It was around August that the scuttle butt started to fly. The rumor was the 510 was moving again, where to was anybody’s guess. If you listened to the guy’s they had us going all over the pacific, and I started to wonder if we were moving at all. This went on for a couple of weeks and one morning we got word that the Officer in Charge, Lt. Larson, wanted to talk to the whole unit at one time on Saturday. We were anxious to find out what was going on. We all went to big hanger at the airfield and all the Officers were there. It did not take long for Lt. Larson to start to talk and he said he was sure that nobody in the 510 would object to what he was going to say. He had us all hanging on to his every word and with that he said “We are going back to the states next week”. It sounded like a bomb had gone off we were a bunch of happy guys!
We spent a couple of days getting all our gear together. This time we did not have to say goodbye to anybody we were all going to be leaving together. We were put on trucks and we were off to the docks on Adak to board the ship that would take us home. When we got there I saw that we were going home on a liberty ship. I was looking forward to a better class of a ship but I really did not care. Soon we would back in the States. As we were pulling out from the dock the drizzle started to come down and wind started to pick up. I thought thank God, I will not have to put up with this any more.
Think of the worst rain you have ever been in, also the worst snow storm, the coldest place, the hardest sleet the biggest hail and the thickest fog. Then what you do is multiply this by four and you have the Aleutian Islands. I think that when God was creating the earth he forgot to do anything for this place. In Spanish they have a saying that fits these Islands to a tee. They call it EL CULO DEL MUNDO. It is hard to translate this into English, so if you know anybody that speaks Spanish ask them to explain it for you.
As usual shortly after we left the dock the usual call came over the speakers, all cooks and bakers report to the galley. The weather on the way home was not to good a little windy and cold. Most of the time all the guy’s stayed below decks to stay out of the bad weather and needless to say I spent just about all of my time in the bakery. It was not much of a bakery and we did have a little space to ourselves to prepare the bread and pies and cookies, but we had to use the ovens in the galley to do the baking. We went straight to Seattle Washington and spent two days there and then we left and headed south down the coast. I guess we were at sea 4 or 5 days when they told us that we would be pulling into San Francisco that afternoon.
It was about noontime when we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was quite a site, we were all on deck and all the guys were happy that we were back in the states, but for me this was special. This was my home. This is were I grew up. The first place I saw was Bakers Beach under the golden gate bridge were my brother and I had gone striped bass fishing. On the skyline I could see the Presidio and the Marina Greens, the Palace of Fine Arts, Fisherman’s Wharf and also Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill, which was just four short blocks from my home on Columbus Ave.
We dropped anchor about 2:00 PM just off of the ferry building and were told that we would disembark the next morning. We spent most of that night on deck looking at all the lights. We were a happy bunch of guys. Early in the morning we picked up anchor and with the help of a couple of tugboats made our way to Pier 9 which is on the Embarcadero. We all got off the ship and the Red Cross had coffee and doughnuts there for us. If you would lookout from Pier 9 you could see a Street named Broadway as it hit the Embarcadero. If I would walk 5 blocks up Broadway I would be to Columbus Ave. Make a right and go 2 blocks and I would be home. That is how close I was.
While we were on the dock waiting for the trucks to pick us we were told that there was a delay and it would be about an hour before they arrived. There were some pay phones on the dock so I made a call home and got a hold of my sister. Boy was she happy to hear from me! I told I was at Pier 9 and would be leaving for camp Parks in just a short while and would give them a call as soon as we got there. Camps Parks was about 30 miles from San Francisco. It wasn’t to long after that the trucks arrived and we were loaded up and of to Camp Parks in the East Bay.
30 Day Leave in San Francisco
We arrived at camp Parks, which is about 50 miles from San Francisco, and taken to our area were we assigned barracks and waited for all of our sea bags to arrive with all of our gear. We were told that we would be getting a 30-day leave within a few days. All of the guys from out of state had to make reservations for train transportation and the lines for the telephones were quite long. I finally got to use one of them and had a long talk with my mom and told her I would be home in just a couple of days. We must have talked for about 20 minutes and the guy’s in line behind me were getting a little mad. They kept yelling “Rod get off the phone. If you went outside and yelled loud enough your Mom could hear you.”
After a couple of days we finally got our 30 day leaves and for me, I lived so close by it was real easy to get home. Just go down to the highway hitch a ride and I was in Oakland in about a half an hour. At that time they had a train that ran on the Bay Bridge, waited just a couple of minutes on 14th street for the A train and I was in San Francisco in just minutes. It was about 4:00 PM when I got home.
My Mother and father had a boarding house at with about twenty rooms that they rented out but with no food. They also had a restaurant that sat around 100 people that was about three blocks away. My Mom and Dad were not there so after talking to some of the boarders that had been there for years that I knew very well I finally left and started off to the restaurant. You know, it took me about an hour to walk 3 blocks. I ran into so many people that knew my family and every one of them took me into a bar to by me a drink.
When I walked in my Father was behind the bar and they were quite busy. He came out from behind the bar and took me back into the kitchen where my Mother and Sister were working and we sort of had a family reunion in a very busy kitchen. I knew all the waiters and the cooks, it was great to be home. I had dinner and then left and went back home cleaned up and went out to see what trouble I could get into.
I went to all the spots that I used to go to and ran into an old friend Tony Scardino that did not go into the service; he was 4F, punctured eardrums and flat feet. It was around 9:00 and he said that there was a dance at civic auditorium and that that they had a local band that was great. I had my brother’s car so we jumped in and took off to the Auditorium. When we went inside you could hear the great music. This was a big band with 4 trumpets, 4 trombones. 4 saxophones, guitar, bass, drummer, and piano.
Tony met a girl he knew so he took off and started to dance. I went around looking for someone that I knew but no such luck. I asked a girl to dance. It was fast music and we started to dance and kept running into each other. It seems that while I was away they had changed the steps that we used to do. It was like I was doing the rumba and she was doing a waltz. I thanked her and sat down to listen to the music.
I guess I was there for about 20 minutes listening to the music when a cute little red head came and asked me why are you not dancing? I told her that they had changed the way we used to do the Jitterbug and that they were doing a different step now. She said “That’s no problem. I will show you how to do the whip”. After a little bumping into each other I finally got it and started to enjoy it. She was from Oakland and she was there with a couple of girlfriends. She introduced me to them and for the rest of the night I had 3 dancing partners. I guess it was about 2 hours until I ran in to Tony again and introduced him to the girls I had met.
I asked the girls how they were getting back to Oakland and they told us they had taken the A train across the bridge. When the Bay Bridge had opened in 1937 on the lower deck they had trains that crossed the Bay from downtown Oakland to San Francisco and it was easy to cross the bridge without a car.
I asked them if they wanted a ride home and they jumped at the chance. As we were crossing the bridge they said that on Saturdays they had dancing at Sweets Ballroom with really good bands. That’s where I spent my Saturdays for the rest of my 30 day leave.
I guess I did not get home until 2 in the morning and did not get up until around noon. That afternoon I went walking around the old neighborhood, North Beach, looking for old friends but they were all gone; all in the service. I ran into Willie Gomez, he was about 2 years older than I was and was also 4F. He filled me in on were all my friends were. I was glad that I had run into him because he gave me a bunch of addresses so I could get in touch with all of them.
Willie also told me that two of my friends that were in the army were stationed at Fort Ord, Coke Infante and Dino Restelli. Fort Ord was about 80 miles south of San Francisco, and they would come up just about every weekend. After the war, Coke war was said to be San Francisco’s first hippie. He was sure one hell of a guy and Dino’s great fame was that he played Major League baseball with the Chicago White Sox and then got drafted into the Army. It was the next weekend when they both came up on leave and boy did we have a great time. We spent most of it telling each other were we had been. They both were lucky and did not spend anytime overseas. And as it turned out they never did leave the States.
I woke up the next morning and after having breakfast I thought I would take a walk up to Grant Avenue. It was just around the corner from Columbus Avenue. There was a bakery there that made the best sourdough French bread. As I was about halfway there I saw an Army officer coming down Filbert Street. As he got closer I started to salute him and all of a sudden I realized it was Aldo Bini. We had not seen each other since we both went into the service. He was a Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. He had been flying B-17 Bomber in Europe and was on leave. He was going to be reassigned to B-29s as soon as he returned to Texas.
His father ran the bakery that made that sourdough bread so we both went up to the bakery and his father was glad to see me. He would not let me pay for the bread. Aldo and I went down to the bar at corner of Columbus and Filbert, where all the guys used to hang out. We had a couple of beers and he told me about the bombing runs he had taken over Europe. Flak had hit his plane a couple of times and they all made it back with just a few minor injuries. I told him about the time I had spent in the Aleutians. I guess we talked for about 2 hours. He was going back to Texas the next day so we said our goodbyes and wished each other luck. Little did we know that we would be seeing each other again before the war ended.
All the time I spent in the Aleutians I kept telling myself when I get back home the first thing I do I am going out to Sutro Baths and soak in the hot pool. Sutro baths was out at the Cliff House at Playland at the Beach. It was a big place with 5 pools, one big one with a raft in the middle and also a couple of slides. There was also a diving pool with two diving boards and a tower with three levels to dive from. They also had 3 small pools one warm, one a little hotter and the third one hot. After all that time in the snow and fog I really enjoyed just sitting in all that hot water.
I got a phone call from Angelo Lima, he was also a baker in the 510 and lived in San Francisco, and he told me he was getting married and invited me to his wedding. The party after the wedding was at the Saint Francis Hotel. It was quite a party and I enjoyed meeting his wife and their families.