Pattaya Beach Liberty Port Call 1979
A South China Sea of the Mind, off a jungle flat coast of palms, rotten gold temples to unknown bestiary god, island after island the breeze like wet yellow silk on naked skin , navigating by pantheistic stars, heirophony on heirophony, light upon light, against the luminous and chaotic dark -- (Hakim Bey T.A.Z)
It is impossible to underestimate the the importance of a port call. In this case a Fleet Liberty Port call. It comes around after a sprint of long and hard 16 hour days, and 16 days at sea, all on the 16 acres of steel that comprise an Aircraft Carrier. Which, you share with nearly 6000 others.
These were old school Navy days at that, where it was just men. You misplace the exact idea of what women were about, the full sense of human company rotates behind you just out of sight. With a port call all this stops and you are transposed over the terrestrial boundary to that part of the world known as "the beach." A liberty port call is the official's admission that sometimes you have to get off the ship for a while. A few days of pure vacation diplomatically arranged between the Navy and the concerned port-of-call. And if the flag shows itself flying so much more to the good. The US Navy came to the beach resort of Pattaya Thailand with a full task force: two frigates, one cruiser, one destroyer and a Forrestal class aircraft carrier.
Alongside the USS Ranger one of the larger liberty boats which met the carrier where we were anchored (photo pb)
I had watch duty the first day and was stuck on the boat. The others of my friends headed to shore with sensible and modest plans to get a set of hotel rooms. It was considered bad form to refer to the ship as a "boat" as I just did, but we routinely called it so bringing down on us condemnation and correction from our superiors. We did this largely to enforce the separation between them, and us and as a signifier that it was time for a break from things upon the water.
The morning of second day I got up hit the breakfast line, and headed for shore. This was accomplished via "Liberty boats" a conveyer process of local watercraft. The first set of these were medium sized wooden boats, approximately 25 foot with a deck house, white hulls, smart blue trim. Similar to the sort of boat you would encounter to take tourists out sight-seeing or casual group fishing from any of any of a thousand locales through-out the world. These pulled up to a gang plank lowered from one of the ships sponsons, and you simply hopped aboard.
As this boat pulled away from the Ranger you could see the entire task force at anchor; a carrier a cruiser two frigates and a destroyer Stretching low and grey out at anchor in a line a mile or so long five mile off shore. It was an incredible somewhat incongruous sight. About a half mile out from the beach it was necessary to transfer to smaller boats to run up on the beach.These smaller surf boats used for the beach landings looked to me like long stretched out dorys. I recall them for having long six or eight foot propeller shafts connected to what appeared to be small car engines, adapted for the purpose, clamped to the back of the boats.
The rest of the task force at anchor Gulf of Siam (photo pb)
The view landward on that final couple of hundred meters was nothing but blue sky and drifting white clouds, the shore horizon a rim of tan sand and green trees with random water skiers cutting across the waves in front. It seemed a portent of an awaiting paradise.
The view approaching the beach. For a sense of how things have changed compare this skyline with the one that exists today. (photo pb)
After gaining land my job was to head north up the beach a mile or so to meet up with the guys. It was typical tropical beach town (not that I'd known many). Palm trees and sand like a primitive Waikiki. Sunlight played a dappled pattern on the sand through the palm fronds shifting back and forth in the light breeze. It reminded me of a busier version of the beach by some training school quarters in Key West where I had been briefly the previous year. It had the same sparkle to the waves and enveloping heat. But that beach was a quiet Navy secret hidden away behind a group of World War two era barracks. This one was a party
What I was walking through was still at that time more a town than a city, but the big multi story construction on the northern edge of town spoke of more to come. Pattaya (Wikipedia) is actually only around 80 miles from Bangkok, even today only has a permanent population of around a hundred thousand, it was a much smaller town then. I see that wikipedia says that the year before we visited Pattaya it was made into a autonomous governing region.The better to arrange local Ordinance and zoning regimes I imagine. After months inside the limited palate of an aircraft carrier: grey green white, polished brass. the tropical hues and the bright primary colors of the Thai street scene was a vacation in itself. Ships also have their smells, many of them really. primarily oil and grease, diesel and kerosene, humidity sweat brasso and steel. The new fecund smell of tropical vegetation and unfamiliar foods -- All this was anodyne for the ever present smell of nascent rust.
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At this point I want to stop for a moment and speak to one of the general difficulties I have writing these pieces, why I should have done this ten years ago. Names! I am no good at names, never have been. I wrote just now that I was heading up the beach to meet up with the guys. Who were the guys? I have nominal memories of being around a core group of four or five people out of a dozen or more who also would have been there. I let photographic evidence speak when it can and cobble together a list from various sources so that in theory all are included.
First would be my best friend in those days, Mark Edmunds. Mark and I were both in RVAH 7 and both attached to the ships intelligence center (CVIC) when embarked. We worked different shifts at sea and saw each other only in passing, but were often together off duty. Mark had a trickster vibe about him, that is, despite whatever confident opinion of yourself you might have. he believed you (anyone) could be had, in modern parlance pwned. It was his divine mission to show you this. I recall that the crowd you hung with on liberty were largely the same people you worked with so that someone like Kent Dotson A parachute rigger with RVAH -7 and Mark's roommate back at the NAS Key West BEQ likely was with the other riggers and people from the squadron most of the time, if we ran into them at all. Our supervisor IS1 Mark Ramsey was there and a photomate named Thomas Grube also from RVAH 7. Other people around were Jeff Moore (he is the person you see in the pictures with goatee). He was ships company with OZ Division. Ramsey also had a goatee, but he is the person in the photos who looks more like Ginger Baker.
Mark Edmunds, Jeff Moore going over selections with a T-shirt vender. I bought a shirt from this same women, still have it, doesn't really fit any more. (photo pb)
Other people around would've been Tommy Lind, Rob Burner, Foutch, De Loe, Ted Gappa. One or more of the Anderson brothers (Gerry and Gary?) who were Data Techs. There were actually three Andersons, but only two were brothers. All of these were OZ Division. There were a handful of Photomates from the ships OP division who ran the small photo unit within the CVIC (There two EH 38 processors up there and a shelf of Topcon 35mms to manage) of these people the one I remember best was a guy named Rick Hempe. He was one of those people possessed of a cheerful and irreducible personality. Others of the photomates were Phelps, and Huff both recent 3rd class petty officers. Some of the other squadrons from the air-wing had IS ratings, such as Bruce Behers of VAW 145, who like the RVAH -7 ISs also worked out of CVIC. Rounding things out myself, Paul Bushmiller, a largely unmemorable nineteen year old ISSN.
Mark Edmunds, Thomas Grube, Mark Ramsey, Jeff Moore at the Bar (photo pb)
I discovered on reaching my destination that Mark had upgraded his accommodations from an ordinary room to the hotel's penthouse room. This was organized with credit card he had just obtained from his father. It was a nice and generous touch particularly taking into account the number of people who had decided to crash in that hotel room. I think I recall some back and forth between Mark and his father about that card during next at-sea when the bill came in.
That evening while we worked hard relaxing. We noticed from the neighborhood adjoining the hotel a projector was brought round round by some locals. A commercial venture to be sure. a crowd gathered and tickets were sold. Eventually they proceeded to project a movie against side of hotel. It appeared to be an Indian or possibly French crime drama, dubbed into Hindi or Thai. I recall watching it from the balcony of the hotel room for a half hour at least, frustrated that I was not able to get a good sense of the plot. Until I realized that the movie was not in English. Things stayed roughly like that for the next four days.
The next morning late the next morning by the pool. We found ourselves surround by a contingent of enormous and pasty European people who all appeared to be talking to each other, and us, in German. This caused some degree of puzzlement and dislocation. Eventually we determined that they were with Lufthansa and that Pattaya beach was one of the prime locations Lufthansa sent their employees on package holidays. They were by the pool for a brief restorative moment with their wives and husbands before getting up and setting off to hit the beer gardens of Pattaya. It seemed an odd mix of first and second worlds, European and Asian worlds and for me open up an entirely new sense of all that was contained within the notion of the jet-set.
A Walk into Town along the beach road and what we found there At some point either inspired by the Lufthansins or developed independently it was decided to take a walk into town. Pattaya was roughly dived into a uptown of large hotels and a downtown of bars and entertainment establishments -- with a stretch of small retail and more sedate bars between. On the south end of Pattaya the beach road seemed to change its name to Walking Street.
The road also cut a bit inland at this point so that there were buildings on both sides of the road and the beach gave way to balconies small docks and wharves along the back of these water-side establishments.
"Finishing Touches" This is a scan from the Cruise Book "BTL" indicates picture by CWO2 Butler
As we walked up the street we encountered a number of British tourists, which we mentally added to the Germans in our list of the improbable. Talking to them it turned out they were after bargains. The equation was simple: Indian cloth, Chinese tailors. A match made in heaven a suit (or dress) made in Pattaya.
Dallying for a brunch among the noodle shop girls, another thing that impressed us were the Black Velvet artists. Black velvet art was kitsch even in 1979, but was still several years from being ironically hip, except in rarified circles beyond our knowledge. There were a couple of artists working there on the sidewalk. None of them older than any of us, one of whom was quite talented. The themes available were limited to a handful; most of them involving angles and demons, or dragons and tigers in various adventures.
There was an impressive amount of bustle on walking street, shiny and colorful store signs, and more small caliber neon than I would've imagined. A greater concentration of bars per block, I think, than any other place I've ever been. As a last observation I might offer it really is all about the shopping: some people go to the big city for Saks 5th avenue, some people go to Thai beach towns for
Our next stop that day was a place called the "What's New Pussy Cat Lounge." I'm sure it had "A go go" appended to that -- they all did. This place was the special hang out of Mark Ramsey and some of the older (to us) noncoms. Ramsey had been out to Pattaya with many of RVAH 7's others aboard the USS Kitty Hawk a year earlier. As the name implies the bar was dedicated to Tom Jones, and to more serious drinking. And yes they did really play "What's New Pussycat" over the juke box there. That was its reason for being
The Alamo from which our little crew made its stand was an establishment called the New Mosquitos Travel lodge and Motor inn a block or so down from the hotel back in mid-town. That was its actual name and it wore it proudly and accurately. There we settled in for the remainder of a three day drunk.
The incomparable New Mosquitos Travel Lodge and Motor Inn, Pattaya Beach 1979. Vacancies? No.(photo pb)
I should say a few words about the ambiance of the New Mosquitos Travel lodge. It was an open air bar. Concrete floors, no screens, no windows, hardly any walls at all. But it did have endless bottle of Singha beer. Or at least that was an hypothesis we tried mightily to prove. I recall a local boy somewhere around nine or ten running around the tables at one point tugging on our shirts saying "Hey sailor you want to buy my sister?"
This seemed to amuse him to a great great degree. To which one of the girls would always respond "Don't listen to him", pause and then add "He's not even my brother."
Mark Edmunds and Paul Bushmiller, a few rounds in (photo ukn)
I have a further memory running along the border between distinct and indistinct on the thin selection of music that bar had. Or at least that which they thought would appeal to American sailors. They had a Led Zeppelin record, that almost goes without saying. In those days who didn't. The funny things is I can't remember which one. Over programming had made Led Zeppilin the elevator music of the '70s. They had Pink Floyd's "Wish You were here" (It was Syd Barret who wasn't there, I wouldn't have been aware of that then) and a Steve Miller lp on their Stereo. There must have been one or two others. There may have been a Ten Years After live album in the mix. In any regard they just played those three or four records over and over and over again.
By the time we took our leave of the place we must have heard each of those half a dozen times. To this day hearing any song off of "Wish you were Here" brings up a brief submergent wash of The New Mosquitos Travel lodge.
Me, apparently trying to seriously 'splain something (photo ukn)
The greatest of the things that eludes me me about this all these year later is; what were we talking about all that time? We were after all of a group that had just come from close quarters at sea. My one enduring memory is that we talked non stop (well maybe I talked nonstop). I imagine we talked about Girls. That does not even rise to the level of a guess. We talked about girls the ones we had or supposed we had back home. We talked about -- and to the girls, the ones that were around us, close at hand at every bar we ever set foot in (substitutes and comrades in arms). But they listened, and more often seemed to like to listen. We talked about the future. The future then was a country. A land that lay across a broader ocean even than we had just crossed. One that contained still, in nascent kingdoms, all that could be imagined and accomplished.
When the sun went down at the end of the day we could walk across the street to the beach, sit on the sand in the cool of the evening and see our ships in the night, rigging lit up for the occasion fore and aft out on the horizon, and experience the odd sense of comfort that gave us.
The task force from the beach at night, a bit unsteady (photo pb)
A note on where we were. When I first started to write this I pulled up Google Maps dialed in Pattaya beach and attempted to determine where the New Mosquitos bar may have been. My first impression was that time had eroded too much and it was going to be impossible. But I knew I had to walk many blocks up the beach to get to the hotel and I knew the New Mosquitos bar was a block or so shy of that. This narrowed it down to just a few blocks and looking at the user-contributed pictures that Google Maps and their better cousin Google Earth supply (this is how I travel these days "Googleocity"). I eventually settled on the block between 8th and 9th avenues, specifically the corner of 8th avenue, and a place now called the Tiger Bar as the former location of the New Mosquitos bar. A few days later acting on an inclination that I had a map from this time somewhere. I dug through the closet where I keep such things and found this rough photocopy map of Pattaya with now cryptic "136" penciled in my handwriting at that approximate location. This map actually seems to originate from the USS Kitty Hawk, if the small print can be believed.
How much this place has has been the epitome of the exotic in my memory over the years! A touchstone of youth. Which in the full course of age and experience resembles nothing so much as a quintessential beach town. A more tropical if seedier Ocean City or Dewey Beach. A happier Subic Bay. Hard Rock cafes, Starbucks, dive shops, kite shops, cramped cluttered side streets, humming with smaller unfamiliar versions of ordinary cars and trucks. the cicada like directionless buzz of a thousand small motorcycles. The old-even-when-new concrete surfaced nature of such places. Sun bleached towns that never seem new or completely modern yet are at the same time not capable of seeming old or settled. All those hundreds of pictures on top of the all the other GIS layered data points that pin the look and apparent feel of the place with exactitude to Google's chart, were a little overwhelming. Yet I felt I had to look at each one of them. Google Earth is tremendously immersive, its scale rolling up to a whole number one to one. While store and storefront signs had come and gone the character of the place remained, enfilading through Google's geographic portal with a vaguely unsettling insistent simulacrum. A definite point of unalignment was encountering so many Russian storefront and bar signs (place marks) in their rounded Cyrillic, a puzzling anomaly. There were no Russians in Pattaya thirty years ago. I wonder when it was they came. In the end; though, "the Map is not the Territory". Being there gives the better sense of a place. The Pattaya of 1979 is far away, Pattaya today its brighter echo.
To know of these beach town idylls invites thoughts of living in such a place. A thronging tranquility where the greater point is the hustle. The eternal sidewalk carnival. An autonomy found amid a quiescent chaos. But I think those who stay eventually become outsiders to these qualities, which require at least a temporary rejection in whole or in part of state and means. Unconditional paradises are a grass curtain against the wind. Such spaces live more enduringly in the memory, as seeds of potential in the imagination. A psychotopography waiting to break out new at some other point or time.
Mark engages with some locals along Walking Street (photo pb)
On the beach, with the shore patrol waiting
Eventually the time came around for re-boarding. This was promulgated as a multi-hour window with a definite cutoff point sometime in the evening of the final day. Past that point you would be UA (unauthorized absence the acronym the Navy uses rather than AWOL). Further, it put you in position of "missing movement" a far more serious infraction. The departure point was the south edge of the beach, a reverse process of the arrival. Naturally everyone, and everyone was upwards of five thousand sailors, calculated the last possible moment they would need to leave their barstools by, and planned and drank accordingly. That was certainly my plan. This led to a massive unruly crowd of sailors milling around on the beach in remote semblance of order for the last set of boats away.
It was late afternoon when we got there encountered this line of sorts and queued up into it.
Afternoon turned to evening then to dusk, and to a hard rain. What I recall beyond the immediate misery of the moment, which I was far too buzzed to reflect on, was the sticky Rice. Rice balls wrapped in leaves were being sold by local venders on the beach, Along with brazed spiced chicken of unknown pedigree but available in small chunks on a bamboo splint for a reasonable price. I was hungry by this point mighty hungry, and the smell of it tore at me. But in a previous moment of comprised clarity it had occurred to me to spend my remaining converted Thai currency on beer. So I had no money left. In the end I found enough change in my pockets for a ball of rice. I ate it restoratively, and was able to squeeze one last shot from a roll of ektachrome I thought was finished as we shoved off.
Casting off from Pattaya beach at night. A reverse MacArthur (photo pb)
The night surf boating back to the ship across the transfer points; Little boat Big Boat had a slightly different character than on the way in. The water was much rougher by the time we transferred to the larger boats and they got out to where the USS Ranger was anchored. Our condition was a little rougher too. When we got alongside the carrier and the platform they had lowered down to the boats level there was a gap which grew and shrank as the waves swept the boat towards and away from the ship, never closer than two or three feet. The word from the handlers on the ship was "You gotta jump." So we jumped the gap, went up the ladder saluted the ensign flag, found familiar passageways and put ourselves back to work among the bulkheads.
Almost by way of an addendum I recall some small things in aftermath. There had been a motorcycle crash involving one of the task forces crew members and a girl who was riding with him I believe was killed. The local authorities strongly wanted to hold and try him for reckless endangerment or manslaughter. The US Government arranges these visits under a bilateral arrangement known to us as the Soldiers and Sailors Act which accords custody and judgement to US institutions. I think it took the US Ambassador to intercede before that was resolved. Someone else had the idea to fill a scuba tank full of Thai weed and try to bring that back aboard the ship. This was neither as wise as it seemed, nor allowed under Navy regulation. By morning the next day we had pulled anchor turned and sailed away from paradise, gaining again only the ocean horizon.