Christmas 1966 - 2000

Christmas 1966 - 2000 I am sitting here safe and warm at home with my family remembering a Christmas thirty four years ago. I just received a photo of the USNS Upshur from Jim Bruno my MP brother. It flooded my mind with memories of that Christmas we all spent together and just how much all the men of the 127th Military Police Company mean to me. We had a Christmas meal together and other than that it did not seem like Christmas at all in 1966. For a bunch of young men that did not know if we would ever see another Christmas it seemed like a dream or something you see in the movies. I remember some of my experiences on the Upshur and have to smile because some of the trip was just too comical to forget. I remember doing PT on the deck, Jumping Jacks had to make you laugh. The ship would pitch and roll and when you jumped up it moved so that when you came back down you were a few inches from where you started. The group would sort of shuffle from one side of the deck to the other, then the instructor would have to stop us and reform the group to get a few more repetitions in. Then there were the Push Ups, if the instructor called them just right they were easy push ups, if not then you had the added gravity to push and if you were not paying attention you would KISS the deck on the way back down. I also remember the poor men that were assigned to KP for the entire trip, they became heroes when they started sneaking the good food down to us from the Officers Mess. I remember the stormy seas we went through, the group I was with were in the lowest compartment for troops near the bow. When the seas were real rough we all had to stay below deck, you could tell when the bow cleared the water and then slammed back into it because it made so much noise in our compartment. Then you could tell the stern cleared the water because the propeller would shake the entire ship. Eating chow was a chore not a pleasure any time on ship. First the compartments were called and we lined up in the corridors of the ship to work our way to the mess, (some times it was just that a mess) then we ate what we could digest and returned to some other part of the ship to continue the day. During a particular storm one day some interesting lessons were learned. There was a little rail around the tables we sat and they served our milk in these funny pyramid shaped containers. I noticed during that storm that the milk containers did not spill over, gee that just amazed me. Then as the ship started to really rock and roll the items not on our trays, (that we held down with one hand while eating with the other hand) like the catsup and salt and pepper started to slide back and forth on the table so then the little rail served it's purpose keeping the stuff on the table. However during the really rough seas it only worked for a while, we sat there and watched the loose stuff slide back and forth then a large enough wave hit and they all flew off the table, it was like watching some old comedy movie the expression on everyone's faces as the ship pitched and rolled all over during the storm. Then I remember the poor guys that were sea sick, I was lucky all I had was a terrible head ache that seemed to last the first ten days on board ship, (perhaps from the drinking the night before we shipped from Ft. Bragg). I made a lot of canteen runs for some of the fellows for chips and stuff to help settle their stomachs, they would call me over and give me their order and say here get yourself something too. I remember because I started that trip with 30 cents to my name and had all the snacks I wanted but still had a nickel when we arrived in country. I found out years later while on a fishing boat here in Florida just what sea sick is, all of you that suffered so bravely on the Upshur have my deepest respect. Then there were the flying fish we saw and the beautiful sunsets and the moon over the ocean at night, photos or movies can not do justice to the beauty mother nature gave us on our voyage. I remember the end of our trip with great detail. We arrived with seas too rough to disembark the ship and had to sit in the harbor waiting for the seas to calm, do they ever really do that? I had guard duty one night for several hours on deck, it was something that I took little pleasure in. Then came the time to go ashore, we were called up and given our instructions, the seas were still a little rough, (slight over statement) so it was of the up most importance we pay close attention our very lives would depend on each of us following our directions to the letter. We would leave the ship on a rope ladder !!! Now if you never climbed a rope ladder it will be hard for you to understand but the task is hard enough to accomplish with a bunch of gear on as it is but add to that rough seas. Now we are told that the landing craft that will take us to shore will be waiting at the bottom and the rope latter, as we work our way down the ladder we will keep our eyes straight ahead and NOT look down or behind us, (it's a true test of blind faith in your fellow man). When we reached a point close enough we would be told to let go of that rope ladder and step back, someone would then grab us and would help us onto the craft. All well and good then just about the time I am to get off about the fourth man ahead of me lets go of the ladder at the wrong time. He has to count him self as one lucky guy, the crews of those landing crafts were some of the best you could ask for, if not for them taking such swift action he would have been crushed between the two vessels. After a delay to recover our lucky but wet fellow MP the time came for me to journey down the rope ladder. I remember it seemed like it took a week to get down that swaying ladder, and after hearing the instructions to not look down or behind me I had my eyes riveted on the side of the ship. I worked my way down and heard a voice say, "stop !" and I froze. I waited for what seemed for ever and could hear the loud sound of the motor of the landing craft as the pilot worked the vessel in the rough seas to bring it in close and under me at just the right time. Then I heard that voice telling me to, "let go of the ladder and step back". I did as instructed not knowing if my feet would meet the deck or the water below, I can tell you that the men that took hold of me and put me on the deck of that landing craft were my angels that day, thank you many times over. Then we were whisked away for a bumpy ride to shore. I never looked back at the USNS Upshur that day, I had my fill of being on a ship and to this day don't really care for boats big or small. I now look back in memory and recall leaving Oakland California going under the Bay Bridge past Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge to the open sea. It all seems like a dream or a old half forgotten movie I saw a long time ago but, it did happen and I would not trade those memories good and bad for all the tea in China as the saying goes. I hope each of my Brothers that made that voyage so long ago have a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year, I will be thinking of each of you with love and hope in my heart. Jim Leach