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Posts tagged ‘Navy’

Happy Valentine’s Day – a time to remember loved ones serving far away

When I served aboard the U.S.S. Ranger (CVA-61) during the Vietnam War, I often “got selected” to work night shift as editor of the shipboard newspaper. In those days before WiFI and cell phones, there was no instant news other than this mimeographed, four-to-six page newspaper on legal size paper that I handed out to berthing areas, offices, the mess decks, and other compartments just before reveille every morning in 1968

Wikipedia photo

While my headline “Ho Chi Minh is Dead” probably got the most attention, my most popular headline–on a slow news day–was “A Modern Love Story.” Since we weren’t supposed to take those papers off the ship, I have no copies. So, I no longer know where this love story happened or when or even the details. It ran on the Associated Press wire and filled up a fair amount of the front page of “The Daily Shield.”

Basically, two lovers were separated from each other, perhaps by the war, perhaps by transfers to new jobs or colleges, or the random vicissitudes of fate. Like a tear-jerker movie, the young man and young woman spent many days months or years trying to find each other again. They went through hell and high water, never gave up, and finally–by the end up the story–were standing arm and arm, perhaps in the sunrise, filled with hope.

At a time when there was a long line of sailors who thought they had VD outside the sick bay door after every liberty call at a sailor town, that anyone on the ship would read “A Modern Love Story” seemed unlikely. After all, these are the tough sailors who said, as they went into town, “if you not in bed by nine o’clock, you might as well go back to the ship.”

Our cruises (as we called them) lasted about nine months. Being away from wives, fiancées, girlfriends, and parents for that long was more difficult than rough sailor talk about bar girls would lead one to believe. Even so, I was unprepared to walk through the mess decks at breakfast and find an unusual silence. The men weren’t talking, laughing, or complaining about the food. They were reading the story, some sharing the paper with others at the table. They cheered when they got to the end of it as the young lovers were reunited.

Pure schmaltz. The hard-boiled reporters and copyeditors back in the States would have relegated such a story to the features section, not page one. I didn’t run the story because I thought it would bring out the best in everyone, I ran it because I was desperate for enough copy to fill up the paper.

The Ranger was a flagship, and that meant the admiral and his staff we aboard. The following day when I arrived before the crack of dawn at the flag office, the admiral himself was standing there waiting for his papers. This wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was shaking his hand as he said, “If you find any more love stories, print them.” “Aye aye, sir.”

My good luck made me look like a genius, and that was unusual.

If your husband or wife or son or daughter or mother or dad is serving his or her country far away, remember them always, but especially on February 14th.

–Malcolm

 

 

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Wow, almost 100,000 views for this blog

roundtablelogo

Aw shucks, folks, thanks for all the visits and for putting up with the fact I haven’t felt the need to place this blog squarely in one niche or another.

  • The all-time favorite post is: The Bare-bones structure of a fairy tale. Even though that post is a little over two years old, it still out performs every new post from week to week. I have no idea why, but at over 7,000 views, it’s well ahead of the rest of my 1,065 of posts since 2007.
  • The second most popular post is: Heave Out and Trice Up. This, I understand. A lot of people search for the meanings of navy jargon and slang, most especially what “heave out and trice up” actually means. This post was written in 2010 and still gets hits every week.

I’ve done a lot of reviews on this site, a few author interviews from time to time and talked about writing (including my own). Those posts are in the majority. However, when north Florida’s notorious Dozier School was in the news, my 2012 post about the White House Boys got a lot of hits. So did my 2013 (and frequently updated) post about the fate of the aircraft carrier USS Ranger that was scrapped rather than turned into a museum.

Since my books are mostly set in Montana’s Glacier National Park and the Florida Panhandle, I’ve written posts about my stories’ settings. Those get more hits over time than they do on the day they appear. I’m glad you find them whenever you find them.

I’ve appreciated your comments over the years as well. One never knows what people will say. I do know it takes time for you to write them.

Want a chance at a free Kindle Fire?

For those of you who’ve enjoyed reading my books and short stories, I want to mention that my publisher is starting a newsletter. I hope you’ll sign up. It’s free. Better yet, one subscriber will receive a free Kindle Fire Tablet. Deadline is 16 days from now. Click here to subscribe and enter the random drawing for the Kindle.

As for heaving and tricing

Now, for those of you who are curious about heave out and trice up, it has nothing to do with throwing up while seasick or drunk. I don’t know if navy ships still use the phrase as a wake-up call over the ship’s public address system. It means get up and raise your bunk (rack) or hammock up away from the floor (deck) so that the compartment cleaners can sweep out your berthing (sleeping, not having babies) area.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell writes magical realism, contemporary fantasy and paranormal novels and short stories.

 

 

 

 

Creating a Book Cover on the Cheap

Since the release of my Vietnam novel At Sea is a relatively modest Kindle production, I didn’t want to spend money for a cover photograph, artist or a cover designer. It’s a hard choice. The expense might produce a cover that increases sales or it might run the whole project in the red.

I wanted a cover that showed readers At Sea is set on an aircraft carrier. When I was in the navy, the pictures I took as a navy journalist belonged to the navy. There are many stock images of aircraft carriers on navy sites, but they cannot be used without permission for a book cover or advertising.

Many self-published books end up with little or no art work on them and rely on print, color, and a few simple graphic shapes. I don’t think these attract attention or help sell the book. Plus, they give prospective readers little to no idea what the book might be about. I definitely needed an aircraft carrier on my book’s cover.

Finally, I found an old color slide of the USS Ranger’s flight deck I took when I was part of the crew:

flightdeckA

Several issues come to mind. Although a lot of people are doing a lot of things, the picture doesn’t have the dynamic punch it would have if it showed the ship navigating a stormy sea or a plane taking off.

Even though the color was muted due to the age of the Ektachrome slide, it still brings out detail, potentially leading some readers to infer this book is nonfiction. Also, it’s a landscape rather than a portrait photo. The first thing I did was get rid of the color:

AtSeaCoverPhoto

Now it’s less busy and the black and white photo rather lends itself to older times such as a book about a war that happened in the 1960s. Whether or not this picture would “work” depended on how it was cropped, how the title displayed, and how dramatic color might be added to the resulting book cover:

AtSeaBookCover

First, the detail has been downplayed via black and white and cropping. The cropping provided a portrait format and the added color framed the image of the two planes and the ship’s superstructure. To keep the author’s name and title from looking static, I have them displayed at an angle.

I like the two planes displayed on the cover because the main character works in the ship’s aircraft maintenance department and is best friends with one of the air wing’s pilots.

The result works for me because it came together without my having to hire an artist and/or pay for an expensive stock photo. Perhaps you would have approached it differently.

Doing a cover on the cheap won’t work if it looks cheap. Perhaps my ideas here from rough photo to finished cover will give you some ideas for your next cover.

–Malcolm

Note: Another version of this story was originally published as “The Sailor,” a book that’s now out of print.

 

Mail Call – Are you sending mail?

“Carrier onboard delivery (COD) is the use of aircraft to ferry personnel, mail, supplies, and high-priority cargo, such as replacement parts, from shore bases to an aircraft carrier at sea. Several types of aircraft, including helicopters, have been used by navies in the COD role. The Grumman C-2 Greyhound has been the United States Navy’s primary COD aircraft since the mid-1960s.” – Wikipedia

On board ship, we heard an endless chatter of messages over the 1-MC “public address” system. We disliked “General Quarters” because it meant something bad was happening or we were going into another endless drill. We liked “Mail Call” because that meant messages from home, something perfume scented from a lover or spouse, something to eat from mom or grandmother such as pre-crushed cookies or flattened fruitcake.

C-1A Trader - USN Photo

C-1A Trader – USN Photo

While carrier onboard delivery refers to a service, we tended to refer to the mail plane itself as “the COD.” Launch and recovery operations were available on closed-circuit TV throughout the ship, so we often saw the COD land. We knew then it was a matter of time before we’d hear “Mail Call” announced.

I served onboard the USS Ranger during the Vietnam War and mail arrived via a C-2 Greyhound or the carrier’s smaller C-1 Trader. Both were made by Grumman. I liked the Trader best because we saw it the most. Plus, I flew off the ship in a Trader when I transferred to shore duty.

1-MC speaker

1-MC speaker

I have no idea what it was like to be “in-country” in a hostile environment and receive a letter. A treasure, it was, I imagine.

Those of us onboard ship outside the direct line of fire welcomed mail because it was a positive interruption in the daily grind during cruises that often took us away from home for nine months at a time. Word from home: nothing was more important.

Like many factory settings, a carrier was in many ways a dangerous place when you think of large equipment, stores of aviation gasoline and jet fuel, bombs and missiles, aircraft launch and recovery, and all the things that could possible go wrong. Mail Call was an oasis in this madness afloat. In fact, it reminded us of why we were putting up with the madness.

Ranger's COD - Malcolm R. Campbell photo

Ranger’s COD – Malcolm R. Campbell photo

Today, of course, sailors on board ship get e-mail and, as far as I know, Skype. So there’s a faster way to connect if folks will just remember to do it. Mail in 1968 took a long time to go to and from an aircraft carrier at sea. If we went for a while without letters, it took a long time to find out why. Today, one can send an e-mail with a header like “where are you?” or “everything okay?”

However your service man or woman gets to hear from you, I hope you’re sending snail mail and/or e-mail. I assume cookies are still in demand. Things you can hold in your hand are a change of pace from words and JPGs on the screen: a locket, a lock of hair, a color-crayon card from one of the kids, a pressed flower, a program from a play or recital, something you touched and took the time to put in an envelope with an APO or FPO address on the front.

COD is still important even in a world of e-mail and Skype. Keep in touch.

You May Also Like: Where is Hong Kong’s Li Lai Ha Today? – Kong Kong girl visits Ranger’s Marine Detachment

–Malcolm

Flight Deck - Malcolm R. Campbell photo

Flight Deck – Malcolm R. Campbell photo

P.S. Most of you who served onboard the USS Ranger (CVA-61) know by now that the Navy dishonored all of us by selling the ship to a scrapper for a penny rather that turning it into a museum. It sits at the scrap yard now where cutting torches will do what time, storms, accidents and the enemy couldn’t accomplish.

 

 

Ex-carrier Ranger set for last voyage in early 2015

from the Navy Times:

USS Ranger at sea in 1968 - US Navy Photo, cleared for publication

USS Ranger at sea in 1968 – US Navy Photo, cleared for publication

The ex-carrier Ranger is set to make its final sea voyage in early 2015.

The Navy paid 1 cent for shipbreakers to tow and scrap the decommisioned aircraft carrier, which once launched combat missions in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, Naval Sea Systems Command said Monday.

“Under the contract, the company will be paid $0.01. The price reflects the net price proposed by International Shipbreaking, which considered the estimated proceeds from the sale of the scrap metal to be generated from dismantling,” the NAVSEA release said. “$0.01 is the lowest price the Navy could possibly have paid the contractor for towing and dismantling the ship.”

The Ranger is to be towed from its berth in Bremerton, Washington, to Brownsville, Texas, where International Shipbreaking Ltd. is based. The carrier will have to be towed around South America, a four to five month journey, as its too large to fit through the Panama Canal, NAVSEA said.

The Ranger was commissioned in 1957 and spent its entire 36-year career in the Pacific, making a total of 22 Western Pacific deployments, NAVSEA said.

The dismantlement comes after veterans’ and historical groups were unable to raise enough money to turn the Ranger into a museum, like The Intrepid Museum in New York City. The Ranger had been on donation hold for eight years.

“After eight years on donation hold, the USS Ranger Foundation was unable to raise the necessary funds to convert the ship into a museum or to overcome the physical obstacles of transporting her up the Columbia River to Fairfview, Oregon,” NAVSEA said. “As a result, the Ranger was removed from the list of ships available for [donation] and designated for dismantling.”

What a waste.

–Malcolm

Memories from an old press kit for the USS Ranger

RangerPressKit-1

USS Ranger at sea in 1968 - US Navy Photo, cleared for publication

USS Ranger at sea in 1968 – US Navy Photo, cleared for publication

While sorting through boxes of old file folders in the garage, I came across a 1968 press kit for the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61). (The Ranger was active between 1957 and 1993).

These kits were handed out to reporters and special guests who came aboard ship in port or at sea. They contained information about the ship’s history and its departments, aircraft, and a variety of photographs of the ship, planes and personnel.

In addition to the carrier’s missions that stretched between the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, the Ranger is notable for being the first carrier to be built from the keel up with an angled deck.

A Portland Oregon foundation worked for some time to acquire the ship for use as a museum, but the effort fell through when it didn’t gain enough support from high-profile financial and political individuals and groups to put together a working plan that met the navy’s strict requirements.

To learn more about this effort, see USS Ranger Closer to New Home in Portland and Navy to Scrap Historic Aircraft Carrier – UPDATE.

Flight deck crews move two A-4 Skyhawks - US Navy photo, cleared for publication.

Flight deck crews move two A-4 Skyhawks – US Navy photo, cleared for publication.

Consequently, the ship is being scrapped this year. Had the ship been converted into a museum, I would have sent them this press kit, copies of the shipboard magazine and cruise book, and a fair number of news releases I wrote for the military and civilian press while on board.

Ranger in Films

As Wikipedia reminds us, “Ranger appeared on television in The Six Million Dollar Man, Baa Baa Black Sheep and in the films Top Gun, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (standing in for the carrier USS Enterprise), and Flight of the Intruder.”

I worked in the ship’s public affairs office and put together a lot of these kits during my time on board in 1968 and 1969.

The press kit usually contained pictures of the aircraft of from the squadrons assigned to the ship during the October-to-May deployments to the western pacific. The A-4s in this photo belonged to Squadron VA-155, the “Silver Foxes.

In addition to the standard materials, we included copies of the latest news releases about shipboard operations and deployments as well as visits by film companies and USO shows.

Finding Your Way Around

Handout Sheet

Handout Sheet

Television shows like JAG and NCIS frequently show shore-based navy and marine personnel getting lost on board aircraft carriers when trying to find their way between the bridge, the mess decks and their quarters. It’s easy to do. We cleared up the confusion for guests by handing out a diagram that showed how the decks were numbered.

The sheet noted that every single compartment on board has a number indicating its deck, location, purpose and opened/closed status based on the ship’s “Material Condition of Readiness” (XRAY, YOKE, ZEBRA and WILLIAM).

I read with interest the news stories about the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) which is currently undergoing tests prior to its entry into the fleet in 2016. The changes in design and capability of the Forrestal-class carriers ( Forrestal, Saratoga, Ranger and Independence) built in the 1950s and the new Ford-class carriers (to include the Ford, Kennedy and Enterprise) is amazing. Even the sailors serving aboard the current Nimitz-class carriers will see exciting changes.

The Ford-class carriers will have three aircraft elevators, upgraded RADAR systems, and more efficient nuclear power plants, and Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) rather than conventional steam pistons for launching aircraft.

I suppose ships will continue to use some form of press kit, perhaps printed off as needed with different combinations of pages and pictures when dignitaries and reporters arrive. Most of these folks will probably look at the skips’ websites and print out their own press materials before they arrive. When describing the Ranger to others, we mentioned the size of the flight deck, the weight of the anchors, and the number of crew members.

We also said the ship was a floating city. I see that some things don’t change. In the news stories about the Gerald R. Ford, that phrase is still being used.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novels include “At Sea,” an adventure inspired by his two western Pacific cruises on board the USS Ranger. Ranger was, in those days, called the top gun of the Pacific Fleet.

That Navy Slang Gets More Hits Than Almost Anything Else

ussrangerunrepOur of this blog’s 60,000 page views, a surprisingly high number of people are searching for navy slang. My three-year-old post “Heave out and Trice Up” still gets dozens of hits a week. And just to think, I wrote it for kicks.

I was working on my novel The Sailor. Needless to say, that novel has a lot of navy slang in it. I got to wondering: “Do non-sailors know what any of this stuff means?” There are dozens of sites about navy slang, some of which allow people to post questions. Apparently the words “heave out and trice up” are asked about more often than anything else.

As the Vietnam War fades into memory, I can understand why there would be fewer people asking about Hanoi Hannah, the “Tokyo Rose” of her day. And, as cigarette smoking becomes less pervasive in our culture, fewer people are asking what it means when a ship’s 1-MC public address system informs the crew that “the smoking lamp is lighted.” In fact, the interior spaces of ships are now being declared “smoke free.” Of course, the smoking lamp is out while loading ammunition or fuel during an unrep (Underway Replenishment as shown in the photo.)

But “heave out and trice up”? I’ll give you a clue: it has nothing to do with getting seasick, an event that’s much more likely on a can (no, not the head, but a destroyer) than an aircraft carrier during heavy weather. Part of the problem with the phrase is the word “trice.” We don’t use that word around the office much these days. It’s a sailor’s term, meaning to tie up or secure something, as in a sail or a bunk.

After seeing old pirate movies as kids, we went around shouting “avast,” which means to stop doing what you’re doing–such as trying to get away. When pirates shouted “avast” to a merchant ship they wanted to board, they expect the captain of the hapless boat to heave to, meaning to bring the ship to a stop.”

Wikipedia has an alphabetized glossary of navy slang. If you’re about to join the navy, buy a sailboat, be hired on to a cruise ship, or play pirate games with the kids, this glossary is much easier than searching through old books for jargon until 0-dark-thirty.

As we said in Navy bootcamp, those attending class were expected to take a good set of notes in order to past the tests. If you can’t past the tests, much less figure out what’s going on aboard ship, you’re pretty much considered a bent shitcan whether you’re assigned to a can or a birdfarm.

My heave out and trice up post has received more hits than any other post, except one: a book review of Raymond Khoury’s “The Last Templar.”   Go figure.

Malcolm

thesailorcoverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sailor,” a Vietnam-era novel about life on board an aircraft carrier.

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Adding atmosphere in a navy novel

1-MC speaker

1-MC speaker

If you have watched movies set on board Navy ships, you have probably seen the captain use the “1-MC” shipboard-wide public address system to make announcements. Or, if the main characters weren’t bridge officers, you probably heard 1-MC announcements in the background. Some, like “General Quarters” require an immediate response. Others are informational in nature and/or apply to certain people.

In my recent contemporary fantasy The Sailor, I wanted to give a bit of the flavor of ship board life by interspersing 1-MC announcements in between segments of action and dialogue. If my book were an audio book, complete with sound effects, I might have these playing in the background. In print, I hope I achieved the same effect by distributing them throughout the text.

My book is set aboard an aircraft carrier. A sailor on a large ship can easily get the feeling that 1-MC announcements are impersonal, come out of nowhere, and are examples of a lot of paperwork and regimentation and tradition that doesn’t always mesh with the reality of most of a man or woman’s hour-by-hour duties.  Typical 1-MC announcement:

“Now hear this, now here this, secure from General Quarters. Now set Condition Yoke.” Condition Yoke was the readiness condition set while at sea or in port during wartime.

I added to the atmosphere by also using interspersed bits of “from the bridge” dialogue and official “from the deck log” comments. These are rather stylized in nature and further serve to make the ship at times seem like a rather alien place. Typical bridge dialogue:

“Left five degrees rudder.” “Left five degrees rudder, aye sir, my rudder is left five degrees.”

Each 1-MC message begins with a specific call from a boatswain's pipe to get the crew's attention.

Each 1-MC message begins with a specific call from a boatswain’s pipe to get the crew’s attention.

Typical deck log entries:

00-04 Maneuvering on various courses and speeds while conducting flight operations 04-08 Steaming as before. 08-12 Steaming as before. 0939 Received daily muster report. No new additions or deletions. 12-16 Steaming as before. 1225 Completed flight operations for this date. Set course 140° Speed 25 knots.

If I were writing about a downtown Chicago car chase,  I might mention the weather, the sound of the elevated, and the horns of taxis. For a wilderness scene, there are birds, animals, bad weather and inhospitable terrain. Some times, such things provide ambiance and sometimes they directly impact the plot.

As both a reader and a writer, I like it when a story contains the sighs and sounds around the edges of the action because such things provide atmosphere and even some unexpected plot twists.

“Sweepers, sweepers, man your brooms. Give the ship a clean sweep down both fore and aft. Sweep down all lower decks, ladder wells and passageways! Now sweepers.”

Malcolm

Kindle Edition

Kindle Edition

Don’t let the old salts send you topside on mail buoy watch

The carrier's island - goodhugh photo on flickr

The carrier’s island – goodhugh photo on flickr

As I work through the final edits for my upcoming novel The Sailor, I find myself smiling at all the weird, strange, and often crude navy slang and acronyms that were a part of daily life when I served aboard the four acres of sovereign soil better known as an aircraft carrier or a bird farm.

Since this is a family blog (don’t ya think?), I won’t mention the profane slang other than to say you can find it quickly enough in a Google search.

One of the first things you learn on an aircraft carrier is that the navy does not fly choppers. If you call a helicopter a chopper, you’ll probably be placed on mail buoy watch (more on that later) or sent off in search of various kinds of equipment and supplies that don’t exist. The helicopter is a Helo (hee-low).

A liberty port

A liberty port

Going ashore is going on the beach whether it’s a beach, a pier, or liberty (free time) in a foreign port where you might get screwed, blued, and tattooed. (Oops, I forgot this is a family blog.)  Now hear this, if you get back late from liberty you are not AWOL, you are UA. UA = authorized absence, as in, “I was UA” or “Mr. A.J. Squared Away (a sailor with a perfect shave, perfect uniform, etc.) went UA.”

Once you become a member of Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club, called the Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club during the WESTPAC (western Pacific) Vietnam War days, your first duties involve listening up, taking a good set of notes, and otherwise learning the rocks and shoals (regulations).  If the chief (chief petty officer) thinks you’re slacking off, otherwise known as skating, and aren’t learning, he’ll either write you up (put you on report) or send you off to the galley to wash the flavor extractors.

If you get written up, you’ll end up shooting pool with the captain, that is, brought before a captain’s mast hearing after which you might variously be sent to the brig, demoted, or served a big chicken dinner (bad conduct discharge).

A Tin Can is a destroyer, like the one escorting your carrier, not a metal outhouse.

A Tin Can is a destroyer, like the one escorting your carrier, not a metal outhouse.

If you’re serving on an aircraft carrier, you’ll soon learn to stay off the flight deck during flight ops unless you are authorized to be there. If you work on the flight deck, the color of your shirt (yellow, green, white, red, blue, purple, brown or black) identifies the job you’re supposed to be doing. Red is, of course, for crash and smash (firefighters). If you want to watch launch and recovery operations, head up to the windows called vulture’s row in the island (AKA superstructure) where the view is perfect.

Old salts will try to fill your head (brain, not the rest room) full of crap (lies, yarns, and obviously erroneous scuttlebutt) that will only result in your being considered as gear adrift or a good candidate for mail buoy watch. “Mail buoy watch” is mandated by lifers (old salts) when the weather is poor.

During bad weather, somebody (you) is dressed up in foul weather gear and sent topside (AKA, a weather deck) with a hook. Your job will be to watch for the mail buoy, that is to say, the place where the ship’s mail will be waiting because either the COD (the mail plane) or some mythical mail ship can’t deliver the mail in a storm.

Before you head out to snag the mail, your uniform of the day (helmet, life jacket, etc.) will be critiqued by those in the know. Pictures will be taken and then you’ll be on your own in the rain until you realize you’re a victim of the kind of good-natured hazing that will give a guy a lot of grief, a bad cold, and a trip to sickbay for some Corpsman Candy (an ineffective cough drop).

It’s always best to at least look like you know what you’re doing, that is to say staying 4.0 (pronounced four-oh) and squared away during your tour of duty on the big gray ship (BGS). Who knows you might stop saying FTN (you can figure out what that means) and ship over (reenlist). On the other hand, if you’re a bent shitcan, then you’re too hopeless to even be in the navy.

You May Also Like: Heave Out and Trice Up

–Malcolm

Eagle Scout Goes to Hell

Olongapo as it was then

Everyone aboard every Navy ship that cruised between California and Vietnam in the late 1960s knew about liberty in Olongapo, Republic of the Philippines. The city stood just outside the main gate of the U. S. Naval base at Subic Bay, a regular port of call for Western Pacific (WESTPAC) ships.

Old salts called the town “hell” and promised Seaman Recruits coming on board the carrier USS Ranger out of bootcamp that anyone leaving the main gate of the base on liberty would be corrupted immediately by booze, drugs, girls, gambling and crime. They called the drainage ditch separating the base’s main gate from the town “the shit river,” though I saw it as the River Styx.

I crossed the shit river multiple times and found the world there to be everything the old salts described. As a former Eagle Scout, it crossed my mind on more than one occasion, “if only my Scout master could see me now.” Our Scout troop was sponsored by a church, so the Scout master was the least of my worries when I thought of how the deacons, elders and Sunday school teachers should they ever see a photo taken on Magsaysay Drive.

As a writer in training, I saw Magsaysay Drive and the Galaxy Bar and the touts and the constant ruckus in the streets as “research.” But I doubt my Scout master would have understood, or anybody else I knew, for that matter. Luckily, webcams and cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. There was no Facebook either in 1968. This meant that no pictures of me crossing the shit river appeared anywhere–and since a lot of time has gone by since then, I doubt they ever will.

Everyone who might know the Eagle Scout and paperboy who went to hell and then put his research into a novel called Garden of Heaven is long gone by now. So, I think I can safely post this excerpt without word getting back to the old neighborhood.

Excerpt from Garden of Heaven:

Standing on the bridge over the Shit River listening to the half-naked children in flimsy boats below shouting for a handful of centavos, the city in his face was—with more pride than apology—very much a city with its tattered underwear showing. If Magellan only knew what was here now. If Dad only knew David was here now.

Night was settling down over the hazy first lights of the bars and hourly rate hotels along Magsaysay Drive and the razor-sharp edges of Kalaklan Ridge like an old whore.

David dropped several 25-centavo coins over the railing, heard an explosion of whitewater, heard the laughter and the shouting, ‘Salamat, Joe, Salamat.’

He crossed Perimeter Road, ignored the hopeful greetings of the money changers behind their well-caged windows, then dodged a badly mixed throng of sailors, girls and honking multi-coloured jeepneys that swelled out into the Gordon Avenue intersection. He cut across the street, smiling, waiving at imagined friends in the distance, and moved with the deliberate intent of a man who had crossed this street hundreds of times.

‘Casual alertness, that’s the key to surviving Olongapo’s jungle of thieves, gangs, girls, high-strung Marines, bored Shore Patrol and Hard Hats, and drunk boatswain’s mates and snipes,’ Lowell had said.

“Hey Joe, cold beer cold beer cold beer, nice girls.”

Touts were everywhere below the slapdash smorgasbord of disheveled signs and awnings, leaning telephone polls, and the rag-tag assortment of buildings with upper floors stacked up in odd strata.

Assorted conversations flew past, barely audible in the close heat… ‘Hintayin mo aki,’ …‘Magandang amaga, Carlo, kumusta ang bagong sanggol?’… ‘Hey Joe’… ‘Tao po! Tao po!’… ‘Hoy, tulungan mo akong magdiskarga sa trak na ito, pwede ba?’… ‘Good food here, Joe!’…Galing akong Maynila. Nasaan ang Zambales Bank?’… ‘Balut, Balut!’… ‘Tayo na’t kumuha ng makakain’ ‘Magandang ideya, handa na ako sa napunan’… ‘Nagustuhan mo ba ang bago kong kamera?’

The sign for the Galaxy Bar was plainer than most. An unadorned interior stairway led to the second-floor club, a large room strewn with tables occupied by sailors, many with girls whose eyes caught the low light like predators or gods. David didn’t see anyone he knew. He had a small envelope in his back pocket for Maria.

Two girls who had bathed in perfume and spackled their faces with makeup were leaning against the bar watching a waitress organise a tray full of San Miguel beer bottles.

“Maria, tingnan mo itong malambing na lalaki.”

“Lamayo ka sa kanya, Adelaide.”

Assuming he’d actually heard her name in those quick Tagalog comments, Maria was the one wearing a red dress, thrusting herself forward to him as he approached, posing her sweet curves, allowing her long hair to seductively frame her face, smiling as though they were friends with a history. He could almost see himself in the high gloss of her lipstick.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell

USS Ranger (CVA-61)

Ranger - Wikipedia Photo

The USS Ranger has been decommissioned. The USS Ranger Foundation is working diligently to convert the aircraft carrier into a museum on the Columbia Driver near Portland, Oregon.  The effort requires multiple phases, the next being a comprehensive environmental site analysis of the propose mooring location.

The Foundation is seeking donations to help pay for its on-going work. If you would like to contribute to the $15 million dollar fund raising project to bring a historic ship to Oregon as a museum, please click on the link above. Once you’re there, you’ll find some handy PayPal buttons.