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Taken from The Gorgon, Summer, 1999

And We All Took The Long Way Home

It was August 1945, that joyous time when the war in the Pacific had ended and USS Euryale was in Pearl Harbor, ready to make her long-awaited homeward-bound voyage to the Golden Gate.

Things had quieted down since that tumultuous summer night when brass bands from a dozen warships swarmed across the piers, surrounded by thousands of hat-tossing sailors so excited -- and grateful -- that the war was over at last.

The Euryale crew was settled on deck for the evening movie. One deck up, officers brought their desk chairs to lean against the outer bulkhead of the radio shack, so they could put their feet up on the railing in front of them and pretend they were in the loges in one of the movie palaces back home.

The radio supervisor on watch that evening was manning one of the radio circuits when along came the dot-dot-dash stuff that radiomen, with the help of a typewriter, knew how to set down on paper. This was no coded message, it was coming out in "plain language'. -- that is to say, in readable English -- and it came loud and clear.

The exact wording of that message cannot now be recalled, but the gist of it cannot be forgotten.

We can't even tell you, now, which Navy command originated the message. It was something higher up than Commander of the Submarine Forces in the Pacific, and something less than the White House.

The message was addressed personally to Capt. Ralph Gurley of USS Euryale. It began with a "thank you" for the captain's offer to forget about heading-for San Francisco, and, instead, to set out for Japan so that he and his ship -- and its crew -could become part of the occupation force. The radio supervisor didn't want to believe it. No Golden Gate? No home for Christmas? No USA?

There was a very strong urge to crush that message up in a ball, toss it overboard. Or burn it. Even eat it. But things like that don't go undetected. There would be a court martial. And the brig, maybe. Where was the brig, anyway? Somewhere up forward, they say.

So the captain had volunteered. He really did do that. And now he was sitting just outside the hatch, feet up on the rail, laughing at some stupid movie.

The radio supervisor took a flashlight, excusing himself past the other officers, to the captain's side and shoved the clipboard in front of the skipper, holding the flashlight close to the single paragraph that began with a thank you and dribbled off into nobody remembers what.

Captain Gurley wasn't slouching now; his feet left the rail and they met the deck the same time that the chair legs slammed against the steel. He seemed to read the message more than once. "Thanks," he said to the radio supervisor, who skulked through the darokness back to the bright light and dot ditty dit dot sounds in the radio shack.

Japan? Could the Japanese know, maybe, that the radio supervisor once won an American Legion oratorical contest with a speech that began with a zingy reference to Japan as a land of tea and treachery? Naw!

So we wouldnit be going home for a while. Instead, it would be Guam, where we would spend V-J Day sloshing around in a so-called "dry dock," crouching beneath the Blue Beetle, scraping barnacles off her belly. And then Okinawa. And Japan.

And there we were, the captain and the ship and a thousand volunteers. Well, the captain volunteered for all of us. We went along with him, you might say. Did we ever! Like it or not, we were along for the ride. Doesn't it make you glad just to think about it?

Next time somebody mentions the occupation forces, if anybody ever does, you can say with pride: "Oh, yes, I volunteered for that." You really did, you know. Euryale did.

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