Bob Bestler

Midway spurs fond memories

Reading about the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum in Sunday's Coasting section brought back a swarm of memories.

In 1961, my Japan-based Marine air squadron answered the call to fly to the Philippines and board the USS Midway. We spent about a month at sea off Vietnam while carrying out photo reconnaissance flights in Southeast Asia.

We Marines were quite unprepared for life aboard a ship, but if we had to be at sea, it seemed like the USS Midway was the place to be.

It was a small city on the water. I was a flight safety equipment specialist and there wasn't much to do. I spent a lot of days just watching the planes take off and land on that relatively tiny strip of floating metal - a powerful experience I never tired of.

Several nights, as I recall, were spent in line with buddies at the gedunk (ship's store), waiting to buy a milkshake. I think many of us became addicted.

I read a lot and played a lot of chess. Played a lot of poker and hearts, too. In fact, it was during a game of hearts that I and another Marine got into trouble with the Navy.

Well, it had to happen.

There was a rule - Navy veterans know what I'm talking about - that there would be no smoking anywhere while the ship took on fuel.

The order seemed to occur often and it was always strictly obeyed.

One time, unfortunately, several of us were involved in a serious penny-a-point game of hearts and no one heard the smoking ban despite several intercom announcements.

A Navy MP-type caught two of us with lit cigarettes and for our offense we had to stand watch on the top deck from midnight to 8 a.m.

It was uneventful, of course, and while it was supposed to be punishment, it ultimately turned out to be a glorious assignment.

As night turned to day we were sitting on the deck , watching the sun come up. It happened to be Easter morning and we both thought it extraordinary to witness an Easter sunrise over the beautiful Pacific.

The upcoming Easter will be my 67th, but Easter Sunday 1961, on the deck of the USS Midway, is the only one I remember.

In 1992, after serving 47 years and playing key roles not only in World War II, but also Vietnam and Desert Storm, the Midway was retired.

In 2004, it became a full-fledged museum in San Diego and is already the most popular historical maritime museum in the continental U.S.

Sunday's story in The Sun News didn't say if they still serve milkshakes at the gedunk.

Maybe I'll find out someday.