The Birthday Bash

Just before midnight on 25 April 1942, U.S. Army Transport URUGUAY picked up a pilot in pitch-black darkness. The New Zealander had to rely on only a few temporarily lit small red lights for navigating through the dangerous mine field that guarded Wellington harbor. In the brightly lighted engine room, the older personnel were concerned. As usual the young idiots, me included, were thinking of other matters. Another cadet, John Ryan, and I were planning to celebrate my nineteenth birthday in Wellington.

John, two years older than me and somewhat taciturn, looked like a young Jack Dempsey. He was lean and tough; only once did I observe him to do something humorous. When the fresh water situation became acute some weeks before, the Staff Chief Engineer sent John to sound the forepeak tank. While doing so the sounding tape broke and John climbed into the tank to see if the tape could be retrieved. When the ship’s bow unexpectedly heaved, John fell into our drinking water!

Afterwards, when the Staff Chief asked about how much water remained, John with one hand breast high and with a rare smile said, “Up to here, Chief.”

When we were finally permitted to go ashore late on that Sunday afternoon, we set out to find a way to celebrate my birthday one-day early. We had experience in finding chinks in Melbourne’s Sunday blue laws, however we were completely unprepared for the Sunday dark-blue laws in Wellington.

The streets were deserted. Nothing, not even a stray cat, moved in the bright sunlit streets nor in the shadows cast by the roofs over the downtown sidewalks. After a fruitless exploration John and I degenerated into looking into a store window display of New Zealand army insignia. Then, something in my peripheral vision broke the trance.

Two girls, about our ages, were looking into the corner store window. As if we were shopping, John and I moved sideways and so did they until the four of us were in front of the same window. We were thrilled when they invited us to a dance!

Darkness fell as we walked about a mile without seeing anyone else. We turned off of a main street and entered what seemed to be the side door of an old brick building; we could hear music within. When we passed through the blackout curtains even John smiled; the girls outnumbered the men. There were a few kiwi men, but the girls were dancing only with members of URUGUAY’s crew. No other ships were in port. The gala promised to be a great birthday bash.

After a few dances my new friend asked if I wanted to go into the next room as she nodded her head toward a heavily draped archway that I had ignored until that moment. The way she asked suggested that whoever was operating the dance hall might also be operating something else that was illegal. I was curious enough to agree to her suggestion even though I didn’t qualify as a drinker and there was no way that I would patronize a brothel.

The young lady led me through the drape into a very dark hallway; there was a faint greenish light in the distance. I immediately didn’t like the situation I was getting into, but when I started to turn around someone much stronger grabbed my right arm as she let go of the other. As I started to resist she went back through the drape so as to cause a bit of light that disclosed that my captor was a priest.

That is how I was introduced to Apostolatus Maris (the Apostleship of the Sea), the Roman Catholic order that looks after seamen.

The faint light ahead, I discovered, was a chapel. Unsmiling John was already there.

star

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“Life does not simply stand still of a Melbourne Sunday; it falls down into a stupor.”

The Australian – Yarns Ballads Legends Traditions by Bill Wannan, Rigby Ltd.; Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth; Reprinted 1975, ISBN 0 85179 798 9, p. 111.

Astronomists define a black hole to be “a region of space-time where escape to the outside universe is impossible.” That also defines Sundays in Wellington, New Zealand during 1942.

Lou Chirillo

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Battle of the Coral Sea, 7-8 May 1942

“The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought in the waters southwest of the Solomon Islands and eastward from New Guinea, was the first of the Pacific War’s six fights between opposing aircraft carrier forces.”

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY — NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER

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“It was a tactical victory for the Imperial forces. However, the battle was a strategic victory for the Americans. The Coral Sea meant the end of Japanese expansion southward. They would never again threaten Australia and New Zealand.”

from the book “Blue Skies and Blood” by Edwin P. Hoyt

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Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo


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