Dodged A Bullet
By Garland Davis
Larry left the gangway with his seabag and an AWOL bag after the crowds welcoming the ship back to Pearl Harbor had cleared off. He was leaving the ship after three years and three months. Larry would be leaving the Navy with over four years’ service. He had voluntarily extended for three months to complete this last Westpac cruise. The Chief PN told him that he could arrange for orders to a Westpac forward deployed ship if Larry would re-enlist. Larry thanked him but told the Chief that he was going home to marry his childhood sweetheart.
Larry walked a few yards down the pier and stopped and turned for one last look. His running mate and best friend, Roger was watching him from the fantail. They both lifted their hands in a final farewell. They had promised to keep in touch with each other and get together when Roger finished his four years. Roger’s home was only three hundred miles from Larry’s. Larry knew that his fiancée, Marie, thought poorly of Roger because of their antics when they got together on their last leave.
Larry was on the way to the Naval Station Personnel Support Detachment. Within the next few days, he would be processed out of the Navy. It had been four long years; even longer with the extension. He decided to make a stop at the Bloch Arena telephone exchange and place a long distance call to Marie letting her know that he would be home in a few days and they could carry out their plans to get married and make the life that they had dreamed of.
Larry and Marie had been a couple since First Grade. Everyone always said that they were the perfect couple and destined to spend a lifetime together. There had been plans to marry after graduation from High School since neither of their families could afford college. Larry had insisted that they wait until he had a good job. There was the crux, good long lasting jobs were hard to come by in their town. Within the last three years, a factory that assembled lawn mowers and another that made boots, belts, and holsters for the military had shut down. These closing and with the closing of businesses that had supported them raised the unemployment rate dramatically. There were few jobs for highly trained craftsmen, much less, untrained, high school graduates. The best option was to move someplace where jobs were available.
Marie was extremely close to her family and didn’t want to move away. After discussing it, they both decided it was best for him to take his father’s advice and enlist in the Navy to learn a trade. After all, his father had learned the rudiments of his profession as a tool and die maker in the Navy. So through the tears and promises to write every day, Larry left their small Midwestern city for the Naval Training Center, San Diego, California. After recruit training and a machinist’s school, Larry was ordered to a destroyer out of Pearl Harbor as a Machinery Repairman Fireman.
During the next three years, he made two cruises to the Western Pacific, had been promoted twice and was now a Second Class Petty Officer. Larry had gotten leave home three times. Things were looking up for Larry and Marie and their life together, and they planned their wedding. Larry’s father felt that with his Navy training he could make a decent living. Larry dusted off their plans to resume their life together after his discharge. Marie did get upset when he told her about the extension. She didn’t understand why he agreed to extend. The Captain made a good case that the ship and his shipmates needed him. He didn’t want to let them down.
Larry stacked his bags in the corner of the phone exchange and made his way to the counter where he told the pretty young Filipina clerk that he would like to place a long distance call. After Larry had completed the call information and she had collected the fee, the young girl directed him to one of a dozen phones booths along the wall and told him to answer when the phone rang.
Almost immediately there was a ring. Often he had waited as long as a half hour for calls to go through. He said, Hello,” and heard Marie’s mother on the other end. He said, “Hello Mrs. Marks, this is Larry. Can I please speak to Marie?”
“Just a minute Larry. I’ll get her.”
Faintly over the phone in the background, he heard Mrs. Marks say, “If you don’t tell him, I will.”
“Hello,” Marie said
“Hi Honey, it’s me. I will be getting discharged in a few days, and then I’ll be on my way home.”
Larry could tell that she was on the verge crying as Marie said, “About that, Larry I have started dozens of letters but couldn’t finish them. I just don’t know how to say it, how to tell you, but I have fallen in love with another and,” in almost a whisper, “I am pregnant.” Then Larry heard the tears start. Marie continued, “He is from the next town over, his family has a large dairy farm. Larry, we are getting married next week. I meant to write and tell you, but after all the planning and saving your money, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I am so sorry,” sobbing uncontrollably.
Larry sat silently, thinking, “If this is a broken heart, it doesn’t feel so bad.” Instead of sadness and a heavy heart, he felt a lightness as if a heavy weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He suddenly knew what he really wanted to do.
Marie asked, “Larry, please don’t come home and cause problems for Rodney and me.”
A smile came across his face as he said, “Don’t worry. It’s all okay Marie, I understand.”
“What will you do?” She asked.
“It’s really okay honey, my Detailer offered me a forward deployed ship in Asia if I ship over. Don’t worry about my coming home, I’ll be heading West to Japan. Congratulations, I wish you the best. I hope you are happy and have a pretty baby. Bye Honey.” He could hear her crying as he hung up the phone.
Larry sat for a minute staring at the phone, then shook himself and went to the counter for his change. As the pretty young Filipino girl counted his change, he asked, “Do you have a phone I could use to make a call on base?”
She pointed to a single booth set apart from the others. Larry walked to the booth, searching through his change for a dime. He knew the PNC had duty today. Larry dialed the ship’s Quarterdeck number and asked to talk to him. After a few minutes, the Chief answered. Larry identified himself and said, “Chief, I’ve decided I want to ship over for a ship out of Yoko or Subic. What do I do, come back to the ship or go to PSD?”
PNC asked, ‘Did you report to PSD yet.”
“No, not yet, I stopped to make a long distance call,” Larry replied.
“Then, come on back to the ship, and I will take care of you. We can use your separation physical and have you ready by tomorrow morning. Is it okay if the Captain ships you over?”
“Fine with me, I’ll be there as soon as I call my Mom and Dad to tell them I have decided to make the Navy a career,” said Larry. His dad had often said he wished he’d stayed in after Korea.
As he started for his bags, Larry detoured to the counter and said to the girl at the counter, “I need to make another call.” He gave her the information for the call, then said, “There is a possibility that I will get orders to the Philippines. Maybe you can tell me about life there. I don’t see a ring on your finger. Would you like to go to dinner after work?
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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.