By Dave McCracken & Don Stevens
Have you ever felt like you were way the heck out there all by yourself?
Dave: Have you ever fallen in love? I mean really falling in love so deep that almost nothing else in your life is even important, anymore? It is a place where the only thing on your mind is wanting to be with the other person. You experience loneliness when the other person is not present; even if it is on just a short trip down to the store. You experience deep fear that the other person will lose interest in you. All you want to do is just be with your lover, together, in happiness.
The first time that ever happened to me was on my initial visit to Hong Kong. I fell head-over-heals in love with a young, beautiful Chinese girl. Her name was Suzy Wong. She was the loveliest creature I had ever laid eyes on!
“I suppose, in early 1975, I would have been willing to swim all the way across the pacific ocean for my first true love!” — Dave Mack
This all happened shortly after I graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S) in San Diego. I had just turned 20 years old. I attended Airborne training at Fort Benning (an army school in Georgia where they taught us how to jump out of airplanes at low altitude), and then a special SEAL training school (where they taught us how to jump out of all sorts of aircraft (skydiving from high altitudes with special gear to support SEAL operations). I was a SEAL attached to Under Water Demolition Team 12; and our platoon was soon off on a 7-month tour of Asia, mainly in support of America’s withdraw from Viet Nam and Cambodia. Since America was not yet ready to perform the evacuations, we were attached to an amphibious assault ship, and we spent most of those months traveling around Asia. We actually did not know the war was coming to an end (that was classified). As far as we knew, we were training to go to war. A lot of our activities were based out of Subic Bay, Philippines (A wonderful place, from where I am actually writing this story). We also visited other locations, including Singapore and Hong Kong.
It was in Hong Kong where I met my first big love. Our ship anchored itself way out in the middle of Hong Kong harbor. It was February and March of 1975. We were there for 10+ days of rest and relaxation (R&R). Since our SEAL platoon was only transporting around on the ship, we did not have to stand any watches on the ship and we had no duties to perform there. So our SEAL platoon was given permission to take the entire 10 days off. Our only requirement was that we had to check in with the ship’s Master at Arms at the pier every morning at 9 AM. Since most of the guys in our platoon had rented a hotel room together in Hong Kong, it was permissible for just one of us to check others in with the Master at Arms, as long as we knew where the other persons were.
Others in our platoon had been around a lot longer than me, so they already knew where to go in Hong Kong. This was a special bar where guys from the Teams met up during the evening. I don’t know how these places are established. But it is common to have a single bar in each port of call where Teams guys meet up when in town. These special locations seldom change. This was also true in the Philippines, in Saigon, and I am sure in many other places. So I found myself in the bar during my first evening in Hong Kong. Most of the guys from my platoon were already there when I arrived and the party had already started.
As places go, this was a friendly bar. There were some attractive waitresses who were very hospitable. There was a dance floor out in the middle of the bar where a few sensual dancers were putting on quite a show. One of the guys from our platoon got dragged out onto the floor and the girls seduced him into the action, all to the cheers and encouragement of the onlookers. I was just trying to be inconspicuous, much too shy to perform (or get performed upon) in front of any audience. This was all new and shocking to me. After all, I had been afraid of attractive girls my whole life! I was alright with watching. Luckily, I did not have to participate. I say this with meaning; because if the guys in my platoon knew that I was bashful with women, they most certainly would have forced me to become the main performance. That’s just the way it is in the Teams!
Somewhere in the middle of all that action, this lovely creature introduced herself to me as Suzy Wong. Many years have passed, now; but I recall that she was about my age (in years, but way past me in life-experience), perhaps a year or so older than me. She was very attractive to me, very feminine. She had a very comfortable way of positioning me as the dominant in the relationship. This is something common in Asia; where a woman instinctively places the man in the dominant, masculine position. It is hard to put this into language, because it is mostly about emotional chemistry. The best I can describe it is that Suzy recognized my masculine side in a way that had never happened to me before. It was a side of me that had always been there, but it was Suzy that pushed the button and brought it out. It felt so good to be a man in this woman’s eyes. This happened the moment we met. It was as if we knew each other for our whole existence. Positioned this way, all my normal shyness was gone and it was wonderful to talk with her and just to be together. We fit together like yin and yang.
I was in love!
Suzy worked as a waitress in the bar; but she was permitted to sit with me as a customer provided that I was buying her drinks. That was easy; I just bought her drinks, which she sipped slowly, until it was time for the bar to close.
I was invited to spend the night in Suzy’s apartment long before the bar closed at 2 AM. Before parting ways with my Team buddies, I arranged with one of my Team mates (Bob) to check me in at the pier in the morning. He promised to do it. Then there were plans to meet back up on the following evening at the same bar.
Suzy lived in a very small studio apartment that was located several stories up in a larger building which was overcrowded with people and onlookers. Everyone was speaking in another language, so I had no idea what was being said. But I remember lots of disapproving looks from elderly women as Suzy took me into her room. There was a lot of chatter, mostly which Suzy just ignored.
I had never been in bed with a woman before and didn’t really know what to do. This did not matter. Once in her single-room apartment, Suzy insisted on fully undressing me. Then she took me into the shower where I was washed cleaner than I had ever been in my life. Then she took me to bed and taught me all about the physical expression and sharing of love. It came natural to me and I just went with the flow. Suzy knew how to do everything in a way that allowed me to be in the masculine roll. I had never experienced these feelings before. It was a night truly in heaven. I was overwhelmed with joy and love. It was wonderful!
The following day, Suzy showed me some of Hong Kong. We took a boat tour. We traveled to the border of China and looked over the fence from a vista point. China was off limits in those days. So it looked like a really dangerous place. It was all very new and exciting for a young guy from Waterford, Connecticut. We were having a great time!
That evening found us back at the bar where my platoon officer told me that I was in “big trouble” with the Ship’s captain for not checking in at the pier that morning. I was listed as AWOL (absent without leave). This is a very serious offense in the military. So I went over and asked my Team mate, Bob, what happened. He explained to me and my platoon leader that he was supposed to, but forgot, to check me in at the pier that morning. Once he understood the situation, my Team officer told me not to worry about it; not to bother going to the pier the following morning; to enjoy myself with my girl; and that he would straighten out the whole mess and check me in at the pier on the following morning. I asked him if he was sure, because I did not want to be in trouble. He told me not to worry about it.
Suzy Wong and a young Dave Mack on our second night in Hong Kong. Do I look “love-struck” or what?
So I went off and spent another incredible night and day with my wonderful lover. All I can say is that this relationship became the most important thing in my life. Being together with Suzy Wong was the main thing that mattered to me. I was experiencing the most joy and pleasure of my life. I had never experienced such meaningful and wonderful feelings before. I was in love, and I wanted it to go on forever.
When we got to the bar on the third evening, there were MP’s standing by to escort me back to the ship. My officer was also there (the MP’s arrived there with him). He said that he was not able to resolve the problem on the pier, and that I was now classed as 48 hours AWOL. The longer you are AWOL, the worse it is. At some point, it turns into being a “deserter.” This was a very serious problem! My officer agreed to accompany me and the MP’s back to the ship and try and straighten out the whole mess with the captain. We left in such a rush; I only had a very short moment to tell Suzy that I had to go back to the ship. I told her that I would be back. She seemed concerned. Then we were gone.
Once back on the ship, my military ID card was taken away, and my R&R was cancelled for the remainder of our time in Hong Kong. My officer told me that he had done his best, but the ship’s captain did not want to hear any explanations. The Captain was going to schedule a Captains Mass (disciplinary hearing) where we would be allowed to present explanations. But that would not happen until after we departed Hong Kong. I was restricted to the ship. End of story!
Have you ever experienced a panic attack? I am not a specialist in this sort of thing; but I now have enough life-experience behind me to have gone through several emotional upsets that were so severe as to push me over the edge. I know others who have also experienced this. I have personally experienced two kinds of panic attacks. One is from overwhelming fear that comes on suddenly (like in drowning). The other type is when a very serious set of unreasonable circumstances were forced upon me. The internal feeling is similar in both types of circumstances; it is not being able to emotionally manage what is happening to you (to me).
In other words, stuck on that ship by no fault of my own, without even being able to say a proper good bye to the love of my life, I totally freaked out! There were no cell phones in those days. I had no postal address for Suzy. Stuck on that ship, there was no way for me to ever even see her again!
By “freaking out,” I don’t mean that I got violent or loud. Although, that might have happened if they had locked me up in the brig. This was something emotional: I could not accept the reality of being stuck on that ship! Internally, I was spinning around in circles!
We still had the better part of a week of R&R to go in Hong Kong when I got restricted to the ship. It would have been bad enough if the ship had steamed off to some other destination. But it was anchored right there in the harbor, not much more than a mile from where I really needed to be. The situation was just so unbearable; I could not live with it! What do I mean by this? I mean that the only option I could live with was to do something about my circumstances.
Don: When we got to Hong Kong, I had only known Dave for a short while. This was because I had been transferred to his platoon from an active Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV) unit in Asia just a few weeks before. SDV’s are small manual-controlled wet-submarines which navy SEALs use to sneak around in. Most of the information is classified.
This was my 4th deployment overseas and my enlistment was coming to an end. I was discharged in Subic a short time later and then went to Singapore for a diving job with Oceaneering International.
Here are Dave and another SEAL practicing out in the South China Sea “Cast & Recovery” in 2-man teams from a high-speed boat.
I had spent enough time with the platoon to know that Dave was a good SEAL operator and well-respected by the rest of the guys in this platoon. Even though the war was coming to an end in Viet Nam, we devoted nearly all of our time to training so we could be prepared to do anything that was asked of us. As far as we knew at the time, we might have ended up playing some sort of combat role. So we trained hard in all of the SEAL disciplines of that time period.
This was not my first (or last) tour in Asia, and I had already spent plenty of time in Hong Kong. I was not much interested in doing the night scene with the other guys there, so I was spending most of my evenings on the ship.
On about the 3rd or 4th day we were there, Dave came to me with his plan. One of Dave’s closest friends, John Masters, was going to go in on the liberty boat and bring a set of clothes and shoes for Dave. He was going to position himself almost directly across from where the ship was at anchor out in the harbor, just in front of a tall building a short distance upstream from a yacht club that we could see in the “Big Eyes” (The “Big Eyes” were a huge set of binoculars up on the top deck of the ship which we were allowed to use). Once there (after dark), John would signal to Dave on the ship that he was present. We had special signal flashlights that we used specifically for this purpose.
Another of Dave’s close team mates, Bob Johnson, was not planning to go on shore that evening. Bob had agreed to lend Dave his military ID card. If you were picked up in Hong Kong in those days by any authority without an ID card, you were going straight to jail! Bob and Dave did not look anything alike. But with some improvising, the ID card might help Dave get back onto the liberty boat in case he decided not to swim back to the ship.
Dave’s plan was to strip down to just his bathing suit and swim to the yacht club, meet up with John, get dressed in civilian clothes, go say a proper good bye to his girl and get contact details. Then, his initial plan was to go back to the yacht club with John, strip back down to just a bathing suit, and swim out to the ship. My part in the plan was to lower the rope over the side of the ship so he could climb down and enter the water quietly. Then I was to lower the rope down again exactly at 2 AM so Dave could climb back up onto the ship. It was about 30 feet to the deck from the water. So a rope was definitely necessary if he wanted to get back on board undetected.
While Hong Kong was a friendly port, it’s not like you can leave a rope hanging off the side of a military ship so just anyone could climb aboard! We were in a war (which we were losing). There was a small company of marines assigned to the ship, and they were providing day and night security patrols that were watching the sides of the ship to make sure we were not boarded. If we left a rope hanging over the side of the ship, these marines certainly would have found it. That would have created a full alarm. So as soon as Dave was in the water, I needed to pull the rope back up. Only at 2 AM sharp would he have another opportunity to get back up the rope.
If you look close, you can see part of the breakwater that ends in front of the tall building. John’s signal was supposed to originate from the shoreline near the front of the building.
To an average person from the civilized world, what Dave proposed to do in his plan would be wild and crazy. That’s the reason Dave was not in the ship’s brig; nobody in authority ever even considered that someone would swim to shore from the middle of Hong Kong Harbor! But we trained in this sort of thing all the time. The ship was only about a mile out in the harbor. That was not much. We trained to do similar missions on 5-mile swims. In SDV’s we were doing similar missions from very extended distances. We were training to board (and do other things to) ships that were under full steam. This ship was just sitting at anchor. Unless something went seriously wrong, this was a pretty easy program for Dave. The main thing he wanted from me was a commitment to have the rope over the side at 2 AM. He did not want to swim out there and have no way to board the ship! I told Dave he could count on me to do my part, and I meant it.
Dave: John had departed on the liberty boat several hours before. It was dark, so I was just waiting for his signal. I had to watch closely, because it was going to be originating from about a mile away. There were lots of lights in Hong Kong at night. John’s signal was going to be from just a small flashlight. I was watching closely.
Since we had never been to the place before, we were not even certain that John could reach the shore in the planned location. It was in front of a tall building that was right next to some kind of yacht club. We could see that the yachts were moored behind a very long rock breakwater (like a jetty that was parallel to the shore). John was supposed to signal me from a location up towards the end of the breakwater. But we were not sure if he could even get to that spot without entering the water himself (which was not part of this plan). Maybe the place was inaccessible. Maybe there was security. Maybe he could not get there.
If John’s signal never came, it meant the operation was cancelled for that night. Then I would go to work on a new plan for the following night. If the signal came, it meant that he would continue signaling until I arrived. You have to place quite a lot of faith in your fellow Team mates in these situations. Imagine if John signaled and I never arrived. Would he wait for me all night? Imagine if he signaled and then left before I arrived? There I would be in Hong Kong with no clothes! But none of us ever worried about the other doing his part. It was part of the SEAL culture: You always do your part, and you never quit!
Don: Taking my part of Dave’s mission seriously, as soon as it was dark, long before John’s signal was due, I went up and cased out exactly where Dave should go over the side of the ship. It was in this little hidden nook behind some gear on the deck. There was just enough room there to tie off the rope and slip Dave over the side. I was mainly worried about the marines who were patrolling the deck of the ship. We had to get Dave over the side without them seeing him. There could be no delays or noise. About 15 minutes before John was supposed to begin his signals, I went up to the place, tied the rope off, and had it carefully coiled so we could drop it off the side and it would come just short of the water. Everything was ready. Dave would just have to go over the side once he got the signal.
Dave: I figured while John would do his best, there was at least a 50% chance that he would not make it to the pre-arranged destination. This was a foreign country; a place we had never been to before. We did not know our way around. He was going to have to try and get a taxi driver to take him to a location that he could not even name. The location was quite some distance from the pier where the liberty boat was dropping us off. A lot of the taxi drivers did not even speak English. It was a tall order for John to get himself to the designated place on time!
Amazingly, John’s red flashlight signal started blinking in exactly the right place at the exact time that we had agreed upon. I had to look twice to make sure it was him. This was coming from the shore line about a mile away. Once I committed to going over the side of the ship, there was no turning back. I had to be sure. Might something else cause a steady red flashing from over there? I decided John was signaling. The mission was a go!
Don was just waiting for me to decide that I was going to go. I quickly discarded my clothes while Don dropped the rope down to the water’s edge. I handed the clothes to Don and went quietly over the side of the ship, lowered myself down, and slipped quietly into the water. The water was freezing! I had not planned on that! It was also moving swiftly with the outgoing tide. I had taken the outgoing tide into consideration, but had not planned on the water moving so fast!
The ship was using powerful spot lights at night to illuminate the water-area surrounding the ship. We were at war. There was a complete circle of smaller vessels surrounding our ship. They were out there about 100 yards. It is a long time ago, but my perception was that these were venders hoping to sell us cheap goods. All of the area between the ship and these boats was lit up by the spot lights. This was the zone I had to traverse carefully so I would not be seen by the ship’s crew or marine sentries.
We had trained extensively for this. I had to swim as far as I could underwater, then come up very slowly and quietly, with my face turned away from the lights, to get another breath of air. I could only take a single breath. This was to avoid becoming an object on the water’s surface long enough that could be identified (If someone spotted me, when they took a second look, I would not be there anymore, and then they would not be sure what they saw, if anything…).
This was not easy.
Don: Our timing was bad, because a young marine came around the side of the ship just as Dave slipped over the side, entered the water and disappeared from the surface. The marine was very alert, and wanted to know what the heck was going on. I calmly explained the honest situation to the guy. He had just caught a glimpse of Dave as he went into the water. We both watched for a while, and we might have seen Dave come to the surface just for a moment quite a ways out from the ship. Since the marine’s job was to make certain that foreigners were not boarding the ship, he was sympathetic to Dave’s plight and agreed to meet me just before 2 AM to help Dave get quietly back on board. This was very lucky; because someone else might have sounded the alarm and we would have been in a lot of trouble. It goes to show you how American fighting men, for the most part, stick together on the smaller things when someone else is doing something that does not pose a danger to the overall mission.
The marine was impressed, but not surprised, that one of our SEALs would pull a stunt like this. We had gotten to know a lot of the marines riding this ship. They were some pretty good guys. They were watching us train out on the water nearly every day. Your average person views deep, dark water as a dangerous place to go. Because we spend so much time there, SEALs view deep, dark water as a safe place of refuge. Both the marine and I knew that Dave was not in much danger out there in the dark.
Dave: Once I was in the water, there was only one direction to go. That direction was easy, because of the blaring lights from the ship behind me. Even though I was swimming along at about 10 feet beneath the surface, I felt like I was totally exposed by the bright lights. I swam as hard as I could to put distance between me and the ship. The hardest part, as always, was to gain as much distance as I could, and then rise to the surface for air without making any splashes or surface disturbance; none. Even though I was holding true to the single-breath discipline, it felt like there must be 100 sailors and officers watching me from the ship. “Man, was I going to be in big trouble;” this was what was on my mind!
Taking a single breath when you are absolutely starving for air is one of the most difficult disciplines we trained in. The trick was to not push yourself to the point of passing out. But if there was some hostility on the surface looking for you, you had to push it as hard as you could to put distance between you and the enemy. We trained in this technique even with our hands and feet tied. It was nothing new to me. But I was terribly worried about those bright lights staring down at me from the ship!
The Chinese guys on the smaller boats surrounding the ship never even saw me, even though I was within several yards of them when taking several of my breaths. I certainly could see them, comfortable and warm up on their boats. But the last thing on their minds was going to be some guy swimming around out in the middle of Hong Kong Harbor after dark. Asking one of them to give me a ride to shore was out of the question. That would have caused a disturbance that might have alerted the ship.
I slipped quietly under their boats and maintained the single-breath discipline so as to not set them off. Once I was distant from them, I came to the surface and took a careful assessment of my situation. It was not good. The outgoing current was moving much faster than I had planned. I was being swept out to sea! My only hope was to reach the long breakwater that was protecting all the moored yachts. That breakwater was about a mile long. John was on the upstream end. I had drifted so far out with the current; I could not see his red signals, anymore. That was very worrisome. Still, there was only one direction for me to go. I had to reach the breakwater. If I missed that, I would be swept out into the South China Sea.
The water was freezing! We did a lot of cold water work in the SEALs and especially in BUD/S training. Just like hunger, exhaustion, fear, oxygen depletion and severe pain, we had trained in being able to flick an internal switch to turn those kind of intense feelings off and just move ahead.
What else could I do?
My only hope at that point was to switch gears into a full overhand crawl stroke to reach the end of the breakwater. I had to swim as hard and fast as I could. I still had a good half-mile to go. It was hard to keep up the pace. So I stopped every once in a while to look at my progress. I could see the lights on shore sliding by as the tide washed me out to sea. I pushed harder. It was going to be difficult to make my target!
About a quarter-mile away from the breakwater, a huge junk (Chinese boat) came motoring down upon me with the current. I had to stop my swim to keep from being run over by the boat. As they passed by, I could see a bunch of guys peering intently over the side of the junk, trying to figure out what they were looking at that was splashing around out there in the water. It was dark out there! When I asked them in English if they would give me a ride to shore, I thought they were going to go crazy up there on the boat. The last thing they expected to see was some foreigner swimming around out there at night. They exploded with all this chatter in Chinese. Nobody extended any hands down to help me out of the water. Since we were moving along swiftly with the tide, I decided to take my chances by swimming for it. I swam as hard as I could.
I managed to reach the slack water just behind the end of the break water. I had made it. That was a close one!
Climbing up on the breakwater was not easy. It was just piled rocks. There was nothing smooth or level to stand on. I was barefooted and it was dark out there. But my eyes adjusted so I could see the rocks. I had to feel around with my hands and feet to find footings to climb up onto the breakwater. I was shivering so bad with cold that my whole body was doing the shakes. It was hard to find my balance on the slippery rocks. This was not going to be easy! Even as I started my journey, I immediately saw that the breakwater was infested with rats; millions of them!
I hate rats, snakes, spiders and just about all other types of critters. In fact, I often have violent nightmares about them. But at this point, I was so cold and far away from a secure position that I switched another internal piece of hardware to stop caring about the rats. Instead, I placed all of my focus upon just making it along to the next rock without slipping or falling. The rats were running out of my way, dozens at a time. I never stepped on a single one of them. They were fast little buggers! But I could hear their millions of feet scurrying on the rocks. It sounded like something out of a horror movie.
I was just trying to get to John, who I hoped was still on shore near the far end of the breakwater. It was a long way; maybe about the same distance that I had swam. It was slow going, but my pace picked up as I adjusted to the challenge of one rock to the next. I saw John’s signal again when I was about half way along the breakwater. Worried that he might give up and leave, I thought of yelling to him. Then I decided to only do that if the signal stopped. It never did! It was better to not give up my position. I had already come too far.
When I reached the end of the breakwater, I never even slowed down to catch my breath. I dove in and swam the relatively short distance to where John was signaling from. He said my splash into the water from the breakwater caught him totally by surprise, because he was beginning to think I was not going to go for it.
I was so cold, my whole body was numb.
There was nothing further to talk about. I got dressed as good as I could without a towel to dry me off. I felt better with a set of clothes on and with John present. He had some idea how we were going to get out of there. My position in the world had just improved a lot!
I had overlooked sending in a comb with John. So I just did the best that I could with my fingers. I was tired from the mission; the cold really zapped my reserves. But I was not swept out to sea, and I was going to see my true love again!
Even before putting my clothes on, I had already decided that it would be too risky to try and swim back out to the ship. The tidal currents were too strong. If I didn’t get it exactly right, I would be swept away and probably never return to the ship. The thought of doing the whole single-breath discipline for 200+ yards at 2 AM in the morning, to arrive exactly at the rope and get my hands on it as the current swept me by, and to get up the side of the ship without being spotted by someone, felt like mission impossible in my already-exhausted condition.. That water was freezing! And what if Don overslept? Getting out there and missing the rope would have been the end of me…I had already worked out an alternative plan to get back onto the ship…
Soon thereafter, John flagged down a taxi and we arrived at the bar just a little while later. Most of the guys from my platoon were there in the bar, including the officers. Boy were they surprised to see me! But not a single word was exchanged with the officers. They would have been in as much or more trouble as me if it ever got out that I had jumped ship and they knew about it.
Besides, I was only there for a moment to say a proper farewell to my love and get some contact details so I could return back to her later when circumstances would allow. When I arrived, Suzy was there having drinks with another customer. I was in a bit of a hurry, and I just wanted to see her for a moment; so I asked one of the other waitresses to break in and ask Suzy to see me for a moment. When she came over, she made it very clear to me that I was a nuisance for barging in on her while she was drinking with another customer in the bar. That was her job. She was not very happy to see me.
Right there in that moment, my heart was broken into a million pieces.
I had come too far to give up. I asked her for a postal address so we could talk by mail (she had no phone). I told her that I planned to come back and see her as soon as I could make it happen. She gave me an address and returned to her customer.
That was the last time I ever saw Suzy Wong.
To be fair, Suzy never could have known what I had gone through to see her that last time.
Once out of the bar, I bought two rather large quilts from a street vender. Then I returned to the liberty pier. The boat picked us up shortly thereafter. When we went up the stairs to board the ship, I held my big packages out in front of me with Bob’s ID card in one hand. It was sometime during the middle of the night. The MP’s on board just waved me through along with everyone else. They were tuned in to American sailors. It was too dark out there for them to be matching up faces with the small photo on an ID card. Getting back on the ship was easy. I was lucky!
- My heart was so broken, and I was so exhausted and sick-to-my-stomach, that I overlooked letting Don know that I was back on the ship. So he and that young marine spent the rest of that night with a rope dangling over the side of the ship, waiting for me to show up. Don only found out the next morning at muster that I was back on the ship. He was relieved that I had made it. But, even to this day, he continues scolding me for not telling him that night. I should have. It was a lapse of operational professionalism. I will try and do better next time.
- By the following morning, I was terribly sick with vomiting and diarrhea. Another thing I did not take into consideration was that Hong Kong at that time had what was well-known as the most polluted harbor in the world. The raw sewage from all of Hong Kong and the surrounding area was being discarded into the harbor. In concert with my broken heart, it took my digestive system months and months to get back to normal. I am actually lucky that I did not catch Typhoid, hepatitis or something worse!
- A Captain’s Mass was held about a week after we departed Hong Kong; and despite my witnesses who testified that they had agreed to check me in at the pier, the ship’s captain found me guilty of 48 hours of AWOL. In view of my otherwise unblemished record in the navy, my penalty was suspended.
- Although I was not thinking of it at the time, if I had been caught jumping ship during wartime, I probably would have done 20 years of hard time in a federal prison.
- I wrote to Suzy Wong many times over the following months, never to receive a letter in return. Had we not been on a continuous 24-hour standby (to go evacuate our people from Viet Nam, and then Cambodia), I would have taken leave, and gone over to Hong Kong and try to marry her. I would have done nearly anything to have her as my own. But I never heard from her again.
- The truth is that I don’t know if she ever even received my letters. I have always wondered (hoped) that she might have been anxiously waiting all that time to hear from me. No matter how hard you try, some things are not meant to be…
- Don Stevens eventually returned to the Philippines and married the girl of his own dreams, brought her back to America, and they had three children who are now productive young adults. He and his lovely wife reside in southern California where Don continues to support the navy SEALs and Special Warfare Group as an independent contractor.
- Around 35 years passed since Don stepped off our ship as a civilian to start his job in Singapore. We had not spoken to each other since that day. Then, Don found our New 49’er web site a few years back and re-established communication with me. He joined The New 49’ers, and we spent a good part of the 2009 season dredging side-by-side on my 8-inch dredge. Don has been actively involved with some form of commercial underwater work for most of his adult life, so he adapted quickly to commercial dredging for gold. While we did pretty well in the deposit we were working on K-7, we might have recovered more gold in a different place along our mining properties. Still, we did alright. That’s just the way it is in gold mining. But no 2-man teamhas ever outworked what Don and I can do side-by-side!Don and Dave, along with several guys providing support, dredging on the Klamath River during the 2009 season.
- Part of becoming a man is in deciding for yourself about the things that are really important to you and standing up for them even when there is enormous personal risk. There have been a number of times in my adult life when I have done this, but this was one of the first times that I took a huge personal risk for something that felt really important to me (risk of getting caught). Right or wrong, for better or worse, this was the first real love of a woman that I ever experienced. If I had a chance to go back and do anything differently, there is not much that I would change.
Final note: As Don, John and Bob assumed enormous personal risk to help me in my time of personal need, the last thing I ever want to do is get them into trouble. The only reason this adventure came out right was because I got away with it. This continues to be a responsibility that I take seriously. I don’t want any of us to be in trouble with the authorities, especially after all this time has passed. So when people ask me if I really jumped ship in Hong Kong, I always answer: “Most of this story was the way we would have liked it to have played out if it really did.”
What do you think?