End of an Era
The wedding took place in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Vancouver, Washington, on November 8th, 1945. Since Johnny Berry could not be there, my best man was Pat Madden, an old VHS classmate and husband of Shirley’s sister Mary.
We borrowed my father’s car (by then the old Chevy had been replaced by a newer Plymouth sedan) and spent our wedding night in the New Heathman Hotel in Portland. The balance of our honeymoon was spent at the Mills family beach house at Seaview, Washington.
After the honeymoon, accompanied by my new wife, I reported in at Moffet Field near Los Altos, California. There I was assigned temporary duty in the Inspection Division of VR_4, a squadron of Douglas R5D four-engined transport planes of the Asiatic Wing of the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS).
It was in California that I first became aware that Shirley was not going to be happy as a Navy wife. She disliked hotel living so we moved to a furnished room in Los Altos. After a party at the Moffet Field Officers’ Club late in November, Shirley expressed unhappiness at the Navy wives pecking order. Among them, being the wife of a lowly ensign, she was low on the totem pole. Otherwise, we were quite happy.
During the first week of January, 1946, orders came for me to report to the staff of Commander, Naval Air Transport Service, Asiatic Wing on Guam. While I awaited transportation to Guam, Shirley’s parents flew down to Los Altos to drive back to Vancouver with her.
On the evening of January 9th, we went to the Naval Air Station at Oakland for me to catch one of the VR-4s airplane to Honolulu. There we were all subjected to a bit of a fright. As the airplane taxied out for takeoff near dark, Shirley and her parents watched from the observation platform on the roof of the terminal building. Just s the R5D got airborne, I became aware of a glow outside my window. The number four engine was on fire!
We made a tight pattern around the field, trailing a thirty-foot plume of flame while four ambulances and fire trucks raced to the end of the runway. Fortunately, the fire was simply burning grease and oil on the engine set on fire by a faulty high tension lead in the ignition systems and was quickly put out. We drove back to Los Altos for the night while the plane was being repaired.
I guess my bride was more than a bit tense when we reported back the next morning. She had noticed the tail number of the airplane that caught fire and we were leaving in the same airplane. I assured her that it had been repaired and that the Douglas airplanes were very reliable.
To me, it felt like a homecoming when we landed at Hickam Field near Pearl Harbor. I relished the warm breeze that stirred the coconut palms when I stepped off the plane. The situation was a bit dreamlike. Only five short years before, I had arrived on TIPPICANOE, a young and inexperienced seaman second class. Now, with the war behind us, I had returned wearing the gold braid of a Naval officer.
I soon found how irrevocably my life had changed. I checked into the BOQ at Fort DeRussey in Waikiki for the two-day wait for further transportation to Guam. First I had a drink in the Banyan Court of the Moana Hotel which had once not welcomed me as an enlisted man. I then rented a car.
For old times’ sake I stopped at the Black Cat on Beretania Street for a drink. The bar had not changed and was still a hangout for enlisted men. It was a lesson that there comes a time when you can’t really “go back”. The several enlisted men stared at me and edged away at the batr until the bartender came to my rescue. Spotting the red good conduct ribbon I wore, the bartender called out, “Hey. Fellows, he’s a mustang!”
(“Mustang” is the cognomen applied to officers who were once enlisted men. I was to find that in many situations that red ribbon was to my advantage in dealing with enlisted men.)
From the Black Cat I drove over the Pali to Kaneohe to see Ludi Carpenter who had once been a surrogate mother to me, stopping at Lilly’s Fruit Stand on the old road to buy her a bag of fruit. It was not a happy visit. Ludi welcomed me with a big smile and hug. Admired my officer’s uniform, but then had a sad story that was all too common in the islands. Carpenter had abandoned her and the several children for a stateside haole wahine sometime during the war.
My visit to NAS Kaneohe was a real exercise in nostalgia. PBYs still lined the wide ramp. There were the marks of bullets still visible in our old hangar. I stood for long moments on the patched area in the ramp where there had once been that bomb crater in which Richard and I had set up the machine gun after the attack. I could almost hear the snarl of diving airplanes again, the thudding of machine guns, the whine of ricocheting bullets, and the explosions of bombs. The scenes were still fresh in my mind and I had a feeling of pride that we had been there.
After lunch at the Kaneohe Officers’ Club, I drove back to Waikiki via Kaimuki and the little house at 1256A Ekaha Street then tracked down Diane and invited her for a drink at the old Waikiki Tavern. That was a happier time in spite of the cloud of the divorce form Dick. She was no longer with the Marine but lived in a hotel for women only and had started playing golf professionally. She, too, admired my uniform and was mystified at how I had found her until I explained that I simply had called one of her brothers.
Diane and I had dinner at the one taboo Banyan Court of the Moana. Sitting there in the warm darkness after sunset with the glow of candles on the white linen, silver, and the gold bars on my collar I could have sworn I saw, outside the wrought iron fence, a white-clad young seaman looking wistfully in at us. Perhaps it was only a figment of my imagination.
(I was back in Hawaii about every five years of my first sixty and watched the changes as they took plae. In the 1940s I love Hawaii and each return was a sort of homecoming except that I was sad as the influx of tourists wrought radical changes, first on Oahu, then on the other islands.
I watched the freeways go in, first replacing the dusty road to Pearl Harbor. The exciting old road over the crest of the Pali was closed when the four lanes through a tunnel were completed in the late Fifties.
Periodically, from the vantage point of Punchbowl Hill where the World War II military cemetery and memorial were built, I watched the carpet of green that was Waikiki except for the white bulk of the Mona and the pink pile of the Royal Hawaiian give way to a concrete jungle of high-rise resort hotels.
In later years came hordes of our old enemy, the Japanese. They came first as tourists with cameras slung about their necks, then they came as prosperous businessmen carrying briefcases. They could not conquest Hawaii so, after the U.S. occupation brought them to unprecedented prosperity, they proceeded to buy most of it. I no longer care to go back. My Hawaii is long since gone.)