So as most of us step into a new year, I decided to step back fifty-six years to a then brand-new 1956, via a letter written to my parents while serving aboard the USS Ticonderoga in the Mediterranean. I'd be pleased to have you come along.
3 January 1956
At sea again and a beautiful day, as most of our days at sea are. The sky has just enough clouds to make it interesting, and the sun made it the kind of warm one expects of the Mediterranean-—but I've been too thoroughly disillusioned to be fooled.
I would have liked to spend a lot more time “outside,” but we’re so busy in the office I had to dump my wastebaskets and return. Spent most of the afternoon and evening drawing lines on ledger cards—a job even an imbecile would grow bored at. Damn—the ship is shaking so badly I can scarcely write! It gets carried away like that every so often.
All I’ve been thinking of all day is getting out—I have it all in my mind’s eye; I’ll have less than two months to do when we get back to the States—mom and/or dad will fly out to Norfolk on the 11th, and we’ll leave for home on the 12th, or soon thereafter, taking from three to five days to get there (we drove the 800 miles from Pensacola to Norfolk in three days, traveling only from 10 in the morning till eight at night). I’ll spend all my time buying clothes and getting ready for college; sit in front of the TV set and swap sea stories with Lirf—oh, stop!
Had a most interesting dream last night—all my dreams seem to have plots and are very detailed—I can’t recall whether I dream in color or not, but I think so. Anyway, I was in Shanghai on an American ship during the Japanese invasion. Something happened to the ship and I found myself in a longboat—a powered liberty launch. We decided to try to head inland rather than face the Japanese fleet in the harbor. I was sitting up forward and was terrified that Jap troops along the shore would open fire—I kept expecting to feel a bullet in my back any moment. The next scene (I change scenes frequently without losing the main thought) we were much further up the river, plowing through a bunch of floating debris and branches—I remember watching the boat’s wake washing over them, and the branches riding the waves. To my right was a fallen bridge, a large section of rusty metal jutting from the water. In the next scene we were on shore, near a two-story American-type white frame house, with outside stairs leading to the second floor. On the porch railing was a hand-winding air raid siren, and a Chinese man standing by it, watching the sky. An American woman and her two young sons lived in the house, and wanted to go with us as we fled inland Suddenly (I was now detached and acting merely as a spectator) a plane dived out of the sky. The woman ran from the house, pushing one son ahead and pulling the other, when a bomb exploded directly behind her—I saw her outline in the doorway for an instant and then she and it were gone. I remember thinking with little or no emotion that now we had a young boy (the one who’d gone ahead) on our hands. End.
Not exactly Hollywood, but what do you want on the spur of the moment?
Mom asked me in a recent letter how the food was over here. Well, I really don’t know—in hotel restaurants and on tours, it consists always and everywhere of spaghetti; followed by veal (sliced), a few potatoes (quartered and semi-French fried), and spinach; cheese, and fruit. When I’m by myself I get only Pizza—which is fairly good, but not all decorated like American—just cheese and tomato. And always white wine—which is only a few steps below vinegar on the fermentation scale. I haven’t had a drink of milk since we left the States.
New Year’s Day Nick, I, and two of the other guys decided to go to Pompeii by taxi. It turned out that Pompeii is closed only two days a year—Christmas and New Years. So we went into New Pompeii and visited the Cathedral—the second Cathedral of Italy in importance. It was very pretty—especially the different marble columns around the altar. Some of the large supporting columns are covered in pure gold leaf—over the altar is a fresco of the Virgin Mary, embossed with a diamond necklace—actually, her whole body from the waist up is studded with them, worth a paltry 2000,000,00 Lire (about $300,000—give or take $100,000). I was impressed….