|For the next 8-10 years the Truxtun
served in the Far East patrolling the China coast and other related assignments.
During harsh winters the fleet would winter-over in the Philippines. In
1925-27 the ongoing bloody conflicts between various Chinese Warlords escalated.
There was little regard for foreign nationals or property…rape, slaughter
and pillaging was rampant. To “show the colors” and help protect American
interests the Truxtun was assigned to the dangerous and arduous task of
patrolling the Yangtze River and its ports for the next two years.
Sheer distance and the primitive communications
of the time isolated those serving in those remote areas of the world.
The life-style of the sailors in the Far East was lonely, austere and not
particularly disciplined. Alcoholism and drug addiction took its toll on
many crewmen that frequented such ports of call as Nanjing, Hangzhou, Tianjin,
Xiaman, Hong Kong, Hankow, Zhanjiang and Shanghai.
A British Newspaper of the time, referred
to the International settlement in Shanghai as, “Sordid, degrading,
a pit of unimaginable sin, debauchery and unfit for humanity.” Yet,
many sailors preferred the life-style, the less disciplined duty in the
Orient and the many pleasures their meager salaries brought. The term “Asiatic”
used as slang in military circles reflects on the physical and mental debility
associated with extended exposure to such duty. Uncle acquired his share
of those demons.
Navy life and marriage
In 1928 after 6 years in the Orient
he returned Stateside for shore duty. While assigned to the Naval Station,
Pensacola, Florida he fell in love and married. By coincidence, my father
finished his "Kiddy Cruise" on the USS Vestal AR-4 about the same time.
Father had been a Fireman in the Vestal’s "Black-gang". Returning home
to Daytona Beach, Florida my father met and married my mother. Both marriages
were rocky and short-lived.
In 1932, Uncle Buck was reassigned to
the Far East, picking up the USS Houston CA-30 a new cruiser departing
the States to become the Flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. Distance, separation
and his wife’s inability to cope with Navy life, led her to seek a divorce.
They had one child, a daughter whom he adored. The pending divorce so devastated
Uncle that he again surrendered to the weaknesses of the past.
In 1935 at the depths of the Great Depression
and only a couple of years shy of a Navy pension he took his discharge.
He had rationalized that his leaving the Navy would make a difference in
saving his failing marriage. His desperate attempts to reconcile proved
fruitless. He never saw his love again and only saw his daughter once after
she reached her majority. A sad and broken-man he disappeared, becoming
one of the millions of homeless faces caught up in the poverty of the times.
The Bonus Army marches
Stepping back in time for a moment...
In the 1920’s while uncle was serving off the China coast, the United States
was enjoying a robust economy and life in general was prosperous. Congress
at the time enacted $400 bonus certificates for WW I veterans, with a payment
of $I, 000 upon maturity in 1948. Then came the Stock Market crash of 1929
and the country sank into deep financial woes and the Great Depression
ensued. With no jobs, no money and no hope, tens of thousands of veterans
called the "Bonus Army" march on Washington.
Camping out near the Capital they demanded
the bonus. As their numbers grew and civic unrest escalated, the Secretary
of War ordered the Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur to rout
the squatters. It escalated out of control as MacArthur ignored direction
from the White House to desist. It was a political and social blunder causing
great upheaval. Congress, responding to the outcry, passed a bill authorizing
immediate payment of the full bonus. President Roosevelt twice vetoed it.
In 1936 Congress overrode the veto and the "Great War bonus" became
law. Immediate payment to all veterans was authorized.
Uncle Buck comes home
It was mid-summer 1936. I was playing
Cowboys and Indians, with Little Brother in the front yard. Having just
holstered my pearl-handled six-shooters after drilling the bad guy for
the ump-teenth time, I was trying to convince him to lie down and play
dead. I was making very little headway when a strange man arrived in a
Model A Ford. Other than photographs in his Navy uniform it was the first
time I had seen my uncle and did not recognize him. Having received his
war bonus, a large sum of money for those depressed times; he simply appeared
that sunny afternoon.
I remember vividly his coming up the
sidewalk smiling; his arms were filled with brightly wrapped packages.
I raced into the house to tell Grandmother and then peeked through the
living room curtains at the approaching intruder. He stopped and spoke
to Little Brother who shyly turned and ran for the porch ahead of him.
Grandmother looked through the front screen door turned ashen, gasped and
dropped a pan of bread dough she was preparing. Quickly brushing her floury
hands on her apron front she bolted through the door. In shrill garbled
screams she kept repeating, "Heavenly Father, it’s my precious Buck! Dear,
dear God, it’s my boy!" They embraced - holding each other among
the packages, which were now scattered across the porch. Little Brother
oblivious to the significance of this reunion began picking up the gifts
one by one and shaking them!
For a six-year old, the many stories
and images of this elusive man, this sailor, came rushing forth. I was
filled with awe and boyish excitement. Without thought or reason I dashed
to my room digging frantically in the toy-box. There it was; chipped and
worn, the pot-metal battleship from some Christmas past. I wiped it off
on my shirt and raced back to the porch.
Hesitantly, I peeked up at the man from
behind Grandmother’s skirts and then carefully as if it were some sacred
offering raised the toy. Looking down he smiled, his deep sad eyes pooled
then glistened as tears formed and rolled down his gaunt hollow cheeks.
Trembling, he gently lifted the ship from my tiny hands…