The 20 days leave between arriving home and reporting for duty at Camp Pendleton went by too fast. After a quick trip to Fresno to pick up the rest of Jenny’s belongings and check out of her apartment, we returned to Orange County. Although she was thrilled that I was finally home again, Jenny became slightly emotional about leaving Fresno for the last time. She had enjoyed living there while finishing college, and now the long wait to be reunited was over.
Our main focus was to find a place to live and get settled in San Clemente. We wanted a one or two-bedroom apartment in our price range ($125 per month). The rental market was tight, and we considered expanding our search when we made a final effort at an upscale real estate agency on the main street in town (Ole Hansen Realty).
A white-haired agent with thick black-framed glasses said no to our inquiry. Then as we were leaving he remarked, “Wait, I have a rental place that needs a lot of work.” He tossed me a set of keys and gave directions . . . Escalones, meaning “The Steps”, was only three blocks away.
It was a one-bedroom Spanish style duplex with a red tile roof, and it was a real mess. There was a dead Christmas tree in the living room as well as a pile of dog poop on the wood floor next to the fireplace. We tried to look past the glaring conditions and thought it could be cleaned up with some fresh paint.
Returning to the agent I asked, “How much?” The rent was $85 a month with free utilities. I asked for an allotment for paint, and he wrote a $25 voucher to the hardware store across the street. We paid the $85 and signed the agreement. The only stipulation was that we were required to give one-month notice before leaving.
Our first purchase at the hardware store was a box of Spic and Span and a bucket (we also got some paint samples). Both Jenny and I had painted before, but her determination to thoroughly clean all the walls and ceilings before applying any paint was a surprise to me. My method was to stir the paint and slap it on . . . I yielded to her requirements, and those rooms became attractive and charming in 10 days. Our furniture was delivered from storage, and we moved in with a few days to spare. It was a new beginning in a cozy place that was our home for the next two years. There were loose ends (curtains, etc.), but Jenny had these details covered with her sewing machine and some fabric I had sent from Vietnam.
The day before I reported to Camp Pendleton (Monday, March 3), we attended a family gathering in Laguna. Jenny’s parents had given us space to get reacquainted which we appreciated.
A letter for me had arrived in Glendale the day before (it was from Sumo). I opened it in private and was struck with the news. Sumo’s orders were to MCAS El Toro, and he was happy with that assignment. However, it was disturbing to hear that Kilo Battery had been overrun by sappers on February 23. Two Marines were killed (one was Corporal Shoemaker) * and eight others were WIA. This correspondence spoiled the family reunion for me; it was poor timing.
On Monday afternoon I reported for duty to MCB Headquarters. A woman Marine Staff Sergeant said, “We’ve been expecting you.” She escorted me to the Chief of Staff’s office. The General’s Aide de Camp told me to have a seat, and he proceeded to interview me for the job of “Administrative Steward.” Somehow they knew I had gone through Steward School even though my MOS had changed.
I was polite and answered the questions but was not enthusiastic about the prospect of being a “Coffee Boy” for the General’s Staff. Finally I looked him in the eye and just shook my head, NO. The Captain got upset with me so the base Sergeant Major intervened. We moved to his office, and he closed the door (it was tense).
He explained that this was a good opportunity with a lot of benefits. “It will be good for your career.” I answered, “I never signed the volunteer page in my record book to be a steward.” ** He checked and sure enough, it was blank . . . “I won’t sign it!”
He took me downstairs and asked the clerk to find the available billets for cooks and then asked me, “Where are you and your wife staying?” I answered, “San Clemente.” He directed the clerk to assign me to 2nd ITR. An Addendum was attached to my orders, and I was told to proceed to the Camp Horno Headquarters building.
At Camp Horno I received a “check-in” memorandum to the 1st Battalion at Camp San Onofre. It was closed for the day so I gave up and went back to our comfortable new home. It was a convenient 20-minute drive.
* See previous blog, “A Long Walk to Thuong Duc” June 13, 1968
** See previous blog, “My military background/credentials part I” November 1967