Full Circle

Me (Ptomaine) In Hooch

Sunday, February 9, 1969

When I entered the San Jose Recruiting Office in 1964, I was greeted by Master Sergeant Bradbury.  During our first exchange he said, “Can I help you?”  Sarcastically I answered, “I need a vacation.”  He was well trained and had me begging to take the written test (he claimed I couldn’t pass it).  Afterward while he was getting my personal information, he asked my date of birth.  When I answered, he smiled and commented, “I was a PFC on Red Beach in Okinawa the day you were born.”  I rudely shrugged; it meant nothing to me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –   

Standing in line, waiting for brunch was taking forever.  I wanted to catch the bus to Red Beach in order to atone for my poor behavior toward my recruiter.  I kept looking at my new watch (I didn’t want to miss the bus), but the chow line was very slow moving.

Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder, and I turned to face Master Gunnery Sergeant Bradbury.  He smiled and slapped me on the back.  Bradbury and I had crossed paths at El Toro * before I left for Vietnam.  He seemed to know I had arrived in Okinawa and said, “Come with me, you can be my guest in the Staff Mess.”

As we ate breakfast I told him of my plan to visit Red Beach.  He quickly agreed to take me personally in his staff car and give me the full tour.  My orders to Camp Pendleton didn’t surprise him and he said, “It’s a good duty station for a Californian.”

I tried to turn the conversation to him, “What are you doing now?”  He was leaving the Corps soon (after 27 years) and was in the process of acquiring part ownership of a local bar.  “I’m going to retire here, where I started” Bradbury said.  I looked at his chest full of ribbons:  Silver Star, Purple Heart, service campaigns from WW II and Korea . . . he’d literally been all over the Pacific.  He also wore a Distinguished Marksman (Pistol) medal.

After brunch we drove to Red Beach.  There were a few sun bathers and some snorkelers out in the clear waters of the reef.  Facing the open ocean Bradbury gestured to the horizon, “It was quite a sight to see . . . 3,000 ships on the water.”  I could tell it was an emotional moment so I gave him some space.

We didn’t stay long at Red Beach before heading back to the base.  I told Bradbury about the staff club we built on Hill 65, and he thought it was a good thing to have separate clubs for the young troops.  My commitment to send the Gunny bar supplies caught Bradbury’s interest, and he made a side trip.

He parked off the street behind a bar where he knocked on the door.  An attractive Asian woman let us in and locked the door behind us.  The smell of stale alcohol and incense filled the room.  We sat at the bar, and two glasses appeared as she poured us shots.  Bradbury spoke to the woman in Okinawan and made hand motions to her as she gathered some “rocks glasses” from a back shelf.  She boxed them up for shipment and used cardboard coasters as stuffing material.

This woman was his “partner” in the ownership of the bar, and it was obvious that they were close companions.  I wrote out Gunny Pavelcek’s address at Kilo Battery, and the box was addressed for mailing.  I offered to pay for the shipping, but Bradbury would have none of it.  After returning to the base, we said goodbye as he dropped me off and drove away.  He seemed lonely.

* See previous blog, “A Ghost from the Past” November 1967

Next Edition:  Afterglow


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