It took nearly five hours for our plane to land at Barber’s Point. At noon, we had been given lunch k-rations and cans of coke. Bernie awakened during our meal in a groggy state and ate sparingly. The Dramamine was obviously still working. He didn’t upchuck again, but acted drunk, saying silly and controversial things. Fortunately, his voice was slurred as he muttered his fears about what lie ahead. At point one, his mood changed from gloom to euphoria. He began rambling about our plan, giggling at how we got away with it. One enlisted men in front of us looked back with irritation, the other with amusement, but they said nothing. Fortunately for us, only I was able to interpret his thick speech. I clamped my hand over his mouth finally and whispered a threat into his ear, but he ignored my threat and, changing the subject again, began bragging about his father. Inexplicably then, his speech was more coherent. This time a first class electrician sitting beside Bud Workman took issue with his boasts, by reminding Bernie that there were a lot of heroes in the war.
“Everyone pitched in during those raids,” he said thoughtfully. “I was on the Enterprise, myself, a seamen apprentice. I should know. It was do or die, sonny. Calling your dad a super hero is understandable, but I wonder if he would make that claim. My best friend got the Navy Cross, and he never made such a claim. Most heroes are just doing what needs to be done. I find it hard to believe your dad did all that stuff. You claim he led a fire brigade, saved pilots from burning planes, and jumped in the ocean to save drowning men. Seems to me if he did all that, he’d get the Medal of Honor, not the Cross.”
“Well, he did!” Bernie stuck out his lip.
“Excuse me,” someone called out. “I was on the Hornet. What was your father’s name?”
Bud, who had advised me to let sleeping dogs lie, raised forward to pat Bernie’s back. It seemed to me that Bernie was waking up the dog. Looking around for the source of the voice, I saw a navy chief rise up briefly and wave. Bernie had mumbled the name indistinctly before. Hesitantly now, he announced it loudly and clearly: “His name was Armand Suarez.”
“I remember him,” replied the chief, “a talkative fellow. He was a third class mechanic then. I just came aboard out of boot camp. That was at the end of the war. I missed most of the action. I don’t remember hearing about any exploits, though. You said his name was, not is. Did your father pass away?”
“Yeah, a car wreck,” Bernie said in a downcast voice.
“Sorry to hear that,” replied the chief. “That must’ve been tough.”
“I never knew him,” Bernie shrugged. “My mom told me a lot about him. My Uncle Ralph served with him awhile. He was killed when I was just a baby.”
Dead silence followed. Remembering Bud’s advice and the response given to Bernie’s claim, I was thankful that the subject was dropped. Bud patted his back again. I asked in a whisper, “What about your sister? Was that your stepfather’s child?”
“Yeah, sure, I guess so,” he murmured discreetly. “She came along after dad was killed. I don’t remember much.’
I had no intention of telling Bernie what Bud told me. Bernie might be grateful to know that his father was alive. On the other hand, there might have been a good reason his mother told him he was dead. I was thankful that none of the other passengers were aware that Armand was alive.
When we touched down at Barber’s Point, the fuselage jerked, the engines decelerated, and our plane glided to a jolting stop. Everyone filed out hastily, happy it had been a safe flight, eager to enjoy the remainder of the day. Evening light streamed through the hatch. The few officers aboard, who had remained silent during our journey, frowned with disapproval back at us. The enlisted men, including Bud and the friendly chief, smiled or nodded, but most of the passengers didn’t know what to make of Bernie Suarez and gave him curious looks.
I hadn’t the foggiest notion what Bernie had in mind now. Was his Uncle Ralph supposed to meet us somewhere? I wondered. Perhaps, I thought light-headedly, there was no Uncle Ralph at all and he had made that story up too. As we walked across the tarmac toward the terminal, I saw a row of men and women, both in uniform and in civilian dress, apparently waiting for the plane to arrive. Trotting over to their wives or friends, many of the passengers hugged and shook hands, while the others continued on their way to the barracks before reporting for duty Monday morning. I envied them all for their legitimacy. We were illegitimate with fake airman apprentice patches on our arms. Bernie scanned the faces of the welcoming line, looked over at me, and shook his head.
“What now, kemo sabe?” I asked dryly.
“Well,” he said wearily, “let’s find a pay phone. It’s the weekend. I hope I can reach him. After I call, we can stow our gear in the barracks and gets some chow!”
“Now that’s a great idea,” I grinned, slapping his shoulder. “After that we can go into town.”
“I dunno,” Bernie groaned, “that medicine’s strong. I only took three of them and they wiped me out.”
I looked at him in disbelief. “You took three? You dumb shit! You’re only supposed to take one.” “Come on,” I said, taking his arm, “you make that call right away. Then we’re going to the mess hall. Whether you like it or not, Bernie, you’re drinking coffee with your dinner. I didn’t come to Hawaii to have you take a nap!”
Bernie whined and cursed, until we reached a pay phone near the terminal.
“Move it!” I gave him a shove. “Make your damn call!”
After inserting a quarter with a shaky hand and taking a deep breath, he waited a few moments as Ralph’s landline rang. I had a sinking feeling as I studied his expression. When it became apparent that Ralph wasn’t at his duty station or in the barracks, Bernie hung up the phone and stood there staring into space.
“Bernie, wake up,” I snapped my fingers “Is your Uncle Ralph going to give you the same reception as your Uncle Dominick?”
“I dunno,” he exhaled nervously. “I don’t know Ralph very well. I found his number, introduced myself, and asked to meet him here. He knew my mom, not my dad—at least that’s what she told me. My mom used to live here during the war.”
“What?” my mouth popped open. “She was here in Hawaii. She must’ve been a teenager.”
“Yeah,” he bobbed his head. “My Mom’s not Mexican, Noel. She’s half French and half Polynesian.
“Wow—half French and half Polynesian!” I slapped my forehead. “Was she born here? Was her father stationed here like your dad?”
“I dunno.” he gave me a perplexed look. “I know nothing about that man. My Mom’s always been tight lipped about that part of her life, and most of my memory is about her, my sister, and stepfather. My sister Anna and I, of course, have different last names, hers is Johnson and mine is Suarez. From that point, it’s bits and pieces—nothing concrete.”
“Her last name’s Johnson?” I focused upon his disclosure. “What does Anna look like, Bernie? Describe her to me. Blond, brunette, redhead? Does she have big knockers?”
In a daze Bernie replied, “Well, she’s a dishwater blond, with blue eyes and freckles—”
“A blue-eyed blond? Hot damn!” I slapped my knee. “Your cousin Concepcion has freckles too!” “Holding back on me, eh?” I said, ruffling his hair. “You sly fellow!”
“Wait.” He did a double take. “We were talking about my Mom. My sister is off limits to you, Noel!”
“Sure-sure,” I elbowed him playfully. “So tell me Bernie, how did your mom meet your dad? Was it here at Barber’s Point?”
“I told you,” he replied testily, “Mom’s tight-lipped. There’s hardly any pictures of him. I have one in my wallet, but she must’ve thrown the others away.”
“How very strange,” I replied, scratching my chin. “There’s a lot of secrets in your family, Bernie. There’s nothing mysterious about my family; it’s an open book.”
“All right,” he huffed, spreading his hands, “I got a weird family. Let’s go dump our gear and eat!”
Our first stop was the enlisted men’s barracks. The airman on duty smelled of liquor. I knew we wouldn’t have any trouble from him. Nevertheless, I took over now. It would remain this way for the rest of our caper. As Bernie sat dejectedly on a bench outside, I requested two sets pillows, sheets, and blankets and two sets of towels. We might get a late start, I told Bernie, but we’re going to shower and shave before hitting the beach. I dreaded passing by a gate guard in my uniform again. I took this opportunity to ask the airman if enlisted men could exit the main gate in their civvies. He gave me the same look the corporal at Alameda had given us.
“Are you fresh out of basic?” he sneered. “Of course you can!”
“Really?” I replied, compounding my ignorance, “what about coming back? Some of those Marine guards look pretty mean.”
“Listen sport.” He stuck out his chin. “This is Barber’s Point, not Los Alamitos or Alameda.”
I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean. As we stood in line at the mess hall, I could smell roast beef and other aromatic dishes. Piled onto our trays along with the main course, were mashed potatoes, string beans, and biscuits. The aroma of coffee also wafted in the air. This time even Bernie appeared to have an appetite. He had eaten very little since this morning. Despite not eating most of the k-rations passed out to the other passengers, however, he still ate sparingly. I was astounded to discover that he didn’t eat meat, which left him with only vegetables and buttered biscuits. When we arrived at the desert portion of the chow line, he selected Jell-O instead of hot apple pie. He could guzzle all the milk he wanted, but one thing I absolutely insisted was that he drink at least one cup of coffee.
The evening diners were nosier than the morning crowd. I noted that many men eating breakfast at Alameda appeared to be hung over, half awake, or in grumpy moods, but the men eating supper at Barber’s Point seemed pumped up about the weekend ahead or a night on the beach. I was pumped up too, but Bernie, like the breakfast crowd at Alameda, was hung over on Dramamine. Though he made the effort and drank most of his coffee, I was worried he was not up to the task.
“Listen kemo sabe.” I gave him a studied look. “We’re going back to the barracks and get ready for a night on the town. I want to see Honolulu. Tomorrow, if we have time, I want to tour Pearl Harbor and all those places in Hawaii our instructor told us about.”
“I need a nap,” he whined. “Can’t we do this first thing in the morning. I’ll be refreshed then.”
“No!” I snapped. “You shouldn’t have taken all those pills. The first thing you do tomorrow is contact your uncle. You promised me he would get us a flight. Monday we have to fly back to Alameda, and, according to your plan, catch a hop home. We’ve got school Tuesday, Bernie; as much as I love adventure, I’m not going to be stranded here at Barber’s Point.” “Bernie, are you listening to me?” I shook him awake. “Damn it, you’re drinking another cup of coffee.” I jumped up and headed for the decanter. This whole thing was your idea, not mine. You’re going on the beach tonight. You’re not going to let me down!”
“Ick,” he whimpered, “I hate coffee. I’m going to be sick!”
Slamming the mug down, I ordered sternly, “Drink!”
The men around us were laughing at us, but I didn’t care. I was losing my patience with Bernie. His personality had been changing into various moods since we set out on this caper. Now he was demonstrating his ‘wimp’ mood. Those Dramamine pills had wiped him out. Unfortunately, the coffee was, in fact, making him sick. To wake him up, my best bet would be to make him take a cold shower. After placing both our trays in the rack, I led him in zombie-like increments back to the barracks, told him to get into the shower, and, on the other side of shower area, quickly rinsed myself off, as he struggled out of his clothes. Out of modesty or pure stupidity, Bernie entered the shower in his skivvies.
“It has to be cold!” I shouted at him.
“I can’t do it, it’s freezing.” He tested it a moment.
Placing a towel around my waste, I stomped over, shoved him in, turning it sharply to the left.
“Ooooooooooh!” he squealed like a girl.
It just so happened that there were enlisted men entering the barracks that moment. Embarrassed after hearing their exchange, I ordered Bernie to get dressed.
“Hey,” one of them snickered ghoulishly, “sounds like a chick in the shower. Maybe it’s a wave or wahine.”
“Yeah,” hooted the second man, “let’s check this out!”
When they appeared, the two sailors eyed us with suspicion, but said nothing as Bernie stood their drying himself off. I quickly began shaving to disassociate myself from him. As a squat, square-jawed sailor with spectacles, looked on, a short, wiry, pimply face youth moved forward to survey Bernie a moment.
“You two guys have fun?” he drawled.
“You filthy pig!” Bernie spat.
I wanted to say that I had never seen him before. In stead, I turned to the smaller man, dropped my shaver, and told him to mind his own business. The squat man charged forward with clinched fist, but then, as I stood my ground, just stood there glaring at me with smoldering dark eyes.
“I know about guys like you,” he growled.
At that point, I was tempted to punch him in the nose. “What are you talking about?” I frowned. “He was singing in the shower. Haven’t you ever heard a falsetto voice? All the rock and roll singers used it now.” “Oooooh Ooooh,” I tried imitating Frankie Valli.
“That’s not what I heard,” snarled the pimply face youth. “I heard a chick squeal.” “This chick!” He pointed at Bernie. “You guys playing games?”
That’s all it took for Bernie, “MPs! MPs!” he shouted running though the barracks.
“Hey, what’s the fuss?” I heard the man on duty shout.
“Two men are threatening my friend with a knife,” he cried. “Call the MPs.”
“I know those men,” replied the airman. “Are you sure you saw a knife?”
“Come and see, Come and see,” he said in a tremulous voice.
“All right,” he snorted, “but get a grip on yourself, man.”
At that point, I was more worried about what Bernie was doing. I had no desire to have to answer to the MPs when they investigated the scene.
The first sailor flashed his friend fearful look. “We don’t have any knives. That guy’s crazy.”
“Yes.” I heaved a sigh. “nuttier than a fruit cake.”
“What’s going on in here?” The airman stormed in. “This fellow says you got knives.”
“Heck no, Dewey,” the first sailor laughed nervously. “We were just fooling with them.”
“You’re always fooling with someone.” Dewey shook his head. “You two let these youngsters get ready so they can hit the beach.”
The amiable words of the man on duty (now identified as Dewey) belied his sarcastic tone and the look on his face. When the two sailors slipped away like jackals, he stood there appraising us, a leer on his face. It was obvious what he was thinking. He said nothing, however, as he did an about face and swaggered out of the room. I was completely disgusted with Bernie now.
“Why did you make that noise?” I scolded him. “Haven’t you ever had a cold shower before? Why didn’t you just ignore them? And why did you call for the MPs? Are you insane?”
“I’m sorry.” His lip quivered. “…I wanna go home.”
“What?” I screamed. “You want to home? You son-of-a-bitch! So help me, Bernie, I’m going it alone!”