1966-1967 West Pac Memories #6 Paul Trombetta
Memories of West Pac, 1966-1967
by Paul Trombetta AX3 and AX2 and almost AX3 again (HS-8)
Installment #6 - Off to Westpac- first stop, Pearl Harbor
Well folks, it has been a while since the last installment. I have been very busy, and in fact, will be making an overseas trip again in a week or so. I better hammer out an installment before I leave.
We finished up those carrier qual's and I must say, I learned a lot about the ship and how to survive. We returned to Imperial Beach with the squadron and began the wait to depart on the real thing- Westpac.
Of course, I returned to my Tijuana Mexico stomping grounds and resumed my maximum party lifestyle. My entire gang was really pumped up about leaving for Westpac.
At the time, my best buddies were Henry Kaufmann, Jerry Moore, Bill Persky, Mike Chase, John Jepson, Larry Wechsler, Joe Garcia, Bill Hazen, Jerry Kendall, Eddie Redondo, Bill Shiner, Jim Hall, Bill Medved, Rich Kampmueller, Don Rust, Dusty Rhodes, Chuck Kemp, Wayne Reineke, and many others who I can't remember right now.
Funny thing is- most of these guys used to live in Tijuana with me. On any given day or night, many of us could be found at the Tropics Bar, Chips, Blue Note, Mikes, Jockey Club, Bat Club and a few others. Primarily the Tropics, though. We were all well taken care of there and very welcome. Hell- with tall rum and cokes going for 40 cents and beers going for the same- and tacos 10 cents each or three for a quarter, we had all the basic food groups for a very reasonable price.
But, this is a story about Westpac and not Tijuana. We loaded aboard the busses and headed out for Long Beach. I don't recall the exact date but we arrived in Long Beach a few days before we had to depart. I'll never forget the fun we had in Long Beach, waiting to go on this big adventure.
We finally headed out to sea- and next stop was Honolulu. We didn't waste any time starting air operations and training. All of the work that we did during the carrier qualifications seemed to be paying off. We all quickly settled into a routine of 12 on and 12 off, 7 days a week. I used to play a lot of poker during my off times.
We had a running game in our quarters, up forward between the gun tubs. This game ran almost continuously during this westpac cruise and even up until the minute we had liberty call in each port. I was able to make my liberty money in this poker game.
After several days at sea, the weather was turning warm and we began the entry into the Hawaiian Islands. This was my very first time away from the continental US. and believe me, I was very excited. We were passing the various islands and my memory of this is that it was very beautiful. I think that this was when I got Island Fever and ended up spending almost my entire Navy career in the Western Pacific, mostly on Islands.
As we pulled into Pearl Harbor, I was overcome with emotion as we passed the Arizona memorial. It was like a dream for me. We tied up at the Pearl and I just couldn't wait to go ashore. When they called for liberty, I was on duty so I couldn't go that first day. We sent some Helo's over to Ford Island so I went over to do some maintenance and that was good enough for me. Ford Island was like stepping back in time.
I had a lot of time to myself that day and I walked all over that island and looked at other wrecked battleships, up close in the water near the shore of the island. They had a club over there. I don't remember the name of the place. An Enlisted Men's club. So after work, we were waiting for a boat ride back to the ship so we decided to have a beer. Would you believe that this club didn't have any beer or mixed drinks. All they had was pink champagne. Well, guess what? Yes, you got it. We drank about three cases of pink champagne and had a hell of a time. Missed the boat back to the ship so had to take a boat to Pearl Harbor and Hike back to the ship.
The next day I had liberty so me and a few of the guys headed for Waikiki. I was in heaven- believe me. The weather was great. The scenery was beautiful and I had a fake ID and could drink anywhere in Hawaii. We hit the international market place first and just walked back and forth, taking in all the sights and sounds. Then we found a great little bar (it's still there by the way) in the outrigger hotel east annex. Called the 123 bar. We all sat in there and tried to make out with the waitresses and drank lots of beer.
Next day I had liberty as well and being an old surfer boy from California, I had to hit the waves. In those days they rented surfboards right on Waikiki Beach. Couple of bucks and the surf was a real nice 3-foot break. Easy to ride. Man, what a blast. I was hangin' ten and shooting the curl and looked like the Pillsbury doughboy out there on the waves. We sorta had no tans from being on the ship. Got a lot of stares but I didn't care. Now I could tell my friends at Malibu, Zuma, Ventura County Line, Tracas and other beaches I haunted in California, that I had surfed Hawaii.
Four of us ended up renting a car and went on a tour of the Islands. Up to Pali Point lookout, over to Makaha and then the road ended. There was a warning sign which said "Kaeno Point" proceed at your own risk. Well, it wasn't our car. It was a rental. And we didn't read the rental contract which said that going to Kaena Point was prohibited. Tally Ho, mates.
It wasn't so bad at first. We actually had gravel for a while. Then the gravel turned to boulders and we had to take those boulders and use them to fill the potholes as we proceed to Kaena Point. As we were going along, about 2 miles an hour, we noticed many cars abandoned off the side of the road. Some of these cars were classics from the 30's and 40's. Many had bullet holes. We are getting a little nervous.
Well, we finally made it to Kaena point. A beautiful place with a lighthouse, etc. Even a house where people lived. Nobody home though. We decided to proceed around. This put us on the North Shore. Nobody told us that many times the waves are so big that they wash out that entire area where the car path was. We just plowed ahead and a couple of hours later, we finally saw pavement. Would you believe that not 100 feet onto the pavement, we had a flat tire? And would you also believe that when we opened the trunk to get the spare, there was no spare? Well, no problem because there was no tire iron or jack either.
We decided to walk a ways and we found a Girl Scout camp, which fortunately, had some Girl Scouts. They let us use their phone. I had a triple A card in my wallet so I called the local AAA and they sent a tow truck- and sold us a new tire. The old one couldn't even take a tube it was so torn up. We finally made it back to the rental car place and raised hell and got our money back for the tire. We didn't bother to tell them that we were at Kaena Point.
I'll never forget my first time to Hawaii. I have been there many times since, but it has never been so sweet as that first time there on the Bennington.
Stay tuned for Installment #7.
Thieves Alley??? Where is the Christian Science Reading Room?