I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1966. After thirteen weeks of basic training, I was assigned duty on an aircraft carrier, the CVA Ticonderoga. CVA was the designation for attack carriers, and this one was the oldest in the fleet, having been built in 1942. Her home base was in San Diego, California.
On any given day, a portion of the crew was given liberty. Because many of us were too young to drink in the U.S., we’d ride the bus into Tijuana, Mexico. A large number of “old salts” were known to cross the border since “entertainment” was very inexpensive there. I leave it to your imagination what that entailed. It was common for us to travel in a group for safety. Even though it wasn’t nearly as risky as it is today, it was still considered wiser to go in a group.
On the last night of liberty, prior to ship departure for a shakedown cruise, as usual, I went out with several other guys. During the course of the evening, I became separated from the rest and made it back aboard in the wee hours of the morning and fell into bed.
Once I woke up, I formed a devious joke to play on my shipmates. I created a hangdog, gloomy look about me. When spoken to, I answered as if I was distracted by some terrible problem. When my buddies asked what was wrong, I’d mumble, “I don’t wanna to talk about it.” That went on for most of the day, and at meals, I’d push food around on my plate and eat very little.
Later, my best friend insisted I tell him what was up. With a long sigh, I told him that I’d run across a Mexican girl that some guys were hassling and had helped her get away. She’d said that her father had kicked her out, and she didn’t know where to go or what to do. She was desperate to get into the U.S. to get help from her uncle, but couldn’t cross the border since she wasn’t a citizen. I was sympathetic and asked, “If I marry you, could you get to your uncle?” She’d jumped into my arms enthusiastically. I really hadn’t expected that reaction but didn’t feel I could then back down. Before I knew what had happened, she’d found a priest, and we were married. I told my buddy they must have put “something in my drinks,” and now it all seemed like a dream, but was all true. Then I pulled a ring from my pocket that I said I’d used as my wedding ring. I told him I was scared the Navy would find out, and she’d demand to be recognized as my wife.
This all played on for a couple of days, others finding out and everyone giving advice, sympathizing, or in some cases, calling me a “fool.” In the meantime, I was enjoying their reactions and advice, but as time wore on, realized there would likely be consequences when I did finally “fess up”.
About the third morning, I woke up cheery and chuckling to myself. My shipmates were puzzled and demanded to know what was so funny. I told them it was all a joke. Their reaction – well, that is best left to your imagination. Let’s just say some never forgave my jest at their expense.
What did I really do that night while I’d been separated from the group? I’ll never tell.
Postscript: I wrote this in the paper as “tall tales,” and the implication could be that what followed was itself a tall tale. I assure you that this is a true story as well as I remember it. I did take literary license with the story of how I managed to get married, since the actual narrative of what I told my shipmates is a bit fuzzy at this late date. That I pulled this joke and led them on for a day or two is true. JP