But there was no time for reminiscing of "old times," or to give him a first hand account of some of my recent ones. For in addition to telling me he was there to take my place so I could go home, he informed me that reservations had already been made for our crew to fly back to the States on a Mats (military air transport) plane scheduled to depart very shortly.
"Right considerate," I thought; that someone of the home squadron had made those arrangements for us. And but a few hours later with only a brief refueling stop at Anchorage, Alaska, we off-loaded from the Mats plane at the U.S. Air Force Base, Seattle, Washington, expecting shortly to be airborne again enroute to the home squadron at NAS Miramar. But no arrangements of that had been made. A bus was on hand to transport us to the Naval Receiving Station in Seattle. Arrangements for transportation from there to San Diego would take three days, under standard procedure.
For the first time in all the seven months we had been together there was some griping in our small crew. Lt. Sundberg, when he learned of it, was much upset as well. But there was nothing he could do about it. He was at liberty to arrange transportation for himself on to San Diego, but the rest of us were logged into one of the "holding and shipping out" stations of the Navy-wide system. And the quite young officer in charge of the Receiving Station expressed sympathy but said there was nothing he could do about it.
However! The Yeoman Chief in charge of the paperwork at the Receiving Station could do something about it. He put several of his men to the task and within about an hour we all had separate orders allowing us to travel at our own expense subject to reimbursement. Meanwhile, the Chief also phoned an agent at the Greyhound bus station who had the tickets ready by the time our travel orders had been signed by the young officer who until that moment had thought nothing could be done about it.
For myself, at least, those travel arrangements resulted in a more interesting trip to San Diego than might otherwise have been. A deliberate layover in Portland, Oregon enabled visit with a brother who lived there. And a midnight to 6 AM run from Portland to Sacramento, California, provided some information from the bus driver as to the effects of the war on the folks back home, in exchange for answering some questions he had as to what was going on in Korea. I had taken a seat at the very front of the bus and when most other of the passengers were asleep, he invited me if I wished to stand in the entranceway when he learned that I'd been doing more of sitting than I liked in the course of travel from Japan.
Effects of this war on the folks back home? Except for the few he knew who had some one involved in it, the driver said no one seemed concerned or even much interested. And there was little about it in the papers or radio newscasts. "Except now " (as of the time of our conversation he said there was a great deal of stuff about General MacArthur's complaints and he wanted to know my feelings about that. Which opened a floodtide from myself, of course; about the wrongness of forbidding air strikes against the Chinese supplies and MiG bases just north of the Yalu River in Manchuria, and some of the grim and tragic consequences that I knew of from reports received aboard ship, even though I was not personally in the ground combat. Having himself served as a Marine during WW2, the driver was especially interested in the battle and withdrawal from Chosin. The factual details I could provide to him on that, though limited to reports received aboard the Phil Sea, were far more than he'd been able to get from the news media.
Not surprisingly, we found ourselves in agreement about the idea of calling it a "UN Police Action" instead of a war; which led into further discussion about the wrongness of drafting men to send them into a war without committing the country behind them with a Congressional Declaration of War. That in turn led to some discussion of the United Nations, itself, with no favorable comments on it by either of us and some rather profoundly unfavorable.
During that prolonged conversation between the driver and myself five or more Hours all passengers within earshot appeared to be asleep; except for one slight-built, round-eyed fellow seated immediately behind the driver. Certainly he could hear our conversation, but showed no reaction to it. He appeared always to be looking straight ahead over the driver's shoulder with never a glance at either the driver or myself.
A we approached the bus station in Sacramento I returned to my seat. As I did so, the driver thanked me for the "first hand" information about the war in Korea, and for making it much easier to avoid the drowsiness which he often had to fight on this midnight to early morning run. I was the first one off the bus after it parked, followed closely by the round-eyed observer of our conversation. He continued to follow closely when I entered the men's restroom; so close as to cause wonder if it might be for a personal reason. Which further of his actions also indicated as possibility. But his first verbal approach was political He said: "Y'know, you really shouldn't talk to folks back here about what's going on in Korea the way you did to the driver...."
Since such comment was undeserving of other response, I just glanced at him for a moment and turned away toward the wash basins. He followed and continued talking; in essence saying that he realized because I had been involved in some of the action there I had good reason for some emotional feelings about it. And it was obvious to him that I didn't understand why we had been sent to Korea, and what we were trying to do there.
"But you do, of course," I said as I freshened myself at the wash basin.
"Oh yes," he said, "because I work for the UN...." after which he went on to say there were many reasons why those of us who were in the fighting there might not understand some of the restrictions imposed upon them, and some of the folks here at home didn't understand it either. But they were good reasons, he assured me, and people should accept that even if they didn't understand it. Which he said was why I shouldn't talk to people the way I had with the bus driver, because it might disturb them, especially because I had just come back from the Korea. He also "assured" me that he understood why I felt as I did because he had a nephew over there in the Marine Corps.
All which was undeserving of any response except his very last statement which prompted from me: "You say you have a nephew over there in the Marine Corps?"
"Oh yes - yes," the fellow answered, seeming delighted tht I had finally said something. "He's with the marines he's been there for lover six months."
"Was he at Chosin?" I then asked.
"Oh yes," was the quick reply, "he was with the marines at Chosin."
"Well then, uncle," I said as I dried my hands with a paper towel, "since you've been so kind as to give me so much advice, I'll give you a little. When your nephew gets back from Korea if he makes it back I'd advise you not to say things to him such as you've just said to me; because he might not have as much self-restraint as I do."
Which served well to forestall any further pronouncements or propositions which the fellow may have wanted to make to me.
Lt. Sundberg's return to the squadron a couple of days ahead of us eased the situation a bit; at least so far as the new commanding officer, Lt. Cdr Billett, was concerned. For Sundberg had informed him of our disgust about the ridiculous press releases regarding the Praesae incident, plus some other comendatory yet common sense reports on his crew's performance throughout the deployment. Ours was the last of the several initially deployed units to return from the Korea action. And within but a few days after our return a squadron party was arranged whereat Cdr Billett introduced all of the returned pilots and crewmen to the much larger assembly of newcomers.
Second Cruise Sendoff
tThe Praesae Incident
Table of Contents
©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.