As I got to feeling better there were forays into town to discover what one of the larger cites was all about. While in a bar, another young American who was not a soldier, was eating at another table. We struck up a conversation and he explained he was a Merchant Marine contracted out on one of the ships in port.
As we talked the conversation got around to food, and I explained how we had not had real beef in months, but survived on Water Buffalo, and the infamous “C” rations, LRP’s with lots of rice, and whatever care packages arrived from home with treasures like peanut butter or Graham Crackers.
Hearing this, my MM friend invited me out to his ship to have the cook fix me up a full steak dinner with all the trimmings. I couldn’t believe my luck and quickly took him up on his offer before he could change his mind.
He completely lived up to his offer, and the cook was more than happy to delight the likes of a U.S. soldier giving it up in Vietnam. So including some cherry pie for dessert, I was stuffed but overjoyed.
After eating it was suggested we go for a swim in the bay, jumping off the gangplank of the ship. Since I am a decent swimmer in all types of water, I was confident in my ability. So off we went into the water.
At the time the tide was going out and the current was not horribly strong for a good swimmer. So as we decided to head back to the gangplank, I was holding my own but my friend was floundering and going under.
Now we had a real problem, because while I was a strong swimmer, I could not hold on to him and have enough strength to get both of us back to the ship. At this point he tells me he really can’t swim! A Merchant Mariner who can’t swim? How did he ever manage to get aboard a ship?
Since the ship was being unloaded there was hope that someone might hear us yell for help. However the noise of the cranes unloading were enough to drown out our yells. As providence would have it, one of the crew came to the bow for a smoke break and heard us. He threw us a rope and the rest is history.
We were definitely headed out to sea and it was pitch dark at the time. What we didn’t know was a huge rubber bladder used for off-loading oil from tankers was right in our path. We would have come up against it, but who knows what would have happened then.
This was the incident that could have spelled my end just as easily as a bullet, an infected punji stick, a booby-trapped unexploded motor round, a fatal bite from a two step mamba, a foolish encounter with a King Cobra (another story) or backwater malaria.
So, is drowning preferable to getting shot in the jungle? I guess you could say it depends on the other choices.