by Bill Owens SM3/c

The Last Hurrah

My time in San Francisco after our return from Pearl was relatively uneventful. I spent my liberties drinking and chasing the ladies. I found my skills in this area were honed to perfection and prided myself in finding female company within an hour or two of leaving the ship. I usually became a lone wolf in this activity after recognizing that joint exercises usually produced unsatisfactory results and ended up as big drunks with no prize.

Now, San Francisco was not the liberty panacea city for delivering a sailors dream. (At least the hunting was more difficult.) Too many Sailors per available female !

Some one always had a good idea about liberty and as intelligence drifted back to us we decided to change the odds by taking a bus to San Jose ( at the time a sleepy little town in the valley) inhabited by a bevy of beautiful young things who studied at a college there.

San Jose unlike San Francisco had a climate 10-15 degrees warmer and was without fog. With all the other amenities mentioned above we felt we had arrived in the promised land !

Although quite a few of us from the ship had embarked on this adventure we usually paired off and my buddy was a fellow named “Chick” Hendren, a long lanky product of Tennessee and a fellow who had been together with me in “boots” “service school” and our assignment to the Chilton.

Chick and I decided the first thing we should do was to secure lodging which we did in a hotel on the main drag that had such rules as no smoking, no visitors, and no drinking. Ha ha !

Our 72 hour liberty was “fantastic” ! The college had a dance for all servicemen (with the fair sex of the student body in attendance) that included food and drink (soft) and a great band.* The soft was soon turned to “hard” with the addition of our own contribution to the merriment.

 I should mention here that my acquired skills had changed me from a wall flower to a bold and skilled master of ball room dancing. (Another educational debt I owe to the Navy and the dime a dance “joints” located in every port where we dropped our hook or tied up to a dock.)

One wrinkle appeared to somewhat dampen our visit. The word got around to other crew members that Chick and I had a hotel room and when I awoke the next morning we had six or seven additional guests sleeping on the floor, or chairs in our room. Some how we didn’t get caught but after a repeat performance the next night we were asked to leave and not to return.  Well, our time was up anyhow so we departed without further ado.

Our return was scheduled for that evening to get us back to the ship on time. We spent most of the day sight seeing and drinking and somehow or other Chick and I became separated. Much of what followed was hazy but as the twilight hours approached I remember walking down the street and seeing the most beautiful Mexican girl I had ever seen approaching me followed by two sailors whom I observed were not doing too well in making her acquaintance. I guess the alcohol emboldened me too risk a fight two against one but I wheeled about walked up to her side and convinced her to join me for dinner. Once inside the restaurant I took stock of my financial position and realize I was just about out of money. Not sure of what to do next I let her order what ever she wanted and told her I was not hungry and declined to order myself hoping I could cover the bill. I lucked out and just made it. When we left the restaurant she informed me she had to go home. I found out home was a room in a nearby hotel.

When I kissed her goodnight I used a technique taught to me by “the girl next door” at home which is suppose to consist of both parties breathing the air from their partners lungs. This activity produces an unusual and pleasant sensation. In this instance the girl was unaware of what her part was but as I drew her breath from her she more or less swooned and wanted to know where I learned to kiss like that. Well I was “in like Flynn” as they say and was invited to her abode.

A little bump in the road occurred as a result of my visit in that when I left to go to the bus station for my return to the ship I found I had no money left at all and to boot my bus ticket was gone as well. My good fortune returned when I reached the bus station as I found Chick there and was able to borrow enough money for my return. Good ole San Jose ! I always questioned whether it was my kiss or (though a poor target) she wanted to roll me that got me the invite. 

Time rolled on aboard ship back in San Francisco. We loaded some additional replacements who I understood were men released from a Naval prison. I was perplexed and am to this day why this happened. Some of these replacements got in trouble immediately and were I guess sent back to prison. On incident I thought was amusing was the assignment of one of these men to the duty of picking up our mail using our ships jeep. At last report he was seen roaring around San Francisco never to return with the jeep or the mail. 

My relationship with Ann Borsma was of course interrupted in Los Angeles by my restriction to the ship. I renewed it with a phone call and the next 72 hour liberty I got I boarded a bus and 12 hours later arrived in L.A. I was met by Ann and her parents driven to her home and given the family car for our use. Because of some of the “love” letters I had received containing such remarks as “I want to have your babies” I began to have a queasy feeling about the situation and as a result behaved in a somewhat cool but gentlemanly fashion until I could “escape” from something I was unprepared to face.

Back in San Francisco we readied the ship and set sail to take part in what was called “Operation Crossroads”, an atomic bomb test to determine the effect of the “A” Bomb on Naval vessels.

When we reached the test area “Bikini Island in the Marshalls” there was an array of hundreds of ships of various types anchored in the bay. Our job was to remove the technical staff from the site to a presumably safe distance and return them after the test to analyze the results of the action.

We boarded the Tech’s and sailed for five or six hours to another Island (Majuro) and waited for the dropping of one bomb and the underwater detonation of another which was to take place the next morning.

Underway at dawn we returned to Bikini and witnessed the utter devastation it visited on the assembled ships. Some of the superstructures were bent, twisted or melted and many of the vessels were sunk. Later viewing of video tapes of the event indicated how little we knew about radiation at the time as many of the officers and men boarded these vessels to check the effect of the blast on the animals used in the experiment, handling I’m sure radiated contaminated carcasses. The thought went through my mind that if a weapon such as the “A” bomb had been used on us at Pearl Harbor there would have been no US fleet left. The same effect would have been realized in any invasion where ships were massed.

Well, the anchor was raised and once again we were on our way home bound for San Francisco. The naval adventure was almost over and I was on the way to being a civilian again.

As we made the port of San Francisco a great fear rose up in me that Ann and her family would be at the dock and whisk me away with a shotgun in my back to be married and produce little ones. Scanning the docks with our powerful binocular long glass I discerned such was not the case and my spirits soared boundlessly. Here I was just turned nineteen with two years of service under my belt and free to seek my pleasures and fortune as I saw fit.

When I received the word (orders) that I was to report to the Treasure Island “OGU” (Outgoing Unit) I knew I was on the way. I gathered all my gear leaving behind my hammock and mattress and took my leave of the U.S.S. Chilton once and for all ! ( I thought).

For some reason or other I thought my stay at Treasure Island would be an overnight affair. It wasn’t. As the days went by though there was nothing to do in the way of work details “we” (several of us from the ship) found that while we had unlimited liberty we didn’t have unlimited funds for our soirees* into town and we soon found ourselves broke.

If we stayed on the base we had food clothing and shelter of course but that seemed to be unheard of at the time and rather than limit ourselves to that fate we instead used USO facilities as much as possible for sandwiches and coffee and at one point even returned to the ship ( still tied up at one of the downtown piers) for a good hot meal.

Well, our day came finally. We were loaded on a troop train and began our journey home, destination Great lakes Naval Base near Chicago ( where every thing had started). The trip took more than five days, because I guess of the priority we had on the tracks but ultimately we reached Chicago and reported to our station. The rest was academic and I mustered out of the Navy and returned to my home in Chicago.

I should mention that while aboard ship (while not required to do so ) I had signed into the inactive reserve for a period of four years and recall if war broke out again. The four year term was extended to five or six because of the Korean conflict but I escaped being recalled for duty.

Thus ends my tale of navy adventures. The story before and after is so far only in the book (Per my commander of almost 56 years.