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Jim's Jottings

The Navy took me to China, so did State alums

Part One

July 21, 2010 - There's so much being written and said about China these days I just had to get into the act. Another prompt was playing golf recently with a couple who were there with GM in 1998-99.

Aboard the USS Woodford, we'd been moving around in the Pacific Ocean the late summer of 1945 from Pearl Harbor to Ulithi Atoll, to Saipan, Guam and Leyte before going to Cebu Island, in the Philippines, to pick up some of the 32nd CB unit and take them to Taku-Tientsen area of northern China.

It was a 5-day trip through the mine-infested East China and Yellow seas. Our gunners tried to explode the mines, but I don't remember any being hit. One CB said to the sailor next to him (me), "I've probably spent more time at sea than you have." And, was probably right.

En route up the Yalu River people held up their babies and asked, "Fi dolla?!"

We were told Tientsen was an "international" city where people could live and work free from prosecution. While there, I remember going into a hamburger joint owned by a man from Brooklyn, N.Y. I remember hearing his hometown accent.

While docked, and from the deck, we could see dump trucks unloading their garbage into scows en route to the sea for dumping. People would stand below the dumping with their hands reaching out to collect something edible.

"Poor" is too kind a word for what these people were experiencing.

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We were sent to all three islands that make up Japan: Honshu, Hokkaido and Kyushu. Hokkaido is the northern-most Japanese Island. We took in the 77th Division.

This island is where we showed our Americanism. Schools were closed, but some of us decided to enter them. Our souvenirs included chalk and erasers.

As we walked the streets the Japanese, upon seeing us, headed for hiding places. Crisply dressed police were directing traffic at corners in the most military style possible.

Understand, we were in uniform, but had no weapons and no fear. Heck, we were 19-year-olds who acted like 19-year-old sailors on leave.

The city of Nagasaki is on the island of Kyushu. Not all sailors were allowed ashore. Some of our crew brought back chunks of molten sand created from the dropping of one of our atomic bombs.

It was mid-December when we finished our tour of Leyte, Otaru, Tokyo, Okinawa, Ie Shima, Sasebo and Yokohama.

The only reason we went to Tokyo was to get out of a hurricane. While anchored in Tokyo Bay, with engines throttled full ahead, we still lost space to the storm.

Of course the best part of this tour was coming home. That's when we got the first idea that our captain, Winston Folk, had a kindness.

While bypassing the Hawaiian Islands, en route to San Diego, he announced that because we were crossing the international date line we should have two Christmases of turkey and dressing. That meant no duty, just eat, play cards, play chess with a lad from Saginaw (yes, I had a chess board), sleep and roll with the waves.

That didn't influence me to reenlist.

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For the first time in my 50+ years of writing Jottings, it is going to take two weeks to wrap up my thoughts. I'm going to continue my China stories next week.

It will include experiences from a 1992 tour of Hong Kong and China with the Michigan State Alumni travelers.

It will prove a lot remains the same in China, like moving everything via bicycles and transporting chickens and ducks atop city buses and the poverty.

Jim Sherman, Sr. is president of Sherman Publications, Inc. He has penned "Jim's Jottings" since 1955.
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