Chenango had orders to report to Boston, U.S.A., where she was scheduled for decommissioning. The crew, was small, (we had lost most of air division making room for the Nagasaki evacuation.) We were down to ships company, and a few like me from the air division. Being an aviation storekeeper and along with two other storekeepers, were responsible for all of the air craft supplies, spare engines, props, tires and all related gear on our inventory. This represented many millions of dollars in supplies. While we were on our way to Panama, we were busy with the count, and the requisitions for the transfer of the supplies.
It was good we were busy, after the surrender of Japan, I was relieved of my watch on the bridge. Radar communication was all that was needed. The planes were gone. It was a wholly different ship. A new challenge was given me. I was in charge of the gedunk stand. For land lubbers, that’s the ice cream parlor. The shop was open one hour in the morning, and one hour in the afternoon. This was a function of the Supply Division. I did not mind. It was kind of a fun thing.
We were entering Hawaii. The big barge was greeting us, and the music and Hula dancing girls were out in force. A brief stop, and we were on our way to the U.S.A. My last memories of Hawaii were the singers singing "CALIFORNIA HERE I COME." I needed to see my family again. I knew it would not be long now.
Soon we were approaching the Panama canal. It was a series of canals, and locks. Prior to entering, a pilot from the canal commission came on board. The carpenters built a high observation platform. This would be his perch through the canal. The boilers were turned off, and we would be pulled through the maze of canals by small train like engines on each side of the ditch running on tracks. It was determined that part our flight deck and catwalks, gun placements including that big five-inch gun that I was assigned to, had to be cut off. This was needed to get us through the locks that was coming up. This surgery was made in fast order.
The pilot scrambled up to his perch, and we were on our way. We had barely got started when lightning struck again. I was called to our security office. He had selected me and two others to be the M.P. for Chenango for the duration of the passing. Each U.S. ships to go thought the canal had to have M.P’s. to assist the local M.P.’s They must have picked up that I pulled Shore Patrol on my way to Virginia. There would be several stops along the way. Panama City, Colon, and I think we had a stop in a place called Balboa. That was when I would be needed. The opportunity of a lifetime, and I had to work.
We had liberty in Panama City, and I met with the local. M.P.’s. This would not be like my first experience as an M.P. this was more serious. It seems that the local police had a little game they would play. If a service man was picked up, they would put them in a cell, and not notify the shore patrol. The prisoner’s ship would proceed without him, and he would be A.W.O.L. After a while the M.P.’s would go through the jails, and find these unlucky people. We were given orders to go with any military person who was picked up, and report it to the M.P. station. Then return to patrol duty. I had been issued a side arm and club. I never knew if that piece was loaded. We were also told to be on the look out for an international criminal who was evading justice. We were shown his picture, and were warned he was dangerous. I still remember his name, but I do not see it necessary to use it here.
I was assigned a beat. The nigh club area. There were two of us, and we did not experience any problems. As that day passed I was growing some nasty impressions of what things were like in Panama. Why was this such a popular vacation spot in the 30's and 40's? It was wide open anything you wanted, you could get. That did not fit what I was expecting. We did not encounter any problems in Panama City, The one brief time I talked with a local Police, he seemed friendly.
The country side was as rough as I have ever seen. As we wound through this miracle of construction, I had thought of the thousands of men who died while building the canal. The trip was slow, and most of the crews stayed up on the flight deck watching, and taking mental pictures. I have never found out just how long the canal was in miles. In time it was long.
We were approaching the locks. Millions of yards of concrete I am sure. It was a close fit, and when the water level was dropped, huge chunks of concrete were ripped out of the locks. The sounds were wrenching. I could not believe that any ship larger then Chenango would fit, and remember we were modified.
We had two more liberties before we were out of the canal. I had the opportunity to have a very good meal in one of the more classy restaurants in Colon. We had placed our order, when one of the waiters came walking by. He had a baby alligator on a leash. It was only a foot long but it had a mouth full of teeth. We commented on it, and he picked it up and set it on our table. Gees I was not comfortable with that thing close to me. Our food arrived, and I was glad to lose the gator. I don’t know what I was eating, but it was HOT and good. My original evaluation of Panama had been right. Monkey rum and black beer, drugs, and more. Not like the United States back in the forties.
We left Panama behind us, along with my M.P. duties. It was interesting, but nothing of importance happened. I never got to see the international criminal and that was fine with me. My M.P. assignment was over. (Or was it?)
NOTE: I found this interesting story on the internet, and want to share it with you.
Panama, only about 50 miles wide at its narrowest point, was characterized by mountains, impenetrable jungle, deep swamp, torrential rains, hot sun, debilitating humidity, pestilence and some of the most geologically complex land formations in the world. Most of this was apparent to the explorers and surveyors. What was not obvious was the geological makeup of the land, which is a constant challenge even today, but not yet conquered. Another thing that was apparent was that building a canal across Panama had already defied and defeated one of the greatest nations on earth.