Our initial reception at U.S. Army Hospital in Tokyo was something of a contrast to that at Freedom Village. "Indifferent" is perhaps the best term to describe the attitude displayed by the first several people of the hospital staff which were encountered. Not that we expected or desired to be greeted as "heroes" returning; but even the normal sort of concern or consideration shown to anyone entering a hospital as a patient seemed to be lacking. It wasn't a bothersome thing, really, nor even particularly noticed until we'd been there a while and discovered the reason for it.
Moritz, Spence, Williams and myself were still in close company as we were logged in. It may have been only that, or the fact that we still all wore the gold wings on our prisoner jackets that caused the registrar to assign the four of us to the same room. The young fellow who led us there simply pointed to the doorway when we arrived and said "This is it."
From that moment we were left on our own. An information sheet had been provided containing just a few basic rules plus meal and movie schedules, with a diagram showing locations of the dining hall and the theatre. We proceeded at once to the dining hall for the evening meal. A glance at the movie schedule convinced all of us that continuation of our own company and conversation would be the more pleasurable and entertaining. And so we spent the early part of the evening, with neither other patients or hospital personnel anywhere to be seen.
Quick footsteps in the corridor (which sounded as though they might be of feminine gender) caused us all to be looking in the direction of the two open doorways as a nurse hurried by. She glanced in at us as she passed the second doorway, and the footsteps stopped after but three or four more. She returned to the doorway walking backward and asked, "What are you fellows doing here?"
"This is where someone brought us," Moritz replied.
"Yes, I know," she then said. "But how come you're not at the movies?"
"You happen to notice what's on at the movies tonight?" someone asked.
"Well, no," she replied, "but I didn't think that made any difference. Everybody goes to the movie. Or maybe " there was some hesitance, then, " I guess maybe you guys haven't been together while in prison, but knew each other before and just got back together . . . "
Someone of us told her we'd been together for quite some time.
"For how long?" she wanted to know.
"Oh, for about a year," Moritz replied, "and a little more."
"And you're still talking to each other?" There was sincere surprise in the tone of her question.
"Of course," Moritz said, "Why shouldn't we?"
Another nurse passing by at that time stopped and returned to the doorway when the first one called to her. "These guys have been in prison together for more than a year," the first one then explained, "and they're still talking to each other!"
Then emerged the reason for the general indifference of attitude towards us on the part of the hospital staff. It was result of their experience several months previous during the exchange of purportedly "sick and wounded" prisoners. The enemy had selected for repatriation at that time, almost exclusively, young men who were so distraught and mentally disturbed by their circumstance deprived of responsible leadership of their own officers or "non-coms" and subject to oppression by collaborating "progressives" that upon arrival at this hospital they weren't talking with each other and were reticent to talk with anyone else. We had seen an example of that selection process within the small group in the big compound. Of the several actually sick and wounded, whom Tsai had selected in accordance with the criteria as he understood it, none were sent out in "Little Switch." Only one young fellow of obviously limited alertness and perception had been sent from Camp 2 Annex. (It was subsequently learned that after repatriation he had been able to provide but very few names of other prisoners with whom he'd been, and none of those with certainty.)
The somewhat unusual behavior of most "Little Switch" returnees gave rise to the "brainwash" theme as explanation of it . It had since generated into widespread assumption that we had all been subject to some mysterious and perhaps irresistible oriental technique of "mind control."
Their lively conversation with the four of us after the second one arrived, quickly removed any such assumption from the minds of those two nurses at Tokyo Army Hospital. Our sincere and serious answers to the many questions they asked of us were reinforced by the humorous banter which went on between us at the same time. And the two ladies were obviously enjoying it immensely. After a time one of them thought to ask:
"Hey! Would you fellows like some sandwiches, or cookies, or something?"
"We thought you'd never ask!" was among the four immediate answers in the affirmative.
"Oh, wait a minute!" said one of them. "We have to check your tags if any of you are on restricted diet." As one of them started to look at mine Duke Williams called:
"You don't have to check his. He was our cook. He can eat anything!"
That opened up a new subject of interest to the nurses, somewhat distracting from the more important mission upon which they'd been about to depart. They wanted to know from me what we had, if anything, "besides rice." Before I could respond, Williams spoke again:
"Give 'em your recipe for barbecued goat, Chief!"
The chuckles of the others probably heightened the ladies' interest in the subject. They looked at me expectantly, one of them saying after a bit, "Well, chief, let's hear it. I could use a good recipe for barbecued goat, I'm sure."
"Not until you bring us the sandwiches you promised," seemed the best way to make sure we got the sandwiches and also give myself time to work up in my mind a good presentation of that "recipe;" which I knew Williams and the others were now expecting of me. Sgt Arnold and I, with an assist from our baker, Duke Williams, had actually managed a quite creditable preparation of a goat which the enemy had provided during the "Plush" days in the big compound after the armistice. A recitation of our recipe at the time had been entertaining enough that Duke now wanted the ladies to hear it. When they had returned and served the sandwiches, they sat waiting to hear it.
"It's a simple enough recipe," I told them, "that you shouldn't need to write it down. First thing you need is a goat. And first thing you've got to do is kill the poor thing. Which is neither easy nor pleasant and can get a little messy when no one'll let you have a gun to do it with; he's too hard-headed to knock out with a club, so you have to do it with a knife. After that there's the skinnin' and butcherin', and sortin' out of the parts; there bein' some parts which aren't all that palatable..."
Williams and Moritz began contributing reminders as I proceeded through the gory details of the butchering process. Nor was our audience anything other than amused by all this, especially it seemed by the enthusiasm of the "supporting cast" for my presentation.
"It helps a little," I included, "to have a sizable crowd of spectators to begin with. Watchin' the weak-stomached among them either faint or turn away kinda takes your mind off the grimness and griminess of some of the things your havin' to do. And after all of them have done one or the other of those things you can give an illustrated lecture on anatomy to the ones that are still watchin'. Except for the compartmentalized stomach, goats have very much the same components as human beings, even though in a somewhat different arrangement ......"
Following that was a slightly less detailed dissertation on the cutting up and preliminary cooking of the carcass. Then in conclusion, the barbecue sauce, itself. "Which is the simplest of all," I assured them, "no measuring or remembering of anything at all. Since it's the last thing you're gonna be cookin' anyway, take everything you've got left in the kitchen, plus whatever you can bum from the Chinese and anything you can steal or barter for from the nearby villagers, mix it all together moistened with water, vinegar and bean oil, pour it over the chopped meat and turn it over to Duke, there, our baker, to scorch just a bit in his ovens."
"And it's damn' good!" Lt. Moritz heartily assured the bemused ladies. "Best dang barbecued goat I ever tasted in all my born days!"
Because they were seriously interested, we did then tell the nurses the actual few things we had to work with in the camp kitchen. That included, for flavoring and seasonings, dried peppers, raw ginger root and garlic. "Lots of garlic," I said in conclusion. "But it's different from the kind we have back home; milder, much milder. We'd put a big double handful of it in a pot of soup and could hardly taste it. It's just not as strong as..."
"You think not?" one of them interrupted. "What in the world do you think you guys smell like?"
The four of us looked at one another for a few seconds, after which Moritz closed the conversation on that subject by saying, "D' you suppose that's the real reason the womenfolk up there wouldn't go out with us on Saturday nights?"
The sound of the rest of their "patients" returning from the movies compelled the nurses to return to their duties. The one who had first noticed us in our room paused and turned at the door. "I'm now fully convinced," she said, with a wonderful glint in her eyes, "that you fellows were definitely not brainwashed while in prison. But I think maybe you all need some real good scrubbing now!"
We felt, in a sense, as though we'd just had one. No one could have planned so good a reception for us as that.
On the following morning, Navy lieutenant D. W. Decker and Army Captain H. S. Hess awaited my arrival in .a rather large, barren-walled room, furnished with two lightweight, metal-legged tables and four matching chairs. After introduction of themselves as my assigned "debriefers," they set me to the task of filling out a quite lengthy questionnaire. Meanwhile, they seated themselves at the other table to examine some documents which logically contained whatever information was readily available about myself.
The questionnaire had apparently been developed elsewhere, with the expectation that the rest of us would think and act very much as had the ones who returned during "Little Switch." There were very few questions about our captors and their treatment of us. The great bulk of them asked for information on the behavior of our fellow prisoners. None at all sought our impressions or assessment of the enemy's purposes or methods.
Invitation for comment about the questionnaire itself was a temptation it seemed best to resist. After candid verbal comment to Decker and Harris that the thing was ridiculous, a brief discussion indicated that they were not much impressed by it, either. Just a few written words then, expressing low opinion of the questionnaire for its "superficiality," led on to the one really significant and final question if I had anything to report.
Decker and Hess were of course aware that I would not have been there if I had not something special to report. They seemed a bit surprised, even so, when I succinctly told them to start with that the failure of the rescue mission, my own capture, and whatever other losses and damages were suffered in the process were due directly to the fact that two U.S. Army officers deliberately lied to myself and my superiors aboard the Rochester about themselves and the circumstances of the man whom I attempted to rescue. "And the facts to prove it," I added into their immediate silence, "I believe are quite readily available."
After a quick exchange of glances with Hess, Decker said to me, "All right, Chief, let us hear some of it. That's what we're here for."
As briefly as I could manage then, though it still required some time, I told them of "1st Lieutenant" Ulatoski's arrival on board Rochester wearing captain's bars and a chestfull of ribbons; his beginning presentation of a detailed rescue plan as though he had himself devised it, when in fact he had just returned to the area the day preceding; his representation of Naylor-Foote as a much experienced man, when in fact he didn't really know him; his persistent expression of the desire that "his man," Naylor-Foote go along on the mission; and my tentative concession that I would "consider" taking his man along in place of my crewman only if it was determined that the man we were going after was in such bad condition he could not put himself in the sling of my hoisting mechanism.
Followed then, the return of Ulatoski to his island base, where he would attempt contact with Ettinger to determine, among other things, if he was in good enough condition for pickup by our normal hoisting procedure; Naylor-Foote's return with me to the ship, to maintain radio contact with Ulatoski and be available in case I decided to take him with me in place of the regular crewman; and finally, in that phase, Naylor-Foote's report to me that he had received word from Ulatoski that Ettinger was a "stretcher" case, which I had subsequently learned was a deliberate lie on Naylor-Foote's part, possibly in collusion with Ulatoski!
A brief review then of the actual mission included my allowance of supplies for their agents to be carried along, with the understanding that they were to be dropped out of the helicopter before landing. The point by point realization on the way in that Naylor-Foote lacked several other of qualifications which Ulatoski had attributed to him, culminated in his failure to dump out those supplies when told to do so as we approached the pickup site. The fact that those supplies were still on board when the supposed "stretcher case" added his weight by running to the machine and trying to dive into its doorway past the fright-immobilized Naylor-Foote, put the machine both out of balance and overloaded at the very same time I was looking elsewhere and had reduced power to set the helicopter down.
"And that, gentlemen," I concluded matter-of-factly to my quite enthralled, two-man audience, "is only the very beginning of what I feel duty-bound to report about Lt Naylor-Foote."
Both men continued just looking at my face for a time, made no effort either to display or conceal any emotions, and probably it was therefor the sort of expressionless mask which had developed during encounters with enemy interrogators. Dexter broke the silence in a manner which assured me I was dealing with a bonafide Naval Officer:
"Chief I expect you could use a cup of coffee about now. I know for damn' sure I could. I'll see if I can't get us some."
He had risen as he spoke, and headed for an adjacent room opening into the one we were in, which was empty except for a single chair on which there was a telephone. Hess had dropped his eyes onto his own hands on the table by then, apparently musing on what he had just heard. The slight, side-to-side shaking of his head somehow did not appear as in disbelief. Then he glanced up again and asked:
"How long has it been since all that happened, Chief?'"
"A year and a half just a bit more."
"You must have had some fantastic experiences...."
"Very educational," I responded; knowing as I did so that would generate some wonderment as to exactly what was meant by it.
Decker returned, saying there was coffee on the way, and joined in the generally casual conversation which had begun between Hess and myself. I had noted, perhaps mostly from the habit of awareness developed in prison, that the lieutenant had made two phone calls while in the other room. The first, quite brief, probably was in request for some coffee. The second one, considerably longer, included a period waiting as for a second party to be called to the phone.
The coffee arrived momentarily. The casual conversation continued, dealing mostly with their natural curiosity about my experiences as a POW quite apart from the issue of Naylor-Foote and Ulatoski. Ringing of the phone took Decker away again. He returned shortly to say that the call was for me to go somewhere to begin some of the medical checks.
When I returned, perhaps an hour later, the previously near empty room adjacent to the one in which we had conferred was furnished with a bed, a desk, and 3 chairs, one of which was swiveled. Atop the desk were several writing pads, pencils and, somewhat surprisingly, the telephone.
"It's all yours, Chief," Decker said as he saw me looking at the room, "...for a while, anyway. We're going to need a written statement from you ... with quite a bit of detail to back up your charges. And after that, I expect we'll have to keep you around for a while, because there's sure to be some questions...."
There was an apologetic tone in Decker's voice. Sensing the reason for it, I interrupted by saying, "Hey! its okay, lieutenant. I expected that."
"You expected ? Oh, yes, I guess you would expect to be delayed at that. But dammit, Chief, it just doesn't seem right. For a year and a half you've been cooped up, in prison, and having to keep all this bottled up inside yourself. And now, just out of the prison camp, and just because you want to do the right thing, report this to us right away, you have to be...."
He paused, rather strangely, obviously thinking hard on something, then changed abruptly to a new subject:
"Chief have you got any friends, any old shipmates you know of stationed out here now? Maybe down at Yokosuka, or Atsugi, or anywhere?"
"I've got some right here in Tokyo," I told him, "flying for CAT. Some former shipmates from Shanghai, who went in with CAT when it was first started over there."
"Then get on that phone and call 'em!" He motioned toward the instrument on the desk, and fetched at directory from the table in the larger room where another phone had been installed. "if you have to be cooped up here for a while, there's no damn' reason you can't take some time out now and then. You need a break from this stuff!"
Although his concern for my well being was understood and appreciated, his emotional intensity was a bit puzzling. I would learn the reason for it a few days later, from another source. Decker was busy at the table in the conference room while I tried to get in touch with one or the other of my former shipmates.
The first call, to Bill Hobbs, brought no answer. The second, to the number listed for Norm Schwartz, brought recorded response that the number was no longer in service. The third one, for another CAT pilot (last name not now remembered) with whom I'd become acquainted through Hobbs and Schwartz, was answered by his Japanese housekeeper. He was asleep, she said, because just returned from flying and "maybe you call back later."
After being assured that he would not mind being awakened because it was a very important call, the housekeeper did so. In response to the somewhat groggy "hello" from the other end of the line, I said, "Hello, John. This is Chief Thorin."
Momentarily, a full-awake voice responded, "Who did you say you are?"
"Chief Thorin," I repeated "Hobb's helicopter drivin' buddy."
There was another brief pause then, laconically, "Nope. You're wrong. It can't be you. I just read an article about you and you're dead."
Followed then a gush of welcoming words in the quiet manner some men have with one another that sounds not at all gushing. I mentioned having tried to call Hobbs, but getting no answer.
"He's flying right now Calcutta-Bombay should be back in a day or so."
"How about Norm (Schwartz)?" I asked.
There was another pause, and then in entirely different tone, "Now you're back - I've been just kinda hoping you might have some news for us about him. He disappeared on a flight over Korea just a few months ago, and we haven't heard a thing. We've been hoping he might have been caught over there, too, but still alive and maybe would show up again with you guys coming back."
The hurtfulness of that news was extraordinary. One of the pleasantries envisioned as possibly awaiting myself in Tokyo was a "welcome back" by the lovely couple, Norm and Carol, whose acquaintance had happened, in a sense, through me. There was a strange feeling of sharing sorrow with John about Schwartz, in silence on the phone line for a while. Then he broke the silence, and changed the mood again by saying:
"Well, where th' hell are you now, Chief? Here in Tokyo? Are we gonna get to see you? And how the hell are you...?"
We talked for a while, then, about my condition and circumstance, which should certainly allow for some socializing while I was still in the area. Hobb's would know in short order that I had made it back from Korea, and I could expect a call as soon as he returned.
Lt Decker, though occupied with other things in the meanwhile, returned to my room after that phone conversation was finished. "Any luck?" he asked.
"One of them is out on a flight," I replied. "Should be back in a day or so. The other one he disappeared on a flight to Korea a few months ago."
Decker said something then, which I didn't hear clearly; and didn't ask about because he appeared to be saying it to himself. But I asked if it might be possible to get a typewriter for me to use. That would speed up the production of a formal statement. And the sooner that was started, the sooner it would be finished. He made a phone call at once and told whoever answered to "bring an extra typewriter;" explaining that a yeoman had been detailed to handle paperwork for him and would be arriving shortly.
The lieutenant sat down then in one of extra chairs at my desk and said, "Chief I know you want to get through with this stuff as quickly as you can so you can get on home. You've told me you expected some delay. I have to tell you it's likely to be more delay than you expected maybe quite a bit more. What you told us this morning has opened up into something far beyond a lot bigger and a lot more important than those two guys you're making charges against, and what happens to them ......"
Decker went on to explain that while definite decisions as to what would be done could not be made until my formal statement was completed, some of the preliminary things were already started. Thoroughness of my statement further details, particularly of Naylor-Foote's performance after capture and in POW camp, were more important than quick completion of my basic charges against him and Ulatoski. He was not at liberty to tell me anything at all of what those other concerns were which had been raised by my initial report.
"But I can tell 1 you this" he said, "There's a lot of people besides myself are damn' grateful you brought this to our attention here and now, instead of waiting until you got back to the States, as you might have. The Navy's with you all the way, Chief; you can bank on that. And most of the Army. There's some over there don't like it. I'm sure you expected that, too. I don't mean the two you're making charges against. They don't even know about it yet, or at least they damn' well shouldn't. But generally even though they're not happy to hear it, the Army people here are damn' glad to get it first, directly from you, so they can start action on their own, instead of finding out about it later with a big blast from Army headquarters in Washington ......"
He continued a bit further, outlining the arrangements which had been made to have me readily at hand for questions about that and other things while working up the formal statement. The medical and physical examinations would be underway at the same time. No one certainly not himself, would be trying to tell me what to write or how to write it. He could only offer in that regard to let me know his impressions of what I was preparing as it progressed; of things I might mention which needed elaboration, or points which might be irrelevant.
There was special emphasis that I should set my own pace in preparing the statement. Neither he nor anyone else would be pushing for me to hurry; but he also hoped I would not push myself. "Give yourself some time out from it," he urged. "I'm asking you to do that not just for your own sake, but for ours; because I think you'll do a better job for us if you do. Take a walk, if you feel like it, and plenty time when you go for your meals. On the other hand, if sometimes things are going so you want a meal brought to you, we can arrange that. And the yeoman when he gets here well, he's bringing along a coffee pot, as well as a typewriter for you, so we can set this place up the way it ought to be...."
That's real nice, I thought to myself, since Thorin can't get back to the Navy for a while yet, they'll bring some of the Navy to Thorin. To Lt Decker I expressed sincere appreciation for the conveniences and considerations. He started back to his work in the adjacent room, and I began with pad and pencil to outline the things which seemed most important to include in the statement. But then he returned to the doorway to say:
"Oh, one more thing, Chief. Whenever you do leave, put everything you got on paper in that lockable drawer of your desk and take the key with you. I've got the other key. And any notes or scraps you want it to get rid of, we need to dispose of properly." (Once it was finished, I would not be allowed to retain a copy of my own sworn statement.)
It was evident from the very beginning that a really proper report would take more than a few hours; even more than just 2 or 3 days. And there were at first frequent interruptions. In addition to the medical processing, there were administrative details; minor things like setting up a personal file and getting an identification card, but distracting nonetheless. Some measuring and "sizing" were necessary to get some proper uniform clothing for me from a ship in Yokosuka. A minimal outfitting of khaki shirt and trousers, shoes and socks, black tie and garrison cap was the best the ship's storekeeper could do for me on short notice.
It was also about as much as I could afford. To meet my family's needs during my absence, all but 5% of my pay had been allotted to them as a matter of standard procedure. So when my pay account had been located and arrangements made for me to draw some money from it, there was not much from which to draw. There was some consolation however, in the fact that my pay account was still active. That was assurance that premature reports of my demise were at least not official.
The most distracting event was one that had been arranged with the very best of intentions. The Red Cross had arranged for all returnees a phone contact with their families back in the States. Such contact then was not a simple matter of dialing, but involved some tricky radio-telephone hookups and coordinations between the two parties because of the time differential. The 2 or 3 minutes allotted for each call allowed for little more than exchange of "hello-how-are-you's." The emotional stresses of the moment and lack of privacy were further inhibiting, making those initial, "long-distance" reunions generally less beneficial to both parties than the well-intentioned arrangers of them imagined they would be.
In some cases, they turned out to be disturbing because of "bad news" of some sort from back home. In my own case (and no doubt with others of similar circumstance), knowing of having been widely regarded as dead, even though not officially, caused uncertainty as to what the actual situation back home might be, no matter what was said from there at the time.
Additionally, in my own case, some uncertainty was generated on the other end of the line by my announcement that I would probably be delayed in Tokyo for a while. The classified nature of the duty that would keep me there forbid mention of it by way of explanation. Thus I knew even as I said it, that announcement would cause uncertainty about the prior statement that I was "okay" physically. Later, after return to the States, it would be found that the otherwise unexplained delay generated speculations of another sort in some circles: Perhaps I'd been "brainwashed" and was being kept in Japan for "deprogramming."
Some of the interruptions were helpful, in one way and another. On the way for dental checkup I encountered Lt. Moritz, having seen neither him nor the two marine officers since moving to my special room. His greeting was a hearty: "Hey, Chief! Gosh it's good to see you! And I guess they've already let you out of jail!"
That last remark was some puzzling, yet not entirely so. I asked what he meant by it. He explained that he expected me to have an escort with me. He'd heard that I was being held "incommunicado" following my initial report about Naylor-Foote, because of the classified nature of the whole operation. From that was deduced the reason for Decker's emotional intensity when he had asked if I knew anyone in the area I'd like to make a contact with, and told me to "get on that phone" to get in touch with them. Evidently when he and Hess reported my initial statement of charges, during my absence for a time immediately after, someone (most likely on the Army side) had wanted to order me held "incommunicado;" perhaps even having so ordered. That would explain his mention of me having been "cooped up" in prison and starting to say something further; then suddenly deciding to ask if I had any old friends in the area. It appeared as though Lt Decker had decided to make sure I didn't get put in something of a prisoner category on this side of the line just because I felt a duty to report and make charges against a couple of officers associated with Army's intelligence section. Quite possibly he had done so over and against the wishes of someone of higher rank than himself.
There are times, in the conduct of military operations, when sensitive information is provided only to those who "need to know" it. In this instance, if Decker had done such a thing, it was best that I shouldn't know it for certain, right then, in case someone might ask me. So I didn't ask Moritz from whom he'd gotten the idea I was being held incommunicado. I merely asked his impression of Lt Decker. We were in agreement that he seemed to be a solid Navy man.
Moritz had a bit of light and humorous information to report. During his own dental examination, he had told the Dentist who examined him about the tobacco tar treatment we'd used to kill the nerve in his hollow tooth. The young dentist who examined him, had no idea as to why it had worked, but called in an older one to hear the story. The older man -remained silent after hearing it, until Moritz asked him again what he thought might be the reason the treatment worked.
"Oh, that ," the elder dentist had replied. "There's lots of things in tobacco that'll cure toothache. A man who chews tobacco can have absolutely rotten teeth, but never have a toothache. But you set me to thinking as you told about that if I'd been there, would I have had sense enough to do that? Or would I have just stood around wringing my hands because I didn't have all these fancy instruments I'm looking at?"
"So I guess, Chief," Moritz added in his then customary manner with me, "that maybe you're not quite so dumb as you look and act."
"Necessity," I reminded him, "is the mother of invention. I was only the father of it that's the easiest part." Then with a change of subject: "Have you got your liberty card yet? My old Shanghai buddy'll be calling me soon. I just might be able to line you up for a free dinner."
Shortly after noon that same day, the phone on my desk rang as I sat working on the draft statement. It was the first time the call was for me Bill Hobbs calling from the airport, having just returned from his flight to South Asia. He'd learned of my return as he approached Okinawa; the news having been given to him by the air controller when he called for clearance into the area. After that, Mother Nature had provided a jet stream for him to ride into Tokyo at 3 times the normal ground speed of the old twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft he flew. Now, rather than waste time with phone conversation, we simply arranged a time that he could pick me up at the hospital.
Hobbs was approaching the hospital entrance from the parking area as Moritz and I came out. Just the sight of one another was all the greeting necessary between Bill and myself. His first words to me were, "I've got a surprise for you in my car."
"Blonde or brunette?" I asked; somehow sensing that it must certainly be one or the other of the stewardesses who had "brought" (according to their subsequent insistence) my crew and myself out to Japan two years previously.
"Brunette," he replied.
That would be Elaine. I was relived that it wasn't the blonde Carol. Much as I would otherwise liked to be welcomed back by her as well., the sight of me unexpectedly returning so soon after Norm had disappeared over Korea, could not but have heightened the sorrow and pain of her loss.
Elaine's presence was yet another of many coincidents which had seemed to happen during the trials and tribulations of the past two years, to reward the spirit for a burden just borne or refresh it for one soon to come. She had arrived at the Union Club, to check in after another flight from the States, while Bill was waiting there for his fiancÚ to join him and then come to get me. Ordinarily, being very tired from her duties during the long overseas flight, she would have gone at once to rest for a while. Learning that I had returned and that Bill was on his way right then to meet me, she had simply sent her luggage on to her room and come with him to greet me.
Memory flashed to the shopping trip with her and Carol, when I'd last seen the lady two years before. So as I entered the car I pointed at her and said: "You owe me ten dollars." To the amazement of ourselves, as well as the onlookers, she had said to me in perfect unison: "I owe you ten dollars."
There are times when words are inadequate to expression of sentiment and also unnecessary. Spiritual communion, which is usually thought of as happening when two mortals are physically distant, flowed then as we silently grasped hands and just looked at one another. I thought to ask about Carol and she answered the unspoken question by saying: "They've taken her off this Tokyo run because of Norm being gone." She then said only "Was Crawford ...?" and I answered, "No he wasn't with me on that last one."
Amazement was now added to our silent study of each other, as we both realized we had answered questions that hadn't beer completely spoken. Bill broke the spell by asking as he started the car's engine: "All right what Would you guys like for dinner?" He began then naming some choices, of steak, seafood, and so on.
"How about Sun Yah, I interrupted. "Are they open for business now?"
[Sun Yah's was one of the best restaurants in Shanghai, when Hobbs and I had been there. Those of the family who had escaped when the communists took over that city, were rebuilding it in Tokyo when I had last been there.]
Bill laughed in response, thinking I was joking, and said, "Yeah! I'll bet you want Chinese food your very first dinner out from there...."
"Sun Yah's kind of Chinese food I would definitely enjoy," I responded. "What we've been getting lately has been a little bit short of their standards."
"Oh, of course," he said. "Sun Yah's it is, then."
The other three left it for Hobbs and myself to decide what dishes to order. Wine, of course, was served at once. Other than a sip for the ceremonial toast, I needed no warming spirits other than those of the lady beside me and the old friend across the table.
Conversation while awaiting the first serving, mostly between Bill and I, was interrupted after a few minutes because his fiancÚ felt suddenly ill. It was nothing serious, she insisted, only an occasional disorder but she felt she should best go home. She insisted also that Bill should only escort her to get a taxi. "This is much too precious a time for you," she told him, "for you to take the time to drive me home."
During Bill's brief absence, Elaine renewed the conversation, saying, "What a wonderful surprise this is such a wonderful thing having you come back, after we all thought . Oh, I only wish Carol were here to share it."
"Don't you think that would be awfully rough on her, now with Norm gone me showing up again but him gone and now not likely to be still alive?"
"No, I don't think so," she said very thoughtfully. "In a way, maybe. Maybe in a way it would make her hurt still more for a little bit. But at the same time after maybe a little bit more of hurt, I think it would help her get over it. Because well - I guess maybe you wouldn't realize how important you were to her to both of us, of course. But you were especially important to her because of some things in her situation when we first met you which you wouldn't have known about. And then it was through you she met Norm and they were so..."
She stopped suddenly at that point, as she looked directly at me. And a look of surprise was on her, face as she said, "Ohmigod! You're so thin!" She leaned away a bit studying my face and took hold of my right wrist with her left hand. "I hadn't noticed that before; but you're so thin. I guess I didn't notice that because you haven't changed otherwise...."
Then back, on the previous subject she continued, "Yes, I really think it would help her if only she were here now, to see you back again. You were something special to both of us. Not just you alone, your whole crew. Every time we heard about something you guys had done out there and there was always something, every time we came to Tokyo if it wasn't something that made the news, then we'd still be hearing something from Norm and Bill. And then we'd tell our passengers about it on the way back, sort of bragging about you because well we'd tell them we thought we deserved part of the credit for bringing you guys out here."
"That's what Carol told me," I recalled. "The last time I saw her."
"Just after that big rescue you and Crawford made that was talked about so much. She told me about seeing you two out here then, and getting the story straight from the guys who did it. Her report on that was better than anyone else's. And oh, how she loved to tell it .... But then next time we came out here together, you were gone. And it was well it wasn't quite so bad after Norm and Bill explained that you were reported missing in action, rather than dead. And they both said that if there's anyone could make it either getting away from them, or living through whatever it was like that you could...."
"But then the worst thing..." Her hand now clutching mine tightened as she recalled her own emotions of that time. "...We were on another flight, and we'd been talking about you, Carol and I, and one of our passengers said, 'Hey, I just read an article about that guy you're talking about!' And he gave it to us the magazine thinking, of course, it was something we'd want to see, and not realizing . And when we saw that it said you were dead we couldn't take care of our passengers, any more. They had to take care of us. The guy that had shown us the story he felt so bad - he was doing things for us, serving coffee and everything, and telling the other passengers what had happened so they'd understand. And...."
She looked directly at me again, with tears beginning to well in her eyes. She had paused from talking for a moment. Suddenly her hand tightened convulsively, as she said, "Oh if it did that if it would have that effect on Carol and me what must it have done to your family?"
The tears were beginning to flow, then. I reached with my other hand to touch her cheek, and said, "Hey, Elaine it's not something to let trouble you now. Nothing you should cry...."
"I'm sorry ," she sobbed, and brought Lip her napkin with her free hand to catch the tears. Then she leaned against my shoulder, still sobbing, "I'm so sorry - to spoil your first evening out after I can't help it I'm sorry ......"
Suddenly it dawned! It was something she should cry about! She needed then the release of pent-up emotions. And more than that, the fact that those tears were flowing wasn't spoiling my first evening out, at all. To the contrary, that flood of tears was catharsis for myself, as well. No better proof was possible of the loving concern this woman had felt for me the while I was missing and presumed dead. And it was obviously representative of the sentiments of her usual working pardner, Carol, and several others.
So many times during the 19 months just past, in periods of solitude or sickness and especially during times of intense pressure by the enemy for one or another concession to their demands, just thinking of friends such as they boosted the determination to endure whatever was the trial of the moment. Or perhaps it was more that the flow of spiritual energy and encouragement coming to me out of their concern, was what caused me at those times to remember them. For there would be a sensing then of their concern for my well being, quite as was being felt from Elaine that evening, as she described her own and Carol's reaction to the article in the magazine which reported me as dead.
The most vivid instance of that helpful flow of spiritual energy had been on that night long before at Pak's Palace. Then in addition to the phenomenal experience of viewing my physical self as something apart, had been felt the spiritual presence of others with me. Was it not, then, possible that some men were better able than others to endure because a greater amount of such spiritual energy was flowing to them in times of need?
Such were some of things felt in the past which brought realization of the reason for the lady, Elaine's tears at that time. The physical closeness of the moment made it possible to speak some thoughts for her alone to hear. Exactly what was said is hardly now remembered. To the extent that it is, it deserves still to be held in private. It included assurance that her tears in no way spoiled our reunion, but rather enhanced it. Her grip on my hand began at once to ease and in a short while relaxed completely. So completely did it relax that I looked at her face. The lady was asleep.
Bill had returned to the table, and been in quiet conversation with Moritz for a while, during my close conversation with Elaine. She was now sleeping so soundly and, it appeared, peacefully that she would not be wakened by normal conversation. After a joking remark about the effect I seemed to have on women, Bill marveled at her insistence on coming with him to greet me at once, rather than first resting from the fatigue of the long flight from the States. Then began our wider ranging discussion of happenings since last we had talked, to begin with wondering about the fate of our mutual friend, Norm Schwartz.
There was nothing I could think of encouraging to hopes that he might still be alive. He had flown over North Korea to make a "drop" of some sort and disappeared without a word reporting difficulties. The one comparable situation I knew of was not at all encouraging. An Air Force pilot dropping parachutists over North Korea was compelled to become that himself when one of those he was dropping tossed a grenade back into the plane as he himself departed. Even though unhurt by fragments from the grenade, the pilot had barely time to himself get out before his then uncontrollable aircraft crashed.
Sun Yah's restaurant in Tokyo, as with its predecessor in Shanghai, served dinners in proper Chinese fashion never in a hurry. Their elegant dishes were prepared after they were ordered; not ladled out of pots on a steam table. Thus considerable time did elapse between the ordering and the first serving of food; during which the waiters made certain that one's wine glass never became completely empty. Bill and I, as main participants in the conversation, had little time for sipping. Moritz, now something of a spectator, had little but sipping to do. His system, long deprived of but very limited amounts of liquid spirits, was perhaps the more susceptible. In any case, by the time the first serving of food arrived he, too, was sound asleep.
Now having ordered dinner enough for five, there were but two of us left to eat it. We decided we could probably handle that all right, if we took plenty of time; which was really the proper way to dine at a Chinese restaurant anyway. There was concern, however, as to the comfort of the other two meanwhile. Elaine seemed comfortable enough with her head on my shoulder. And I would have liked much to let it remain there. But it would handicap me somewhat in manipulation of the chopsticks. I'd need full dexterity with those to keep up with Bill. Also Moritz, chin down on his chest, didn't look comfortable at all.
Bill eased Moritz' chair a bit closer to Elaine's and we very gently leaned their heads together. Neither of them seemed the least disturbed in the process. The arms on the chairs seemed to stabilize the arrangement. So Bill and I could then apply ourselves totally to the two tasks before us eating and talking.
When properly partaken, as well as properly prepared, a Chinese dinner does not interfere with conversation. Probably in no other circumstance could my former Shanghai shipmate and I have conversed and reminisced so well. He had many questions, of course, about the circumstances I'd encountered in enemy hands. To him I could simply say I'd be in Tokyo for a while because of investigation into classified matters, and know there would be no prying questions about it. We had plenty else to talk about.
Just how long we spent at our dinner would have been improper, by Chinese custom, even to think about. The waiters admired our manners in that regard, the way we handled our chopsticks, and the fact that we consumed all the food. They seemed a bit amazed at the apparent comfort of our two sleeping "beauties.'" As we were on the last course, the manager came to our table beaming his approval and welcome. He recognized Bill, who had greeted him in Chinese, but of course not myself, and asked if I had been their guest before.
"Oh yes," I said , "I have been guest of Sun Yah many times. But not in Tokyo in Shanghai."
"In Shanghai!" he cried excitedly. "You knew us in Shanghai!" There followed spirited questions of when, what we did in China, and so forth. Then he asked of me, "How you like our restaurant here? As good as Shanghai?"
"Yes," I said, "except there is one thing missing."
It had sobering effect. "What is missing?"
"The pumpkin seeds."
"The pumpkin seeds, " he repeated looking puzzled, but only for a moment. Then the eyes shone as he exclaimed, "Ah, yes! The pumpkin seeds you remember them." [Toasted pumpkin and melon seeds were always on the tables in Shanghai, while awaiting the servings of a dinner. We had used them for practicing with the chopsticks. ] "We have not served them here. Perhaps we should," he concluded. When he learned from Bill that I had just returned from captivity of the Chinese communists, the dinner was "on the house of Sun Yah."
As we prepared to waken Elaine and Moritz, Bill handed me two keys. One was to Norm Schwartz' apartment, in the apartment and club complex which CAT Airlines people had built for themselves. "You are the guest of CAT of all of us for however long you have to stay here now. They all hope to at least see you again before you go on to the States."
The other key was for his car. "You're driving from here," he said, "to chauffeur your buddy back to the hospital, and me to my house. After that you're on your own. I'll point out the roads to Union Club and the 'CAT House.' There's a street map in the glove compartment if you need it."
When the chauffeuring job was finished, I looked at the still very tired lady beside me, held her hand for a moment, and drove on to the road to Union Club. In the lobby we decided that in this instance escort just to the elevator door could fulfill the requirements of gentlemanly conduct. She would be in Tokyo for a few days, so we could see one another again before she left. We could but we wouldn't because we both knew without even discussing it that we shouldn't.
We could bid fond enough adieu in the near vacant lobby to make it memorable and yet it be proper. When we had done so, I asked: "You'll be seeing Carol soon?"
She said that she would. To my next question, if she would take something back to Carol for me, she asked: "Is it the same sort of thing you sent back to me with her the last time she saw you out here?"
"Very similar," I replied.
"In that case," she said, "I'd be very glad to do it."
So I gave then to Elaine a second warm embrace which she should deliver to Carol. I wanted to be fair about it. It was the both of them, by their own claim, who had brought me and my crew to the Far East two years before, to the several fulfilling ventures and adventures which had resulted for me. They deserved to share equally, in both credit and compensation. And I tried to make it so; but apparently overdid that second one a bit. For Elaine turned after entering the elevator, held the door open for a moment and said:
"I think I'11 keep that last one for or myself and give Carol the first one."
Now and again, in the intervening years, there has seemed to be a touch of spiritual communion with one and the other of those ladies. Otherwise I've neither seen nor heard from either of them. But I certainly would like to.
Especially Elaine she still owes me ten dollars!
Continue (Part 2)
Ride to Panmunjom (continued)
Table of Contents ©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.