I’m pleased that military people are treated with proper respect these days, with strangers often greeting military people and veterans with the phrase, “Thank you for your service.”
It was certainly not this way when I was in the U.S. Navy in the early 1970s.
In those days supporters and opponents of the Vietnam War were evenly split in America, but the anti-war crowd made themselves more visibly and vocally known.
One often heard of anti-war people spitting on returning servicemen (had anyone spit on me, I would have punched their lights out). Anti-war protestors were also known to confront service members and ask them how they could murder women and babies.
Marines had a great response: “You don’t lead them as much.”
I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1970 during this national turmoil. I was 17.
After Boot Camp I received orders to report to the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. I reported aboard the carrier in Bremerton, Washington where she was undergoing a major overhaul.
Once the overhaul was complete, we sailed down to San Diego, California and began sea trials and air operations in preparation of our tour of duty on “Yankee Station” off the coast of North Vietnam.
I turned 18 in San Diego in June of 1970.
The Kitty Hawk went to sea from Monday to Friday to perform the sea trials and flight ops, and returned to San Diego on the weekends. With three-section duty, I had two out of three weekends off. I spent that precious time in downtown San Diego, in nearby Tijuana, Mexico, and in Los Angeles.
I was fond of LA and liked the vibrant city’s nightlife, and I visited there on many of my free weekends.
I also liked to go to West Hollywood and hit the “happening” clubs on the mile and half of Sunset Boulevard that was known famously as the “Sunset Strip.”
The Strip was home to trendy restaurants, sleazy bars and hip nightclubs. The Strip was a girl watchers’ delight and walking the Strip at night was like being part of a wild parade. Someone called the Strip a “cultural carnival.”
I also liked the great rock music played at the clubs there – this was a bit before punk rock and new wave set in - and I liked dancing with the young, pretty girls. Growing up in South Philly, I had gone to teenage dances every weekend, so I knew that hitting the dance floor on the Sunset Strip was a good way to meet girls.
There were other servicemen at the clubs, as well as hippies, college students, tourists, music and movie people, and everything in between.
Like other servicemen, I wore my "civies" (civilian clothes) to the clubs, but, unfortunately, like the other servicemen with regulation short hair, I stood out a bit from the guys who sported the longer hairstyles of the day. It appeared that the prettiest and most desirable girls shied away from military guys.
I recall one Friday night when I met an exceptionally pretty girl, a college student, who spent some time with me on the crowded dance floor. We took a break and I bought her a drink at the bar.
She was a bit inebriated, giddy and cheerful. Then she looked at me closely.
“Why do you have short hair? Are in you in the military?”
I knew that my being in the Navy would be a “turn off” for her, so I thought fast.
“No, but I don’t want to talk about it,” I replied sheepishly.
“My hair is cut short because I just got out of San Quentin prison.”
Her interest and imagination ignited, and she leaned into me and whispered, “Why were you in prison?”
“I robbed a bank.”
She nodded her head slowly, as if to say she understood. She then smiled, kissed me, and we returned to the dance floor.
She was fine with me being with a bank robber and ex-con, but she would have surely bolted had I told her I was a sailor.
Thankfully, the girls in the Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong and other ports in Southeast Asia we later visited had no such prejudice against sailors.
Note: You can read my other sea stories, vignettes, short stories, and humor pieces about the Navy via the below link: