In 1992, I boarded the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CV-62) in Yokosuka, Japan for a six month cruise. I was trained as a subsurface cryptologic technician but I often gave up the luxury of submarine life to support the surface fleet… actually, I just went wherever my Chief told me to go.
I was headed to the Persian Gulf by way of Sydney, Australia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. After leaving Sydney, we were to go around the southern tip of Australia near Tasmania and then head north through the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf.
On the way to Sydney, we passed by the Great Barrier Reef and I took the photograph on the right. I carried a manual Nikon FM2, a 35 mm, single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. I appreciated its ruggedness and the fact that it did not require batteries — since then, I’ve digitally scanned those memorable photographs of my youth.
I could clearly see the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge as we entered port. There were news crews aboard helicopters and small boats following us.
I didn’t have duty the first day and I was excited about sightseeing so, I was anxious to get off the ship — but maneuvering eighty thousand tons of war ship was time-consuming. Plus, we had a full complement of fighter jets and other aircraft so security was very tight. As a matter of fact, late that night a couple of hippie protesters in a small boat tried to board but were quickly apprehended by our Marine security forces.
Once liberty was finally called, we hit the town but my first task was to get a hotel room because I didn’t want to sleep aboard ship that night. I quickly discovered that the people were very friendly and I thought the city was beautiful. We headed to the train station so we can see some remote parts of the city first. Like most cities around the world, it had its share of strange people and performers looking for loose change.
The city was exciting partly due to the U.S. Naval presence in honor of the 50th anniversy celebration but also because Prince was performing that evening as part of his “Diamonds and Pearls Tour.” Needless to say, women were everywhere and I would like to think they preferred sailors over a famous pop star.
Later that evening, we headed to Kings Cross which was known by the locals as The Cross. This area was, and is, the red-light district and home to the most dangerous organized crime groups operating in Australia — but how much trouble could a twenty-two year old sailor and his shipmates get into?
One of my favorite bars had a hospital/emergency room theme. The bartenders were dressed in doctor’s scrubs or white laboratory coats while the waitresses wore sexy nurse’s uniforms. When I ordered a shot, this beautiful “nurse” grabbed a needle-less syringe filled with some alcohol concoction, pushed my head back, placed her knee on my chest, then emptied the contents of the syringe into my mouth. I fell in love. To this day, I have a thing for nurses.
The next day, and after a few beers, my friend and I headed to the tattoo parlor to get “branded.” Initially, I wanted a nautical theme — a large propeller on each butt cheek.
I had to sit in a chair with my pants down a little so this big burly, bearded, biker-looking guy could make my artistic vision a reality. A few minutes later, a young girl comes into the shop peddling chocolate candy bars but sadly, I couldn’t reach my wallet. My buddy sprung for the candy bars so here I am with my pants down, a little buzzed from the earlier beers, eating a chocolate bar while this big guy tattoos my butt.
Ultimately, I ended up with a peace sign on my right cheek which today, very few people know I have. When I finally returned to Misawa, my Japanese girlfriend asked me, “Why you get Mercedes on butt?”