by Willie Lagarde
Coming in from the Philippines Jan 1946 I knew I had the points for discharge and looked forward eagerly to leaving the ship and going home. Not so happy to see me go was my last good friend aboard, Hugh Keenan and one or two of my new friends. Hughie would be the last of the old group still aboard. He carried my seabag down and as I stood on the dock saying goodbye I looked at Yorktown and realized I was leaving a ship that would be a part of my life as long as I lived and I may never see her again. It may sound maudlin and sentimental but it was almost is if she knew I was leaving and was sorry to see me go. We had traveled far and been though a lot together. I struggled to hold back the tears.
I don’t remember how I got from the dock to Treasure Island but that’s where I went for my initial separation procedure. After a couple of days I was taken from there by bus to Richmond CA where I boarded a train bound for Bainbridge MD. This was a troop train made up of what appeared to be converted box cars with bunks stacked three high. Also on the train was a kitchen or mess car where the food was prepared by either Army or Navy cooks.
Most of the men in my car were older Army people many of whom had been drafted within the last year. Shortly after the train got moving a Navy lieutenant came by and told me to follow him. We went to the mess car where he told me and a couple of others he had rounded up we would be mess cooks for the trip which would take six days. When he said that I almost blew a gasket. I forgot about respect for officers and tore into him. I told him I had over three years service including combat duty and there were men in the car who had only been in the army for a few months and never left the states. Why me lieutenant? He told me he didn’t know that and thought I was just a sailor getting transferred. He was trying to calm me down.
In retrospect it was false pride I’m sure, but I was thinking, why should I be serving some of these old draftees who are mostly just laying on their butts complaining. He told me it wasn’t going to be a bad deal for me. “these men will only get two meals a day and you will eat anytime you want as often as you want. All you have to do is serve the food.” He was right, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, and while most of the men were told to stay in their cars I had the run of the train and could get off at every stop. All the kitchen help including the cooks quickly became another little group of friends. It was almost is if we were running the train. The lieutenant became our friend as well, he was also a passenger on his way home from sea duty and had been put in charge of the train.
Another two days of processing (mostly hanging around waiting) took place at Bainbridge which included a session with a psychiatrist. One of the men there told me, “don’t elaborate on any of your answers, if you talk too much he may think you’re crazy and if he does they will keep you in the service for observation”. He asked two questions, “how are you doing today?” “fine”, “are you glad to be getting out of the Navy?” “yes”. “Next”
That afternoon a lieutenant handed me my discharge, shook my hand, wished me good luck and told me good bye. I was a civilian again. A couple of months later I heard from Hughie asking me if I could come visit him when he got a leave in a week or two hence. I did and learned why they called Philadelphia the “city of brotherly love”. At least it was so in those days. There was a “Welcome Home Hugh” banner stretched across the street from the roofs of the row houses. They had a party that included a good part of the block and gave him a “purse” something I had never heard of. They rolled in keg after keg and had someone playing a piano with many of them singing mostly Irish tunes. All new to me but I had a great time. I stayed with the family a couple of days and got royal treatment.
When I was sailing aboard merchant ships we pulled into Philadelphia a couple of times and I looked up Hughie. I visited the family and made the rounds with his brother Jimmie but Hughie who had been discharged by that time and was somewhere in Florida. All of that was over sixty years ago and I have long since lost track of him.
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