I've had a lot of firsts in my life – we all have. I think back upon some of them, even now. The first time I rode my bike without training wheels, the first fish I caught, my first home run, and my first dog. I remember the first time I came after a good wank. Jesus, I thought I had damaged something.
I remember the first time I got to second base with a girl – Emily Green. Her tits felt like velvet. I got so hard so fast that I came in my pants. Needless to say, that cut the date short. I was so embarrassed I never asked her out again.
I remember the first time I fell in love. Not the first time I said I love you, but the first time I meant it. The year was 1966 and her name was Linda Murphy.
I was in the diner after school, my senior year. The guys from my baseball team were celebrating winning the last game of the year. We sat around eating hamburgers and drinking cokes. We were all sweaty and dusty from the warm spring day. Dusty Springfield's throaty voice filled the place with “You Don't Have To Say You Love Me”. At a time when The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Mamas and the Papas ruled, she stood out like royalty.
A group of girls came in with their teased and sprayed hair, wearing mini skirts that got us all thinking. Linda was the last to pass by and I think that's the first time I really noticed her. When all the others were giggling, she let loose with a hearty laugh that caused her to cover her mouth in embarrassment. It matched her. She had brilliant red hair, bright green eyes and a face covered with freckles. Her yellow dress came halfway down her creamy white thighs. Yeah, she was pretty, but not in the way that was popular back then.
I knew her from school, but also because of her older brother. They lived in my neighborhood and our brothers ended up in the same unit in Viet Nam. Still, we only had a nodding acquaintance.
When the music changed to “Satisfaction” by the Stones, we all got up to dance. When I spun around, I was facing Linda and it just seemed natural to keep dancing with her. Later, as she walked out the door to go home, I said some quick good-byes and went after her.
“Hey,” I said when I caught up to her.
“Oh Carl,” she replied. If I surprised her, she never let on. “Have you heard from Ricky, lately? Donnie wrote and said it's really tough over there.”
“Yeah, my mom cries every time she reads one of his letters. I was thinking of joining up instead of college, but my dad won't let me. He said my mom couldn't take it, and I need to be here for my little brothers.”
Linda stopped walking and looked at me. I swear, she looked liked she would cry.
“Don't go, Carl,” she said softly.
I knew right then and there that things were going to be different. We kept walking, not really saying anything. I'm not sure when it happened, but by the time we reached her house, we were holding hands. It was an uneasy good-bye and I told her I would walk to school with her in the morning.
The last weeks of school were fun. We had our senior picnic, plans for graduation, and lots of parties. Linda and I became a couple, although it wasn't anything we planned. It just happened and it felt very natural to consider her my girlfriend. I found out she was going to the community college where I had applied. I was still waiting for my acceptance letter, but we made plans for driving together. One of my graduation gifts from my dad was my grandfather's old 1956 Mercury Montclair Hardtop, white with turquoise blue. I know it wasn't anything like the new Chevelles, Fairlanes and Impalas, but I felt so cool.
My parents loved Linda, but I think my mom just liked having another female around. After all, she had put up with the antics of her husband and four sons for a long time. When I think back on the tricks we played on mom, the snakes we dangled in front of her, she really was a good sport. Linda gave her the chance to be a girl, and it was really kind of fun to watch mom be girl-silly.
Linda and I had just gotten home from being measured for our graduation caps and gowns, when we heard crying coming from the kitchen. I froze. I could only think of the worst possible news, to make my mom cry. Linda immediately went to her, held her and let her cry until she could talk. The piece of paper my mom was holding slipped to the floor. I was afraid it was bad news about Ricky, but I was wrong. It was a letter from college that said I wasn't good enough to get in. That meant one thing; I had lost my college deferment and could be drafted.
We got mom to calm down, and then go lay down for awhile. Linda looked as worried as mom did.
“Carl,” she started.
“Look Linda, it's no big deal. So I'm not starting college in the fall. I knew I might not get in; my grades aren't as good as yours. Don't worry, okay? I mean, there's a good chance I won't be drafted,” I told her, not exactly believing my own words.
As she moved into my arms, I could see the tears start to come. We stood in the kitchen, just holding each other. I breathed in the honeysuckle smell of her skin. I nuzzled the softness of her hair. I could have stayed like that, holding her forever. When she pulled back to look at me, I lowered my face to meet hers. Her sweet kisses were now salty with her tears. My heart swelled and I knew then what I still know now.
“I love you,” I whispered. “I will always love you.”
It was the first best moment of my life. From that minute, our relationship intensified. When I think back to those years, I remember up until that point it was fun, holding hands, making out, everything young people did. After that, when we kissed, we kissed the way a man and woman would kiss. It was almost like a seriousness had developed between us. When we were all alone, there was a passionate need behind my caressing. Some day, I thought, some day I will make you mine.
Graduation was a huge deal for all of us. We had family parties and a big blow-out in the park. Even though we planned the party, our folks were there cooking and making sure we stayed out of trouble. I heard a lot of stories about friends of ours doing “it” after the prom and on graduation night, but that never occurred to me. I loved and respected Linda too much. When we decided to do “it”, I would plan to show her how much I loved her.
All summer I spent looking for a job, since college was out of the picture. I would have thought that someone would want a strapping young man to do manual labor, but there wasn't anything to be found in our small town. Linda had started college and I had nothing. In mid-September I stopped at the local shopping plaza, wandering the length of store fronts. One place caused me to stop, take a breath and go on in. In spite of everything that happened after that, it's a decision I never regretted.
I was glad to see dad was home when I arrived. I really needed to sit down and talk to him, before talking to mom. It turned out as I thought; I went to his office and talked to him man to man. When we were finished, he shook my hand and I knew he was really proud of me. Now, we just had to talk to mom.
I let dad do the talking because I knew I would screw it up. He was able to hold her back from grabbing me and holding me like her baby. There was no easy way to do it, so pretty much he just told her – I had joined the navy. Ricky was in the army, but I decided I wanted to do this on my own. I would have ended up being drafted anyway, so with my enlisting, I could choose what I wanted to do. Also, it would help me with my education.
Dad took mom to dinner and I called Linda. She sounded happy to see me in the middle of the week, so we took a drive down to the lake. The sun made the evening glow with amber hues. It was still warm out in the evenings and quiet, except for the sound of frogs and the loons in the distance. I brought along a blanket so we could sit near the water's edge. As she leaned against me, I stroked her hair and talked about our futures. She was excited to be in college and planned to become a nurse. Linda knew I was trying to find work and that I couldn't find anything other than flipping burgers – not exactly what I was looking for.
“Linda, I may have a line on a job, but I need to know that you'll be okay with it,” I began, turning so she could look at my face. “You're going to college and I know that after community college you'll want to go on to the university. You're a smart girl and I know you'll be a great nurse. The thing is, I need to find a job I'll like and get someone to train me, since the college thing is out.”
She knew. “Carl, what did you do?”
“I found someplace where I can get trained and paid. Someplace where I have a future there, or can move into another job. Someplace where I can provide a future for the two of us, if you'll have me. I know we're just kids now, but I love you, Linda. I want to spend my life with you, when I can really give you the things you deserve.”
Linda moved away from me and in a stern voice again asked, “What did you do?”
Linda moved farther away and her voice became shrill as she again asked me, “Carl, what did you do?”
“I stopped to talk to a Navy recruiter today,” I said quietly. “They can train me for a real job and help with my education. Let's face it, I'm not going to college and I'm going to be drafted. This way I can make some of my own decisions.”
“How dare you?” She practically screamed as she leaped to her feet. “You lied to me! We talked about this!”
“Linda, listen to me,” I pleaded while I scrambled to stand next to her. “I don't have a choice! Do you want me to just sit around with no job, no money, and wait for them to come get me? Damn it, Linda, I'm doing this for us, for our future, so I can marry you!”
I saw her shoulders start to shake as she brought her hands to her face. I grabbed her and held her tight. There was nothing more to say.
I was really glad Linda and my mom were so close. At times, they literally clung to each other. My dad was a rock, helping me get together all the paperwork I needed. He and I also discussed what kind of career choice I should make. There were a lot of different ways I could go, but I finally decided on becoming an electrician. All that was left was to get processed with my aptitude test, my physical and the enlistment interview. I invited both my family and Linda's for the swearing in ceremony. Yeah, the women cried but I felt like I was an adult man that day – one who would provide for his wife.
The day I left for boot camp was hard. I was catching the bus for the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, just north of Chicago. I would be gone for about two months; two months of marching, drilling, classes, weaponry, and taking any and all orders. I guess I should credit my parents for always being strict with us kids. I learned early on that if I did what I was told, and did it well, everything would be fine.
My folks left my brothers at my grandparent's house, but brought Linda and her mom up for graduation, the second weekend in December. Mom and dad gave me a brand new camera as a gift, and I got a kick out of taking pictures of all my shipmates. I also made sure I had a lot of pictures of Linda, and the two of us, to carry with me. It seemed like the day ended all too soon, and I had to go back to base. Our folks walked away from us, so we could have a private good-bye. It felt so good to kiss her again. I got to spend one more day with my family before they had to leave. I now understood when my parents used to say “short but sweet”. I promised I would be home soon, before I got my orders to ship out.
I was lucky to stay right at Great Lakes for A-School, to begin my three-month long studies to become an Electrician's Mate (EM). Where I had a hard time in school, barely passing in some cases, here everything seemed to make sense. Maybe it's because I wanted it so bad and I knew I was doing this for Linda. More likely it was because of all those times my dad made us work with him on projects around the house. I had always been good with tools, so this came kind of easy to me.
Linda was more faithful about writing to me than I was to her. She kept me up to date on what was happening in town and how she was doing in college. I'll be honest, when I went to Boy Scout camp, my mother packed self-addressed and stamped envelopes with form letters where all I had to do is check the box. You know, the food is great...good...okay...horrible. I'm much better talking on the phone. When I could speak with Linda, we made plans for when I got leave, after school. One thing she didn't know I was planning, was my little surprise. I wasn't going to be home for Christmas, but I would make it up to her.
I was happy my parents didn't insist on joining Linda at the bus station when she came to pick me up. I didn't care; I took her in my arms and kissed her long and hard. I don't think that our bodies had ever been that close. When we stopped kissing, we just looked at each other for a minute.
“Come on,” I said, grabbing her hand. I laughed when I saw she had driven the Montclair.
I drove down Main Street and felt like I had been gone for years, instead of five months. After being able to spend time in Chicago, this town felt so small. It was March 1967; it was cold as a witch's tit, with some fresh snow. Instead of driving right home, I drove out near the lake so I could have few more minutes with my girl. Her lips tasted so good and if it hadn't been so damn cold, I would have been tempted to get a blanket out of my trunk and take her into the woods.
“Oh Carl,” she whispered. “It's been so long. When you first left I thought I'd die. I love you.”
I gave her a final hug and then held her at arms length. My girl – my carrot topped, green-eyed girl. I reached into my pocket, not planning for it to happen like this, but it just seemed right.
“Linda, I know it's not much, and someday I'll make it right, but will you marry me?” I held my breath and waited for the answer.
Her hands went to her mouth, as if to stop a sound that didn't exist, from coming out. I wasn't even sure she was breathing as she looked at the gold ring with the small diamond. When she lifted her head, I could see the tears starting to fall. Her arms went around my neck and she cried out, “Yes!”
My hands were actually shaking as I put the ring on Linda's finger. I thought it looked cheap but she kept going on about how beautiful it was, holding it up and looking at it at arm's length. She turned to me and had a stricken look on her face.
“Carl, what will my parents say?”
“Well, your father will tell me I could have gotten a better ring, and then tell me it's about time. I talked to him a few weeks ago. You don't think I'd do this without his approval, do you?”
It was an impromptu celebration that night, with our families coming together. Of course, both moms cried and then sat Linda down to discuss weddings. I don't think it occurred to them that we wouldn't get married until after I was out of the service. It was a great way to start my two week leave, before I reported to the Naval Station at Bremerton, Washington.
Linda attended classes during the day while I caught up on some rest and did some work around my parent's house. They had crammed a lot of information into the twelve week A-School. I was proud of what I had learned and I knew someday I would be a really good electrician. Who knew? I remember thinking maybe I could even start my own business someday.
The days were sunny and crisp, with snow that glistened like diamonds in the light. A couple guys from school were around and the lake was still frozen, so we decided to go ice-fishing one afternoon. When they started talking about sex, I just listened. It's not that it had never crossed my mind – having sex with Linda. Of course, it did. I mean, she was beautiful and I loved her, but part of me was afraid. I was afraid I would hurt her, but I was also afraid that I wouldn't know what to do. The more the guys talked, the more I picked up on the “how to”. Where one guy was just talking about the screwing, the other was talking about what to do with the girl. They both made sense and I guess it got me thinking more. If I got sent over to Nam, did I want to go a virgin? Would I want to make love to Linda, just in case?
That night she and I went to Sonny's Diner, where we used to hang out. It almost seemed strange to be there and not be a high school kid. The Everly Brother's were singing “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, when I stood up and asked her to dance with me. It was an old song, but a classic. Linda hummed in my ear as I held her tight, swaying to the music.
When the song was over, I kissed her lips and said, “They're sweeter than wine, sweetheart, and my dreams about you will be about our life together, when I get home for good.”
Two weeks just wasn't long enough. Soon it was Saturday and I was supposed to fly out Sunday around noon. I don't know if they planned it, but Linda's parents were going out for the evening and they agreed to let Linda cook dinner for me. Maybe it was so we could experience “married life”. My mom told me to be sure to take flowers with me, to thank Mrs. Murphy. I also picked up the Everly Brother's album for Linda, so that maybe we could dance to that same song again.
I scored points with Mrs. Murphy when I gave her the flowers. Mr. Murphy gave me a thumbs up as she and Linda gushed and put them into water. After they left for the evening, we settled down to eat in the dining room. At our house, the dining room was reserved for Sundays and holidays, so I knew she was trying to make tonight very special. I think that was the night that meatloaf and scalloped potatoes became my favorite meal. Linda did a really great job and looked so cute serving us. For a while that night, I really felt like we were married and sharing a meal. I even helped dry the dishes for her.
When Linda came into the living room, I surprised her with the album. Immediately, she put it on the stereo so we could dance. Fast or slow, Linda was a great dancer. I did what I could not to trip over my own feet when the music was fast. When it came to slow, then I was okay. It wasn't hard to put your arms around a girl, hold her close and sway to the music. And that's what I did.
There was only one lamp lit in the corner of the room, the music played softly and I had the most beautiful girl in the world in my arms. We fit just right with her arms around my neck and mine around her waist. I loved the silken feeling of her hair on my face, and her smell, always the honeysuckle. This was as close to perfect as I could ever imagine....and then she kissed my neck and moved even closer to me. When I lifted my head and looked into her eyes, I saw a look I hadn't seen before. As soon as my lips touched hers, I felt a hunger – I also felt her hunger.
The swaying stopped and our bodies seemed to mold to one another. We stood, kissing, using our tongues to explore, my hands running up and down her back, just touching the curve below her waist. Linda broke our kiss and took a half step back. Her eyes were soft, her lips were open just a bit, and her breathing was rapid.
“Carl,” she said softly, “will you come to my room?”
“What?” I was confused.
“I love you; I want to lay down with you. I want to hold you and kiss you. I want us to be close,” she said in a breathy voice.
I was a total goof – I just nodded and walked with her down the hallway to her room. I had seen it before; we were allowed to listen to music there if we left the door open. We would sit on the floor, going through all Linda's records. Sometimes we would start necking and kind of end up lying on the floor. All her parents ever did was cough as they walked past the door. It was just the reminder I needed to be respectful. But now, it was just the two of us in the house.
Linda walked to her bed and threw the stuffed animals that had been carefully arranged there, onto the floor. The only light in the room came from the hallway. She sat down and then patted the spot next to her. I wasn't totally stupid; I went to her. I think it took one kiss before we were lying down on her bed, our legs still on the floor. I knew I would be allowed to feel her up, but I didn't think we would go much farther. When my hand moved to her chest, she moaned in the middle of our kiss. I could feel her nipple become hard as I began to massage her.
Our kisses became more passionate and we rolled on our sides to face each other. Linda's hands were on my face, my one hand was on her tit, and she slid her leg between mine. I don't think she realized that her thigh rubbed against my cock. I don't think she realized what she was doing to me – driving me crazy. Or maybe she did. She broke the kiss and leaned her head back, exposing the length of her throat. I immediately began kissing and sucking all over her neck. The whole time I did this, Linda pushed her tits towards me, her hips started moving and her leg kept rubbing my cock. It was more than I could take. Respect was not on my mind at this point.
I pulled away suddenly, saying, “We need to stop.”
I tried my best to sit up, but Linda held on to me. “Why?” she asked.
“Linda, do you know what you're doing to me? If we don't stop, something's going to happen that I don't think you were planning on. Come on; let's go back in the living room.”
She wouldn't let me go. Her eyes held mine and her voice became deep. I knew, oh how I knew.
“Carl, don't leave me – love me. Please, love me. I won't see you for a long time. I don't want you to go without giving myself to you. Please, you asked me to marry you; let me be your wife, now.”
Linda wanted this. I wanted this. It was going to happen, whether it was right or wrong, it was going to happen. I managed to stand up and pull her up with me. I kissed her deeply and then pulled away.
“All right, sweetheart,” I said.
Linda smiled, shyly. “I'm going into the bathroom to get ready. I'll be right back.”
She grabbed something out of her closet and left the room. I watched her until the bathroom door closed. As fast as I could, I got out of my clothes and got in on the far side of the bed. I blew into my cupped hand and realized my breath could stop a train, but there was nothing I could do about it now; I heard her coming back. I tried to look cool, with my arm on the back of her pillow, giving her my best suave look.
Linda wore a white nightgown. She looked like an angel when she got into bed next to me.
“Linda, are you scared?” I asked, my suave attitude leaving.
“No, Carl. I'm with you. Why would I ever be afraid?”
At that moment, we met in the middle of the bed, wrapping our arms around the other and laying down on the plump pillows. There was something almost magical about what happened that night.
This time when I ran my hand over her tits, all that separated my flesh from hers was thin cotton. Her nipple immediately hardened under my touch. When it did, her tongue pushed into my mouth to French kiss. Rarely had we done that. We were always afraid of where it would lead, but not tonight. I rolled her nipple between my fingers until Linda stopped kissing me.
“Please kiss it,” she whispered.
She moved her nightgown to expose her tit. She wasn't stacked or anything, in fact most of the guys thought she was flat-chested. But she was my girl, my woman, and I loved her for who she was. I barely touched her nipple with my lips, giving it a little kiss. It looked really hard but it wasn't. It was all kind of crinkly. I looked at it and then licked it. Linda trembled, then put her hand on the back of my head and pulled it down to her chest. My open mouth engulfed her and I began to suck.
God, the taste of her. I could have sucked on her tits all night. I didn't realize her nightgown slid up and our naked legs were intertwined.. I had trailed my hand down her side, near her hip when I realized I was touching her flesh.
She brought my face to hers, kissed me and said,”Touch me, Carl.”
I was glad I had listened to all the sex talk, so I wasn't a total moron. Still, at eighteen years old, I'm sure that I was fumbling. Luckily, Linda wouldn't have known the difference, either. When I moved my hand around to her flat stomach and then lower to her downy fluff, I felt her body tremble. I was going to ask her if I should stop, but she moaned and urged me to continue.
I started by lightly running my hand over her hair, around her hips, down her thighs. She bent her one knee and dropped it to the side, opening herself up to me. I cupped her heat and felt the warm, wet hair between her legs. Linda's hand covered mine and held it between her legs.
“Yes, Carl,” she hissed. “Touch me there.”
I moved my finger between her pussy lips, separating them. It was soft, wet and slippery inside, and the heat was incredible. I wasn't sure what I was feeling for, so I just kept moving my finger. When I would bring my finger to the top of her crack, there was this little hard bit that made her jump. When I slid my finger down, I found her hole and her hips would raise. I finally settled in the warmth of her hole, moving my finger in and out, listening to the moisture building, smelling the womanly fragrance her body was emitting.
“Oh god,” she moaned. “Oh god, Carl. I love you.”
My cock was so hard I thought it would explode. Linda opened her legs wider and began squirming, tugging at me, at the same time trying to slide underneath me. I removed my finger and rolled on top of her, kissing her as if I was drinking in the gift of life through her lips - the gift of love. We paused to each take a breath and I looked deep into her shining eyes.
“I'll love you till the day I die, Linda.”
“My love, my husband, I love you, Carl.”
With that, she bent her knees and raised her hips to meet me. It was awkward, but I held my cock and moved it up and down until it opened her lips. I will never forget when our most intimate parts met and then joined. Her body seemed to capture mine, sliding over my cock as I pushed inside her. Then, I stopped. There was an obstruction and I knew it was her cherry. She opened her eyes wide and mouthed the words, “do it”.
Linda's legs went around me as I lowered my lips to hers and pushed my way into her depth. I felt her nails dig into my back and she whimpered in pain, but never broke our kiss. I waited, afraid to move, afraid I would cause her more pain. She finally took a deep breath and began to move her hips. I took that as a sign to begin moving with her. If there was more pain, she never told me.
Words can't begin to describe the feeling of being inside Linda. Better than my hand, that's for sure. I guess it was like a tight, warm, moist glove, but so much more. I found myself speeding up, even though I wanted this to last. I couldn't help myself and all too soon I fired my cum into her core. Our union complete, we collapsed holding each other, kissing and each promising undying love forever.
We lay like that, whispering, almost dozing, until we realized that her folks would be home soon. I was mortified when I saw the blood stain on her sheets. Linda promised me that her mother would think that she got her period, and told me not to worry. When we said good night on the front porch, I told her what time I would pick her up the next morning, so she could come to the airport to say good-bye. That was the second best moment of my life.
Everyone gathered at the airport to say good-bye, the next morning. I looked at the love of my life, standing there with tear-rimmed green eyes, trying to be so strong, just like a soldier. I saved our farewell for last. I looked in her eyes and saw the want and sadness she was feeling, but not showing. When she looked in my eyes, I hoped she saw a love that would never die. I didn’t care who was looking, I kissed my woman, my wife-to-be, good-bye.
I was on my way to Bremerton where I was assigned to help with the conversion of an old Army cargo vessel into a research ship. The electrician I worked under went by the nickname Mack, who constantly whistled “Mack The Knife”. The thing is he even looked like Bobby Darin. He and I were assigned to sail on the intelligence gathering ship, in that fall. She had been renamed and re-designated to an Auxiliary General Environmental Research ship. She was now the USS Pueblo.
We were kept very busy. My letters to Linda were few and even hers seemed to be less frequent. I chalked it up to her working during the summer, maybe vacationing with her family, and then school starting in the fall. I missed her so badly. When the guys would go into town for fun, I usually stayed behind. I wasn't old enough to get into bars, so I would play cards with Mack, or pore through the electrician's manuals. I had to make sure I could provide a good future for Linda.
I tried to call Linda right before we left the states in November. I knew communication with her would be difficult, at best. At the time I wasn't sure if we'd end up in Viet Nam, or where in the Far East. She hadn't been writing to me as much and it seemed every time I called, no one was home. This time, Mrs. Murphy picked up on the sixth ring and told me that Linda had visited her aunt that summer and decided to attend college out of state. That information surprised the hell out of me. Linda never said anything about that, in her letters. I promised Mrs. Murphy I would write to her whenever I could, and she told me she would pass the message along to her daughter. I stupidly hung up and shipped out, without ever having gotten her aunt's address.
I loved being at sea. I was one of the lucky ones who never got sea-sick. I guess that surprised me a bit, coming from the mid-west where the only water was a small lake. There was a camaraderie on that ship, the like which I had never seen. Sure, I had been on sports teams, but I think there is a bond with shipmates that can't be broken and never dies.
We spent several weeks in Yokosuka, Japan. It was a great base and the city was nice, even though there were a lot of anti-war demonstrations. I had to laugh at our designation as an AGER ship. In actuality, we were a spy ship. I don't think us newer mates really understood what that meant, until January. Right after New Year's, we left Yokosuka for Sasebo. From there, we traveled north on January 11th, through the Tsushima Strait, to the Sea of Japan. It was my understanding we would be mapping the sea bottom, but instead we were to conduct surveillance and gather information on Soviet naval activity.
Being an EM on a ship, my job was to work with the electrician in charge. I had nothing to do with the matters involving the ship's purpose. We had a lot of work on this newly converted ship. It was a small crew, six officers, two civilians and seventy-five enlisted men. Our commander was Lloyd Bucher. Some of what I know now, I learned from my shipmates, and from the days that followed, when we returned home.
We were supposed to perform the same mission the USS Banner had done a few months previously. We were to remain at least thirteen miles off the shore of North Korea and maintain radio silence, in case we were being observed by passing ships. I didn't know that a couple of fishing boats had been close to us. I didn't know the North Koreans had tried to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung-hee.
On January 23rd, the Pueblo was challenged by a North Korean submarine chaser. We were more than twelve miles off the coast. It didn't take long for three patrol boats to show up, along with two MIG aircraft flying overhead. Apparently, we turned and signaled our intention to leave, but that never happened. We were fired upon, boarded and taken captive. One of the sailors, Duane Hodges, was killed. Our hands were tied, we were blindfolded, beaten, and poked with bayonets. The ship was taken into port at Wonson, and our lives as prisoners of war began.
Looking back, I guess we had it easier than some. Nothing ever erases the memories. You never stop wondering why, wondering what life would have been like without that incident taking place. I won't go into all the details, but it wasn't a picnic.
We were split into groups. My group first went to “the Barn”, in Pyongyang. We would wake up at six and have turnips for breakfast. In fact we had them again for lunch and dinner. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other. We sat around a table with our heads down. They let us go to the bathroom twice a day. We were questioned and beaten. I guess the North Koreans didn't believe us, even when we really didn't know anything. This went on for several weeks, until we were herded onto buses one night, and taken to a new prison, “the Farm”.
Life was almost more “normal” here, other than the propaganda that was forced upon us. Some of the crew was forced to pose for pictures that we later found out, showed some of them with their middle fingers prominent. We were forced to write letters to our families, telling them how well we were being treated and asking them to do what they could to get the US to apologize for our actions.
The routines were the same every day, periods of calm and of harassment. Our escape was sleep – it was the only time we could be alone and free to think what we liked. It was the only time I could be with Linda. I dreamed of our wedding, our home, holding her close and promising her I would never again leave. I would fall asleep seeing her green eyes looking at me. My love never wavered and I knew in my heart, we would be reunited.
Months went by. In July we received new uniforms and more lectures about being sincere. How we were treated depended on what day of the week it was, the duty officer, the guard, or the situation. The abuse was not routine, but never unexpected. You never wanted to be caught alone, or you would become a punching bag for karate kicks.
Towards the end of our stay, we were actually put on buses and taken back to Pyongyang. We filed into a theater filled with North Korean military and interpreters to translate the opera, “How Great The Fatherland”. We went out a few other times, following that night.
During mid-December we experienced Hell Week - more interrogation. The North Koreans were serious and it showed in their treatment of us. We weren't just beaten, they used fists, clubs, and boards on every part of our bodies. As suddenly as it began, it stopped. We weren't sure why, but we thanked god.
On December 22nd, each of us was stripped and searched. We received new uniforms and were taken to The Club, where we were informed that the United States was apologizing. We wanted to be happy; we tried to believe, but we were so afraid something would piss them off and they would retaliate on us, again. Later that afternoon, we were loaded onto another bus that took us to a train, this time. The train headed south, and we held our breaths.
Exactly eleven months after we were captured, we were taken to the DMZ, to the Bridge of No Return. One by one, every fifteen seconds, we marched across the bridge to freedom and were finally taken to the UN Advance Camp. We were allowed to shower and shave, then we were given new army jackets. We went to the mess hall to have our first meal. I remember meeting all the high ranking officers, but it was when Commander. Bucher came in, we stood and cheered. I know I wasn't the only one who cried. We were checked out by the medical staff and for the first time in almost a year, we slept without fear.
The next day we had a memorial service for Duane. Commander Bucher was the one who identified the body when it came across the border. After that, we boarded two US Air Force planes, for the trip back to the states. It was three o'clock in the morning when we stopped at Midway Island for refueling and it hit us, we were finally on US soil. We all met up in the mess hall for a treat of burgers and fries.
We landed near San Diego on December 24, 1967, at Miramar Naval Station. There was a huge crowd and it wasn't until we came off the planes that we realized our families were there waiting for us. The Navy paid the airfare for all of them and the city of San Diego arranged for accommodations.
I thought my mom was going to rip my neck off when she hugged me. Even my dad was crying. Hell, I was crying. Mom kept talking and blubbering all over the place. I decided I wasn't going to tell her what happened for a long, long time.
When she finally calmed down, I had to ask,” Mom, how's Linda? Is she okay? Do you know if she got any of the news?”
Mom gave my dad an odd look, that I understand now. “We haven't heard from her, honey. Don't worry, I'm sure she's aware of your release. I'll check with her mother when we get back home.”
“Maybe I should try calling her,” I said.
My parents discouraged me from calling her, explaining we needed time to catch up and I needed time to acclimate myself to being free. There were more examinations by the Navy docs and more debriefing meetings. A couple of nights later, I sneaked away from my folks and tried to call Linda's house. Again, there was no answer.
It was a shock to all of us when we heard we wouldn't be going home. We were required to testify at the Court of Inquiry. A lot of us couldn't really testify to anything, since we weren't involved in any of the decision-making or orders. There were questions about us not fighting back, but we weren't a warship. I couldn't imagine that we would be found guilty. After all, orders came from above and we followed them. But then, sometimes life isn't fair, is it?
I finally got leave and went home. No one was home at Linda's house, for the two weeks I was in town. My dad took me for a drive out in the country, to talk to me. We talked about whether I would make the Navy my career, and what I would do if I came home. I told him that I would not re-enlist. I wanted to come home and work here, as an electrician. I wanted to find Linda and marry her. An odd look came over his face, but he didn't say anything. I left without talking to Linda or her parents.
We didn't find out until May, that any and all charges had been dropped. I was still stationed in San Diego, finishing up my days there. I was faithful about writing to Linda, even though I hadn't heard from her. I counted the days until I was on the plane, flying home. I never told my folks when I would arrive; I wanted to surprise everyone.
I caught the bus into town, then planned on walking the rest of the way home. Sonny's Diner seemed quiet and I noticed a new jewelry shop opened on the corner of Pearl Street. I wasn't walking fast, just sort of taking it all in. I didn't have a lot of stuff in my bag, since most of what I held important stayed with the Pueblo. I needed this quiet walk to put my words in order. I needed to talk to Linda, or at least find out where she was, so I could go speak with her. I didn't want to think that things had changed between us, but with me being gone and her living in another state for awhile, that may be exactly what happened.
The Murphy's front door was open, but the screen was closed. I pushed the doorbell and heard the chimes ring deep inside their home. I thought I detected the aroma of chocolate something being baked.
“I'm coming,” Mrs. Murphy's voice called to me.
She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw me, and then slowly came to the door and opened it. Almost too quietly for me to hear, she said, “Come in, Carl.”
I left my bag on the porch and entered the dark, cool space. Without saying a word, Mrs. Murphy came to me and gave me a big hug. I wondered if she would let me go, especially when I heard her start to cry. I didn't realize that maybe I was important to the Murphy's, and that my being held prisoner probably scared them as much as it did my folks. I just let her hold me until she was done crying, and then she took me by the hand and led me to the sofa to sit down.
“Carl, we were so afraid for you – for everyone on your ship. I couldn't believe it when your mother told me you were released. I can't imagine the nightmare you lived through. How are you? Really, how are you?” she asked, holding my hands in hers.
“I'm fine, Mrs. Murphy, but I need to talk to Linda. I don't want any excuses or anything. Where is she and how can I get to her? Mrs. Murphy, I love your daughter and it's been so long since I've heard from her. Where is she?”
Mrs. Murphy started to cry again and I could barely understand what she was trying to say. Through the sobs and the deep breaths I heard the words that to this day, I will never forget.
“Carl, she's dead.”
“What?” I was shocked. “No, no, Mrs. Murphy, no! What are you saying? What happened?”
Mrs. Murphy told me the story of Linda moving in with her aunt, and going to school in a city, instead of a small town like ours. She had been out for a walk one night, and apparently the driver of the car never saw her. She died instantly, and so did my dreams.
We sat for a long time, talking about high school, graduation, my asking Linda to marry me. I was numb but I guess Mrs. Murphy needed to go through all the old memories. One memory she was not a part of, was the night Linda and I had alone. She left me for a couple of minutes, and brought me back a coke. We were still talking when the doorbell rang.
Mrs. Murphy led my mom and dad into the living room, and I lost it. With them, I could be their little boy, the one who hurt himself at the playground. With them, I could cry and they could hold me, but they couldn't make it better. Nothing would make it better – ever.
That night I lay on my bed, feeling like I had lost everything in the world. The oldies station started to play the Everly Brothers song that Linda liked so much. I rolled on my side and held my pillow close, imaging I had my green-eyed girl in my arms. But that's all I would ever be able to do, just dream.
I was young and I know you're probably thinking I eventually got over Linda's death. You're wrong, I never did. I watched my brother Ricky come home from Nam and six months later his Vietnamese wife came to live with our family, too. My kid brothers were lucky and missed the Viet Nam Conflict, went to college and eventually married. I'm a really great uncle to my seven nieces and nephews.
Me? I never got married. In my mind, I was already married once and I didn't want to go through that again. My wife will never grow old, never get cranky, never do anything. She will forever remain in my dreams. People in my life know me as a successful businessman. I was a good electrician and then became an even better boss and teacher. I've got some great young men working for me now.
When I walk down Main Street, people always greet me with a smile on their face. They know that if they need it, I will do my best to help them. I don't believe they see me as a sad man, because I try not to be one. It is my choice to live alone. It's not because of the time I spent as a POW, although I think a lot of people see it that way. I live alone so that I can always have Linda with me.
I think of her as I walk down the sidewalk, now at the end of June. It's been twenty-one years since I asked her to marry me. I play her song on the record player on the anniversary of our night together. I wish she were here with me now, on my arm.
Up ahead I see Linda's folks coming out of Sonny's. They look good for being in their sixties. They sort of stop when they see me, but I smile as I approach them. I notice the young man following them, dressed in the white service uniform of the Navy. I nod as I passed by, but then I pause when I look at this young sailor. It's like looking at myself in a mirror twenty years ago, except he has brilliant red hair, bright green eyes, and a face covered with freckles.