Going Ashore in Yokosuka
-Or someday you’ll learn how to pull liberty in WestPac, Lieutenant
This tale is a continuation of my previous T.I.N.S. Tale about my service as Executive Officer of the Marine Detachment on USS Ranger (CVA-61) in 1966-67. After making my way to Naval Station, Subic Bay following arrival at Clark AFB in the Philippines in April of ’66, and after spending four or five days trying to arrange transportation to my aircraft carrier, I finally embarked on the USS Sacramento (AOE-1) at Subic and was aboard her four or five more days as we replenished ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. When it was Ranger’s turn for underway replenishment, I was whisked to the USS Ranger via Sacramento’s CH-46. I thereby arrived aboard the aircraft carrier by Navy helicopter in the Gulf of Tonkin with more fanfare than merely walking aboard in port.
USS Sacramento Alongside USS Enterprise-Gulf of Tonkin, June 1966
Ranger was conducting combat air operations on Yankee Station against targets in North Vietnam and running flight operations about 12 hours a day on average. My stateroom was just below one of the steam catapults and it took a while to get used to the racket during the launching of aircraft before I could get any sleep. I ran into several Naval Academy classmates who were pilots in the A-1 Skyraider squadron and one of the F-4 squadrons aboard Ranger.
I got settled in and started learning my duties as Marine Detachment XO. The detachment had two officers and 55 enlisted, including a 1st Sgt, a SSgt who was Detachment Gunny, 3 Sergeant section leaders, and the remainder Cpl and below. Our primary duty was security of the access to the nuclear weapon spaces, with secondary responsibility for in port security, the ship’s brig, training of the ship’s landing force, and ceremonial duties as required. Here I was floating around in the Gulf of Tonkin wearing dress blues and drawing $65 a month in combat pay. I was embarrassed about the combat pay, but didn’t say anything because first lieutenant’s pay back then was pretty paltry. When I left Ranger in May of ’67 I volunteered to go right back in country so I could earn my combat pay, which amounted to about $2 a day. Let’s just say I then earned it.
About 3 or 4 weeks after I joined the ship, Ranger came off the line at Yankee Station and pulled into Yokosuka, Japan for about 10 days of liberty. This would be my first West Pac liberty. I did make a single foray into Olongapo while waiting for transportation to Ranger, but this was in the company of a Naval Academy friend from the class before mine who was stationed at Subic and knew the town well. This first trip was uneventful, unlike a number of future visits (see the T.I.N.S. tale about the East Inn Club on this site).
So off I went on my very first of many liberties in the orient. I accompanied several pilots I had become friendly with and out the gate we went into the notorious Honcho area. There were a number of street walkers in the narrow alleys where the bars were located. The first thing that caught my attention was the names of the bars lining the streets outside the gate of the naval base…Bar New York, Bar Texas, Club 69, Club I Luv U No Shit, etc., etc. Some of the bars had posted innovative signs to lure you inside. Three of my favorites are shown below. The Honcho is hard to describe, but these three pictures are probably worth a thousand words.
Sign outside the Club Nagasaki-Honcho area, Yokosuka (CVA-20 was the USS Bennington, by the way)
Cherry Sign-Honcho area, Yokosuka
Each bar had an assortment of bar girls who seemed more aggressive than the girls in Mediterranean clubs that I remembered. And the Japanese girls smelled so much better than the bar girls in Southern France and Italy. Sweat, mustaches, and back hair on the girls didn’t exist in Yokosuka waterfront bistros. They would approach you and often sit on your lap, doing the oriental version of what is now called a lap-dance, and ask you to "buy me one drink". Of course we bought the drinks, which in a lot of cases were tea, for which we paidd Johnny Walker Red Label prices. And we became acquainted with a variety of Japanese beers…Orion, Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin, etc. As it happened on that first West Pac liberty, way too well acquainted as we hit most of the bars on the streets outside the gate. This first liberty made quite an impression and left an indelible mark in my memory that probably laid the ground work for my future conduct in the various ports of call of the Far East.
Anyway, we made a night of it and staggered back aboard Ranger well past midnight, having imbibed way too much.
I hit the sack and was shocked into awake status by my alarm clock set for regular reveille on a week day, which this was. I shaved and showered trying to get the pounding in my head to stop and the Russian Army to stop marching around in my mouth. I got into uniform and staggered to the ward room, which was right across the passageway from my stateroom. I walked in and it was dark. WTFO? I reeled to the Marine Barracks spaces and they were dark too. WTFO again! The Corporal of the Guard was there on post and he looked at me and said "What are you doing here, Lieutenant?" I replied that I was coming to work since it was a weekday. He looked at me like I was some kind of idiot and told me that when we came off the line and pulled into port that it was always holiday routine except for the duty section. He noticed my hung over state and probably could smell my breath and gently said, "Go back to bed, sir." As I staggered up the ladder and back to my stateroom I’m sure he was thinking, "Where the hell do we get these guys? And he’s from the Naval Academy yet! Jeez."
I was never so thankful to crawl back into bed. I think I slept until evening meal, and then probably headed back out the gate to the Honcho again. Before this cruise was over I would be an experienced West Pac liberty hound with Yokosuka, Hong Kong and Olongapo notched into the handle of my .45. But that first liberty will linger in my memory. There were many more to come over a long and varied career.
Just another story from our glorious days east of Suez.
Dirck Praeger sends