2.2 In the Mediterranean

June 27, 1944 to July 1, 1944

Tuesday, June 27, 1944

Ships that sail across the sea at night,
Silent shapes that slink beneath the stars,
Ghostly ships that sail without a light
Dedicated to the hungry Mars

Thought of the above poem on watch last night and jotted it down as soon as I got a chance.

For 23 years of my life I had seen only one continent. And today within less than 23 minutes I saw 2 or more. We are now in the Mediterranean Sea, having passed through the Straits of Gibraltar early this afternoon. Rather incredible to think of me, Philip G. Hodge, Jr. in the Mediterranean Sea, isn’t it? Not actually in the Sea, but you get the idea.

I was at the wheel just before we came into the Straits and we’re reforming the convoy, and the Captain said I did very well. Good thing I don’t wear a hat!

“The Rock” as it’s always called by sailors, is impressive but not particularly imposing. By that cryptic remark I mean that it’s amazing to think of one small island being held by a foreign country and so heavily fortified, etc., but form a strictly geologic point of view the narrow straits themselves and the magnificent mountains in Morocco opposite the Rock are much more to be marveled at. Another story apparently known to all seamen is that there’s a Prudential Life Insurance sign in neon lights on the Rock that can be seen 20 to 40 miles away (the distance depending upon the teller of the story!). It really is remarkable though to think of the entrance to a body water as large as the Med (I’m tired of writing such a big word) having an entrance only 20 miles wide.

Now’s where we begin to make money. 100% bonuses (we were getting 66 2/3%) plus $5 a day plus $10 a month penalty cargo plus 90¢ an hour overtime plus, of course, the $82.50 base pay of an O.S. (Bonuses are figured on a minimum basis, so actually I get $80 in the Atlantic and $100 in the Med). All in all it adds up to better than $300 a month, which still leaves a sizeable residue even after taxes.

Of course, as a corollary, now’s where the danger starts. Those ships which have them, have their torpedo nets out. We don’t. Several ships have barrage balloons up. We spent all morning getting ours up only to spend all afternoon taking it down as it had sprung a leak. No more reading on lookout from now on!

A beautiful sunset tonight. Sun went down below a cloudless horizon in the west like a ball sinking slowly (but not so slowly as you’d think) out of sight. And in the east beautiful changes of white to pink to grey to silver against a darkening sky. Made me think of you, as all things beautiful do.

Wednesday, June 28, 1944

Ah me, the life of the Merchant Marine. Free transportation across the ocean, good meals, a place to sleep, beautiful sunny days, and cool clear evenings, pleasant company–and we get paid for it all. In winter I’ll feel as though I earn it, but it seems almost a crime to take money for being on a ship in this weather. And wait’ll you see my sun tan!

This afternoon we painted our focsle. And talked. Tex and I got into a discussion of negroes (that is, I say negroes and he says niggers). I will say that while his attitude is definitely not my own, he’s quite honest about it and it’s fun to argue with him. He sort of sums up the idea that negroes may be equal but he personally doesn’t want anything to do with them.

Want to hear more about my fellow passengers on this voyage? Meet my other watch mate–Les Squire. Les was in the Coast Guard 3 years during the depression. Like Tex, he’s been Merchant Marine since the war, although he had sailed on the Lakes some years back. In between he held odd jobs in factories, etc. Les likes to write–had some stuff accepted by magazines, he says. He’s very interesting to talk to–is well able to express himself. He’s a little cynical about life in the same way that I am, having sort of a what-the-hell philosophy. Married several years to a school teacher in Michigan, but no children. His marriage ties seem a little bit looser than mine, but I still get the impression he loves his wife and will be glad to get home to her again. Which is more than I can say for some of the boys.

This is his first trip to the med and so he’s very interested in all we see. Also like me. (He’s kind of lazy, too!). Wears a cute little mustache. He was in our discussion this time, and though he comes from Michigan, seems closer to Tex’s view than my own.

In fact, I’ve yet to find anyone who agrees with me. Which makes me pretty sure that I won’t join the SIU. If I found a few men who belonged in spite of its discrimination I might reconsider–although it would have to be proven to me that the NMU was no good at all to make me support such an organization. The only trouble is that I like most of the men here and wouldn’t mind sailing the same ship again. I shall continue to sound them out on their reasons for the union and leave the result in abeyance.

Les and I have set up cots outside. The nights are warm enough to justify it and somehow one feels safer in the open air than in a focsle–although really I don’t suppose on e is. As an incidental advantage our cots make nice places to sit on and read or write in the daytime. If it were private it would be a wonderful place to ——- but then you’re so far away, Thea. Patience, me lad, patience.

Thursday, June 29, 1944

Somehow, in life, there is an enormous difference between being a minority of one and a minority of two. A minority of one is always strongly tempted to say what the hell, and keep quiet–with a resulting introversion and unhealthy feeling of superiority based on nothing. But with one other person–ah me–then the argument gains new luster and I rush to the fray invigorated. It is still one sided–the result is still predetermined–but the presence of an ally makes the fight both zestful and necessary. For the opinion of the other who dares to stand out against a majority in a hopeless cause matters far more than the opinion of all the crowd.

The subject is the general one of tolerance. Particularly in relation to negroes–but also Jews in tonight’s discussion. The unexpected ally is the O.S. on the 12-4 watch–who came from Sheepshead at the same time I did. Bill Pellicone is his name. His folks came from Italy–he’s a Philadelphian. About 30 years old, married, no children. Is an artist by trade and inclination–loves his art more than his wife (or any woman) he confessed once. Has a wonderful sense of humor. Loves to argue for argument’s sake, both seriously and for fun. Likes to wind up a long argument with a ridiculous statement. Sort of reminds me of Luke in that respect (and Wil McKeehan). Bill draws pictures that look darned good to me. I’m going to try and get him to draw me one.

Tonight’s argument was long drawn and lots of fun from the Civil War on through. But I sort of held my breath when Tex asked his question to Bill about how would he feel if his sister married a negro (he’d asked me the same, yesterday). And when Bill finally replied after thinking a minute (and I’m sure he was serious–not just stringing Tex along) that it would raise all sorts of social problems, but that he would respect his sister’s judgment, I knew I had found my ally. I’ll let you know how things turn out. Right now I’m sleepy.

Saturday, July 1, 1944

A new month ushered in. It’s hard to realize that time has passed so quickly and enjoyable. I’m really liking life aboard this ship. I’ve got pretty well used to the 4 on, 8 off routine and with overtime it leaves just enough free time so I get a few things done, but don’t feel bored. Today I worked on navigation. Studying is difficult in finding a good place. The mess hall is noisy and outside is usually pretty windy. But I’m managing to absorb a little knowledge. I figured out the great circle course from Virginia to the Rock, just for fun. 3314 miles–actually we went more since we didn’t exactly follow the great circles.