class. He expected that she was going to tell him he was not able to keep up with the class. He was prepared to say he was. She started off by saying she guessed that he knew by now she did not think he was ready for the fourth grade. She had pushed him, so as to prove this idea was true. He had really amazed her. He had accepted her challenges and asked for more. He had become the student that all teachers longed for. He was a student, who wanted to absorb as much knowledge as that teacher could present. She realized now she had created a student that was approaching mid-term at the level that existed in the fifth grade. She did not want to advance him. She wanted to keep him in her class. From now on, he would receive only regular fourth grade instruction. If he wanted more studies, she would give him a reading list that she thought would interest him. He thanked her for accepting him in her class, and he would like her list. The rest of the year was very different. She enjoyed him, and he enjoyed her. She alerted his fifth grade teacher that he was a sponge, that soaked up all of her teachings and asked for more.
These memories were troubling to him. Were they the reason why he never had any friends? Was he so preoccupied with learning that he had had no desire for friends? He went through his next two grades much the same. In the seventh grade, he had his first male teacher. There were some rowdy boys in that class. They were always in trouble. He wanted to be a part of that group and tried to be rowdy, also. This ended in him and this group being held after school. They were paddled. This convinced him that this was not the way to go. It wasn't that he was not accepted by this group after this experience, it was that he just wanted to learn, and they didn't.
It was in the eighth grade that he met Mrs. B.D. Reeves. They quickly developed a warm teacher-student relationship. His family had a long time relationship with her husband. Her husband owned a department store in El Dorado, Arkansas, located on the square. In the center of El Dorado was located a large courthouse. There were streets surrounding this building. Businesses were located all around this square facing the courthouse. Mr. B.W. Reeves, not only supplied their clothing, but also financed his grandfather every year. Every year when his grandfather needed money to buy seed to plant his spring crop, he would mortgage his farm to Mr. Reeves. Mr. Reeves was a tall, gray-headed man and was quiet and gentle in his business dealings. Back to Mrs. Reeves-she was interested in stimulating him in many different areas. She entered him in a musical identification contest. She spent hours educating him in recognizing famous operas and symphonies. He won the contest, and his name was in the newspaper. His high school years were the same. It was a math teacher in his freshman year, a world history teacher in his sophomore year and a French teacher and a chemistry teacher in his junior and senior years. How did this thinking come about? Oh, yes, he was wondering how all of this desire to excel came about. It was a mixture of wanting to know and the encouragement of important teachers in his life.
More important realities were coming into his awareness. How was he going to bathe? He had found that a salt water bath was so unpleasant. This turned out not to be a problem. After a few days, the ship was in tropical waters and rain showers were frequent. He simply would go out in the rain, soap up, and bathe himself. This worked fine until one day when he was about five degrees below the equator. He was bathing when all of a sudden a water spout formed and engulfed him. Why wasn't he sucked up in the water spout? He decided he was in the water shell of the spout and not in the suction part.
As the days passed, he established a pattern of behavior. He would lecture to the officers, do his solar noon, and meet with his crew friend. Each day he would report the ship's position. When they crossed the equator, an initiation was ordered for those, who had never crossed the equator (in his time overseas, he would cross the equator four times). This involved various punishments. The one Charles objected to was crawling through a line of people with paddles. The paddlers were too vicious for him, and he refused. He didn't get his shellback, which was the award for going through the initiation.
Excerpted from CROSSROADS by CHARLES SAMUEL BETTS Copyright © 2010 by Charles Samuel Betts. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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