Part 4 of "Defining Moments"
Our first ND winter hit like a sledgehammer. The southern boys couldn't believe that people could actually survive such harsh conditions. We were issued hip length parkas with hoods and no one lingered between buildings on our windy little knob. I spent many evenings at Bev's house playing cards and shooting the breeze with her folks. Her mother Stella was a hard working housewife who had a passion for bowling and playing cards. Her dad was a real piece of work. A transplant from Montana, he was a skilled wood craftsman, hunter and storyteller, a good shot, winning a ND Skeet shooting championship and even running a trap line for mink on the river outside of town. He was an Osteopathic Physician who had attended 4 years of medical school. Unfortunately it was a dying profession, what with chiropractors competing with him after completing a short course. As different as they were from my own more conservative parents, or maybe because of it, I was very comfortable and loved being around them.
Winter finally turned to Spring and Bev and I were still a ‘steady' pair. Early summer brought a huge surprise: ‘Greetings' from Headquarters;
I had been chosen to take a little trip at government expense. I was being reassigned to overseas duty somewhere in the Far East. I was to report to a port of embarkation in California for further assignment. I never found out why I had been chosen and of course there was no appeal. So I drove my newly acquired ‘42 Ford home to NU and prepared it for storage.
After talking it over with my Mom I decided to give Bev an engagement ring before I left. Mom was very relieved that Bev was a confirmed Lutheran; I had been dating a Catholic girl in high school. I was concerned about what my Mother might be feeling about my being assigned to the Far East when there was a war on. She had suffered terribly when my brother Carl had been killed in the SW Pacific during WW II. Whatever she felt, she never let on to me. I think it must be hell to be a mother sometimes.
Back in Minot I said a difficult goodbye to Beverly and the rest of the Kembles and climbed aboard the Empire Builder for the beginning of a journey to who-knows-where. It was a beautiful train ride, through the northern Rockies, alongside the Columbia river in Washington, down the West coast through the Sierras. Another airman and I got off at Pittsburg, Calif. about midnight. After several nights of trying to get some rest in a coach seat, we were desperate to flop on a bed somewhere, anywhere. The last bus to the base was long gone, no Taxi service , what to do? We started walking, lugging our duffel bags. The only thing open was a flophouse with a red light in the window. Did I mention we were desperate? The night clerk gave us the fish eye and asked “one room or two?” We took a double and flopped, only to be treated to endless squeaking of bedsprings and moaning through pasteboard walls. Welcome to Pittsburg!
Again, the world looked considerably brighter the next morning. We caught a military bus to Camp Stoneman and got there just in time for breakfast. ‘Processing' to go overseas involved a lot of waiting, ‘policing' the area, picking up cigarette butts, etc. and checking the bulletin board to see if we had made any of the departure lists. In due time my name appeared. I was bound for Clark Air Force Base on the island of Luzon in the Philippine Islands (P.I.). What could be better after spending a winter in ND? Again I felt guilty about possibly causing my Mom anguish since Carl had been reported Missing while en route to the island of Leyte in the P.I. The good news: I was going to be a long way from the war going on in Korea.
We loaded up on an ancient ferry boat and sailed down an estuary leading to San Francisco Bay where our ship was berthed. The David C. Shanks was one of the hundreds of workhorse ‘Liberty‘ ships that were built during WWII. The Shanks was now operated by the Military Sea Transportation Service, a department of the Navy, and manned by civilian Merchant Marine seaman. Basically a cargo ship that could be configured to haul human cargo by stacking plain canvas bunks floor to ceiling in one or more of the holds. A luxury liner it was not, but it wasn't so bad and under the Golden Gate we went, an unforgettable moment. What lies ahead??