The cab driver stopped in front of the USS Oklahoma, a destroyer. Once again, I told him I was looking for the LST, Vernon County, but playing
the inscrutable Japanese, he pretended he didn’t understand.
nice day and plenty to look at, I didn’t press the issue. I paid
him, tossed my duffel bag over my shoulder and started walking. For fifteen
minutes, I passed massive piers dwarfed by the U.S. Navy’s great ships,
the pride of Pacific fleet, tied alongside. Although as roughhewn and cynical
as a young man could be, even I was awestruck by the sheer might of the world’s
most powerful and sophisticated navy.
I reached the end of the last pier, turned the corner, beheld the Vernon County
and stopped in my tracks. Compared to the boats I’d just passed,
that LST was a sick joke. A big, ugly rust bucket, to me it looked like
a Mickey Mouse boat. It occurred to me a prankish colony of cartoon elves
had tacked a superstructure onto a river barge and called it Vernon County. At
dockside, grim-faced, sweat-soaked sailors scraped and painted the hull, losing
their battle against decades of corrosion and decay. I looked at that tub
and thought, oh, my God. That’s my home for the next three years.