PASSAGE TO YOKOHAMA

In 1953, newly married, and with my husband flying combat in Korea, I decided to travel to Japan. I was twenty three years old, and it made perfect sense at the time. The Department of Defense frowns on having spouses near a war zone, so it was up to me to get myself there without any help from the U.S. Air Force. I had never flown, and didn’t know how to arrange for a flight, so I did something twice as difficult. I booked passage on a cargo/passenger ship from San Pedro, California to Yokohama, Japan.

At the time, I was living with newly divorced Fay, a friend of my husband’s parents, in the mountains outside Colorado Springs. I had an office job in Colorado Springs with the Colorado Interstate Gas Company. Mac had left his Allard roadster with me and that was my transportation. One of several outstanding features of the Allard was a four inch wide, heavy leather strap, with belt buckle, that held the hood in place.

I somehow acquired a brochure advertising passage to Japan on a cargo/passenger ship. The photos showed handsome uniformed men as crew members aboard a spotless shipshape ship, and I bought a ticket.

My Mother-in-law, Agie, had a nephew living in Los Angeles, and I made arrangements for an overnight stay with him and his wife. I did not look forward to driving from Colorado Springs to Los Angeles alone in this attention getting Allard, so I put an ad in the Colorado Springs paper asking for a passenger. The ad got me an unsophisticated grandmotherly woman and I took her on as a passenger just to feel safer. She was quiet and that suited me. We were an odd pair in a most unusual vehicle.

My first responsibility on arrival in Los Angeles was to deliver my passenger to the home of her granddaughter in their modest, quiet, neighborhood. The next task was to locate, in a more up-scale neighborhood, the home of Agie’s nephew, Bill Barker, where I was to spend the night. The remaining job was to take the Allard back to where Mac had bought it. The dealer, Noel, had agreed to store it for me until my return from Japan.

Most likely, Bill Barker’s wife was horrified the next day when she dropped me off in south L.A. at a San Pedro dock, to board a rusty looking old tub, named The Gateway City.

This cargo/passenger ship was equipped to accommodate twelve passengers, two people per each of the six “staterooms”. The word, stateroom, is used loosely here. These spaces were bare, with two shallow wooden boxes for beds. The raised sides kept you from falling out of bed in rough weather. Since there were only six of us passengers, three men and three women, we each had our own room. I slept in one box/bed. My suitcase occupied the other.

The crew consisted of forty five men, none of whom were in uniform as shown in the brochure. Of the three women, I was the oldest at age twenty-three, and the other two were quite attractive. So there we were, three young nice looking women on board a no-frills ship with forty-eight derelict looking men. Hmmm! I was thinking. This next twelve days is going to be interesting!

After four or five days at sea, there was no more fresh milk, or lettuce, or produce of any kind. We ate red beans and rice, then more red beans and rice, and the next day, more red beans and rice. After about ten days, the word started going around that we would not be arriving at Yokohama in twelve days, as advertised. Captain Zolly, who was always dressed in the same dirty white undershirt, which was always dirtiest around his protruding belly, was trying to avoid some bad weather, so the gossip went. We passengers were never told anything officially.

In spite of the captain’s efforts to avoid it, our ship tangled with the typhoon. I learned what it means to ride the waves, straight up to the crest, then straight down and across the trough to meet the next wave head on. About twenty army pickup trucks were lashed down on top the front deck. Captain Zolly saved the ship and our lives that day by steering the ship directly head-on into each huge oncoming wave. Up we would go to the crest of the wave, then straight down and across the trough, while the next wave smashed down on top the army trucks. I watched from the public dining area, which allowed a full view of the ship’s bow and front deck, as we plowed straight into those waves and watched that powerful water come down on the tops of the trucks time after time, crumpling them. A salty old Swedish sailor was in the same area with me, watching. He was white knuckling it.

After surviving the storm, I forgave Captain Zolly for his dirty undershirt attire. He had saved our lives and I didn’t care what he wore. The word started circulating that we were going to Okinawa before Japan. Apparently, one crew member who had a steel plate in his head, had gone berzerk, and gone overboard. It was never made clear to us whether it was an accident or he did it intentionally, or got thrown overboard. I repeat, we were never told anything officially. Something caused our ship to divert to Okinawa.

While docked in Okinawa, we three young women were free to go ashore for a limited number of hours. A taxi took us to the officer’s club at a U.S. Air Force Base there. We were interested in finding some decent food, and seeing anything other than life aboard that ship.

It was my idea to get a taxi to take us to The Tea House of the August Moon, which had been built on Okinawa for the filming of the movie by that name, starring Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Eddie Albert, and Harry Morgan. The taxi driver was trying to tell us something negative about the place, probably that it was closed, or for men only, but we went in anyway, just inside the door and looked around. It was midday and nobody bothered to greet us. We did see two Japanese women in the distance on an upper level. The place was spotlessly clean, and more or less deserted, a place where you remove your shoes at the door, Japanese style. We left in the same taxi which was waiting for us, and went back to The Gateway City.

While on Okinawa, I had managed to make a call, trying to get word to Mac about where I was. He had stopped flying in Korea, and was pacing helplessly back and forth in Japan. The trip from Okinawa to Yokohama took about three more days. The entire trip from California had lasted twenty eight days, instead of the expected twelve days. At last, we entered Yokohama harbor, expecting to get off the ship any minute. However, word came that due to customs regulations, we would spend the night anchored out in the harbor. One of my fellow female passengers lost her cool and went hysterically out of control.

Word came that my husband was approaching in a small boat, called a lighter. A lighter’s job is to lighten the load of a larger ship. It was true. Soon, Mac scrambled up the side of the ship, and onto the deck of The Gateway City. His first comment when he came aboard: “Why is this ship hauling all these beat up trucks around?” Needless to say, I was relieved and happy to see him.

We three young women, each with our one suitcase, got onto the lighter with Mac and motored over to a Yokohama dock where taxis were available. Goodbye to The Gateway City!

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2 thoughts on “PASSAGE TO YOKOHAMA

  1. Fascinating! If the “old salt” was white knuckling it, what were you doing? A few years before your adventure, my father was returning to Hawaii from the Philippines,and his ship was caught in a hurricane. His description of the seas was similar to yours, except he was shut in the hold with the other soldiers and couldn’t see outside. He, too, had much admiration for the skill of the captain.

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