I wrote this column for Veterans Day to honor the brave men I fought with while aboard the USS Freestone (APA-167) during World War II in the South Pacific.

When I was in the Navy during World War II, after a long tour at sea the crew became lonesome and missed their family and friends. As our tours got longer, we were far away from parents, wives, children and all of our other relatives and friends for long periods of time. We missed the holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions that are celebrated at home.

I am sure you can understand that being away from home for so long caused us to become quite homesick. Many of us were only 17 and 18 years old and it was our first time being away from home. Of course we made good buddies on the ship among the crew and these friendships lasted for years, long after the war was over.

When the scuttlebutt spread all over the ship that the Freestone was headed for port, perhaps Long Beach or Frisco, this created a lot of excitement. It meant we would have shore leave, ship ahoy, and these sailors would get liberty, as the Navy called it. A few hours in town or, if lucky, a weekend on dry land. Trust me when I say the atmosphere was charged with electricity.

When the ship neared port, if I was lucky, my section had the first shore leave so the hustle and bustle began as the sailors got ready. We had to be shipshape to go ashore. We spruced up our uniforms, shined our shoes, got regulation haircuts. We had to be clean and neat in order to conform to Navy regulations and be allowed to get off the ship.

The showers got busy and the ship smelled of soap and shaving lotions. The mood of the whole ship changed and morale was high with the expectations of a good time in the city, especially because we had not been ashore for months.

As we tied up at the dock we lined up on the quarterdeck with liberty chits and ID cards in hand, waiting to be inspected by the officer of the day. After passing inspection we flew down the gangplank like the ship was afire. Oh boy, the bars, dance halls, movies and restaurants would be busy.

After a fun liberty in town we headed back to the Freestone to resume our usual duties. When back aboard everyone had a story to tell, with lots of exaggeration and embellishment, of course, and you could believe it or not. There may have been a few black eyes or messed-up uniforms, but hopefully everyone had a good time and, of course, a change from the ship’s routine.

Now we were back at standing watch, chipping paint or swabbing the deck, whatever your job was.  It was extremely hot in the Pacific Theater of operations and this country boy from Maine was not used to this type of heat, but we followed orders and did our duty for our country and hoped and prayed that this war would be over soon.

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