Old Mack’s Tales

December 20, 2012

Home From The Hills

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 11:49 am
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Home From the Hills.

By Ron McKinney December 20, 2012

Tomorrow will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the day that MSTS troop ship, the General John Pope raised the Farallone Islands off the starboard bow.  A hundred or so troops, soldiers and marines, rushed to the farthest point forward on the weather deck to see San Francisco rise on the horizon.  We were elbowing and shoving each other  out of the way.  An old Army First Sergeant who had been teaching me to whittle gave a young Staff Sergeant the evil eye and said “Give this Marine some space, Soldier.  Frisco is the lad’s home town.”

The ship changed course a few degrees to port and the waves breaking against the cliffs below the Cliff House were brilliant white against the umber face of the rocks.  I could see George Washington High, where I’d completed Tenth Grade.  Some unpleasant memories tried to surface, but then the troops on deck sent up a cheer and the Golden Gate Bridge came into view.  It was my first sight of the bridge from the sea and it is truly spectacular.  As the ship began to sail under the bridge, I’d have bet  the forward mast would hit the damned thing; the deck of the bridge appeared to be that close.  Of course it didn’t hit it, and the ship docked at the Army pier at Fort Mason, put out her gangway and five thousand soldiers shuffled off.

And then the ship sailed past Aquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf and finally docked at Treasure Island, where the Marines and Sailors disembarked.

What followed was very embarrassing.  During the crossing someone had stolen my sea bag.  The bag contained all of my uniforms save the dirty dungarees I’d been wearing for the past twenty days; even though I’d scrubbed them many times, soot from the pots in the galley was ground into them and they were mottled and would have made good camouflage gear.  I was ordered to wait until all the troops were ashore and then I had to search all of the compartments, accompanied by the Officer of the Deck, trying to find the sea bag.  It wasn’t there, so I was finally given permission to disembark.

There was a crowd still waiting on the dock as I came down the gangway.  Prominent, because of the sign she was waving stood my sister, her two-year-old daughter, and several of her friends.  I had time for only a quick “hello,” and then I had to run to the supply building for processing.  I told Laura not to wait as processing might take all day.

I was issued a complete set of uniforms, shoes and new boots.  I dashed into a barrack building and got out of my filthy utility uniform, took a shower and put on Greens; I looked like a raw recruit as I went back for orders to my next duty station, for leave papers and for an I.D. card.  The clerk making the I.D. card said: “Jeezus, Mack.  You won’t even be able to buy a drink to celebrate surviving the war.”  With that he grinned and winked and made a second card with a date of birth which made me twenty-one plus three months.  “Don’t flash that damned thing around here, Mack.”

By noon I was in a Yellow cab crossing the Oakland Bay Bridge into the City.  We turned up Powell Street and followed a cable car past Union Square, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel and turned right on Bush Street.  At number 636 I got out, shouldered my sea bag and buzzed my sister’s apartment.  She wanted to know about the war.  I wanted a drink.

“I’m going across the street to that cocktail bar,” I said.

“You’re too young to buy a drink.  The bartender will card you.”

“That’s okay,” I said, whipping out my extra I.D. card, which she examined closely.

“How’d you get that?”

“The office clown saw me come by in my dungarees and realized I was a real combat veteran and he took pity on me.  That’s an authentic card, Sis.”

I borrowed a pair of my brother-in-law’s slacks and a sport shirt and went across to the bar.   I ordered bourbon and water.  The bartender poured it with shaking hands.  He did not ask to see my I.D. card.

“You missed all the excitement,” he said.

“What did I miss?”

“The cops just left with the guy who tried to rob me.”  The bartender pointed to a bullet hole in the top of the bar two stools from where I sat.

“Guy came in, waived his revolver and told everyone to go into the storage room.  Then Bam! His gun went off.  I opened the till, and scooted into the storeroom.  So while the guy is grabbing the money, we all jumped down from the loading dock and split.  I found the beat cop up near Powell Street and told him about the robber.  So the cop walks in with his pistol drawn and there’s the robber sitting on a stool helping himself to a shot of whiskey.  The cop cuffed him and frog marched him out to the curb where he called for the Paddy Wagon.”  He wiped the bar with a flourish.

“You from around here?” the bartender asked.

“My folks live across the street.  But I just got off a troop ship from Korea less than an hour ago.  This is my first drink in the U.S.A.”

“What outfit were you with?”

“First Marines,” I said.

“Drinks are on the house, Mack.  You ready for another?”

“I’ll have one more and then I’ve got to scoot.  Today is my mother’s birthday.”

“Are you Ruth Cone’s son?  She comes in every evening after work with her husband, Jim.  Talks about you all the time.  You got wounded, right?” I nodded.

“Ruth brought in a Time Magazine, had a picture of your outfit and a story about Bunker Hill.  She pointed you out and there you were, with a big white battle dressing on your arm.  Did it heal up okay?”

“Healed up and didn’t even leave  scars.  I went back on the line that same night, but with a different outfit.  But tell me something about Ruth’s husband; they just got married a month before I enlisted and he was in the hospital with T.B.”

“Jim’s a prince of a guy.  Works in the Orchid Room at the St. Francis Hotel.”

“What’s Ruth doing?”

“She’s working two jobs.  Breakfast shift at the Continental Hotel and afternoon shift at Blum’s, down on Stockton Street.  She’ll be in for her birthday drink this evening.”

“Speaking of which, I’d better get out of here.  She doesn’t know I drink and she might raise hell with me if she finds me here.”

The bartender laughed.  “She might at that,” he said. “Welcome home, Mack.”

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