My First Real Culture Shock

My first jolt of culture shock hit me about seven months or so after leaving for boot camp. First, they sent me to Newport, Rhode Island for QM (Quartermaster) school. Quartermasters in the U.S. worked in navigation, whereas quartermasters in the Army worked in supply. In the Navy, we had Storekeepers instead.

QM school ended in February, and my orders, I learned, were for the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, at the time, the second-largest aircraft carrier in the world. As if to prove its hugeness, while also commemorating the Wright Brothers, two brass plaques sat anchored in the flight deck. Both of these were placed in front of the bridge structure, and they were spaced the distance apart of the Wright Brothers’ first flight! Neither marker sat anywhere close to the bow. At 1047 feet, only the America was slightly longer. I could have placed about 130 of my 8-foot prams bow to stern, although there was no reason to do that. Hey, it’s just a statistic!

Well, the Kitty Hawk, according to my orders, was located in WESTPAC, a Navy term for the Western Pacific. The Navy liked anagrams, such as COMCARDIV7, which meant, Commander, Carrier Division 7, AKA the admiral. And let’s not forget, CINCPACFLT, or Command-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet.

But I digress, whatever that means, but it sounds like something I should say when I stray off course a bit. That never happened much, because a huge computer, complete with tapes, sat in the room behind the bridge, ready to tell us where we were, as long as we had a satellite within range. Oh yeah, this was supposed to be about culture shock, or something like that.

Well, I didn’t know where the Kitty Hawk actually was prowling, but I didn’t have to, because others, more important, and more knowledgeable than I would figure all of that out, or at least that’s what I figured.

So, I missed my flight out of Travis, the details of which are not important, even though the Navy disagreed somewhat. In the end, they just shrugged and said, “Okay.” No, they never managed to get me on a plane, so I went home, and. . . No, that’s not what happened, but it seemed like a reasonable scenario at the time. So I hung around for five days, shooting pool, sleeping on one of the cots they had set up in the back, and eating anytime I wanted. Yep, they had a mess hall right there!

On the fifth day, someone apologized to me for not getting me on a flight and asked if I would mind taking a commercial flight out of San Francisco. This somehow became a pattern I followed when going to Vietnam, except that after three days, they asked if I would be upset if I had to take a flight out of LA International. Both times, I did my best to not be offended.

The plane, with me on it, flew up to Seattle, and as I remember it I had to transfer to another plane run by Northwest Orient, which I would have recommended at the time. We took off around sixish and headed out across the Pacific. Whether part of the plan or not, we seemed to have plenty of room, and the flight attendant (they called them stewardesses back then), removed the arms from the seats, provided blankets, and asked if I cared for more wine. The stewardess was Asian, although in 1968 she was actually Oriental. Orientals have since been eliminated as a race, I think. I wonder if the airline would now be called, Northwest Asia?

We landed in Tokyo at about nine o’clock local time, and I noticed the illuminated airport signs were all just funny-looking symbols, so if we were in Tokyo I had to take their word for it. We came in over what I guess was a residential area with a lot of non-electric lanterns.

I almost panicked when the pilot said we would be resuming the flight the next morning! Where would I stay, and how would I pay for it? I had not a single credit card at that point in my life! When we entered the terminal, the problem was solved. A couple of Japanese guys told us to pick an envelope from a rack. I did, and it told me where I would be staying, all paid for!

Three of us occupied one room, but hey, we were used to multiple berthing. At least it wasn’t a barracks. We decided to go out, so we went down and hailed a cab and went somewhere. The cabbie, acting as if our money was on fire, refused to accept it. He said we needed MPC, or Military Payment Certificates, because greenbacks were illegal. So what? Wetbacks are illegal, too, but they’re here anyway. Yes, he would have accepted Yen, but we had none of that either, so we got a free ride.

Well, whatever. They hustled us down to the restaurant for breakfast, assuring us that whatever we ordered was already paid for. A nice-looking waitress actually pulled out the chair for me and pushed it in as I was seated. She seemed to be oriental. Actually, they all did!

Back to the plane. I still had no idea where we were going, and nobody was going to tell us, although the mission was not classified. So we landed at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, for fuel. While waiting on the tarmac, we watched a few fighter jets take off. Then it was off again.

After some period of time, we landed in Manila and were pretty much told to get off the plane. This was the middle of March, so when I left I was wearing my dress blues. I was still wearing them, although the temperature was hovering around 86!

Most of the military personnel on the plane were Air Force, but there was one other Navy dude, which made things easier. He had been on a minesweeper out of Subic Bay, so he knew the territory. He at least had enough sense to change into his whites, but mine were on the bottom of my seabag, and probably not fit to wear without first ironing them, but I had no iron.

We took a Jeepney (their version of a taxi) to what looked like an old barn. He exchanged some money for some pesos and bought two tickets for Olongapo City. I wouldn’t have known to do that, but there we were, waiting to board an old rickety bus with a bunch of noisy Filipinos. The trip itself was way too interesting and scary to relate right now, but maybe next time. . .

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