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Chris James

Dress Blues...a childhood memory

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Dress Blues, a Childhood Memory

The first time I had feelings for an older guy I was ten years of age and he was probably nineteen or twenty. But let me back up and explain those feelings and the circumstances surrounding that important memory. It was probably the first time I had an inkling of what my life was to become.

My father was a journalist for one of the major news providers, and as such was assigned a post overseas while I was still very young. I was just entering the first grade when my life in the United States was uprooted and I was thrust into a totally foreign culture.

Tokyo, Japan, a city of millions and none of them looked like me. But young boys have inquisitive minds and after the shock of this foreign immersion I embraced the adventure of my new life. We speak of the formative years and mine were filled with the wonder of the strange places around me.

I was sent to an all-boys international school where at least there were some other Americans and a host of other nationalities. The school was clever enough to include lessons about the various cultures and brought down any barriers that might have existed between the boys. We were all strangers in this foreign land.

Relationships were forged and by third grade I had a good group of friends at school and during the summers. The foreign community of Americans was small enough that the parents seemed to know one another. This included adults in the American government, military and business community, and what tied the knot so closely was that we all vacationed together during the summers up in the mountains.

Tokyo was a hot and muggy city during the summer months and so the mountain resorts attracted much of the foreign community and all my school chums. I had glorious times hiking, fishing and horseback riding with the boys from school. David, the British Ambassador's son, Robert, son of the Australian attaché, and Leonard, grandson of the Mitsubishi Corporation's chairman.

Leonard felt like the odd man since he was the only Japanese in our little play group, but I was attracted to him and at eight years of age those feelings had no name. These were classmates, boys with whom I spent my life in school and in social situations. It would be sometime later before I realized what these feelings meant.

By the time we had lived in Japan for four years, my circle of friends had evolved. Kids with parents in the Foreign Service went back to their country of origin and so David and Robert were replaced by Miguel and Massoud, representing Spain and Pakistan. Only Leonard remained of that original group.

A further note before we go on: I looked like an American kid and was taller than many of the Japanese adults who surrounded me. This often caused the Japanese to stare at me. They couldn't help it, I was the foreigner in their midst. But this was all back in the late 1950's and it was difficult to fathom what was behind those looks, but there was no apparent malice.

The war had ended a decade before and as foreigners we were told many of the Japanese people were embarrassed by the outcome and angry at their leaders, more than they would ever be at the Americans. In the six years I lived in Tokyo I would encounter the complexity of those feelings time and again, but I never felt concerned.

It was easy to grasp the concept that the Japanese treasured their children, all children. I rode the streetcars here and there all over the city from the time I was in first grade, but I never felt the fear of being alone in a city of millions. It is that freedom of movement that I still cherish in memory.

The summer of my fifth year in Japan I was ten years of age and looking forward to our pilgrimage to the mountains in the first week of July. By that time of life I was finally coming into some understanding of my feelings. I was attracted to boys.

Japan had just as many taboos about sexual expression as one might find in mainstream American culture, but at ten I was hardly a sexual creature. My little forays into the side streets and alleys in search of adventure had exposed me to the underworld of Tokyo and some of it was sexual.

The small black market shops filled with tax free foreign goods were beside bars and gambling halls where young ladies served the sexual needs of Japanese men. To me they were just nice ladies who enjoyed trying out their limited English on an American boy who spoke a considerable amount of Japanese by then.

I had no qualms about entering a pachinko parlor to play the games although I was not allowed in such places. If I won they would give me cash since a boy had little use for the cigarettes and liquor which were the normal prizes. Then I would go up to the soba shop on the corner for lunch or to buy a treat made from flavored ice. Life was grand.

But before we left for the mountains that summer my parents took me on a trip to Yokohama, a city about forty miles from where we lived. I had no idea why we were going there since children are rarely informed about the reasons behind a parent's actions. I was told we were going to dinner in a very special place. I should have known this would be special because I was required to wear my school blazer and a tie.

Yokohama was a bustling city and a major seaport, so when we turned into the American Naval facility there I began to get some idea of what was up. My parents association with the Navy was through my aunt who worked for the Director of Naval Operations back in Long Beach, California.

Our family had been friends with Captain Charles (no last names will be used here) and his family since before I was born. Upon arrival in Tokyo I was delighted to discover that the Captain and his family had been assigned a billet in Washington Heights, the military command base there on the outskirts of Tokyo. He had three boys around my age and they lived close by so the relationship resumed.

My father signed in with the Marine guard at the gate and we proceeded to park at the end of a long pier that held ships so huge I was stunned for the whole evening. Charles was now an admiral and we were guided up the gangway onto the cruiser that was now his flagship.

Although I had grown up around military brats, this adult world was something quite different. Here I was onboard a major warship with hundreds of sailors and Marines. Everyone was in full dress uniforms, it was Independence Day, the Fourth of July and there was quite a celebration ahead.

I vividly recall Admiral Charles in his dress white uniform with those gold boards on his shoulders and the little stars denoting his rank. The last time I had seen him he was in torn gray slacks and we were playing touch football with his sons.

We were surrounded with uniforms along with men in dark suits and several ladies in gowns. This ship was American and represented the might of our country, but to me it was the biggest toy boat I had ever seen.

In the 1950's, the distance across the Pacific Ocean was a vast chasm of nearly eight thousand miles…it still is. Travel by ship was slow and cumbersome, while travel by plane took more than a day with several stops along the way. I had not seen my American homeland in over five years, but now America had come to me.

Charles had always been the consummate family man, and as a military officer he had the best mannered children I had ever met. So it was no surprise when Charles singled me out from the adults and sat beside me on a couch. I still remember the conversation went something like this:

"The boys told me that when I saw you I was to say hello from them," Charles said.

"Thank you. How is your family?"

"Everyone is fine. Bobby is pitching Little League this year. He pitched a no hitter last week."

Bobby was the oldest boy at thirteen, but we had still been friends. He had started playing baseball at age seven and I remembered watching the games at the military base.

"Wow, I still remember his fast ball. You think he'll be a professional when he grows up?" I asked.

Charles had smiled. "I think he's just like you, both of you can do anything you set your mind on." That was Charles, one of the all-time great fathers.

A mess steward served me a glass of cola as Charles made his way around the room playing host. There were a dozen people invited to dinner, all of them strangers to me. The dinner was top notch served at a table covered in white linen with silverware emblazoned with the ship's logo. The Navy couldn't drink alcohol on board but they sure could serve up a good meal.

The dinner was done when there was a brief knock on the door to the dining room and it opened to reveal a young man, a Marine in full dress uniform with a Corporal's stripes on his sleeve. Charles seemed to be expecting this appearance and he rose to speak to the man before motioning me over.

I was introduced to the Marine, and to this day I wish I could remember the young man's name. He looked stunning in dress blues, and a deep-seated feeling washed over me. In the Admiral's presence the Marine was rigidly at attention as Charles told him to give me the fifty dollar tour of the boat, I remember that expression.

Charles understood that a ten year old would not be impressed with adult after-dinner conversation and what he was offering me was better than a trip to Disneyland. The Marine opened the door and I followed him out into the hallway where he promptly sighed.

I may have been just a kid, but I understood that sigh. I felt the same way after being in the Principal's presence at school. But at that age I was fiercely independent and my intelligence had been honed by living in a world of strangers.

"I'm sorry you were assigned the babysitting chore," I told the Marine. "I'm sure you'd rather be off duty and spending time with your buddies."

I recall the look he gave me and the smile that followed. "You remind me of my little brother," he said.

As I said, he was probably nineteen or twenty years old, but he was the most handsome example of a young man I had ever seen, and that uniform only enhanced his looks. If you believe in love at first sight this would be a fine example, but of course I was just little brother material to him.

He took me into the bowels of the ship, down into the crew's quarters and the bunk space where the off-duty Marines were located. There were some comments by his buddies about his babysitting duty, good natured ribbing by those just as glad they didn't pull the assignment.

I was glad, too. This was my Marine at the moment, but to ease the feelings the poor guy must have had at being all dressed out with a little kid in tow I spoke up to the group of his friends.

"I was just telling––wish I remembered the name––the Corporal about all the night spots in Tokyo where the ladies hang out."

The only other thing that could have focused their attentions more would have been if I had yelled "Free Beer." They were skeptical until I started describing the streets, the gambling halls and the ladies who frequented such places. I held the bone and these dogs were almost drooling.

My Marine was just flabbergasted. "Where did you learn all these things?"

"I've been in Tokyo for five years…I get around."

The buzz when we left the sleeping quarters was all about how to get some leave time and make the trip to Tokyo. I could have told them which train to take into the city, but I didn't. My relationship with the Marine was now changed, evidenced by the hand he placed on my shoulder in a protective manner. You have no idea how much that thrilled me.

With the Admiral's orders behind our little tour I was shown some pretty incredible stuff. I remember the turret of the forward gun, I wasn't allowed inside, but the bridge was my favorite stop. Word must have passed around the ship about my visit because the small crew on duty was very accommodating.

I was allowed to sit in the Captain's chair and look out on the lights gleaming in the darkness of Yokohama harbor. I was even allowed to turn the wheel that steered the ship. Throughout all of this my Marine stood quietly by and allowed the Navy guys their chance to play host. But when all that was done he opened a door and took me out onto the wing platform outside the bridge.

The night air was warm and I could smell the dirty water in the harbor surrounding us, but none of that mattered to me. I was here with this Marine and moored to the dock across the way was the largest ship I had ever seen, an aircraft carrier.

The Marine sensed my awe and we stood there a good long while. The U.S.S. Ranger, CV-61, was only a few years old at this point in time. A thousand feet long, she carried eighty aircraft, a crew of nearly four thousand, and weighted eighty-one thousand tons. Stunned is hardly descriptive enough for the feeling I had at that moment.

It's no wonder that I can still recall that evening all these years later. You would think perhaps that this brief but intense exposure to military life would later on entice me to joining either the Navy or the Marines, but that did not happen. What did happen was Vietnam, and I was firmly ensconced in college when I was the age of this young Marine.

I still get a burst of feeling when I see a Marine in dress blues. The fantasies of childhood still linger. I wonder if my Marine ever took his buddies up to the Ginza in Tokyo, but there would never be an answer to that question. By the time I was twelve we were home in the States and my life seemed to begin all over again. But we all enjoy memories, and I have some good ones.

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It's hard to exceed our Navy's love for pomp and ceremony, and you've captured a mood I thought long gone, Chris. I served briefly on the U.S.S. Independence (CV-62), one of the Ranger's sister ships, and remember vividly our hosting the Fourth of July celebration while tied up in Naples harbor in Italy.

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Guest Dabeagle

My chief in boot served on the Ranger. IYAOYAS was one acronym he taught me. Another was, once he found out I was to be a Submariner (big rivalray between surface and submarine) he said 'I'd rather have a sister in a whorehouse than a brother as a submariner'.

I could see it all, it was a very personal, very vivd memory. Thanks Chris.

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Thank you, Chris. That's wonderful, and reading it gave me the feeling that you were next to me actually telling me what you remembered so clearly.

Colin :icon_geek:

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