By: Garland Davis
Jerome Bates is a retired Master Chief Petty Officer. I was there at his house for a combination fortieth anniversary and granddaughter’s birthday party when his world came apart. Jerry’s wife Elizabeth had been his high school sweetheart. They were married while he was on leave from boot camp.
There were a couple of years where they were separated because there was no way he could establish a home and support a wife on a Fireman’s pay. By the time he was advanced to Second Class Petty Officer and brought Elizabeth to San Diego there were three of them and another on the way. Jerry did a couple of tours on ships from San Diego and a shore tour as an instructor. Jerry was a Chief Petty Officer when he was offered a forward deployed ship. His first inclination was to say no, but Elizabeth thought it would be interesting and good for the girls to live in a foreign country. Besides the other wives had told her how cheap it was to live in Japan.
Jerry served tours on two ships in Japan and a shore tour on the Yokosuka staff of Commander Surface Forces WestPac. His job required doing ship inspections and frequent trips to Subic Bay
I had served with Jerry in a couple of those forward deployed ships out of Yokosuka, Japan. He was typical of many sailors who had a wife and family in Japan and a plethora of girlfriends in the other Asian ports. Like all of us in the Yokosuka fleet, he had spent a great part of the time deployed while his wife raised four girls in Japan. Jerry was a gregarious individual who like most of us played the field in Subic and pretty much stayed away from any steady involvement with any one girl. Oh, we might spend the weekend with a girl but never more than that.
The ship Jerry and I were serving in suffered a major engineering casualty and would be in Subic for about forty days while repairs were done. He decided the best way to operate during the inport was to find a steady girl, buy her “steady papers” and shack up with her. He figured it would save him money and give him a place to live off the ship. He shopped around for a couple of days and settled down with a girl named Mercy Hernandez whom he met in a bar off Gordon Street. He said she had a nice place to live, near the front gate. He would bring her to the CPO Club for dinner. She was a pretty young girl, barely out of her teens.
Jerry’s forty-day shack job ended up as a nine-year affair. He would write Mercy and she would be waiting for him each time the ship arrived. I know he sent her money orders at other times. Jerry ended up with a wife and family in Japan and a quasi-wife in the Philippines. If you didn’t know he was married in Japan, you would have thought he was married in Subic. Jerry maintained his relationship with Mercy throughout the years he was stationed in the Asia Fleet.
Leaving the Far East, Jerry was assigned as Command Master Chief at a shore facility in San Diego after which he retired. He was employed by a Government contractor in San Diego. After a few years, the contractor offered him an executive position in Honolulu at Schofield Barracks and Pearl Harbor. Jerry’s oldest daughter had married a sailor, who was now a Chief stationed aboard a Pearl Harbor ship and another daughter had been accepted at the University of Hawaii. Jerry jumped at the job. He and Elizabeth were happy to be near their daughters and perhaps the others could go to UH as they finished High School.
Sometimes late in the evening when we were drinking beer someone would ask Jerry what had happened to Mercy. He always said that he didn’t know. He said he had deliberately lost contact with her. I never mentioned it to him or others, but after Jerry left for the states I was told that Mercy was pregnant and had gone back to the Province to have her baby. I don’t know if he knew. I suspect he did.
The anniversary/birthday party was going well with over forty people at Jerry’s house. The living and dining rooms were crowded with children playing games devised and supervised by the adults. Most of the men were out in the patio and back yard near the bar and beer coolers while Jerry busied himself at the charcoal grill.
Elizabeth was replenishing the plates of snacks and crackers as Jerry’s youngest daughter came from the living room with a young teenaged mixed-race Filipina.
The daughter said, “Dad, this is Essie Hernandez, she goes to my school. She said she needs to talk to you.”
Jerry looked at her and asked, “What can I do for you, honey?”
There was a lull in the surrounding conversations as sometimes happens where there is a moment of silence as if everyone was listening for something.
The girl said very succinctly for everyone to hear, “My name is Esmerelda Hernandez. I have been searching for you since my Aunt and Uncle brought me to Hawaii after my mother died. My mother was Mercy Hernandez. She told me that you are my father.”
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.