Special Liberty

posted Mar 8, 2021, 3:08 PM by Bruce Rowe

It was a beautiful fall morning in San Diego and I had liberty from my Navy duties on North Island. My kiddy cruise nearly over, as I will soon reach 21, I needed a day to explore San Diego. Especially the zoo, something I had always wanted to do.

I took the “nickel-snatcher” ferry, connecting North Island to San Diego, and moseyed up Broadway toward the YMCA with not a care in the world. That is, until two uniformed shore patrol swabbies came up and asked if I was in the military. Being in civilian clothes and wanting nothing more than being “non-military,” I said no. What happened from then on changed not only my day, but the rest of my life.

“Then,” they inquired, “let us see your draft card.”

You see, this was the time when all young men were subject to the draft. Now I was stuck, one lie couldn’t be absolved by another. I was on liberty alright, but I didn’t have a liberty card to prove it, and as I was in the Navy, I didn’t have or need a draft card. In no short order I was arrested and placed in a “convenience” brig there on the shoreline of San Diego Bay. It was a small enclosure, only about six-foot square, and the only thing I could see through the rusty short steel bars on the door was North Island Naval Air Station where my morning’s events had begun.

I hadn’t been searched yet, but I panicked when I recalled the presence in my wallet of a bogus meal-pass card. They were easy to come by, but the threat of a court martial or at least a Captains Mast if you got caught with one, came to mind. Quickly, I took it out, swallowed, and introduced it to my digestive system for fear of committing my second serious crime.

Hours passed as I languished there in my prison, the heat of the passing day increasing the level of my discomfort. Besides, I’d skipped morning chow to get to the zoo early, and the only thing I’d eaten since then was the fake meal-pass.

Finally, shore patrolmen showed up and confirmed that I was indeed in the Navy, had authorized absence from my duty station on North Island, and was free to return to that duty station on the next nickel-snatcher. It was evening, and I had even missed dinner at the chow hall back on North Island. On duty the next morning, my Navy chief smirked and shook his head but made no great deal of my yesterday’s ordeal. But I will never forget the loss of that day, from great expectations of wonderful sights and pleasures to exceeding discomfort and dismal disappointment.

Eventually, long after I was discharged from the Navy, I had the opportunity to see and enjoy the San Diego Zoo. So what did I learn from that experience long before? What benefit did it yield to my life? Always tell the truth. And if you can’t tell the truth, at least tell a plausible lie.

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