Changes in direction...
The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully. It was finally time for me to report to class, to continue my education toward a degree in Marine Biology. Monday morning I was up bright and early and had all my gear together to load into my car and head to the campus. Initially, I had thought about living close to campus in an apartment. That was before I found Grace. That was the first change in my overall plan. She of course had offered to let me stay and live with her and commute back and forth to school. My problem with that was, that even though I believed that I loved her, there were some still unresolved questions in my own mind. I guess, there was still the issue of who I believed myself to be deep down inside. Could I give over my life to make it fit in with Grace's already very well established life. She had money, property and status in the community. I had none of those things. I was just a Former Marine, with two years out of the way toward a four year degree in Marine Biology. My goal after the degree was a dark hole, with no light in it yet.
We kissed goodbye, and I headed off into the north bound traffic toward the school. I parked, grabbed my stuff and my schedule and headed toward my first class at a new school a long way from home. Of course I was 30 minutes early. To this day, I am never late. I jokingly tell people that I was born 15 minutes early and I have been early ever since. The truth of the matter is that the Marine Corps instills into you an abhorrence of the idea of being late. It is simply not done. EVER!!!
My first class was Introductory Chemistry. I had managed to go through High School, and two years of Junior College and never take a Chemistry course. Biology, I had taken and had loved it in High School. Advanced math ended for me in 9th Grade when I went into my first algebra class and they started talking about A+B=C or some such nonsense. Barely made it through there. So here I was in my 3rd year of College and I was confronted with this huge Table Of Elements and I freaked out. I had no clue what I was looking at hanging on the wall. In reality, many years later I learned that it really wasn't that big a deal. That day, I sat there and just decided that Chemistry was not for me and consequently Marine Biology probably wasn't either.
I got up walked out of class before it even started and got in my car and drove away from campus and never went back. I drove down toward the Keys and found my way to Bernie and Al's place. They were gone out on the water, so I just got the key from the hiding place and went in and got a beer and made myself to home until they could get back.
I walked out to the dock and sat down to watch the water and think.
San Juan and Susan...
We sailed east past the end of the island and turned south. I didn't have a good idea of the geography of the island at the time. It turns out that we turned down to the SE around the corner to where our Ships were berthed in Roosevelt Roads, Naval Station. We looked into the bay opening and there were our ships from our Group. It was kind of different seeing them from the deck of a tiny little wooden boat. We couldn't go to close, but we could see them very well. We sailed on for another hour or so, and then decided to go back. We came about and headed back north and when we rounded the headland and started west, the wind picked up and we started to really fly. It didn't seem to take anywhere near as long to get back as it did to take us out that morning. We got back around 16:00 and after we tied up, I invited them both to go out to supper with me at one of the Resort Hotels there in San Juan. Harry begged off, saying that he wanted to work on the self steering vane and told Susan to go ahead and go, she should enjoy a night out. She'd be doing all the cooking on the rest of the trip to their home.
So we left and caught a Gypsy cab and it took us to the biggest Hotel in San Juan on the beach. We walked in and the head waiter met us and ushered us to a table in the nicest restaurant in the hotel. We were at a window table overlooking the beach and the water. It was getting dark, but the beach was lighted with a lot of hidden landscaping lights. It was very pretty. We talked about ourselves and asked each other questions about our past lives. As the evening progressed, I felt a little shy with this beautiful older woman. I was just 21 and she was close to 26. We finished our meal and went for a walk on the beach. It seemed like we walked for a couple of miles up the beach and finally got away from the Hotels and found a dark secluded spot where someone had set up a couple of lounge chairs.
We sat down and continued to talk, I laid back and reached out and took her hand and she got up off her chair and came over and sat down on the edge of mine and leaned over and kissed me. I scooted over and made room for her to lay down next to me and we started kissing in earnest. It only took a couple of minutes and she was panting and I was hard as a rock. I had never been with a woman who was as aggressive as she was. We lay there and held each other and kissed and came down from a very sweet and tender moment.
I looked at my watch and realized we had a very short time before I needed to be back on board, so I wasn't counted AWOL. We quickly pulled ourselves together and ran out to the street and hailed a cab and he took us to the pier where Harry's boat was. I paid him and I walked her to the boat. It was so bittersweet. I knew that we would probably never meet again. We promised to write. She said, she would try and get messages to me by radio. We kissed goodbye, held each other one final moment and she turned and climbed down the ladder to the boat. I had to run to get a cab and get back to the ship. I wished we had another day, but Harry wanted to head for Panama the next morning.
I must have been in another world as I sat there. I never heard Bernie and Al's boat come back until one of them walked up and kicked the sole of my sandal. I jerked awake. - Had I really been asleep? - I didn't think so, it had all seemed so filled with remembrances of my time with Susan. I had been sitting there for almost 4 hours. My beer was warm, I had hardly taken a sip. I got up to help them unload.
As we unloaded, they started to pepper me with questions.
"What was I doing there?"
"Why wasn't I in class?"
"Where is Grace?"
"What happened since they saw me last?"
I felt like a hockey goalie fielding pucks being shot at me. Eventually, they slowed down and I agreed to tell them all about it over supper.
The catch was loaded into the pickup truck and Al headed off to deliver to their customers. Bernie and I went inside to start on supper for the three of us. The menu that night would be fresh caught Black Grouper, they had a nice 10 lb fish, which Bernie set about filleting. I threw some spuds in to the oven and we got the grill started with some drift wood they had gathered for it.
When Al got back, we grilled the fish and sat down to dinner. I tried to answer all their questions and after a while, I sort of ran out of answers and energy. Finally, they asked the big question.
To be honest, I didn't have a clue. We finished up and went outside to watch the sunset and have a few beers. Eventually, they asked me if I wanted to go fishing with them tomorrow. Why not, I thought. What else did I have to do. All of a sudden, I was cut adrift after 3 years of planning for a goal, that I was not going to pursue anymore.
I realized that the one thing that hadn't changed was that I still loved the sea and everything involved with it. I called Grace and told her where I was and that I would see her the next evening, when she got home from work.
It was dark and Al and Bernie went in and left me with my thoughts.
We sailed out of Puerto Rico two days later en route to Vieques, where we would off load our helos and the Grunts would come ashore in Landing Craft and make a simulated beach assault.
There would be war game exercises, our helos would participate to the extent that they would do troop insertions and extractions. The members of the Operations Office would have no part in the exercises other than recording flight data after each sortie.
The day after we arrived, was Sunday, and most of the troops in our Squadron had an afternoon off for private time. Several of us wanted to go swimming, we grabbed our fins and snorkels and spear guns and headed for the nearest beach.
For most of us, this would be our very first tropical beach, coconut palm trees hung out over the water of a very secluded cove that we found. The beach had a gentle slope and we geared up and waded in. I was a good swimmer, but had never snorkeled before. Getting used to not sucking in just about the time a wave broke over the top of the snorkel was challenging. I choked down a few pints of sea water at the start. After a short while, I got used to the whole thing.
It took approximately 3 weeks on shore for the training to be completed. For those of us not involved in daily participation in the exercise, we were pretty much free to do what we wanted after our office work was finished each day. Normally we were done by 10:00. We would all suit up and head for the beach.
Finally it was time to re embark back to the Ships and head for our next port of call, Panama.
The grunts were going to take part in a one week long Jungle Warfare Training School, there would be parts that would be Escape and Evasion as well as Jungle Survival. Since I had never seen a jungle bigger than a corn field, I volunteered to go on the Jungle Survival course. I had been an Eagle Scout and thought that some of that training would be helpful. As it turned out it was.
I was assigned to one of the squads in a platoon of grunts. The squad leader was a very big Marine Corporal, he looked like he had been a body builder. He was from Alabama, he grew up singing in a Family Gospel music quartet, his family toured the Southern Gospel Church circuit to earn money and witness. As I got to know him over the next day, it turned out that he was also an Eagle Scout.
After our first day of orientation, we were paired together to be taken out into the jungle and dumped out like we had parachuted down into the jungle and we had to survive and evade hostile forces that were supposed to be in the area. We had an escape azimuth that we could take if we got hopelessly lost
or we ran out of food and water, we had 4 days to get from one end of the containment area to the rescue pick up at the finish. It turned out that our Scout training would serve us in good stead. We were one of two teams to make it out, having never sighted the enemy and according to the exercise leader, they only managed to see us once. It was a very satisfying experience. When I got back to my ship, my office mates wouldn't let me in, because I stunk. I must have used up the whole days hot water allotment for the entire section just to get clean. I ended up having to discard my utilities, because they were filthy as well as ripped from encountering giant thorny trees in the jungle.
Once the training was complete, we had liberty and took the train over to Panama City on the west coast just to see the sights.
Harry and Susan must have transited the canal about a week before we got there. Susan had told me that their first stop after Panama would be the Galapagos Islands in the southern Pacific. I hope to hear from her once they made it there. I had received no word from her since we had kissed goodbye.
Back on board our ships after a day relaxing on the west coast of Panama, we set sail for Curacao, in the Netherlands Antilles. They lay about 60 miles off the coast of Venezuela.
Sailing on a large war ship was very pleasant especially in the balmy Caribbean summer evenings. The sunsets were spectacular. We arrived there after a couple of weeks of steaming around in circles taking part in shipboard training and convoy exercises for the Navy. During all this the Marines were just mostly along for the ride. We spent about a week in Curacao and did some snorkeling, It was not as good as the beaches that we could go to. The beach dropped off into very deep dark water just a short way off shore. I will admit that I got a little spooked hanging 20-30 yards off shore, looking down through crystal clear water for a 100 feet or so and seeing nothing below that but black deep water. I got chicken about what was down in those depths.
I wondered where Susan and Harry were? I thought I would receive some word from her by now. I guess it wasn't to be.
The Keys... .
The next morning, I was up long before Al or Bernie. I had the boat almost ready to go, by the time they stumbled out. Not much was said, we grabbed chunks of grouper between two slices of bread and coffee and got on board to go and get some fish. All morning, they dove and I took the fish. By the time we took a noon break, we were pretty well loaded with fish and lobster, we were all tired and ready to head back in.
When we got back and started unloading, they started to talk to me. I guess they had taken a few minutes the night before to talk together and decided to see if I would like to work with them on the boat for a reduced share, since I had no investment in the boat. Since I had no other plans, I said that I would go for it. We agreed that I would see them in the morning and we could talk about the details on tomorrow's trip out to fish.
I headed for Grace's place. I didn't really know what to say to her. I guess I would play it by ear and see what happened.
I really envy people who have a plan and work toward it and complete it. It seems like I was not one of those kind of people. It seemed like I was blown about like a tumble weed.
The Trade Winds Beckon...
When I arrived at Grace's house, she was just getting there herself. I went to her car to see if she had anything to carry in. I grabbed some of the sacks and helped her get everything inside. Once we unloaded everything on to the counter, she turned around and gave me a big hug and a kiss. She didn't ask any questions. I asked her about her day as we started preparing a light meal for just the two of us. She had given the house staff have the night off.
When we had the food ready, we sat down out in the screen porch and started to eat.
"What's happened? Gary" She asked.
That was all it took. The flood gates opened and I told her all that had happened over the last two days.
When I started to wind down, she let me sit quietly for a minute or two and then said.
"I must say that what you have told me is, from my perspective, comforting. I have had doubts about your desire to be a Marine Biologist. I know you love the sea, I have felt that you would be more happy having a closer hands on relationship to the water. I have had the idea that Marine Biology is less hands on, more abstract, more removed from the day to day work that goes on in the water around here that I am used to and I have seen how you love to go out with Al and Bernie. You seem at home with them."
"You mean, your not upset, about my decision to not complete my education and get my degree?"
"No Honey, I am not upset, I am happy for you, I think you have made a good choice for you."
"I guess, I just don't know what is going to happened to me and to us." I answered.
"Don't worry about it. It will all become clear, just give it some time, go off when you need to, but know that I am here for you. I am your friend, your lover, more importantly I know you love me and I love you. We will be all right. Nothing needs to be decided right now this minute. Come on lets go to bed and see what comes up." She giggled.
The next day I was up at 0:dark 30 and on the road down to the boat. As I arrived, Bernie and Al were just walking out carrying gear to the boat. We quickly loaded up and headed out. The morning was cool and I elected to stay below and fix us some coffee and eats, as none of us had taken time to do anything about breakfast.
Once we were all fed and sipping coffee, I went below to relax until we reached the area where we were going to dive today.
As I settled back to relax for the trip out, I was feeling good and comfortable. I thought back to my time aboard the USS Austin...
... We left Curacao and headed more or less toward Vieques for another three week exercise, where we would rendezvous with another smaller Lite Amphibious Assault Group. Our ship was to provide air support to the exercise. As we got closer to Puerto Rico, one of the helos was dispatched to Roosevelt Roads, Naval Station to pick up the mail. We had been a few weeks with out mail and we were all anxious for word from Home.
When the bird returned, the mail was brought down to the Admin. Office and sorted by the mail clerk and since we were right next door, we got our mail right away and didn't have to go down to the mess deck for the general distribution.
I received three letters. One from my Mom and one from my Grandpa. The last one was from Susan.
To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I had really thought that I would not hear from her again. I had expected perhaps a radio message, but not a letter.
I read the first two right away, and saved Susan's for later.
Later that day after going off duty and going to chow, I headed for my rack. I changed out of my Utilities and hopped into the rack to relax and read Susan's letter:
I hope this letter finds you well. We made good time once we cleared the Canal and headed toward the Galapagos Islands. The weather has been beautiful and the sailing has been glorious. I really wish you could be with us. Our next stop will be French Polynesia, I will write again there and get it in the mail to you. I hope you don't have to go to that dreadful Viet Nam.
I think back to our one night together and I feel warm all over. My hope is that your memories of that time are as warm as mine are.
I know that this letter probably finds you surprised that I would choose to contact you like this.
The reason is that I wanted to take time to make sure that I was able to say everything that I needed to in just the right way. I wanted you to be able to keep the letter and read it again whenever you might want to do so.
OK, now for the real reason. Gary, I am pregnant. I had my period about 9 or 10 days before we made love. I thought that I was OK. Guess, I wasn't.