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First Night Ashore

by Willie Lagarde


Lutchie Wieland had been a friend almost all of my life. He had joined the Navy a few months before I did in 1942 and after boot camp and school at Great Lakes NTS was assigned to the destroyer USS Dale. Although we exchanged letters I hadn’t seen him in almost two years when I made out Dale’s number 353 on one of the three ships escorting us in from the fleet to Bremerton in Aug. 1944. I hadn't been home in over twenty months, in fact not at all since I left home for San Diego NTS. Wouldn't it be great I thought, if Lutchie was due for a leave and we could make the long four or five day train ride home together.

I don't know how it was decided which half of our crew would be in the first leave party but found out early on I was in the second and wouldn't be getting off the ship in Seattle but could still looked forward to going ashore that night in Bremerton. We anchored near the NSY and because I was in the wrong place at the right time I was snagged with another man for a working party. A tug boat had came along side unexpectantly with about a hundred five gallon cans of fresh milk and the OD ordered me and the other man to bring it aboard. "Just the two of us lieutenant?" "Get started and I'll see if I can get you some help;" he never did. I saw my chances of getting ashore slipping away but there's still hope if my legs held out after making about fifty trips up the gangway with the milk. It wasn't to be, the whole gunnery department and others spent the night unloading all our ammunition onto a barge. After all those long months at sea; the promised land is only a mile or so away and we can't get to it. Sadly one of our men was killed on this job when he fell from the crane hook onto the barge.

I don't remember if we were allowed to sack in because we then had to move the ship into dry dock or graving dock as it was called. I was so tired I didn't think I could make it ashore but when the bugle sounded liberty call for the starboard side I was rejuvenated and didn't give a damn if I was port or starboard, I was going ashore. I got to Dale just as Lutchie was leaving to come look for me. With three of his shipmates we caught the ferry for Seattle and everybody wanted to go to a restaurant for steaks except me. I had never eaten a steak so I ordered ham and eggs and hash browns, it was one of the best meals I ever had. Later the five of us decided to get a hotel room, or preferably two if possible for our entire stay in Bremerton. I don't remember the name of the hotel but it was one of the larger ones because we got two adjoining rooms on the tenth floor. One of the Dale sailors had started drinking as soon we got on the ferry and by the time we got to the rooms he was loaded.

Like many hotels in those days there was no AC so I went over to open one of the large single pane windows only to have it slam back down and shatter. I watched as several large pieces of glass fell to the sidewalk and thanked God no one was under them. I doubt I could have made anyone hear me even if there was time. One of Lutchie’s shipmates thought cops would probably soon arrive and we best get the drunk man in the other room. Wise move. In a matter of minutes one cop barged into the room and I don’t remember if he had his gun drawn but the cop who stayed in the hall did. I noticed he looked tired, agitated and disgusted and wasn't buying my explanation of what happened to the window. That is until he tried it himself then called for the manager. He told him there was obviously a problem with the sash latches and absolved us of any responsibility. His mood changed completely and he told us, "you have no idea how refreshing it to come in here and find all of you boys sober." He said besides dealing with criminals there were very few peaceful nights because of carousing and disorderly drunks.

At the time all of us had seen combat, if you could call it that, but when I looked at that tired policeman I realized, these men are unsung heroes. Unlike us who lived in anticipation of danger and death occasionally over a period of two or three years it was a part of their lives every time they put on the uniform and badge and reported for duty. I tried to think of appropriate words to thank this man and his partner but I knew if he saw us again before this night was over we could very well be among those carousing disorderly drunks, and anything but "refreshing". From that day to now, I have the utmost respect for duly authorized men in law enforcement.

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