I was asked several times, by Storyboat,if I would consider writing a blog about my Navy ports of call.I considered it, and reconsidered it. One of the worst things I think I could would be to disappoint my friends.Another is looking like I am boasting. Since the most interesting part of my tour of duty was sight seeing,the solution seemed to be to write about the places I visited and dedicate it to my history teachers.
They deserve full credit for me knowing what I was seeing. This is their blog, as well as my friends who seem to think my life was interesting enough to write about.
My adventure through the history books began, not with a port of call from a ship, but a refueling stop for a cargo plane enroute to Vietnam. It was in Tokyo, Japan and I recognized it as soon as I stepped off the plane. Mt. Fuji looked like a silver haired old man reflecting on the changes of time. It jumped off the pages of my old history books and I remembered my teacher telling me that getting
a clear view of Mt. Fuji is a rare event, at any time other than the winter. It was November and I could see the entire mountain as clear as I saw it in the pictures. Knowing that I would be in Tokyo for only a few hours and may never be back I felt blessed.
The next page in the history book was Diamond Head, seen from Hickham Air Base. It was rotated a little,compared to the pictures I remember, but it was very familiar looking. From the Air Force base it was more of an unobstructed view than I would have had from the Naval Base. I could almost see Japanese war planes on the horizon over the top of Diamond Head. I swore they would not get passed me. With only a short stay, I never got to see the famous Waikiki Beach, and resigned myself to watching tourists in flowery shirts being greeted with Aloha and Mele Kalikimaka, from a patio table with Diamond Head peeking over the top of Terrys head. Peaceful and beautiful, it gave no hint to what was ahead of me.
While sitting in a Navy YFU, beached at Hue,Vietnam I had my first and only glimpse of a walled city. It was not in any history book I remember, but it brought back memories of my Mother reading from the Bible.While looking at the massive walls I understood why it would have taken the Babylonians years to break down the walls of Jerusalim, with nothing more powerful than rock throwing seige machines. The inside of the walls were off limits to us, but it didn't matter. I was busy mentally besieging the city and looking for weak spots in the walls. I never broke down the wall, but just a few years later, modern weapons did what time and ancient weapons could not do. I felt sad although it was not my city and the residents would never know of me. I think that if I had gotten the chance to go back I would have turned it down. I did see some after pictures later and I felt even sadder after knowing what had been lost. The imperial city was no longer useful for anything other than filming war movies.
A year later I was sitting in the lounging area of an Aircraft carrier and got the word we were approaching the coast of Spain. Not having duty that day, I went up to the flight deck to watch for "It". I was not dissapointed. Once again I was back in the classroom. This time the topic was a rock. I listened to the teacher talk about soldiers living in guard houses inside the rock of Gibraltor It was huge and although it looked similiar to the pictures, it was different in some ways. It may have been the city at the base of the Rock that was not in the books I had read. It no doubt had something to do with being up close and personal. There was nothing even close back home on the farm. Not even television commercials, years later, could ruin the magic.
Right around the cornor was a statue and a ship that seemed awful small to have crossed a large body of water. I had been told it did. I didn't remember seeing pictures of the ship while in school, but I remember the stories. I was in Barcelona, Spain and standing next to the ship was Christopher Columbus pointing to my home back in Texas. I never got to see the places that most tourists would prefer to visit. I was never in Paris or Rome but I was never bored. In Cannes, France I caught a taxi and went to the top of the hill from which many of the pictures of the Riviera are taken. It looked just like I knew it should. I was beginning to be glad I came.
With respect to my teachers, they never told me what I might find down the road from Cannes, France. It was a Cathedral, in Nice, whose name slips my mind. It was adorned with gold and silver artifacts and gifts from wealthy rulers of places I had never heard of. The floor was laid with marble slabs, some of which were a different color, laid out in a pattern. I discovered that underneath the off color slabs were long deceased priests. From that time on I tried my best to side step the slabs. I was reassured that it was quite acceptable to step on them. I understood why cameras were not allowed, but I felt sorry that it would not find a place in my photo album.
Farther West down the coast was another mountain that absolutely should not be missed. Mt Vesuvius could be seen from far out at sea. It was, of course, a real life page from a history book, but my teachers had never told me it was spewing smoke. I was looking at a real, honest to goodness volcano that made no attempt to hide what it was, or what it was capable of. The ash covered town below was testimony to the power that the smoke gave hint to. It was breathtaking to say the least. At night a string of lights running down the mountain gave testimony that it was still there.
Just outside Athens, Greece the last page in the history book opened. The pictures of the Parthenon were still fresh in my mind. I think the students sitting on the steps reading added to the magic. Could the ancient Greek students have done the same while cramming for exams? The marble statues were long gone. Once again mans interference had destructive results. I remembered Lord Byron and something my teacher had made me read, although I confess that I had to search for the words that I no longer remembered:
"Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"
Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne'er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatch'd thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!
There were other places that were not as impressionable historically, but still interesting in some way.
My cigar box full of pictures disappeared long ago, but I have no trouble seeing them again, when I take the notion to travel through the history books.