Tuesday, October 31, 2006

26 January 1956

A beautiful day, climatically if not emotionally. This morning we played a fascinating new game called "air your bedding." This happens about once every six or eight months. It was published in the Plan of the Day, that OR & S-2 divisions would air their bedding from 0800 to 1230. My compartment (C-2116) was to place their mattresses on the catwalks between frames 76 & 80. So I trundled my mattress under my arm & set out. And could I find frames 76 to 80? I could not. I went under the assumption that said frames would fall somewhere between 70 & 90—a wild guess. I found frame 98 & walked forward till I came to frame 32—something was wrong.

I felt like a perfect idiot wandering back & forth across the hangar deck dragging a mattress. To make matters worse, I was the only one so encumbered. First of all, the catwalks are just below the flight deck. I went up to the catwalks. They ended at frame 98—the No. 1 elevator interrupted the catwalks from running the full length of the ship. Oh, there were mattresses on the catwalks—dozens of them, hanging over the rails—a solid mass of mattresses, in fact, with no place for me to put mine.

It then dawned on me to try the other side of the ship Back to the hangar deck, & up to the catwalks again. I never did find frames 76 to 80, but found a vacant place on the railing & put the mattress over it, halfway expecting, with my usual luck, to see it slip over & fall into the sea, some four stories below.

That crisis had passed, but it somehow threw a damper on the rest of the day.

Again tonite I donned my blues with the intention of going to the movies & again changed my mind. I’m getting so I feel downright ashamed to wear these blues, but what can I do? Ah, for Cannes & a good cleaning service. On second thought, omit the word "good."

Ah, what have I done to Europe? You might almost get the idea that I didn’t like it, the way I rave on. Well, I don’t. I’m told it is just because we always hit sea towns, which are not the best Europe has to offer. Perhaps.

I can just see you now, running to cancel your reservations to Europe. Well, things may be better when you get here.---I doubt it.

Paris, it is true, was wonderful. Mostly, as I said before, because people realize it is Paris & act accordingly.

You, then, may find Europe to be the charming post card you believe it to be. You may find here the Seven Cities of Gold everyone seeks & no-one finds.

I leave you with this thought—if Europe is so wonderful, why are there so many Americans?

27 January 1956 (added to 26th)

Someone around here, while browsing through my drawers—while I wasn’t around, of course—found the handwritten copy of the 25th s journal. They spread the word around & everyone seemed to think it hysterically funny that I should feel proud to be a human being. Any resemblance some of those guys bear toward human beings is entirely coincidental.

Oh,well….Find it hard to concentrate because of the gab-fest going on here in the office.

Cold today, choppy sea, but bright & sunny.

Monday, October 30, 2006

25 January 1956

One of those evenings when I feel unaccountably happy to be alive and proud to me a member of the human race (a young and slightly retarded species which occasionally shows signs of promise).

The tour today was nice, but not really worth the money—there was too much riding; two and one half hours to Catania, two and one half hours back, and another half hour to Syracuse, which is in exactly the opposite direction.

I drew several conclusions from it, however; the principle one being that Sicily is by far the most filthy, unattractive, and uninviting place I have ever seen (and in Europe, that’s going some). Its towns are huddled clusters of hovels, their unpaved streets lined with the thick-walled monotony of crumbling buildings.

Like the rest of Europe, Sicily is a "land of contrasts," but the good is so outweighed by the bad that the contrasts are dulled by the realization that there is no hope for improvement.

Everything is old; even if a building has been recently built it is old. In the towns, bombed out and fallen buildings are everywhere. Those buildings still standing are being held up only by the tattered political posters plastered all over them.

Never in my life have I seen so many stones; even they are rough, crude, and cumbersome, the color of very dirty linen. Probably because of their abundance they are the chief—no, the only—building material.

Try building a house just by stacking stones on stones. The finished product is then covered with a very thin layer of plaster and painted some quick-fading color. It seems to be a contest to see whether the paint can fade faster than the plaster can flake off. I’d call it a tie.

Wood is completely unknown, except on the thick brown doors. These are always open, showing a dark, tiny interior, amazingly dull. Against the back wall, over a heavy brown-stained vanity, is a cross or other religious symbol. Most of the houses are step-down-into; invariably a woman is seated at a table in front of the vanity, or standing in the doorway, with a very small child peering out from behind her. Other children play in the streets, close in by the walls of the house. School children—all evidently between the ages of six and twelve (I saw none older)—wear black velvet-like smocks with a white collar and a blue string tie.

Women in solid black trudge the streets, coming from nowhere and going nowhere. Old women, all wrinkles and grey hair, sit stooped on crude, heavy wooden chairs, staring into the past.

Around the main square, if there is one, sit the men in baggy pants and dirty, patched shirts. Most of them wear suit-coats which may or may not give the impression they once matched the pants. They sit on the same crude chairs, propped back against a cracked wall, like the condemned at a mass firing squad, and watch our busses pass with no interest.

The young men have long hair and wear ungodly combinations of remnant clothing.

The war ended in 1945 but no one would know by looking at Sicily. German pillboxes line the roads, some with great jagged holes in the thick cement. The ruins of farmhouses stand gaunt and dead on the rocky ground.

And the most aggravating thing is that the people don’t seem to care! At one point along the road, two ends of a large bridge reach for each other across a wide, dry river bed. Far below, sections of the bridge lie scattered about, and a large, broken arch leans as though it were wounded and falling. Grass grows on the edges of the bridge and weeds look down from the jagged ends.

Instead of rebuilding this bridge, the government has built a whole new road, which twists down the steep banks, runs across a new, lower cement span, and then winds back up, to join the road on the other side.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

24 January 1956

What’s this? Only five thirty? Will wonders never cease. I can’t give you too accurate a description of the day’s events because it isn’t over yet. About an hour ago, after eating supper, I decided to go to the movie, & went to the compartment to change from dungarees to blues. When I got back, the office was dark & locked. The OOD was standing by wanting to get the evening meal evaluation chit. He’d been there for some time, waiting for someone with a key, I don’t have one, & had to run all over the ship looking for Coutre or Nick, or one of the MAAs.
Nick & Cou had gone to the movies—the MAA with the key was nowhere around. The OOD glanced impatiently at his watch; he shifted his weight from one foot to the other; he paced back & forth. And all the while his face was slowly going through a Dorian Grey-ish transition. At long last he left, the rumble of his parting echoed through the mess decks, though not a word was said.

Soon the missing MAA showed up with the key, & I grabbed the chit & hurried to the quarterdeck, where I presented it to the OOD with apologies for having him wait. He took it & said: "You’ll have to wait." I didn’t. I came below to the office & called the Bos’un Mate of the Watch & told him that if ever the OOD signed it, to call us.

After finishing the paragraph before the one above, the door opened & the OOD himself appeared with the chit, signed. And his comments were favorable. Oh, well, it all goes to prove something, but I’m not sure just what.

A beautiful night—a steady, not at all unpleasant rain that wraps the whole world in a grey mist. Far off, on the calm grey sea, a liberty boat rode motionless & silent, with two black figures standing, one on the bow & the other on the stern, as though carved out of coal. It reminded me of Charon & his boat on the river Styx. If I were capable of walking on water, I’d like nothing better then going for a long, long walk.

You know, sometimes I get that way—especially when we’re out at sea; the waves are as large as small hills & capped with white. I wish they would solidify, just as they are, & that I were the only person in the world, & could walk for years in the valleys & on the hills.

Today’s scuttlebutt—one which is probably true, for a change—we are not going to Algiers because of the unrest there; instead we’ll be going to Valencia, Spain, which ought to be very nice.

Tomorrow is the day of the tour, so let’s hope it is a nice day. Down to my last roll of film, so picture taking will have to be curtailed for a while. When I first joined the ranks of the "black shoe" navy, I began saving crisp new one dollar bills—the object being that saving fifty cent pieces wasn’t getting me very far, & that $1 bills were nicer. I hoped to wave the accumulated stack in Dad’s face & say: "See, I can save money." At one time there were sixty-five of them—all crisp & crinkly & neat. Right now there are 47, & the pile is dwindling rapidly. I’ve decided to save crisp new twenties, which will be much harder but more valuable in the long run.
Therefore it is my plan to draw my pay only every three paydays, leaving the rest on the books. With much care & less spending on my part, it might be possible. But, knowing me as I do, it is also highly improbable.

A group of 150 orphans came aboard today—little boys & little girls with scrubbed faces & pink cheeks, wearing white smocks, the older girls wearing red-& black close-knit plaid dresses, long black stockings, & old maid shoes. There are so many orphans in Europe…

I remember one little girl at Christmas, crying as if her heart would break because she got a teddy bear instead of one of the hundred identical dolls the other girls had gotten.

It is rumored that the library has gotten some new magazines—the others are from about mid-December. I’ve got to go & see. Excuse me….


Dear Folks—just got four letters from home—among them the pictures. I couldn’t have enjoyed them more—of course, I got violently homesick. Oh, well. You don’t know how wonderful it was to see home again, after over a year—you come home to it every night.

Been showing them to everyone. Wish either I were there or you were here.

Bye now

Love Roge

P.S. They made good time—only 5 days!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

23 January 1956

Anchored still, or rather rooted, off Augusta Sicily—the stench from the town, if indeed that backed-up-sewer aroma can come out this far, is gone for the moment: maybe the wind is in the right direction

Sometimes I think the Commissary Office should be renamed—it is used as a Crew’s Lounge & After Scullery. The cooks flock in at all hours, mostly after seven at night & before seven in the morning. They come armed to the teeth with coffee cups (which they slosh all over & then leave where they set them) & cigarettes (whose ashes cover the floor to a depth of an inch & a half at times). Also, officers inspecting the meals bring their trays in here & eat in the comparative seclusion of the office rather than mingle with the rabble on the mess decks. When they have finished, they get up & leave, & the trays remain behind. I am not now & never have been, nor never hope to be, a steward’s mate; I do not enjoy running dirty trays & cups back to the scullery after each tide of cooks & officers. I do not appreciate being chosen to run & get the Chief & Coutre a cup of coffee ten times a day—neither one of them are pregnant or physically incapacitated that I can see. But they are a Chief Petty Officer & a Second Class Petty Officer, respectively, a fact by which I cannot be duly awed.

I never knew how aggravating "I" can become until listening to Mordeno for a while. He is the First Class Cook in charge of the bakery, & as I’ve mentioned before, is never without a cigarette & coffee cup. He has a little pot belly & a baby face (an old baby), & he spends far more time in the Commissary Office than he does in the Bake shop. This weekend he had the "duty chief" watch, & was in the office more than ever, with his feet propped up on Mr. Clower’s desk & his nose stuck in a pocket western. Whenever the phone would ring, the conversation would go something like this:

"Commissary Office; Mordeno speaking, sir.---Yessir, I have.---Well, sir, I think I can have the men in one of my galleys arrange it.---Yes, sir, I sent two gallon jugs of coffee & one hundred & fifty cups to the beach guard.---Yes, sir, I’ll see to it immediately. Yes, sir, I’ll have it all ready for you—twenty-five men, you say? Well, sir, you send them down & I’ll see that they get fed."
Or--& this is the one I really enjoyed:

"Commissary Office, Mordeno speaking, sir. Yes, sir—just a minute sir.---Hey, Margason, you got a mess cook by the name of Andrews down here?" I say yes, we do.

"Yes, sir," says Mordeno, "I have a man by that name…." And he doesn’t have a damn thing to do with mess cooks

The crowning glory came one day when Coutre went into the galley to get a roll for breakfast.
The mess cook didn’t know him & wasn’t sure if he should give him one. Enter Mordeno from the direction of the Bake shop, coffee cup in hand, to take over the situation. "That’s all right; give him one—he works for me." Thank God the roll wasn’t jelly filled, or Mordeno would have looked awfully silly wiping strawberry preserves off his face.

Oh, yes—latest scuttlebutt, hot off the flight deck. This one was caused by the sudden presence aboard of twelve civilian yard workers from the States. It seems that we are going back to the States this Friday!!! We somewhere along the line developed a twisted keel, which puts the flight deck slightly out of line & therefore is responsible for all the accidents we’ve been having.
Unfortunately, they’re only here to get measurements for our new canted deck (strike Rumor No. #74 regarding "Canted Deck, Our Not Getting")

It would appear that there is basis for the twisted keel theory, since we never have been the same since the two kamikazes hit in 1945 The ship, when towed from the Pacific all the way to the east coast for repairs (her bilge pumps going all the while) had a fifteen degree list to starboard. One of her four screws to this day does not function properly, & when sitting dead still in calm water we still have a slight list to starboard!

Friday, October 27, 2006

22 January 1956
Sealed at 9:13 p.m.

Dear Folks

Had a mail call today, which is somewhat surprising in itself, & got letters from you (1), Lirf, Harry, & Effie (the enclosure). I was happy to hear from everyone, especially Effie. I was also very surprised to hear that she had quit school—her sister has only a few months to live. She ‘s getting married June 16, the day before we get back to the States.

We’ve anchored a good distance off Sicily—Augusta is just a cluster of Communist-filled homes. I think we’re out this far so we could make a fast getaway if necessary; also to discourage ardent Communists from swimming out to us with a load of explosives & sending us to the bottom of Augusta Bay. I wouldn’t put it past them. I haven’t gone ashore & have no intentions of it until the tour Wed. Everyone who’s been over say it isn’t worth the boat ride to get there. Only a few paved streets; millions of little children & so dirty we can almost smell it clear our here.

Mt. Etna is sulking & won’t even put on one little eruption for is—there are quite a few mountains around & I haven’t been able to figure out yet just which one is Mt. Etna.

I’m almost completely out of stamps, & some brownies would sure taste powerful good (Subtle Hint Department—Method 4371).

Slowly but surely I’m developing a case of writer’s cramp, this being the fourth letter I’ve written tonite.

A mere 203 days, & the Navy will be losing one of her most loyal children. She’ll also be losing me.

With your kind permission, I will now end this fascinating epistle. Someone in the theater once said "always leave them wanting more." I must learn to do that some day.



Thursday, October 26, 2006

20 January 1956

I’d just finished typing page 7 of my Paris adventure, & laid it carefully aside when the ship’s intercom announced: "The ship is now passing an active volcano." I jumped out of my chair, grabbed my hat, & joined the stampede to the hangar deck.

The night was the black it can get only at sea. Far off, & ahead of us, were the lights of our escort. And directly in the center of my hangar bay "window", two fingers of blood clawed their way down a mountain. The colors of the fire & the night complemented each other, & blended near the base, where the lava ran into the sea or spread out onto the land. I wondered whether it always acted like that or if it were a special eruption, just for us.

I ran below for dad’s binoculars, which I said I’d never use, but one doesn’t see a volcano every night. By the time I got back topside, we’d moved so that we no longer looked at the volcano straight on, but had passed around to the side, & were looking at the lava almost profile, so it appeared as thin ribbons. The glasses are so powerful that, at that distance, it was difficult to hold them still. The dark outline of the volcano loomed surprisingly larger than it had first appeared. Through the glasses, the molten rock winked & glowed, like hot coals. This was Stromboli, it & Etna being the only active volcanoes in this part of the world. Yesterday I said Etna was the only one; but I wouldn’t care to walk barefoot over Stromboli!

Steidinger, one of the cooks, came running in earlier & whispered: "You guys heard the latest dope?" We all said no, & leaned forward in our chairs. "We’re pullin’ in to Honolulu for conversion into five seagoing tugs! Either that or they ‘re going to cut everything off above the hangar deck & make us a troop ship."

The chief informed us this morning that we were going to New York for our yard period, instead of Portsmouth. God, would that be marvelous. He also said we are not going to get a canted deck after all—the Bennington just came out of the yards with her new canted deck only to find out that the added weight slowed her down so much she couldn’t get enough speed to retrieve aircraft when there is no wind.

Oh, to spend three months in New York! But, I’ll believe it when I see it. Taps almost, so excuse me for now….

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Replenishing at sea, January 1956. Photo courtesy of Dale Royston, V-1 Div. Posted by Picasa
19 January 1956

A very busy day—not for me necessarily; all I did was walk around & take pictures—but for the U.S.S. Ticonderoga (CVA-14). Starting at one o’clock this afternoon, we’ve had at least four ships pull up beside us—at one time there were two alongside at the same time. First came the stores ship Hyades, bringing us 116 tons of food. She had a hard time, for while she was sending us things, a destroyer pulled up on her other side, & she replenished it, too. It was fascinating to watch—I went way up to the 0-7 level (the seventh deck above the flight deck, in the island), & took two rolls of film on the whole process.

It was really a sight to remember—the huge carrier towering over the supply ship (which was no bathtub toy by itself), & on the other side of it the sleek, almost tiny destroyer, cutting a clean wake through the blue-green water.

Nothing was lost over the side or between-ships transfer, though the way some of those slings & nets were loaded & frayed, it’s a miracle. Some guy was carrying a case of tomatoes (canned) & threw them to the next one in line (storing & stacking is done on the old bucket-brigade principle), who didn’t catch it, & it dropped on the deck. An officer standing nearby proceeded to give the guy who’d thrown it a ten minute lecture on the necessity for the careful handling of food. He never quite finished, for at that moment a sling came swinging over from the Hyades, smacked into the side of the Ti, & spilled fifty cases of assorted canned goods all over the sponson deck. The officer shook his head & walked away.

Directly behind us, waiting for the Hyades to move off, was the Mercury, bringing small stores & other gear. Scattered around were oilers, tankers, destroyers, & other supply ships; and far off on the horizon, the Lake Champlain circled with her entourage of destroyers.

In one of dad’s latest letters, he cautioned me against going inland in any country hostile toward the U.S. Our next port is Augusta, Sicily, which I wouldn’t call exactly hostile—except that we must be back to the ship by sundown, & no one is permitted outside a certain area alone. They are having a tour to Catania & Syracuse, which I want very much to see, as it crops up in mythology & ancient history quite often. Here, beneath Mt. Etna (the only active volcano in the Med) lie the Titans, placed there by the Gods when the former were defeated by the Gods in a war to see who was more powerful. Their thrashing & moans cause the earthquakes & eruptions that plague the land.

I only have two money-spending ventures in mind for the remainder of the trip—one of them is going to Rome.

While talking with Nick the other day, I recalled a saying I’d heard a long, long time ago:
"He who knows not & knows not he knows not, he is a fool—shun him. He who knows not, & knows he knows not, he is ignorant—teach him. He who knows, & knows he knows, he is wise—follow him."

I enjoy digging up things from the back of my mind, as I do rummaging through my drawers & books at home, or walking down the corridors of a museum & hearing my footsteps echoing from the stone faces.

Coutre says for me to say hello to mother—everyone in the office likes her by proxy. I wish she’d send some more brownies. Which brings me once again to a favorite topic—I’m hungry. No, I guess I’m really not; eating to me is like smoking to others—I do it when there’s nothing else to do. You’d think I’d put on weight—but no.

I really have got to finish writing about Paris. I have five typewritten pages & haven’t even started—I’m telling you everything that happened. Well, onward….

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

18 Jan. 1956

Dear Folks

Received your letters of the 9th & 12th, & must say that for sending them air mail, I’d hate to see how long it would take by regular mail. In one was the license application, requesting notarization. Unfortunately, Notary Publics in the Mediterranean are amazingly few & far between. When does it have to be in?

Please, both of you—I get out August 12, not 16—let’s not make it any worse than it already is. Speaking of getting out, Lief should be any time now. With luck, he should be just about even with me in school by the time I get out—much as I hate him, I wish we could go to the same school. I’ll have to send a letter to Northwestern; also to Northern, & maybe one to the U. of Missouri, which has an excellent journalism school.

Lost two planes & pilots yesterday; one during the day, & one at night. The first one came in too low & was given a wave-off—he put on full power but his tail hook caught on one of the arresting wires & pulled his whole tail off. He went sliding over the deck, his fuel tanks burst & spreading flaming gasoline over everything, setting fire to the flight deck, the number two elevator, & burning several men in the catwalks & on the hangar deck—the plane itself went right on over the side—we didn’t even slow down.

That night, two planes were hooked to the catapults at the same time—one had on full power, ready to be launched, while the other, on the opposite catapult, had only quarter power, waiting for the first. When the director gave the signal, the two catapult operators threw their switches & both planes were shot off at the same time. The one with full power made it—the other had only enough time to pull up his wheels before hitting the water. A destroyer came up immediately, while the plane was still afloat, but the pilot was gone.

Father, you are now the possessor of a very fine & very powerful set of 8x30 Hensholt binoculars—Merry Xmas. I had planned on ordering them through the ship’s store, but while buying film for my camera saw they had a pair someone had ordered before & never picked up. Should I take a chance & mail them home, or keep them till I get there? I’d like to use them myself, but won’t, thus insuring that nothing will happen to them.

In case you didn’t notice or couldn’t translate the note on the last envelope, I said "Can use more stamps" & can—all sizes, but mostly 3’s. Got a few today in one of the letters.

Do you know that the Navy will be paying me more per month while I’m in school than it does now? I’ll get $110, whereas now I’m only getting $100.

Received my income tax withholding statement—I earned $1475.56 during the last year, & $140.54 was taken out of my pay. On $1,500, the charge is $154, so I owe them some money. If you haven’t filled out your returns yet let me know & I’ll send you mine so you can have it done, too.

Just think—206 days from today & I’ll be a free man. God, I can’t imagine what I’d do if I had three years to do!

I’d love to have seen the look on John’s face when that girl told him I was on a Mediterranean cruise (& she will—anything to talk to a handsome teacher). I can hear him now: "Well, naturally, I’ve never been to the Mediterranean, but after all, he’s in the Navy! " That’s John—nobody can have anything or have been anywhere or have done anything better than he. He has a positive phobia about it!

More food (178 tons) coming aboard tomorrow, & it’s about time—we’re running short on or out of everything. We ran out of cocoa several weeks ago, so I’ve been drinking nothing but water, & that only occasionally.

Since I can think of nothing more scintillating to say than to ask once again what these white spots are on my fingernails, I’ll close now and do some reading.

Until next time, I am



Monday, October 23, 2006

16 January 1956

This will have to be short, since I can’t wait to get up & take a shower. It is mandatory that we wear blues, but we are never in a port long enough or with facilities for cleaning—this set I have on now has just about "had the course."

The long awaited & long feared inspection party arrived today, & do not appear to have two heads & breathe fire as I was led to believe. Everyone’s been going around for the last two days with the air of Joan of Arc eyeing the stake.

Last night we held a special field day, cleaning & dusting & all, to have everything just so when the inquisitors arrived. I’d been warned by Coutre to get all my personal gear out of the way before they came, so this noon I borrowed a large box from the small stores across the way. I didn’t exactly borrow it—I took it. It was full of junk—papers & pieces of cardboard & other paraphernalia, which I tried stuffing in our two already overloaded wastebaskets. Most of it landed on the floor. I’d been keeping several things in a large coffee tin (50 lb. size) & so proceeded to unload it over my desk & several chairs.

The door opened & Mr. Clower stepped in, saying "This is my office, Commander." Oh, well.

Coutre endeared himself to Mr. Clower while the Commander was asking stock questions about the office spaces. Were they adequate? Mr. Clower nodded yes—his head is built on some sort of lever, I believe. Do we keep certain files? Yes. Is the lighting adequate? Mr. Clower was just on the downward stroke of his nod when Coutre said "Pardon me, Commander, but frankly I don’t think this lighting’s worth a damn!" Oh, the silence. "Well," added Mr. Clower after a pregnant silence, "we’ve got overhead florescents & lamps over the desks—you go into a compartment that doesn’t have florescent lights sometime & you’ll notice the difference." He seems to have won on that response, but lost on a technicality—as far as I know, almost all the compartments have florescent lights. (…No, I’ll take that back, but the sentence is too long to scratch out.)

See, I told you it would be short—the shower calls….



Sunday, October 22, 2006

15 January 1956

I’m hungry—a physical state I find myself in most of the time. Only ate two meals today: brunch & supper, & neither one of them held me for very long. Earlier this afternoon I nibbled on some toast left over from brunch; wish I had some now.

Went to the first movie on the hangar deck. Two gigantic steel electric sliding doors can divide the hangar deck into three sections, in case of emergency—the forward doors are closed most of the way, & in this section movies are held; they can seat up to 1,500 or 2,000. The movie started early, about ten till six, & they had a funny cartoon, for a change.

At six o’clock every evening, they announce "Attention to colors," as the flag is being lowered on the fantail. The movie had just begun when the whistle blew, & 1,000 men stood up, turned around, & stood at attention. It was very impressive. I always get a kick out of mass actions.

Tomorrow we put out to sea again for five days—we also get paid. I think I’ll leave my money on the books until I absolutely have to have it.

Mail call this morning, much to my delight. Got three letters from home—all from Mother. She asked if I’d received the fifteen dollars she sent; I thought I’d thanked her before for it.

I still wonder how Pepys & Boswell did it—they wrote pages & pages, all of it in pattern; containing some of the most elaborate conversations. Unfortunately, when I attempt to write dialogue, everyone talks exactly as I do.

Sitting at Mr. Clower’s desk & just had a terrific struggle with the desk tray I’m now writing on. Is it called a "desk tray"?—Anyway, it’s a part that slides out from over the drawers on the right hand side, used for an arm rest, or putting things while typing, or anything.

You know, this isn’t really a journal—they’re more "thoughts at random"—and they are about as random & disjointed as anyone would care to get.

It frustrates me to think I may not be the genius I think I am. There, now—four I’s in one sentence. That’s nearly a record, isn’t it?

Frankly, Roger, who gives a damn what you do or think. Everyone is much too busy living their own lives—it’s a full time job—to care anything about you.

Ah, now I’m getting bitter again. I think I have definite masochistic tendencies—I enjoy tormenting myself. I’ve always been like that—I’ll make a mistake on the typewriter & it will get me angry, & so I’ll erase very hard & possibly tear the paper or smudge it with the eraser, & then I’ll hit the keys as hard as I can in that slow, maddening "don’t go too fast—the boy is an idiot, you know" fashion & in no time I’ll make another mistake, which will be much worse, since I’m hitting the keys too hard, & I’ll get into a positive rage & rip the paper from the machine, swear vehemently (which always startles Nick), tear it & the carbon paper to shreds, & throw it into the wastebasket or on the floor. Happily, these moments are few & far between.

Eight "I"’s in that one.

That is wrong, you know, telling people your faults—it only draws their attention to them. As Stu Iversen used to say: "Roger, you keep telling us how inferior you are until pretty soon we get to believe it."

See what I mean by masochism?

Well, it wouldn’t do any good to tell anyone how marvelous I am because no one will believe it, least of all me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that today’s sermons on the evils of Margasonism is because, unlike Ching-Chong, my belly is empty. For this supposedly being the mess decks, there is nothing around to eat. Oh, well—my hand grows too weak to hold a pen. Till tomorrow….

Saturday, October 21, 2006

14 January 1955

With two American aircraft carriers, two British, one Yankee battleship, one heavy cruiser, two destroyers & God knows how many English escort ships anchored in & about the bay, Gibraltar’s businessmen must be among the most wealthy in the world. Even at one thirty this afternoon, the town’s narrow streets were crowded with a variety of uniforms—mostly blue.

Civilians were very much in the minority on the streets—most of them working in the shops & stores. Even of the civilian clothes seen, nine-tenths of them were American & British officers—it is not difficult to tell them apart.

Not wishing to cause any international ill-will, I still feel it necessary to say that the British have hideous taste in clothes. Brown—brown tweed, brown wool, brown flannel, brown Butch/golfing caps, brown shoes. Horrible pinstripes, obnoxious sharks-tooth patterns. And all of it seems planned so as to permit not a clash, but a dull thud. The cut of the suits seem to resemble most closely those of the American in 1918. The officers look like something out of Horatio Hornblower in physical make up—leathery, stiff upper-lipped, & very British. The enlisted men, especially the young, have soft white complexions & rosy cheeks; beneath their white caps with black bands proclaiming the name of their ship (HMS Delight; HMS Courage; HMS Pinafore) they look fresh from a doll factory. Their speech is fascinating—I love it, & wonder how we must sound to them.

Occasionally, to break the monotony of so much blue, one sees a British Marine—dressed, oddly enough, in brown wool, with flaming red covers on their bridge caps. And, very rarely, a Scot, with his plaid kilt, with a white tassel hanging from his side, & knee length socks. They are by far the most colorful sight I’ve seen. And, though they must get into countless fights over the fact that they wear "skirts," they are among the most attractive uniforms in the world.

The Ti had anchored out, about a ten minute ride from the pier; almost beside her lay the Lake Champlain, our sister ship. They look very powerful.

Unfortunately, we did not merely window shop. I ran out of money about five, & we came back to the ship. I’m quite happy with my purchases, & won’t describe them here because certain people for whom they are intended might read it.

When I get home, I plan to spread everything out on the living room floor—maybe we can even have a Christmas tree. The one thing I will mention, to soothe curiosity, is three Dutch clay pipes for Grandpa Margason. They’re made in Holland & are quite fragile, but they’re different & I hope he enjoys them. I had planned on getting him one of those long-stemmed varieties, but changed my mind when I saw these—I was almost tempted to take up pipe-smoking myself.

They’re small; one is hand painted & must be held like a cigarette to smoke, since the clay bowl becomes quite hot. The other two have different contrivances (one like a bull’s horns sticking forward from the base of the bowl) by which he can smoke & not burn his hand. No filters, though, something he might not appreciate.

Tomorrow is Sunday—Monday we leave for seven days at sea, & then pull in to Augusta, Sicily.

Tonite is Saturday, & it’s getting very late….

Friday, October 20, 2006

Liberty Launches approaching U.S.S. Ticonderoga. Photo courtesy Dale Royston, V-1 Div. Posted by Picasa
January 10-12, 1956

Dear Folks

Got a total of six letters today—three this afternoon & three this evening. The later three were dated the 3, 4, & 5th. I enjoyed your "sermon," dad. However—you realize I’ve grown up; mother realizes I’ve grown up—but when will I?

Mother was right—I have accumulated a little common sense along the way—the Mighty Ti at the last count had roughly 197 men on the "sick" list. I have no intentions of joining the happy throng. ‘Nuff said?

Anchored about two miles off Palma, & I’ll go ashore tomorrow. Stayed up till three this morning on this inventory—looks like we’ll be at it tonite too.

I’ve been missing flying like mad—think I’ll try buying an airplane & flying home—I think that would be a good idea. Start pricing pontoon planes, dad—we can fly up to the lakes every weekend.

Nine thirty already & no end in sight.

Two days later & it’s over. Up till three-thirty that morning too. Started to rewrite it because I could hardly read this one.

Left Palma this morning—I went ashore yesterday & had a fine time, all on five dollars. As I’d feared, we were anchored the farthest out of the eight American warships in the harbor. The ride in took twenty minutes & was the roughest I’ve ever seen. The liberty launch (forty feet long with almost 100 guys in it) bobbed around like a cork.

Palma is a nice town, much cleaner than Naples—& nobody is dragging at your arm & following you around the streets. Happily, all the inhabitants speak Spanish, though they have their own dialect they use at home. My Spanish is sufficient enough to get me into a conversation, but not enough to get me out. They all seem pleasantly surprised to find that someone speaks Spanish.

Went to a Spanish movie later in the evening, but they spoke too fast for me—I could get the general ideas but not the details.

Earlier in the day, after walking around & finding all the stores closed (they close from 1 till 4 every day), I took a trolley to a real Hollywood-type castle. The trolleys look like the Tooner Trolley’s they used to have in the funnies—small, orange, big glass windows, & seating 18, they’re almost comical. The castle sits high on a hill, overlooking the entire bay & city, & the mountains behind—an ideal place for a castle. Built in a circle, it is surrounded by an amazingly deep moat—ten feet of water would be sufficient to drown anyone, but these were at least thirty. A huge round tower, topped with battlements, stands in the moat & is connected to the main part of the castle by a high arched passageway. No one could possibly have gotten in—or, for that matter, out.

Three stories high, the rooms radiated off a central round patio. All the rooms were, therefore, shaped like slices of angel food cake. They were all quite large &, even though it was a castle & therefore probably exceedingly hard to heat, comfortable. In the center of the patio, surrounded by statuary—mostly Roman, was a well, which no doubt supplied water during sieges. I even saw two bathrooms (something that has always intrigued me whenever I saw a knights-in-armor movie). They were both in the tower mentioned previously, & must have been rather inconvenient, especially during winter & battles, as it is accessible only over the roof & across the connecting bridge.

I climbed to the very top of the tower, up stairs worn down in the center by countless knights, ladies-in-waiting, & tourists. The view was magnificent—a pompous word but the only one at hand to describe it—behind the green hills rolled themselves into mountains, which ran, jagged & increasingly grey, into the horizon. Beneath, in front, & far below, the city lay by the sea; & on its shimmering blue-grey sat eight tiny ships. The wind blew, as it always does on high places, & I walked to the edge of the tower—around which was a lattice of stone; no guard rail—I looked down, down, down into the moat so far below, & I felt frightened, as everyone does when they realize how much nothing there is between them & death, & backed away.

I said the castle sat atop a hill. Well, it did—a small mountain would be more like it. The trolley stops about half-way up. Streets go up a little further, & then they end—from here steps go up a distance more & end at a chapel looking down on the city & up on the castle. From there out, it is sheer mountain-goat territory. A car road does go up, but it winds so it is shorter (distance-wise) to go straight up. I doubt that the castle was ever attacked with much strength or success, for the invaders would be so tired from their climb they couldn’t do much fighting.

And so once again we find ourselves at 9:30. So, with your kind permission, I will close now with


Thursday, October 19, 2006

9 January 1956

Eight-thirty already & once again plunging through surveys, inventories, quarterly reports, & short tempers. The captain has been sitting on a small slip of paper which, as you might guess, is absolutely vital in order for the invoices to be put out on time. He’s had it for three days now, during which time Coutre has chewed his fingernails to a nub & swears loudly with increasing gusto that he "wants off this damn, half-assed excuse for a naval vessel." Things will go along smoothly for awhile, & then he’ll turn around & say "I’m going over the hill in Gibraltar. I want off—out!" When he gets angry he glowers & threatens to put everyone on report; when Nick gets mad, or hurt, he pouts. When I get mad (rarely) I throw things—usually only paper. I have so much fun watching that I never bother getting mad.

"Markus," the Chief said today, "you’re too mature. You never enjoy life—when we hit port, you go over, take a few pictures, & come back for supper. I’ll bet you never had a childhood."

"Now wait a minute, Chief," I replied, donning my armor; "for one thing I don’t come back for supper, but if you can tell me anything else to do over here, let me know. I don’t particularly enjoy sitting in some bar & soaking up the atmosphere. I have fun. My major trouble is not that I didn’t have a childhood but that I had too much."

Ah, so…. I rather like that name, with a different spelling (Marcus—or however the Romans spelled it).

Coutre is presently reciting from a list of figures which flows over the chair & onto the deck—Nick is checking them against another list, in an attempt to find a missing $19.51. Mr. Clower is seldom around, & doesn’t seem to care much even when he is.

Tomorrow we anchor in Palma—let’s hope we are not too far out so that it will take an hour to get ashore (plus waiting for the boat). For some reason, the Powers that Be have been carried away with generosity, & extended our liberty until twelve midnight. Previously it expired at eleven-thirty. Bought five dollars worth of Spanish money—which has the lowest exchange rate I’ve thus far encountered in Europe—43 to the dollar. (Compared to 350 Francs & 625 Lire).

Their money is issued from the Bank of Spain though, as I’ve mentioned, their language is not Spanish. Like all European money, it has a watermark—though the bills are smaller than usual, they’re elaborate in a superficial way, & printed on the same paper as all European currency.

Their predominate colors are blackish-green & winter brown—the face being one color, the back the other.

Sitting here gorging myself on Fruit Cake which North, one of the bakers, brought up from a storeroom where it has been since Christmas—we didn’t make them ourselves but had them bought & shipped to us.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

8 January 1956

Our second day at anchorage of Majorca, which looked no more inviting today than it had yesterday. Sprinkled around the bay, like leaves over a pond, is half the United States Mediterranean Fleet from the battleship Iowa on down to a tiny submarine. It’s probably the same one as we saw off Sardinia—we only have two submarines in the entire Mediterranean.

Got a lot accomplished today, in a small way. Finished the Greek mythology & entered Egyptian; studied some for the rate test coming up in February sometime, & rewrote & typed some of my Paris trip, which Nick glanced at & found very dull. Maybe he’s right.

See by a plan of the day for tomorrow, which Conrad just brought in, that we’re replenishing from an ammunition ship tomorrow. Photographing the replenishment is "verboten."

Two hundred & seventeen days to go. Does that sound boring to you, reading it page after page? You should try living two hundred & seventeen days—there is much difference.

The paper lies blank before me—to you it is filled with words. With each word you’re seeing my present, my past, & my future. You are seeing something right now I cannot see—a full page of words. I will not be able to see it until it ceases to become my future & becomes my past.

There are always people in the world who bemoan the past, curse the present, & fear the future. They cry out that the world will surely end within a matter of a few years; that Man will destroy himself & bring a horribly & bloody climax to everyone & everything.

But I believe in tomorrow. I’ve had many of them & hope to have many more. My tomorrows have come & gone—I live, hope, & die. So shall you. Never fear tomorrow. If you expect it, it cannot startle you. Tomorrow never jumps out from behind a bush & says "boo." We ride smoothly from yesterday into tomorrow on the eternal crest of today.

Ah, enough philosophizing for today—on to lighter (& we hope clearer) subjects.

In the library today I stumbled over a copy of Boswell & leafed through it. How did the man possibly find time to write all that, & still find time to do the things he wrote about? He must have had a phenomenal memory, to be able to record those conversations. Well, perhaps days were much longer in Boswell’s time.

What do white spots on your fingernails indicate? I have a good sized patch in the shape of a clown’s mouth on the second finger of my left hand. It’s pure white, & I wish it would either go away or have all my nails turn that color.

Tomorrow starts another week of menus, mess cooks & mayhem. The gang just stormed in from the movie, half blue with cold. Ah, the balmy Mediterranean.

Chief Sewell, who is a real character, refers to me alternately as Markus & "Father Kelly." He says I’m too good to the mess cooks when they come in to ask questions. I keep telling him I don’t like to give anyone a hard time, because I don’t like for anyone to give me one. On the Ticonderoga, it is a rare thing indeed to ask a civil question & get a civil answer. Nick calls me "Boy Wonder-Champion of the People-Guardian of the Fundamental Rights."

Oh, well, you can’t win all the time----(but I sure like to try; just once)….

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Flight Deck, U.S.S. Ticonderoga CVA-14. Photo courtesy of Dale Royston, V-1 Div. Posted by Picasa
7 January 1956

Walking through cold, metal passageways—from an open hatch leading to a compartment comes the sad soft voice of an accordion. Into another compartment, past tiers of racks, guys standing around in skivvie shorts & heavy sweat shirts. Down through a hatch to the mess decks & a long line of guys waiting to buy lemon sherbet & strawberry topping at the gedunk. Into the office, down at Mr. Clower’s desk, & up with the pen.

Someone fixed the office door today—it’s been badly sprung for almost two months now; seems strange not to have to batter your way out.

On the mess decks the night mess cook crew is busy buffing. All the tables & benches are folded & stacked in racks along the bulkhead, leaving the halls clear. One guy goes along with a pan of soap, sowing it over the floor like Hannah the Chicken Girl. This makes the floor (deck) look like it’s snowed, & is quite pretty, if you have a vivid imagination & aren’t too particular. It also makes everyone sneeze. After the soap has been spread liberally over the deck & anyone in the way, another mess cook comes along with a pitcher of water, which he sloshes indiscriminately around. These two flower girls are followed by an electric buffer, with steel-wool under the regular brush. This turns the white soap & colorless water into a dirty slush, reminiscent of State & Main on a busy winter afternoon. After all this is done, the whole place is swabbed, & the deck glimmers brightly, almost (but not quite) shined enough to cast a reflection. It lasts about an hour, or until a sufficient number of transients to & from the Gedunk have the opportunity to slosh strawberries & sherbet over everything.

Didn’t go to the movies tonight—I’d seen it once & it hadn’t impressed me as being worthy of seeing again. I get the biggest charge out of these up-to-date "Telenews" sports shorts they show. Not that they’re old or anything, but last night they had an interview with some football coach, & the interviewer asked "Well, Ty, what would you say your team’s prospects are for ’52?" Oh, well….The last two nights’ offerings have been "Madame Curie" (vintage 1940-42) & "Donovan’s Brain" (??). Whenever we’re at sea, movies are held on the mess decks. Try sitting for two hours on a metal deck with three hundred other guys in a space about the size of the front half of our house.

They were in an unusually benevolent mood last night, & showed a cartoon—if you can call it that. It was one of those "join-in-the-singing; just-follow-the-bouncing-ball" things. Though it was fun singing, the cartoon itself was very unfunny. It is amazing what some of these guys will laugh at! But, as I said, it is so rarely we get to see any sort of cartoon, we have to make the best of whatever we get.

Went to the library tonite (for which I had to change from dungarees into blues) just to see if they had a large map of the United States (a mythical country located somewhere between Olympus & Valhalla). I wanted to find a road map, to plot my course home—not that I’m anxious or anything. Naturally, they didn’t have one.

On thinking it over, I have come to the conclusion that this is an extremely unorthodox journal—if it can be called that. For one thing, there are entirely too many "Naturally," "Needless to say," "However," & "Actually"’s to suit any self-respecting English teacher. For another, they should never mention "you"—it should be "one" or something like that. Never in literature or anywhere else have I seen the dash (--) used as a punctuation mark. Perhaps I’ve started something new; if so, I won’t have been a total loss. As for the "you," I’m addressing this to you, whoever you are. Next, "one" does not emphasize words by underlining them—this is just not done. Well, I do.

Nick incurred my wrath this afternoon by telling me I’m getting a bald spot. The idea of getting bald & that of growing old have always been my greatest dreads—ever since I’ve been very (which should be underlined) small.

Anchored today off Majorca, singularly uninviting spot, with crude bare hills & mountains looking like third-class Hollywood scenery. No forest, not many trees; a few houses perched here & there, but we’re too far out to get a close look. The weather is cold & gloomy (naturally—we’re in sight of land.) We anchored at about two this afternoon with absolutely no fanfare.

The entire crew is in a sort of a mechanized lethargy, where nothing either disturbs or excites us, save the frequent rumors of home.

Monday, October 16, 2006

6 January 1955

Dear Folks

I suppose this is what would be called "the morning after the night before," only it should be "the night after the morning before." I was up until three this morning trying to untangle the mess made during the day. Seventy three came in & roughly seventy three went out; the smoke still hasn’t cleared sufficiently to get a really clear view. I signed my initials approximately two hundred & ninety-three times. Oh, well, it was fun, seeing all the happy faces (those checking out). The guys coming in acted, for the most part, as though someone had just offered them a cigarette at a firing squad in their honor.

Bless those wastebaskets! Every day at sea that I’ve had the opportunity to get outside has been beautiful. I’d just as soon we stayed out for months—God knows it’s the only way I’d be able to save money.

Palma is the next stop—on the 10th. Incidentally, the name of the island is Majorca, not Mallorca. There seem to be two of them—the other is called Minorca—I challenge you to figure out which one is largest. Found out also they don’t speak Spanish, but Catalan, whatever that is. Also that they are descendants from the Phoenicians & Carthaginians, as if it really matters.

Since we’ll only be there two days, I probably won’t get bored. Then back to Gibraltar, where they speak that beautiful language, English. Oh, how good it will be to walk down the street & actually understand what half the people are saying—the other half are Spanish, & if they carry on conversations concerning "big buildings" & "see the green tree" I might be able to understand them, too. Still have ten shillings in my wallet left over from last time.

Did a little office re-arranging this afternoon—Nick moved his desk away from the door (people are always running in & out bothering him), the MAA’s moved their desk to the spot Nick vacated, & Cou moved to where they’d been. I stayed where I was.

Zone inspection today. Since I’d been up till three, I didn’t come down till ten; Nick was just starting to hold field day. So he took one side & I took the other—we scrubbed, dusted, & straightened until the office looked spotless (which is very rare). Unfortunately, neither of us had bothered with the middle. Commander Custer (our Supply Officer) came steaming in, walked directly to the liberty card box—which is in dead center of the rear wall (bulkhead)—ran his fingers over the top, & came away looking like something from a minstrel show. He was not pleased.

This morning when I got up, all the heads were secured for field day, so I couldn’t wash. I’d certainly hate to have diarrhea on this ship, especially on Friday morning. Later, when I did go to wash, I was standing next to a gear locker when someone opened it, dropping a formidable sized piece of lead pipe on my foot. Nothing was broken, or you would have heard about it much sooner than this.

At the moment I have a strong hunger for waffles—earlier today it was popcorn. I’ve completely forgotten how milk tastes.

Oh how I wish we were back in the States. I think the biggest problem Man will have to face when he reaches for the stars will be homesickness. It affects even the most independent—to be placed in unfamiliar surroundings & situations. It’s bad enough just 3,000 miles from home—where there are at least some similarities. Imagine being millions of miles away, where your home is just a twinkle in the night sky.

Well, the shower calls—I feel filthy.



P.S. The two stains on the upper corner of the first page are peanut butter. I had to settle for that.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

3 January 1956

At sea again & a beautiful day, as most of our days at sea are. The sky has just enough clouds to make it interesting, & the sun made it the kind of warm one expects of the Mediterranean-—but I've been too thoroughly disillusioned to be fooled.

I would have liked to spend a lot more time "outside," but we’re so busy in the office I had to dump my wastebaskets & return. Spent most of the afternoon & evening drawing lines on ledger cards—a job even an imbecile would grow bored at. Damn—the ship is shaking so badly I can scarcely write! It gets carried away like that every so often.

All I’ve been thinking of all day is getting out—I have it all in my mind’s eye; I’ll have less than two months to do when we get back to the States—mom &/or dad will fly out to Norfolk on the 11th, & we’ll leave for home on the 12th, or soon thereafter, taking from three to five days to get there (we drove the 800 miles from Pensacola to Norfolk in three days, traveling only from 10 in the morning till eight at night). I’ll spend all my time buying clothes & getting ready for college; sit in front of the TV set & swap sea stories with Lirf—oh, stop!

Had a most interesting dream last night—all my dreams seem to have plots & are very detailed—I can’t recall whether I dream in color or not, but I think so. Anyway, I was in Shanghai on an American ship during the Japanese invasion. Something happened to the ship & I found myself in a longboat—a powered liberty launch. We decided to try to head inland rather than face the Japanese fleet in the harbor. I was sitting up forward & was terrified that Jap troops along the shore would open fire—I kept expecting to feel a bullet in my back any moment. The next scene (I change scenes frequently without losing the main thought) we were much further up the river, plowing through a bunch of floating debris & branches—I remember watching the boat’s wake washing over them, & the branches riding the waves. To my right was a fallen bridge, a large section of rusty metal jutting from the water. In the next scene we were on shore, near a two-story American-type white frame house, with outside stairs leading to the second floor. On the porch railing was a hand-winding air raid siren, & a Chinese man standing by it, watching the sky. An American woman & her two young sons lived in the house, & wanted to go with us as we fled inland Suddenly (I was now detached & acting merely as a spectator) a plane dived out of the sky. The woman ran from the house, pushing one son ahead & pulling the other, when a bomb exploded directly behind her—I saw her outline in the doorway for an instant & then she & it were gone. I remember thinking with little or no emotion that now we had a young boy (the one who’d gone ahead) on our hands. End.

Not exactly Hollywood, but what do you want on the spur of the moment?

Mom asked me in a recent letter how the food was over here. Well, I really don’t know—in hotel restaurants & on tours, it consists always & everywhere of spaghetti; followed by veal (sliced), a few potatoes (quartered & semi-French fried), & spinach; cheese, & fruit. When I’m by myself I get only Pizza—which is fairly good, but not all decorated like American—just cheese & tomato. And always white wine—which is only a few steps below vinegar on the fermentation scale. I haven’t had a drink of milk since we left the States.

New Year’s Day Nick, I, & two of the other guys decided to go to Pompeii by taxi. It turned out that Pompeii is closed only two days a year—Christmas & New Years. So we went into New Pompeii & visited the Cathedral—the second Cathedral of Italy in importance. It was very pretty—especially the different marble columns around the altar. Some of the large supporting columns are covered in pure gold leaf—over the altar is a fresco of the Virgin Mary, embossed with a diamond necklace—actually, her whole body from the waist up is studded with them, worth a paltry 2000,000,00 Lire (about $300,000—give or take $100,000). I was impressed….

Saturday, October 14, 2006

2 January 1956

I hereby tender my humblest apologies for not having written yesterday, but it being a holiday & all, I hope you’ll excuse me—besides, from just reading one page after another, it is impossible (unless you put it down & come back to it later) to denote the passage of time.

Can you tender an apology? Tendering a resignation is proper, but an apology? And is that the proper way to spell tender—or should it be tendre? A dictionary is only a few steps away, but I’ll let you figure it out.

Since yesterday was New Year’s & Sunday as well, holiday routine was observed by the entire ship—all but the Commissary department, that is—I sat at my little typewriter all day, botching up next week’s menus; a job I m cultivating a beautiful distaste for.

Think I’ll use this as sort of a dustpan, picking up some little scraps I’d meant to include in other entries & forgotten. For one thing, there was the public drinking fountain in Pompeii. It looked something like a horse trough—a lion’s head was the main adornment, from which water spouted from its mouth. The marble was worn down into a cup shape on one side of the fountain by countless generations of Pompeiians, as they put their hands there while bending over to drink—one side of the lion’s head was also worn smooth near the mouth, where people’s faces had pressed against it while drinking.

Also I think I neglected to mention the trip up Mt. Vesuvius, made the same day as the one to Pompeii. After leaving Pompeii, during which the sun shone obligingly, we stopped at one of the little villages between there and Naples for dinner. While we ate, clouds drifted in from somewhere like sliding doors, completely hiding the mountain. As we started to leave the restaurant, Niagara Falls suddenly appeared overhead, & the street became a river, down which floated odds & ends of branches, celery stalks, & torn bits of paper.

Our guide insisted, with the fervor only Italians have (fortunately) that we couldn’t possibly go up Mt. Vesuvius—that we could see instead Little Vesuvius, an obscure mountain, or hill, that still had a little steaming lava in it. We took a vote, which came out 53 to 2 (the guides) in favor of Vesuvius. We tried pointing out that, if it were raining on big Vesuvius it would most likely be raining on little Vesuvius, too, & we would rather see nothing on the former than on the latter. So, amid a vivid splash of Italian from the guides, we ran to the busses—it was still raining a little--& away we went.

The rain gave way to fog, which turned into clouds as we got higher. We couldn’t see more than fifty feet in any direction, but could make out the road, which twisted & wound, & was directly above & directly below. At first, near the base, there were many farms, & a small village where the driver stopped for cigarettes. About ten people, mostly men & young boys, stood around in front of the "store" staring at us. One of the younger boys smiled & waved, & was immediately shushed & scolded by one of the older men. From then on till we pulled out they just stared at us & we stared back. I think they were a bunch of dirty Communists. (NOTE: Anyone who doesn’t like Americans is a "dirty Communist.")

Higher up the farms grow more scarce, & the road becomes more torturous. Now the lava can be seen—great walls of it—fantastic shapes—looking like cake batter. Small caves appeared where the lava had apparently splashed over the rocks beneath, trapping a bubble of air or gas. Mounds, ridges, bubbles, swirls; all imaginable shapes. I saw a farmhouse, made of stone, with its roof & two walls gone, cut in half by a rivulet of lava.

Up & up—patches of snow appear; the fog closes in—the bus creeps along, its motor grinding.
At last the bus comes to a comparatively wide flat area & stops. Snow, or hail, is on the ground, looking like large grains of salt. Hugging the mountain is a yellowish-white building. Our guide tells us that this is as far as the road goes—from the building a chair lift rises to the summit—but of course we don’t want to go up today. We do. On the first floor of the building is a bar, where some of the Chiefs decide to stay. Some of the guys hadn’t brought coats, & now regret it—it’s cold. From the second story, the chair lift starts. It’s a damp cold room, open at one end, which faces a sheer lava wall.

The chairs seat two—look something like the kiddie swings in public parks. You sit in, & a man pushes the chair, suspended by a single rod to a wire overhead, to a point where it somehow grabs hold of the moving wire---you look like you’re heading straight for the wall. Then, just before you hit it, you’re whisked almost straight up (actually, about at a 45 degree angle). And there you are. The fog—or clouds—act as a huge, damp blanket. There is absolutely no sound, except for the occasional whir as a chair passes going down, or a click as your chair passes one of the supporting towers for the wires, which loom like ghosts out of the mists & disappear as silently as they’d come. Your left side is covered with a sugar-like mist, which clings to your clothes & looks very pretty. Below you, about ten or twenty feet, is the mountain—snow coated ever so lightly—stark, bare, a few parallel tracks that puzzle you—what can they be? No car can go so steep—no skis, certainly. And then the chair whips into a smaller version of the building below. You get out, walk up a flight of stairs, over a ramp that looks down to the mountain behind the building, & onto the mountain itself.

It’s a weird, eerie, & beautiful sight—a long, winding line of figures, moving in solid white. On the right, the mountain drops away not sharply, but at such an angle that you’d roll a good distance if you slipped. The wind becomes cold & very violent; the snow is granular like below, only larger. It is mixed with the red of the ash. And then the summit—the mouth of the crater—the only way you can tell is because now the mountain falls away on both sides.

Large chunks of lava lie scattered about as we weave our way down—as we get below the rim of the crater, the wind no longer blows—it is a misty, silent fantasy. Grey. We go down as far as we can, until the slope ends & all there is is a sheer drop into nothing; the grey above meets the grey below. And you feel proud, awed, & very humble….

Friday, October 13, 2006

31 December 1955
9 p.m.

Dear Folks

No mail in almost a week—what’s wrong? Every day I look for it, thinking it’ll be sure to catch up, but it doesn’t. Oddly enough, I keep thinking "Grandpa Fearn’s dead & they’re waiting till after the funeral." Don’t mean to be morbid & God forbid anything happening to Grandpa for at least fifty years. But you should write more often & let me know what’s going on.

Tonite is New Year’s Eve &, like Christmas, is just another day. There was a time—I especially remember 1944 when each year going out seemed like a major tragedy—I waited up (you’d gone to the Moose Club) & watched the year going, & wished & wished it would stay; 1945 sounded alien & unbelievable, where 1944 was old & familiar. And here it is 1955-56—the changing of a number—a new set of calendars, and a year older—nothing more. I may not even stay up to see the New Year in.

Please tell me all about Christmas, & what everybody got, & what you did Christmas Eve. And if Dad didn’t stay home all day Christmas day, I’ll be mighty displeased with him. Of course, neither of you will say, but I’ll find out when I get home (225 days!)

Have you made that picture appointment yet? I’d like both of you in it, if it can be arranged--& don’t be satisfied with the first shot they hand you if you don’t like it, have them take several so you’ll have a choice.

If it’s halfway decent tomorrow, Nick & I & a couple of the other guys are going to Pompeii—by cab. It’ll be cheaper in the long run & we can spend more time there. I like Pompeii, dead as it is, a thousand times better than Naples, Genoa, or Cannes. I’ll hold judgment on Gibraltar, & won’t include Paris, since there is only one Paris.

I’m feeling fine—my cold is still hanging on by its fingernails. Someone stole my flat-hat (my little blue bonnet) & I’ll have to wait till Wed. to buy another.

I’ve been given my own little calculator (borrowed from Disbursing) for the duration of inventory; all my very own—to love & to play with & to keep forever & ever. And I just played with it for a while. Oh, what fun! To press the little buttons & hear it hum & sing to itself as it thinks out the answer. Oh, joy! …. EH!

Someone once said a man with an abacus could beat a calculator. I’d like to try, but you would be amazed at how few abacuses (?) we have on board!

Well, tempus fugit, though I wouldn’t know it, not having a watch. By the way, that is not a hint. I’ll get one when I have the money, not until. Anyone who is ass enough to have a watch stolen right off his arm while he’s stone sober deserves to go without for awhile.

More later….WRITE



Thursday, October 12, 2006

30 December 1955

Just returned from what I intend to be my last trip to dear old Naples. The only reason I’d gone over today was to buy a statuette for mother—one I’d seen before & fallen in love with—only to find it had been sold.

Made a rather flying trip through the Naples Museum which, in my humble estimation, is worth all the rest or Naples put together. Here are kept most of the things taken from Pompeii & Herculaneum.

The building itself is unimpressive, of the same heavy, dull construction as the rest of the city. Upon entering, you face a long, high arcade, lined on both sides with posturing Roman noblemen & women, frozen forever in marble. At the far end, a stairway climbs upward—halting before a huge torso of Jupiter, then dividing & going up around on either side.

The corridors of the museum may as well have been the halls of time, & as I walked, I saw them all; the gods & the men. Caligula, mad Emperor & ancestor of an even more mad Emperor, Nero. Octavious Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor; Tiberius, basically a good ruler, who passed the Empire to Caligula, his nephew, upon his death; Marcellus, whom Caligula had put to death as Christianity began to seep into the world; Claudius—"stupid" club-footed Uncle Claudius, who was neither & became Emperor after Caligula’s inevitable assassination. They stand in dark bronze, staring at one another across a narrow corridor; all but Caligula, who sits astride a full size horse in the great hall directly across from his contemporaries, relatives, & ancestors.

While the men are in bronze, the Gods are mostly in marble—Diana, Juno, Mercury, Bacchus, Jupiter, Apollo; all in cold smooth perfection.

These are the monuments & statues that adorned the streets, homes & temples of two cities that died long ago so that the future could benefit by their deaths.

One thing I noticed on the bronze statues & busts—most of them had gaping holes where the eyes were. I wondered about this until a guard explained that the eyes had been silver, & placed in the heads. He then showed me some with the eyes still in them—I prefer them eyeless. With the light eyes staring from lashless lids & bronze faces, the effect was discomforting, if not downright ugly; they appear fish-eyed & staring.

In smaller rooms off the main statuary halls were fountain ornaments—beautifully done. I wouldn’t have known that was what they were if I hadn’t been told. Two dogs attacking a wild boar; a laughing Bacchus with his mouth upraised to a skin of wine; a coiled serpent; a fisherman on a rock with a pole & a look of amazement on his face. Lamps that lighted houses & gardens, all wrought with a precision that amazes me, & would anyone.

Up the stairs & around Jupiter, through an enormous hall with more modern (Renaissance) paintings & tapestries, to the left, & once again back in Pompeii. Here sections of walls from Pompeiian homes, showing colors less faded in 2,000 years than those in the city outside do in ten. Their walls were murals, depicting everything from landscapes to the lives of prominent ancestors. Almost every one with people having a god in it somewhere. Their gods were very real, having the same temperament & petty jealousies as we mortals—they were above & yet part of the people, mingling with them; not like the older or newer aloof gods, who are divine by remote control.

Next come rooms of goods actually touched & used by the people who honored the men & worshipped the gods—dentists’ tools, including small highly-polished brass mirrors for looking in the patient’s mouth. Cups, plates, silverware, even food, left on tables as those who owned them ran out into the dark streets, or fled in chariots through the clogged city gates.

Toys, trinkets, water vases, sieves, nets, tools, rope, clothing—a real & marvelous Brigadoon, excepting that when it awoke, only a few of its people remained, as still as the gods in the temples.

In one corner are cases with the apparel of the gladiators—steel & therefore more durable than the almost unrecognizable shreds of cloth. The helmets of many various designs—some very elaborate, some like those worn by "knights in armor," who came many, many years after the cheering had died in the amphitheater. Knives still in their scabbards—spear tips; the bloodier aspect of a wondrous era.

But in the next room came the sight that thrilled me most—Pompeii itself, in scale and exact down to the last fallen columns in a small garden. It covers an area of about 50 by 50 feet, & shows even the mosaics on the floors & the paintings (what few there are left) on the walls. I fell head over heels in love with it—a huge, gigantic, wonderful toy. I stared at it for a good twenty minutes until the guard came & told me that museum was closed for the night.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

28 December 1955

As we proceed deeper into invoices, reports, & card catalogues, the temperament of our little group gets progressively worse. Coutre & Nick will be at each other’s throats in a matter of minutes, while I sit—if not aloof then at least aside—& enjoy everything. I’m in one of my prolonged good moods where nothing bothers me too much.

You know, I’ll have a little outline all set up in my mind of what I want to put down, & then some irrelevant little thought will come scooting across my head & completely short-circuit the whole thing.

Coutre, hunting for an elusive $59.31, has just slammed out the door on his way to parts unknown, & Nick’s opinion is that "I don’t much give a damn." They’ve both been working until two every morning, so I guess you really can’t blame them.

Got four new mess cooks in today, which came as a very pleasant surprise. That brings our complement back up to 132, a figure we have not seen for some time now. We’re supposed to have 139 or thereabouts. Tomorrow we’re getting in a new batch, & the 6th of Jan we’re replacing 35 or 40, which always makes for an interesting day.

It seems the object of Coutre’s search was a certain invoice—I like to think of it as our Holy Grail
--- (Signifying passage of time.) And it seems as though there may be a happy ending for our little brood; the $59.31 has been found! Let there be singing & dancing in the streets. The Holy Grail has not been found, but we’re busy making a new one, & all is forgiven between Nick & Cou. Through all this drama, I have played the part of a Christmas tree on the 4th of July, & been as useful.

Our two weeks’ extension has been confirmed. That means (more statistics) we will have been away from home seven & one half months—longer, incidentally, than any carrier has spent over here at any one stretch since the war.

I still keep glancing at my wrist to see what time it is. Oh, well. I have a watch in mind that I’ll get when I get home, but won’t be able to afford till then.

I’m afraid I’m getting a "below-decks" pallor—the two minutes I spent in the sun today almost wilted me, so I hurried back to the soft neon lights in the ships interior.

Well, back to the Paris adventures….

Postcard postmarked "U.S.S. Ticonderoga, CVA 14, Dec.29, l955, 9 a.m. Subject: The Eiffel Tower

Dear Folks,

Well, here I am. The stores are all set up for Xmas, and the weather is to match. Having a good time so far, but so cloudy I didn’t take any pictures (not many, anyway). Tomorrow we go to Versailles. Already spent over 1,000 francs ($5.00).


Note the postmark—I couldn’t find any French stamps to mail it from there.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

27 December 1955

Dear Folks

Since you’re saving my letters & my journal (I hope) this will have to serve as both for today. It is now two days past Christmas—or should I say "past the 25th," & we are at sea off the southern coast of Italy. It is inventory time in the office, when all quarterly returns & bookwork must be brought up to date. Fortunately, I have little to do with this, except for some typing.

I’m sitting at my desk with the little light over it on (the big ceiling lights are out to discourage visitors), staring at a three-gallon stainless steel thermos jug of coffee. The top of it is missing, & the heat is kept in by a manila folder over the opening, with an inkwell on top to hold it tight.

Got a letter today—probably won’t get another till we get back to Naples—in which mom says she’s waiting for my call. I’m sorry it had to be such a short one, but I’m low on money. This is not a hint, & I don’t want you to send me the money. Unless, of course, you have 8,000 Lire handy. Seriously, though, don’t send anything. It was a small enough Christmas present.

Yes, I still want the photo, & as soon as possible. I’ve asked you before, but what did you think of "The Confederacy?" My favorite of all of them is "Furl the Banner"—that is really beautiful, & it epitomizes all lost causes. I used to sing it to myself while I was on solos at Pensacola. Turn on the hi-fi, & listen to the drums in "The Bonnie Blue Flag." I’m crazy about that beat. Tin pan alley has massacred it into "The Bonnie Blue Gal," & it thereby loses most of its charm, at least in the vocal. Read carefully the book part in front. Incidentally, you did get it in 45rpm didn’t you?

Did I tell you the company insuring my car went bankrupt? And they owe me $40!!! Not only did they go bankrupt, but are $1,500,000 in the red. I hope they don’t try to take it out on me.

Are you getting Life every week? Please do & save them for me, since I never get a chance to see them over here. Time & Newsweek have European editions in English, so I buy them whenever I can.

I look forward to our pending tour to the United States with much more enthusiasm than I did our jaunt to Europe.

Have you gotten my journal in the big envelope yet? You should have, it had a two day head start, at least. I’m still working on the Paris trip—still haven’t gotten past the first day!!! I’m telling you everything I did, except for occasional trips to the rest room & regular inhaling & exhaling.

I hope to have enough money scraped together to go to Rome next time we hit Naples (sometime in February—not counting from the 29th of this month till the 2nd of Jan.)

Bunch of NATO VIPs on board; Turkish, Greek, Italians, etc. They all look loaded down with brass & medals.

Twenty-five minutes to taps & I’ve got to take a shower. So, till next time, I send



Monday, October 09, 2006

26 December 1955

Off to an early start today—it’s only two in the afternoon. I rate liberty tonite but won’t take it: Naples has little to offer & is too eager to take. Today is Holiday routine, as Christmas fell on a Sunday. I was rather surprised at how little it mattered. It will go as unmentioned as it went unnoticed. The dinner, though plentiful, was spoiled by the fact that it was served on trays & eaten on benches on a metal floor, with steam pipes & intakes humming overhead.

Aside from the fact that there was nothing to write about yesterday, I also spent the evening at the movies. For a change (maybe because of Christmas) they had a double feature, both of which I’d seen before: "Three Ring Circus" with Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, was one of their less-funny pictures; "Mr. Roberts" mom & I had seen when she came to Pensacola, & I enjoyed it as much the second time as I had the first.

One saving feature—much as I dislike Norfolk, I will always have something to do when we get back—go to the movies. There is an eight-month lull in my movie going habits, which I fully intend to make up for.

Latest scuttlebutt is that our Mediterranean vacation has been lengthened until mid-June, leaving Gibraltar on the 7th, & limping home somewhere around the twentieth. It is going to be very hard not to request leave the minute the ship pulls in, but I will try to resist the temptation.

By the time I do get home, I will not have seen mother in over a year, dad in ten months, Aunt Thyra in one year & eight months, & will have spent all but 16 days in two years away from home! Which is a long time.

All I think about is getting out; going back to college. Occasionally I think about money—& how little of it I have. As they say, "I have a champagne taste on a water income."

Mail closes out at 1700 tonite, & it being 1625 (4:25 p.m.) I’d best get busy. Dad seems to draw a distinction between letters & the journal. Besides not having a "Dear Folks" at the top, & a "Love, Roge" at the bottom, everything included here is a letter. That’s my main objective—to write a letter to & for everyone who’d care to read it. But, I’ve discovered, in order for someone to be remembered on this spatial pea, they must leave something worthy of remembering.

There are no doubt countless attics with dusty trunks crammed with letters & memos of somebody long gone, & there they lie—unread & unnoticed. I’ve got to be different; so I figure that maybe, by addressing myself to everyone, I’ll make myself known to them. It would be nice if I could know everyone, but time is rather limited & there are so many people.

Well, I see by the oooold clock on the wall (bulkhead) that time’s up for now—also space….

Postcard postmarked U.S.S. Ticonderoga, 9 A.M. December 26 1955. Subject: Naples Panorama

Dear Folks

This is sort of a kinescope postcard. Every card I’ve ever seen of Vesuvius shows smoke coming out of it, but it’s just been sitting there since 1944. Hope you got the manila envelope with my "journal."

My pen, which I used on the address, has something wrong with it—maybe the point, maybe the ink. I’ll have to start saving for a new watch—got one in mind I like.

Regards to all the relatives. I’ve got to send this off now or it’ll never go---we’re going to sea tomorrow.

Love to all,


Sunday, October 08, 2006

24 December 1955

Naples is such a friendly city—happy people bustling about the streets (all of them within a five-foot radius of you); inviting your presence at their social gatherings ("Hey, Joe—you like nice place? Many girls; you come, no?"), pulling at your arm. Three of them thus managed to walk off with my watch. Knowing that this was all in good natured fun, I chuckled heartily when I finally discovered it was gone, at the telephone office. I went back but they were gone, of course—bringing a little cheer into someone else’s Christmas eve. Ah, this wonderful, wonderful Europe!

It was very nice to call home—I only had to wait about an hour, which is much less than I’d expected. And it was also much less expensive than I would have guessed—only $12.80 or thereabouts. Oh, yes, while waiting, I’d bought two American magazines & read in one that the insurance company covering my car had gone bankrupt. Happy day—Merry Xmas.

Coming back on the liberty boat, which I just barely caught, I sat as far forward as you can go—on the gunwale in fact. Sitting directly in front of me, as I sat facing the rear of the boat, was a guy who made me mad just to look at him. He was one of those fat, pug-nosed characters with glasses & the kind of face that looks as though he were smelling something unpleasant. He had a gigantic sandwich, made of a half loaf of large Italian bread, crammed with onions, cheese, meat, pickles, & God knows what all. This he kept shoving into his face at an amazing speed—his cheeks were puffed out & his mouth was so full that crumbs kept falling out. Every two minutes or so he’d open the sandwich & peer at it closely, fingering through it to see what was left. Then he’d cram it into his mouth again. When we reached the ship, instead of dropping it over the side, he let it fall to his feet on the deck &, when getting up, stepped on it. I could gladly have shoved him over the side.

It is now four minutes after twelve—Christmas day. And it may as well be the 10th of August or the 31st of May for all I care. I’m afraid I’m getting sleepy & less coherent, so I’d better close for tonite….

Merry Xmas…….

Saturday, October 07, 2006

23 December 1955

Two days from Christmas & 3,000 miles from home. But only 283 days more in the Navy. How wonderful it will be to be free again!

Last night was the Division party. I left the ship about five o’clock; it had been raining on & off all day, & the streets were shiny black, reflecting every light in long, wavy strips.

The party was to be held at the "Little Paradise" restaurant, far on the other side of the city, overlooking the Bay of Naples. I decided to take a bus instead of a cab, not only because it would be cheaper but also more fun. After wandering aimlessly about looking for the bus, & with the aid of a non-English speaking policeman (who for some reason was dressed just like a British Bobby) I found the right corner & stood there. My bus was number 240—an electric trolley.

After a few minutes, one turned a corner & came my way. I got ready to get on, but it whizzed right by—you’ve got to flag them down, which is quaint but a little inconvenient. The next one that came along I waved at wildly & it stopped. You enter from the rear—that is, if you can. It must have been the rush hour, for every bus was jammed with people, to the very doors. After getting on, you pay the conductor, who sits in a special little booth just behind the door, 35 Lire (4 ½ cents?). And off we went, stopping every block or two as the guidelines to the wires bounced off with a boom & a great flash. The conductor would patiently get off, put the guides back on the lines, get on, & we’d be off. Most of the time he didn’t even have to bother getting off, as there was a transit company employee on almost every corner, evidently for just that purpose.

No matter where you go in Europe, you run into at least one American. On the bus were a woman & her mother, whom I knew immediately was American (you can spot them in any crowd). She looked exactly like thousands of American women on our own busses, going home from a day’s shopping. We exchanged a few words as they squeezed past me on the way to the door. And then they were gone.

The conductor signaled me about a block before we got to the restaurant, but by the time I fought my way to the door (helped by an American man & a friendly Italian who pulled me through by my coat sleeve) it was two blocks past my stop.

By the time I got to the restaurant, everyone was nearing the saturation point, & a couple were past it. We’d rented the whole place for the night, so there was no one else coming & going.
The two chaplains on the ship are leaving for other duty soon, & so both were invited, & a cake, white frosting with green trimming & a green cross in the center, had been made for them. One had gone to Rome, & Father Kelly was just getting ready to leave, tactfully pleading another engagement.

Along one wall a buffet had been set up, with food commandeered from the ship. Drinks were served at a bar at the far end, & a three or four piece band was at the other.

One of the cooks, Botz, was already fairly well on the way to oblivion, & was at the stage where everything he does is immensely funny (he thinks). He came staggering by the table with the cake &, grabbing the knife, started brandishing it at everyone. Someone told him to put it down, so he swung it with all his might & stabbed it into the cake, then walked away, laughing, leaving the knife sticking out of the cross.

And so the party progressed. I satisfied myself by grabbing a plate of food & a glass of gin & soda (mostly gin). Soon, Botz tore a photograph belonging to one of the other guys (Winston). Winston then proceeded to pour his beer over Botz’s head. The fight was broken up quite nicely and no one was hurt.

By this time, Tiny Lishman (6’3", 320 lbs), who had been completely smashed & was dancing with everyone and everything, disappeared. General speculation was that he’d fallen over the outside balcony & into the sea, but no one was in much of a state to care. Pappy Daniels, who after his last liberty was found asleep on the floor of an officer’s stateroom, had been carried into an adjoining room where our coats were stowed, laid out in state on a couch, & covered with a white sheet.

Several of the guys had crowded around the microphone & were singing, marvelously off key on every note, as the band struggled valiantly to keep up with them.

When arrangements for the hall had been made, it was agreed that, along with ice, Coca-Cola, & waiters, the management would also furnish girls ("…the best!"). Well, they were girls, anyway. I had my gin to keep me warm &, since there weren’t enough to go around anyway, didn’t press the issue. It was amazing to watch the contrast—the Americans, drunk & reeling, happily singing & shouting, & the Italians—the waiters looking disdainful & the girls looking completely bored. They kept busy by eating & wrapping sandwiches to take home.

Pappy came out of seclusion to join the line at the balcony railing &, somewhere along the line, lost his teeth.

One of the choir had taken over the drummer’s position & was keeping fairly good time, except that he’d slow down when the band went faster, & sped up when they slowed down.

Girls kept popping in, taking one look, & popping out. The midget, whom we’d met at the "private home" a few days before, was there, as were several of the girls.

At about 9:30, feeling very nice but definitely not drunk, I & three other guys set back for the ship.

On the way, Grinshaw, the kleptomaniac among us, stole the little doll that dangled on a string from the rear window of the taxi….

Friday, October 06, 2006

22 December 1955

Today I walked the streets of a city dead for almost 2,000 years, & descended into the crater of the volcano which destroyed it. I saw two loaves of bread left in an oven to burn when the inhabitants fled—I saw the thick, cake-batter looking lava which splashed over the mountain & ran down its sides in rivers of molten rock. I saw four of the citizens, in the exact positions they had assumed while making the transition from life to death. I stood in the amphitheater where people laughed and cried, as the wind ran its fingers through the tall poplar trees. I walked along streets with ruts worn in the stone from centuries of chariot tracks, & crossed them on the raised stepping stones that protected the people’s sandals when the streets ran with rain water & mud. I entered the villas of the rich & the hovels of the poor; the wine shops where seamen bringing goods from Egypt & Greece stopped after unloading their ships at the docks which today are almost a mile inland.

Pompeii was a favored city of the Roman Patricians; here they had homes & their mistresses. In its forums & scattered about the city lie temples to a multitude of gods, from Apollo to Isis. And next to its pharmacies were its houses of prostitution, directions to which were quite obvious but a little embarrassing.

Pompeii today is a city of roofless columns & broken walls. Little remains of its public buildings but what there are are maddeningly enticing. Some, like the public baths, are still almost exactly as they stood, complete to the frescoes on the ceiling & the marble of the floors. Such is the condition of Pompeii, & the story it tells of its one-time glory, that it seems that today’s Italy is backwards by comparison. The inside of almost every shattered wall still bears the paint put on when the building was whole. Had it not been for an earthquake in the 18th century, much more of the city could be seen as it was buried—for the ash was light—19 to 23 feet of it covered the city after the eruption. 2,000 of the 25,000 inhabitants died. One of the bodies (now covered in plaster of Paris) was found in a crouching position in a cellar; evidently he’d thought the rains of ashes would end in a few hours. All the other bodies have their hands or arms over their faces—killed probably by the poison gas accompanying the eruption. A dog, left forgotten & chained when his master fled, is also among the ones who perished.

Plumbing, an underground water system of lead pipes, indoor toilets; all were part of Pompeii.

The city is built on a slight hill, with a beautiful view in all directions. Its streets, though narrow, are fairly straight. All streets running to the Forum—a wide flat area surrounded by shops & public buildings—end just before reaching it. The streets are dug down, instead of being raised up, & near the Forum large stone blocks (about the size of tombstones) stand at the ends of the streets to prevent chariots from entering. The shops were fairly small, one-room affairs, completely cut off from the rest of the building, unless a wooden stairway ran to the second floor—though most buildings had second stories, few are left. From the streets, doorways look down passageways between buildings,--or between two of the thick walls forming the passage into quiet gardens, surrounded by columns patiently supporting the sky.

The private homes are fascinating & very attractive—all rooms face a central garden. The main disadvantage being the lack of lighting.

Pompeii was destroyed, it is said, because it was so wicked—this may be true, but it did not die in vain. Because of its destruction, we have today a section of the past which gives a more accurate account of the lives & practices of its people than any number of written accounts could possibly do.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

21 December 1955

Dear Folks

Just got your letter of the 15th & the package with the books of droodles & photos—loved every one of them. Went into hysterics over the "Sleeping Under Blankets."

Glad to hear you finally got Ching-Chong, & that you like him. I’d almost given up hope of ever hearing of him. Next time back in Gibraltar I’ll try to pick up one of his other positions.

Nothing much new on this end—I’ll send along some more of my journal tomorrow, just to keep you posted on my daily routine—I’m getting brave. You still didn’t get my other ones, did you? You should have one for every day from Nov. 16 to the 22nd, & from the 28th or so on up. Do you? Also one a day from 4 Nov. to 14 Nov. Let me know how many you did get.

Tomorrow I go to Pompeii, & will write much on my adventures. Right now it’s near taps, & I’ve got to take a shower!

Until later, I am, as always your

Devoted Offspring,