Following my final run-in with the C.O., I elected to resign my regular commission in the Navy, and pursue my options in civilian life. As the ship was permanently stationed in Japan, all dependents overseas were entitled to return transportation to the continental U.S. at government expense. The papers identifying my intentions were signed, and we were listed for timely return transportation to the U.S. Shortly thereafter the Navy packed all our gear for shipment to Western Kansas, and we retained enough personal stuff to return to San Francisco where the papers separating me from active duty would be completed. My initial contract for active duty expired on June 7, 1957, and I anticipated that we would determine what course to pursue during a long summer on the Steeples farm near Palco, Kansas.
In late April we received orders providing concurrent travel via train to Tokyo and MSTS ship to San Francisco. Transportation to Tokyo was arranged on an overnight train with sleeping cars. The train’s beds were somewhat short for sleeping comfortably, requiring sleeping with knees bent. The aroma of sushi saturated the train during the lunch hour, and the disposition of luncheon waste by throwing the remains directly onto the tracks through a hole in the middle of each train car was novel in our experience with trains. Most embarrassing was the drunken American sailors who so disrupted the dining car, that our dinner was delayed. Fortunately, I was traveling in civilian clothes, and did not find it necessary to personally intervene in the fracas with the sailors.
In preparation for leaving Japan, the below picture is a beautifully symbolic representation for all sailors who have strayed into and enjoyed Sasebo’s harbor and Navy base. In the foreground is the USS Arnold J. Isbell (DD-869) outlined by what the sailors called Jane Russell Mountain, rising majestically in the background. This classic picture combines the power and spirit of the U.S. Navy and her many patriotic sailors, who had their hearts and minds in all the right places in the 1950s.
While waiting for the MSTS ship’s arrival in Yokohama, we toured a few sights, and prepared to say a final farewell to the exotic and fascinating cultures of the Far East. When our ship arrived, we were packed and primed for the 10-11 day return cruise across the Pacific. As far as we could tell, the ship was booked full for the trip. The passengers were a cross section of all service personnel and dependents. The farewell party at the ship terminal in Yokohama was filled with thousands of emotional goodbyes and rivers of tears. The picture was taken as we were 25 yards from the boarding facilities, stretching the streamers which appeared to anchor us to the dock as we began our slow entry into Tokyo Bay.
The first half day of steaming was peaceful, sunny, and pleasant. After a few hours underway from Japan the Pacific became characteristically rough, providing for most of the passengers their first experience riding a slow roll together with pitching and yawing. As stabilizers had not yet been invented for large ships, there was little that could be done to moderate the ship’s motion. It was a bitter pill for a large number of passengers.
The ship was the equivalent in size of a Queen Mary with inside and outside cabins arranged along passageways on both port and starboard sides of the ship on several decks. Our particular cabin was one level below the main deck in the bow. This particular location is not ideal for experiencing your first ocean cruise, but Lois acquired her sea legs quite quickly, and without any of the serious byproducts that often accompany the first shipboard outing.
After the first night’s steaming, we arose for breakfast, and trudged to the stern of the ship to the dining room. Along both port and starboard passageways, we noticed the hand rails were draped continuously with waxed-paper barf bags, – thousands of such bags. We ate breakfast, lounged a while, then returned to our cabin in the bow. We were shocked to discover that practically all of the bags had been removed from the railings, presumably based upon need. Clearly a very large number of passengers had succumbed to the motion of the ocean, and were undoubtedly hoping the motion would go away. For two or three days afterward, we saw relatively few persons enjoying the shipboard facilities, choosing instead to remain within the more comfortable confines of their cabins.
A few dozen hearty souls were unfazed by the experience, and were anxious to learn what options were available for passing the next ten days with little else to do. A fair number of couples were devoted bridge players, and we settled into playing bridge on and off through most of the journey. Slowly but surely, the formerly indisposed passengers gained their sea legs, and rejoined the living.
The ship sailed the great circle directly from Tokyo to San Francisco, and after dozens of rubbers of bridge and far too many meals, we arrived within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. The sight of San Francisco was a culture shock following ten months in Japan. Japanese residential communities at the time consisted of one and two story, wood frame homes with paper partitions, glass enclosed patios, and winding, hilly streets with few street lights connecting them all together. It appeared to lack any sort of organization or advance planning. It was random in appearance, informal, and comfortable.
On coming within sight of San Francisco, the city was completely high rise brick apartments with a whitewashed façade along straight streets and square blocks. It was formal, impersonal, and cold in appearance when compared with Japan. We docked not far from Fisherman’s Wharf, and prepared for being transported to Treasure Island. On reporting at Treasure Island we were advised that government quarters were not available, and we would need to arrange for private quarters for an indefinite duration.
Because this was temporary duty pending separation, we were entitled to generous extra compensation to pay the cost of housing, meals, transportation, and incidentals. We were able to rent a small furnished apartment in San Francisco. Because my final separation papers had not been received, I was assigned to temporary duty with Lt. A.M. Scott, the officer charged with separating or discharging all Navy personnel who process through San Francisco. I was thoroughly familiar with the Navy’s paper shuffling, and fit in with the task readily. From 8:00am till 5:00pm Monday through Friday, I signed papers discharging sailors through the facility on Treasure Island. It was a thankless and routine job, but provided something to do during the day, and generated a lucrative cash-flow to support the extended celebration of our return to the states.
From 5:00pm till 8:00am the next morning on week days, and all week end, Lois and I were free to explore every aspect of the San Francisco environment and surroundings. As we had no idea how long our temporary duty would last, every night was tailored to explore the jazz music venues, on-stage entertainment sites, and locally popular restaurants. We had stored an old car with Lois’ aunt in Heyward while overseas, so bay area transportation was not an issue. With the encouragement of a healthy cash flow, we visited a Pontiac Dealer in Walnut Creek where we purchased a new 1957 Pontiac Hardtop, one of the hottest vehicles to come off the assembly line.
While we had no actual agenda, I expected that I would be separated by my final release date. We celebrated without restraint. Finally June 7 came and went, yet there was no sign of my official release authorization from the Secretary of the Navy. As I was being compensated handsomely, it was not particularly distressing. Subsequently I learned that the Secretary of the Navy, Charles S. Thomas, was on maneuvers somewhere in the Atlantic, and was unable to process the proper papers until his return to the states and his office in Washington D.C..
For six weeks or longer, we examined every club, restaurant, and entertainment venue in the San Francisco area. These visits included a dive where Oscar Peterson was the featured entertainer in the middle of a small arena with smoke so thick as to make it uninhabitable. We laughed at the Smothers Brothers at the Hungry Eye, and we ate at the Domino Club which featured nude photographs along all the walls. An early introduction to the sexual revolution surrounding San Francisco was a dinner-show featuring Juan Jose, a male cross dresser who performed on stage as a female, undistinguishable from any other finely-shaped female. He tucked his long hair into a beret to walk the streets during the day. We ate on Fisherman’s Wharf, toured Yosemite, walked through Stanford University and Palo Alto, admired the 19 mile drive along the Monterrey coast, watched the seals on the cliffs, ate dinner at the Cliff House Restaurant, amazed at the Golden Gate Bridge, visited Muir Woods and the giant redwoods, and exhausted our resources like there was no tomorrow. The following picture was taken at the Hungry Eye or the Domino Club while waiting for the entertainment to arrive. Wall to wall party!
We had no children, allowing the Navy experience to be unencumbered with dependents and the tribulations of child rearing. We hoped to enter into that lifestyle in the near future, leaving world travels behind. By the tender ages of 24 and 25, we had traveled the world, and had experienced first hand exotic cultures that most persons at the time could never imagine in a lifetime.
Finally, C. S. Thomas returned to Washington, signed the needed papers, and transmitted them to Treasure Island. As my final, official act as an officer and gentleman as a Lieutenant JG, SC, U.S. Navy, I prepared and signed my own papers releasing me from active duty in the Regular Navy. If I had it to do again, I would probably repeat it exactly as it happened.
My small role in the Navy provided an awesome personal and professional experience. It included responsibilities with and for hundreds of well qualified and patriotic American sailors. The lifestyle in the 50s Navy was like no other before or since, and the American public’s support of the military was unquestioned.
During seven years in the Navy, I had experienced all that had been promised and more. I served on four commissioned vessels, the USS Wisconsin, USS Missouri, USS Gardiner’s Bay, and the USS Hamilton County. The drive back to Western Kansas was the beginning of a totally new, and unexplored future.
We returned to the placid lifestyle on the farm in the middle of the Western Kansas prairie, content to relax a spell following a whirlwind, seven-year tour of the world’s diverse peoples, seas, and cultures. We were still just kids!!
God Bless America in the 1950s.