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This story begins where Road to Hungnam ended-back in Yokosuka on New Year's Eve, 1950, for a few weeks of pier-side overhaul, as the crew winds down from Hungnam. There is hard work preparing the ship for a new assignment to Task Force Ninety-Five off Wonsan, North Korea. Still, there's time for romance and hijinks on liberty in Yokosuka and later in Sasebo, Japan.
The Hoquiam's crew sees a full range of work in the next assignment period-including work they detest with the Service Force, firing remote-controlled target aircraft for other ships to shoot at, days spent on submarine patrol (when they doubled as targets for the North Korean or Chinese gunners in Wonsan caves), convoy escort duty, and the best assignment of all-shooting at the potbellied narrow-gauge trains coming down from Mongolia. Eventually, the crew of the Hoquiam again sails for Yokosuka and prepares for yet another trip to the Korean bomb line.
Stewart strode up to the gray door and froze, staring apprehensively at the six-inch Red Cross emblem centered on the door. Stewart pulled his white hat off, hesitating because he just knew that somehow he had magically gotten VD on the cruise to North Korea and Doc was about to give him a shot of penicillin with a thirty-day medical restriction. Seaman Apprentice Stewart shrugged and knocked twice on the doorframe with his knuckles.
What a way to start a new year!
A muffled voice growled an unintelligible response through the door.
Stewart took a deep breath, opened the door a crack, and peered around its corner. A whiff of sick bay alcohol puffed out at him. Chief Farmer, known as Porky behind his back, was dressed in clean, albeit wrinkled, wash khakis. He squatted on his short, steel piano stool facing two angry sailors who were holding their love lives in their hands. Both were smearing the heads of their penises on small, rectangular specimen glasses.
Porky didn't even look up as he pointed his finger at Stewart. "I don't want to hear it. Take this specimen glass," he growled, handing him a clean one, "milk down and smear the end of your penis onto it. I'll check the specimen under the microscope to see if you have gonorrhea."
"Chief, how the fuck could I have the clap? Ain't had a chance to use it since we left here last October," complained Stewart.
"Stewart, I don't want any shit outa you. Just do it. I got twenty-seven sailors to check after a hell of a celebration at the Chief's Club last night."
Stewart took a closer look at the Chief and noticed that the damp towel draped across the back of his neck was nearly sopping wet. His face was a little redder than usual and his eyes were pretty bloodshot.
This is not a day to get a shot from him.
Lee did as instructed. He was careful to hold the glass by the edge as he'd seen the Chief do and wiped the head of his penis on it like the other sailors had done. The Chief grunted, removed the first specimen from under the microscope, made a note in the deck ape's Medical Record, and set in the second specimen. Refocusing the microscope, he grunted again, removed that specimen, and made a note in the Laundryman's Medical Record. Then he took Stewart's specimen and set it under the microscope. Grunting softly like a pig, he leaned over the desk and made a note in Lee Stewart's Medical Record, too.
Then he straightened up and looked at the three sailors.
"You ever hear the joke about good news bad news?"
The three sailors nodded hesitantly not sure where this was going.
The good news is you guys don't have the clap! You can put your toys away now."
He beamed and smiled at them as he said it. Three sailors looked at him in disgust as they stuffed their joy toys back in their pants and buttoned up.
We know that!
He closed their Medical Records and handed them to Webb for filing. "What you have is a strain brought on by physical stress—say lifting very heavy things. Were any of you on the Depth Charge detail yesterday?"
They looked at him and frowned at each other as they thought about it. Stewart recalled seeing the Laundryman but not the deck ape. They all nodded reluctant agreement.
"Lifting Depth Charges is not the best exercise in the world. Your bodies rebelled at the weight and leaked a little bit. That's in way of an explanation. So, you are not infected with a venereal disease and you don't need a shot of penicillin. However, the bad news is you men have to stay aboard until the leakage stops."
He held up his hands as three angry sailors sucked in their breaths to scream.
"Wait. Hold it a second, sailors. You are on light duty today. Come back at liberty call and I'll check again. If the leakage is absent, you get your card if you don't have the duty." He looked at them with a smile in his eyes as he handed them each a light duty chit. "Fellas, it really is in your best interest. Now, get the hell outa here. Webb, send in the next three."
Stewart jammed his white hat back on his head as he left sick bay and headed back to the Radio Shack, taking it slow and easy on the ladder to the 01-deck.
What a low blow! Bust my ass to get all the ammo off then gotta stay aboard because I busted my ass. Fat chance of that happening again soon.
Stewart walked a little stiff-leggedly into the Radio Shack, grumbling about the injustice of it all. His Leading Petty Officer, Radioman First Class Jimmy Bob James, glanced at him.
"I don't want to hear about it. Liberty call is going at 1100 this morning and I want this placed squared away. Take down all this Christmas tree shit and them Christmas cards, too. Oh, better yet, stack those cards by name and let the guys keep 'em or toss 'em. Also, the bright work is shitty." He paused and looked Stewart up and down. "What the hell are you smiling at?"
Stewart handed him his light duty chit with a flourish. "No heavy work, boss, 'till this leak disappears."
James studied the chit and handed it back. "Okay, scratch the bright work. But get hot on that Christmas stuff, then route the fuckin' board."
Stewart nodded in understanding. "Anybody want to take a picture of it before I take it down?"
"Don't worry about that shit, Stew. Just get it down and over the side."
As Stewart unplugged the spruce branch from AC power, spruce needles began dropping from the branch onto equipment, people, and the deck. Three trees had been delivered at sea just before Christmas during their replenishment off Hungnam. This branch almost had dropped on his head when it fell from one of the trees. The Radio Shack guys had been proud of their unique Christmas decorations.
Very carefully, he pulled the string of official U.S. Navy colored indicator lamps from the tree and placed them on the ET's workbench. Needles were going everywhere.
"Dammit, Stewart, I told you to get rid of that shit. Now do it!" Stewart had started to remove the bright bits of tinsel that had been Christmas wrapping paper. One look at James convinced him. He gently placed the entire branch in the trashcan to stop spreading needles all over the deck.
Checking the glowering James again, he hastily pulled Christmas cards from the filing cabinet, bulkheads, and overhead, sorting them into piles for the other guys to pick over.
There's my three: Mom and Dad, Ruth—and Betty, of all people. Still don't understand why she sent me a card, after all the legal crap she's started.
Stewart picked up the clipboard and sorted through the messages that needed initialing and delivery. "James, I'll route the board first and hold field day afterwards, if that's okay with you."
James looked up from the message traffic he was checking and pointed to the door.
Stewart closed the door behind him and checked to see if Lt.(jg) Forsythe was in his stateroom across the passageway. He always wanted to check the board before anyone else saw it. He next picked up a couple of signatures in the Officers' Wardroom and then left for the Bridge. He grabbed the quick release wheel bar on the Starboard hatch and rotated it opening the hatch, stepped into a cold, light rain and latched the hatch shut. Covering the board, he made a dash for the ladder, pounded up to the Bridge, realizing too late that he shouldn't do that while recovering from that strain. Puffing a little, Stewart leaned back against the Flag Bag and watched the Signalmen at work.
Looks like the Chief has them holding field day before liberty.
Chief Swenson stood six foot two inches from his shined brown shoes and pressed wash khakis, to his combination cap, which was beginning to drip water from its shiny brim. Light grey eyes in a lean, square face smiled at Stewart.
"Hey, Stew, how's the drip coming along?" he laughed.
"Not funny, Chief. Junior is still leaking. Don't think I'll get to make liberty again tonight and I've got the duty tomorrow."
"Well, look at the bright side."
"What bright side?"
"You're not spending all that loot."
"Shit!" Stewart looked down at his clip board and back at the Chief. "You got a daily weather forecast and a Hydrographic floating mine warning on the board, Chief. Wanna sign for them, please?"
Chief Swenson took the clipboard into his cubby, extracted his copies, and read them both at his leisure. Stewart, waiting for the Chief to return his clipboard, watched his friends at work. The rain stopped for the moment and there was a frantic effort to polish brass and chrome bright work. Red Curry, Signalman Third Class, stopped washing the bulkhead long enough to chuckle a hee hee at Stewart. "How long do you think that leaking will go on, Stew?"
"Damned if I know. I can feel it sort of seeping right now. But with this light duty chit today, maybe it'll be gone by liberty call tonight. Any word on Kiki, yet?" Red had introduced Stewart to Kiki in September, a marvelous Japanese girl who spoke near perfect English. It seemed a match made just for them.
Red shook his head. He had had a great night with Kimiko and knew that Stew was hurting.
Chief Swenson still had a smile on his face. He said, "Alright, quit bothering these guys. They have work to do," as he handed Stewart the board.
Time to go.
"See you guys at chow, maybe."
As Stewart turned to leave, he blinked. A snowflake had landed on his cheek.
I didn't think it was that cold.
But looking around as he slowly went down the ladder, he could see a lot of snow beginning to fall.
Opening the door to the Radio Shack, he saw everyone there except Coyle who was sleeping off the mid-watch. "Okay, liberty hounds, better draw your snow shoes before go ashore. It's snowing pretty good out there." James and Masters groaned and shook their heads.
"On top of that, my girl friend has had the rag on since we been back, I really need this," growled James.
Ah ha! So that's why he's off his feed—no pussy. Well, join the crowd, boss.
Stewart smiled and began humming as he dusted and swept up.
Stewart stood on top of the dry dock looking down at his ship's hull. Long twelve by twelve inch timbers were jammed between her hull and the walls of the dry dock to keep her upright in the waterless dry dock. Looking up, his eyes swept over the small superstructure with all the bamboo scaffolding fitted around it.
After seventy-three days of being underway, it's hard to believe no smoke or steam is coming from the stack.
He stared around at the stark snow-covered gray and white buildings with splotches of black cinder piles between the buildings and muddy roads. The falling snow muffled the sounds of Japanese workers on the ship and in the dry dock under the ship.
Doc said since it wasn't the clap, I could make the regular Comm Center unclassified runs.
He could take his time on this run because of the light duty chit. Stewart strolled along the dry dock, crunching the fresh snow with his feet as he remembered back to his first bus ride here.
Jeez, that was less than four months ago! What on earth is going to happen in the next four months? I know this next ten days is going to be a bitch for most of the departments. Lots of work. The Radio Shack is in pretty good shape, though.
Lee Harrison Stewart had been a sailor for nearly two years and was a lifer, to the disgust of his recalled Naval Reserve shipmates. He intended to stay in the Navy and make it his career. Stewart was just a shade over six feet tall and weighed 155 lean pounds. His eyes seemed to have turned bluer since his arrival last September. Stewart liked to wear his blond hair in crew cut style. It was handy to wash; he didn't need any Wildroot Crème Oil or carry a comb around in his pocket to break.
Although it seemed he really just wanted a woman under him every waking moment, Lee Stewart was as curious as they come and wasn't adverse to joining a sight seeing tour so all his senses could be put to use. Part of his curiosity stemmed from his fascination with history. A bronze memorial plaque fastened to a building or along a road always caught his attention.
As a Radioman striker from Naval Station Tongue Point, Astoria, Oregon—the Navy calls all trainees strikers—he had brought a lot of new procedures, new since World War Two, to a Radio crew of bitter World War Two Retreads. But Stewart also harbored anger over events that did not allow him to advance to the next grade, Seaman.
He looked at his ship in Dry Dock One some more as he trudged along, reached inside his peacoat and pulled his Camels and Jap Zippo lighter from his blue chambray shirt pocket. Shaking the tobacco crumbs from a cigarette, he lit up, and walked over to the message center for their unclassified message traffic.
The quiet clatter of silver service on plates, spoons stirring coffee, and Steward's Mates' murmurs as they offered various platters of food to the officers around the wardroom table was relaxing and served to settle the Captain's mind. He went over his speech again in his mind to make sure he was covering all bases as he settled down to wait until everyone had been served and were eating.
Captain Brown picked up his fork and tapped the water goblet slowly for attention. Conversation instantly shut off and all heads turned toward him.
"You may have heard, but for the record, Bill found out today his brother is safe in Masan, South Korea, in the marine rest area, near Pusan. His outfit has been placed in reserve status for two weeks before going back up on the Line. We were already out in the stream at the Hungnam Sea Buoy when his outfit withdrew to one of the transports."
Grins and thumbs up, directed toward the Supply Officer, appeared around the table.
"So now, Bill, if I can have your undivided attention, you will learn how we are going to spend all that money you've been hoarding."
He smiled and casually looked around the table, gauging their tension.
"I found out today how effective our nightly meetings back in August and September turned out. We were the only PF that did that consistently: I have news for you—we are the only PF that hasn't suffered a major breakdown."
He paused to let that sink in and to allow them time to figure out what was coming next.
So much for sugar coating the pill.
"Starting right now, I am instituting after dinner status reports. All officers are required to be here. Chiefs or Leading Petty Officers will join us to participate in the meeting after the Stewards have cleared the table.
"Think of your division's problem areas as you enjoy your dinner, prioritize your problem areas. Once again, we'll go around the table listening to each other to discover any overlapping areas or something not covered. The DRT (Dead Reckoning Tracer) is an excellent example of how important items get overlooked because the people involved thought someone else was taking care of it."
He shot a quick, dirty look at Lt. Porter, the Operations Officer, and Ens. Hitchcock, the CIC Officer. He had placed them in hack for the first five days in port. Pausing deliberately to let them squirm, he then continued. "I'll be reporting to the Commodore on a nightly basis so he can press SRF the following morning. Now let's finish dinner." So saying, he leaned over his plate and began eating.
"... And so to the sound dome itself." Lt.(jg) Carl Herbert paused to sip some water and catch his breath. "The SRF people and I inspected the sound dome very closely because of the list of problems. We found the sound dome to be in such poor condition that SRF has agreed to replace the entire dome assembly. And get this. The dome had several small pinholes, causing it to be filled with water—still leaking out as a matter of fact—and covered with barnacles. The starboard side was badly battered, as though struck repeatedly with a hammer, and the port side was rippled for its entire length. The condition of the sound head undoubtedly accounted for the past poor performance of our QBF sonar gear." Lt.(jg) Herbert leaned back in his chair with coffee cup in hand and waited for comments or questions.
Excerpted from USS Hoquiam PF-5: Hocky Maru by Mark Douglas Copyright © 2011 by Mark Douglas. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted March 5, 2014