Although I was exhausted, it didn’t seem proper to see Sergeant Paige off without celebrating over a beer at the club. We only had a few, but I was tipsy when returning to our hooch. At 0100 the siren went off, and we sat up on our cots, wondering about the situation. A LOUD air horn blasted, and we were out the door and into a bunker between hooches.
There were six incoming rockets; the sound of each explosion was deafening, and I could hear shrapnel tearing through the plywood sleeping quarters. After a few minutes there were two quick blasts from the horn. The combination of beer and adrenaline was too much for me. I got out of the bunker and had the dry heaves. Sleeping was not possible, and we lay on our cots until dawn.
Paige and I shook hands before he left for the Da Nang airstrip transit barracks; I wished him well and never saw or heard from him again.
In the late afternoon I caught a Jeep to the R&R departing area. We changed into khakis and checked our gear. There were actual bunk beds with mattresses so I tried to sleep, but it was too hot. Just before 2100 there was a commotion, and everyone was running outside. Rockets were gliding over us (we could see the vapor trails) and impacting at FLC. Finally at 2300 we boarded a cattle car (shuttle) and were taken to the air terminal.
There was a “not-so-subtle” boarding procedure (we didn’t have assigned seats), and officers boarded first, taking seats up front. Then staff NCO’s boarded next and finally the “peons” as we were called. My seat was in the last row of the cabin (a window seat), and the aisle seat was designated “Crew.” Just before the Continental 707 took off, a stewardess strapped into the seat next to me. She asked, “What happened to your hand?” I explained to her about the burn and then completely crashed from lack of sleep and stress. I never woke up during the flight, sleeping all the way to Honolulu. The stewardess carefully woke me as we were taxiing on the runway. It was 3:00 am. As everyone was exiting the plane, I was trying to tie my shoes and tuck in my shirt (I was a mess). The stewardess helped me tie my shoes and then said, “Stand up straight!” She turned me around, unbuckled my webbed belt and tucked my shirt in properly. After zipping me up, she brushed me off and asked, “Are you meeting your wife?” When I answered yes, she said, “Don’t be too proud to ask for help.” Then she put her hands on my face and whispered, “Go slow, let her find you first.” I had no idea what she was talking about.
There was a short orientation at Fort DeRussy in Waikiki, and we were dismissed to R&R. I had my map to the Reef Tower Hotel and walked down Kalakaua Avenue. Along the way I was thinking “Let her find you first” (what did she mean)? A beer delivery truck passed by and honked his air horn to acknowledge me . . . I hit the sidewalk, my brain had been conditioned to perceive the horn as a rocket attack. Embarrassed, I got up and brushed myself off and proceeded to the hotel.
The clerk said, “Room 323, Sir” when I showed my ID, and I took the elevator up (I had no key). I knocked lightly on the door, and Jenny eased it open before letting me in. We embraced and started to cry. She looked wide-eyed at my bandaged “Q-Tip” looking hand, and I said, “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”
We locked the door and went to sit on the bed . . . she was in a negligee. I said, “I need to take a shower, can you help me?” She helped undress me, and I went in first. I was holding my right arm in the air when she opened the shower door. She came in wearing a lime green shower cap, holding a white washcloth in one hand and a bar of soap in the other. She soaped up the washcloth and handed the bar to me to hold. I looked at the soap as she scrubbed my head, and there was a peace dove engraved in it. She was washing off the grit of Vietnam with Dove soap. I let her wash my face, neck and shoulders before the shower water sounded like a waterfall. The water wasn’t draining and was about to overflow the 3-inch lip on the shower floor.
We turned the water off and wrapped ourselves in towels. Staring at the water, it was bubbling and then suddenly began spiraling down the drain. We started laughing and held each other close in our towels. I pulled her shower cap off, and the fragrance of her hair was intoxicating. After a long kiss, I saw the light switch on the wall and batted it off with my bandaged hand.
We let the towels drop to the floor, scrambled to the bed in the darkness and slid under the sheets. I could hear the words, “Go slow” in my head, and I softly kissed her lips, ears and neck. Then, Jenny found me (Oh . . . that’s what she meant)! R&R had begun, and we discovered each other again at 5:00 am, on May 9, in Hawaii.