January 5-6, 1968
It was midnight when the buses and a box truck pulled into Las Pulgas. The first order of business was loading our sea-bags into the truck. All our bags contained the uniforms and accessories we would not need in Vietnam, and each bag was secured with a combination lock. These sea-bags would be put into storage in Okinawa during our tour and be reclaimed on our return to CONUS (Continental United States).
The buses took us to MCAS El Toro. Interestingly, I had observed hundreds of flights taking off and landing at the air base but had never been on a flight from the facility. At 0200 we took off over the Laguna hills; I couldn’t see Laguna because we were banking slightly north (I could see Newport Beach and Costa Mesa). We were above the clouds, and there was little to see for the first few hours. It was quiet.
The sun was starting to rise, and there was a sensation of the plane descending; the pilot announced our approach to Honolulu. I could see the iconic “Diamond Head” and the tall hotels of Waikiki. After landing, we never exited the plane but there was a crew change and I could see food service storage containers being loaded. We were on the ground less than an hour before taking off into a cloudless expanse of the Pacific Ocean. There was nothing to see for hours except water; it was a bit disorienting and hard to grasp distance. Making matters more confusing was the pilot’s announcement, “We have just passed the International Date Line and it is now January 6th.”
The flight to Okinawa took ten hours, and we walked on the tarmac to buses waiting for our arrival. Our sea-bags were offloaded and sent to a designated storage warehouse . . . there were no baggage claim checks, and I wondered how we would ever get our gear back.
After lunch in a modern well-equipped mess hall, we were taken to a medical facility for a Gamma globulin injection. We were told the shot would boost our immunity against disease. It was a no-nonsense ordeal, “drop your trousers and grab your ankles.”
Inevitably we arrived at a transient barracks, and there was nothing to do but wait. Gaskins approached me smiling and appeared to be happy with the adventure so far. We talked for a while, and he told me about the whale watching experience in San Diego. He said, “Their eyes were as big as soft balls.” Also when the trip was over, the Captain of the boat let them sleep in the bunks below deck and fed them breakfast in the galley (Gunny Ross had arranged it all).
My thoughts were of Jenny . . . had she made it home safely? Would she adjust to this new situation? Would she be anxious or depressed? I tried to think positively and told myself she would be fine. It was out of my control and very unsettling.
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