The Good Ship Lollipop

Camp Schwab 1960 Jim Barber

I don’t like to swim in the ocean. Sand gets in places it was never meant to be. That may be ironic since I wound up in the Marines. I had never been on any water craft bigger than a 15-foot fishing boat when I joined the Corps in 1958, so I had never experienced sailing on the deep blue. By the time I shipped over to Okinawa I had only flown commercial a couple times on Bonanza Airlines between San Diego and Phoenix – the first time on a DC-3, the second on a small turbo-prop. I hadn’t experienced air sickness either time so I was unprepared for what was ahead.

In late 1959, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, under command of then Lt. Col. Kenneth J. Houghton, departed California on the good ship USS Breckenridge, a WWII single screw troop ship. We immediately hit heavy seas which lasted the entire journey to Japan. We even took our brig-rats. They were simply transferred from the Camp Pendleton brig to the Breckenridge brig to the Okinawa brig to finish their sentences before returning to the battalion. By the second day out we were told that the brig was in ankle deep water, something about a split seam due to heavy weather was how the swabbies explained it. As miserable as I was, I couldn’t help feeling a little pity for those guys.

It wasn’t just the disconcerting feeling of having to look up to see the tops of the 40 foot swells we wallowed through for the entire journey that was bothersome. As the old tub would crest a swell and dive into the next trough, the single prop would come part way out of the water, slapping at it and sending a shudder through the ship. Very few of us weren’t seasick from the start. Even old salt sailors were getting sick. I lived on cr-p from the geedunk for most of the first week because I couldn’t stand in a chow line below decks without throwing up. The routine in chow line, as it stretched out of the mess hall was to stay alert for anyone making a mad dash from their table in an ill-fated attempt to make it topside before giving up whatever food they had managed to swallow. At the cry of “SICK MAN COMING THROUGH” everyone would flatten themselves against the bulkhead and hope the unfortunate soul made it past them before ejection. I was seasick to some degree the entire trip. One of my buddies commented that I really had a weak stomach. “Not so,” I replied. “I can chuck it out there as far as anyone on board.”

Adding to our grief was that the front half of the ship was off limits due to the foul sea conditions for fear of a man being washed over the side. That meant the entire battalion had just half the deck space to attempt to stay out of the stinking below-decks. It didn’t help to see senior staff NCO’s, officers and military family members promenading around an upper deck.

One particular E-4 Sergeant was obnoxious to all us greenies. He was on his second tour and bragged about being a Sea-Marine, having a Med cruise under his belt. He wouldn’t admit that he wasn’t all that unaffected by the rough voyage, but one evening he got his comeuppance. It happened in the heads, which were located under the fantail. He was leaning forward, one hand on the sink, combing his hair when the kid next to him suddenly threw up all over ol’ Salt’s hand. He took one look at his hand, dashed to the closest GI can and puked. Unfortunately for him – and hilarious to all of us who had suffered his taunts – he wore false teeth. Out they popped with dinner, into the can along with the former contents of other stomachs. We heard no more old-salt-talk from him for the rest of the voyage.

What was truly perplexing about the Breckenridge was the design of the toilet system. There were urinals on the wall, yes. But for taking care of the bowels there were long troughs with dual boards spaced down their length for sitting to take care of business. Being a WWII troop ship, I assumed she had been designed by the enemy. Instead of the troughs running port to starboard, they ran fore and aft. The constant flow of sea water used to flush the trough rushed in a wave from one end to the other as the old ship climbed and dived over the sea swells. On the worst days an unthinking Marine who took position on an end seat was most likely to get his butt drenched by the dung-filled sea water as it splashed against the end of the trough. On the best days some wise yahoo might float a ball of toilet paper in the rushing water and set it afire, causing mayhem as it floated down the line of bare butts, causing guys to jump up while still in the process of relieving themselves. Pretty funny – if you didn’t happen to be on one of the seats.

As a note of interest, 3/5 settled in at the brand new base, Camp Schwab, on arrival at Okinawa. Schwab may now become the new home of MCAS Futenma and the shanty village outside the base has apparently become a thriving city.

The old Breckenridge was commissioned in 1945, too late to participate in WWII but was in the mix for both Korean and Vietnam wars. She was decommissioned and sold to a Japanese firm for scrap in 1987. During 3/5’s voyage, I wasn’t sure which of us would be decommissioned first, her or me.

Jim Barber
Mar. 1958-Mar 1962
Semper Fi

40 thoughts on “The Good Ship Lollipop”

  1. Good yarn! laughed out loud twice. Came back from Nam on the USS Juneau, LPD 10. more modern, but flat bottomed. She is now decommissioned. I think every returning Marine, was sick for at least a week, and that was with a fairly calm sea. Recovering Marine, Jim Norton, 2377865, 8-67- 4-71.

  2. Small world: I took my first “cruise” on the Breckenridge December 1955 to Okinawa. We settled in at Camp Napunja.(a condemned Army base) Probably condemned the day after WWII was over! 6-8 months later we moved to Sukiran (1st Cavalry moved.out.we moved in. Absolute paradise; we had our own mess hall and a head to accommodate more than 2 at a time. We had more sick Marines BEFORE we left San Diego go figure. Dennis Warn Sgt. E4 F/2/9 3rd Marine Division 1955-1959

    1. Hey, Dennis I also went to Okinawa in ’55 but it was in November on the E D Patrick and our first stop was Hawaii where we spent 3 days and my first Thanksgiving away from home, then to Napunja as you. Cold showers was one of the things that sticks in my mind because if you weren’t the first one in there you never got a hot shower and the reason we were told we were moving to Sukiran because they had condemned Napunja long before we got there. The mess hall was called properly it was a mess alright. I don’t remember if Sukiran was 2 or 3 stories, but we were on the top floor. Love all the hurry up and wait we did and when the typhoons hit it was a 3 day break from everything. We had port and starboard liberty there unlike being stateside as I returned to be assigned to M.C.A.S in Jacksonville, N.C. I was 0311 in Okinawa then changed to 3516 in Jacksonville. This place was nothing but great duty. I made Sgt. E 4 by the time of discharge.

      1. I went to Okinawa in March 56. We must have served in #rd Mar.Div at the same time. I was in H&S co.9th.Marines.Had a really good tour. Extended for 10 months.

      2. USMC 1966 to 1968. VIETNAM for 14 months then to camp Hanson on Okinawa. We flew….! E-4 is a Corporal not a Sargent..3rd MAF, 3RD MAR DIV, 5TH COM BAT. DaNang.

        1. Before 1958 E-4 was a Buck Sgt.. The new rank structure created the Lance-Cpl.. who was an E-3, hence the Corporal became an E-4, and etc..

  3. My first ship was APA 195, USS Lenaway (Lean Weenie) We went over starting Oct 61 with a 3 week layover at Pearl Harbor before heading to Okinawa. We docked a few hundred yards out and had to go down the cargo nets in our Greens into Mike boats, then wade ashore thru the surf the last few feet.. Some dick officer had us in Greens so we would report in “looking sharp”. My sea bag got lost for a week but I was able to borrow utilities and skivvies from guys in my new unit at ammo Plt, 2d light support co, 3d Service Bn

  4. In 1966 I was a L/CPL serving in Gitmo with Lima Battery 10th Marines. We boarded an LST for training for training around PR and Veagues Island. This particular troopship did not have NCO quarters and so the Sergeants and Corporals bunked with the troops. The bunks were 10 high and the NCOS fought to get to the top rows. I did not know why but understood they knew something I did not so I climbed as fast and high as I could. Once out from the breakwater I knew why. It was difficult to get out of the racks because they were so close together, so if someone puked it hit the deck and splashed at least 4 rows up. I was high enough not to get splashed but after the first night I took the passenger side seat out of my Mighty Mite and slept on my air mattress for the rest of the cruise.

  5. Was stationed at Camp Schwab in ’65 with 1st Recon Bn. the “thriving metropolis” you mentioned was called Henoko. I also remember the holes in the fence for unauthorized liberty. Sailed from SanDiego to White Beach on the APA US Paul Revere (aka Peter Rabbit). Good times on Oki in the 60’s! Semper Fi! Michael McManus, Sgt. 64′-69′

    1. Michael McManus, seems like I was with you on the Peter Rabbit, Paul Revere, also in Camp Schwab, my unit was Mike Company 3/1, Paris Island S.C. plt.255 june ’64. Lost my leg on operation Utah, march 6, 1966. C.T. Jimenez

  6. We went from San Diego to Naha on the Gaffey in late 1965. Same type of troop carrier I believe. I remember those troughs in the head. Good as memories, not so much at the time. Good story Marine!

  7. Is that J.D. Barber, H&S? That was a crossing to remember. I stood a lifeline watch on the starboard side of the bridge one night and had to be tied down so I wouldn’t be swept overboard by the waves! Update you.. Jack Maguire and Jim Bredican both close friends of mine from H&S 106’s have died.

  8. I sailed to the Philippines on the Breckenridge in 1960, but didn’t hit rough water until we had to skirt around a typhoon, which produced mountainous 50 and 60 foot waves and a ship full of sick Marines and even seasoned Sailors. We had civilian dependent women and children quartered amidships and we routinely mounted nighttime guard posts around topside access (and egress) to make sure there was no uncomfortable midnight “fraternization”. I had the last watch at a post on the 04 or 05 level, before we battened down the hatches and had the awesome experience of seeing those monstrous waves up close and personal. I wasn’t afraid so much as awestruck. I must have been the only passenger or crew who wasn’t violently sick, and when I attempted to return to my rack below decks, the smell drove me topside and I slept on the cold steel of an inboard deck. About those heads: unfortunately that seawater used as a free flowing flushing mechanism was ejected by the awful pitching of the ship, right into the nearby sleeping quarters where dozens of Marines were puking their guts out from five-high canvas racks onto the slippery deck. The combined smell will be something I will never quite forget. It sort of “sticks” to you forever.

  9. Went over to Okinawa late 1958,to camp Schwab.Was in the 3 Rd marines A company’s Ontos anti tank outfit. Lived in quanset huts and was a lot of fun especially during rainy season. The last guy out of the hut would smooth out the muddy deck to get rid of the footprints. I also know about seasickness,because all of our exercises at sea were on an LST or LSD. Theses were not like your cruise ship of today. Marines were always billeted in the fantail, right over the screws! Great stories! Brings back old memories.

  10. This was a real good story. When going too Viet Nam, I was aboard LSD5 the USS Gunston Hall. We also had rough seas and had water in the well deck I guess for ballast. We were on water rations for our entire trip.

  11. Soon after the Marine Museum opened and once or twice after, I suggested that an exhibit be devoted to life aboard ship for Marines. Still waiting for a response. With time spent going to and from the Lands of the Rising Sun and Morning Sun, plus a six-week excursion to make and amphibious landing in the Aleutians in January (to prove it still could be done), I brag to some squids that I have more time afloat then they did.

  12. Good story about the USS Breckenridge, I came home from Okinawa on that ship in 1957, not nearly as rough waters as you described but I can honestly say it was enjoyable trip for me. Thanks for the follow up on her decommission as I had never had heard that part. I went over to Okinawa on a troop ship called the E D Patrick, we carried family members from other branches of service and compared to the Breckenridge it was a luxury liner. I really had it made on that trip as I was never assigned to any duties. Up to my name they were assigned to mess duty and after my name they were assigned to guard duty so about all I did the whole trip was enjoy the view, play cards and clean my small area I slept in. Why this happened I have no clue as I never asked because I didn’t know what kind of a shit detail they would give me because of their screw up.

  13. Not only was I on the Breckinridge in 63- on the way to the ROCK but also on the Navarro,Mann ,Valley Forge and Iwo Jima plus many,many old WWII ships. I can’t remember most of them but I know I was on more ships than most sailors. The only difference being was we use the nets most of the time. I almost forgot the USS Tunny which was a WWII deasel Submarine during a Raider Training in 1965.

  14. I was on a ship I don’t remember the name when you get 80 years old some times it hard to remember but I do remember when we left Yokahoma to go to Oakland California we ran into a storm and I was on guard duty on the rental to keep watch so no one would fall overboard I was standing on the fanatic and I watch the waves I guess they were 30 to 40 feet high but I told this to my friends they did not BELIVE me

  15. I have never been on any type of ship during my tour of duty in Vietnam. I was sent to the Fleet Marine Force and again never seen sea duty. We flew in different aircraft including in Vietnam which I had served their there from 1968-1970.

  16. That was a great story, Well done. I sailed on the Breckenridge in Oct. and Nov. 1962 bound for Okinawa. We named the ship the “Leaking Lena” after the 1950’s TV cartoon show “Time for Beanie and Cecil the sea sick sea serpent”. We sailed with a combined group of Marines and Army Paratroopers of the 503rd P.I.R.. Sea sickness was never a problem for me. I had instructions from my Uncle Randall, a WW2 Navy sailor who served from 1940 to 1946 on a Cruiser and later the new carrier Hancock. He told me to always lean in the same direction that the ship was rolling. He said “If you fight to always stay upright you will be sick as a dog in no time”. On the first evening out at sea I gathered my Bro’s and walked the deck with the roll of the ship and not one of us ever barfed up a meal the entire cruise and man oh man did we hit some storms! When we boarded we where under the protective wing of our Squad leader who we had named Cpl. Turkey neck Slacker. He had done this all before and he was determined to keep us all out of being assigned Mess duty that he referred to as “Hell on the Sea”. With some devilishly clever moves, Cpl. Slacker lead us through the mess of boarding and we where assigned sweep down where we only worked 15 minuets twice a day spending the remainder at the fan tail sucking up the warm Pacific sunshine and plenty of smokes and cokes. I believe that I would have followed that Crazy Bastard into the bowels of hell. There is no sense to explain the sleeping arrangements, the smell of barf or the antics in the Head sending floating fire balls down the poop shoot because this has been covered by other comments. How ever, one evening we had a “coolest tattoo contest”. It was won hands down by a Paratrooper who dropped his drawers showing his butt. Each side there was a little, red, devil shoveling coal in the hole that admitted flames up his back. Ya gotta hand it to the Paratroopers. All of them where as nuts as we where. We made a stop at Pearl Harbor ( got to see the recent erected Arizona Memorial) then on to Yokohama for a taxi ride from hell. Never tell a Jap taxi driver to Hyacko for he will make the Indy 500 look like a Sunday school picnic and hash mark your skivvies. Then it was off to Okinawa while avoiding a Typhoon while spending Thanksgiving day among the sick, lame, lazy, blind, crippled and crazy in a mess hall strewed with vomit, food trays, spilled milk, sliced turkey and cranberry sauce. And so it was, “Time For Beanie Fans” on the USS Breckenridge or Aka Leaking Lena.

  17. Served with 3rd Amtrak’s and was aboard mostly LSDs. They rode pretty nice in rough seas. Remember one time it was really bad. The APAs and AKAs in our convoy were really taking it hard. We heard their screws when they came out of the water. A lot of the Marines on our LSD were used to rough seas but even they were having it hard. I grew up around boats and thought I had good sea legs but was feeling a little squeezy. Went to the head and a Marine bent over and threw up on my boots. I immediately responded by throwing up on his head. Ruff times. Semper Fi

  18. I had been part of I-3-5 at Camp Margarita throughout much of 1962, but after returning to the ‘States from the Cuban Missile Crisis where, for that duration, we had become briefly A-1-7, we left San Diego in early January of 1963, aboard the the US Navy’s MSTS ship ..the USS Breckenridge which is mentioned above …for Camp Schwab, Okinawa, and our ‘Far East’ tour. We became E-2-3 for that entire duration and I have great memories of my buddies and Okinawa, as well as the places we visited and which we had many ‘exercises’ upon. The majority of us stayed together in the same cohesive infantry company throughout the 3 unit-changes we experienced, during the 26 months of the preparatory-training, September of ’62’s ‘Lock-On’, and those subsequent deployment(s) mentioned. On our return-trip to the USA in late ’63 we also traveled aboard the USS Breckenridge but our Pacific crossings were pretty much ‘uneventful’. I think after spending a great deal of time on the USS Noble APA 218, the USS Paul Revere APA 248, and other APA’s (the George Clymer, the Cavalier, the Montrose, etc.) as well as the LPH-2 Iwo Jima, and (2) LST’s ..the Windham County 1174(?) and Whitfield County 1176 (?), the USS Breckenridge’s ‘Marine quarters’ were almost ‘Queen Mary-like’ …many of us thought, as I recall. Perhaps the Breckenridge went through a ‘refit and modernization update’ BETWEEN 1959 as mentioned …and 1963 when we were aboard…?, because it was being used. when WE sailed in it, as a “military dependents transport” where a lot of wives and children of military personnel on Okinawa and Hawaii, were also on-board the ship and trans-locating with our unit but, of course, AWAY FROM us …and our battalion of Marines. ( + ; Semper Fi’, my brothers…

  19. I sailed on the General J.C. Breckenridge to Japan arriving Nov 8, 1955, Returned to the States on her in Jan 1957 and sailed again on her in 1958 to Okinawa. Was a Cpl E-3 going over in 1955, made Sgt E-4 on the next to trips. We stopped in Hawaii going over on both trips and on the return trips.

  20. That is a great story. I haven’t had so much fun reading it in a long time. Especially the part about the head activity and seasickness. Went over to Korea on a APA in 1951 {can’t remember the name..one of my ex-wives destroyed my memento stuff) Anyhow, we had plenty of this activity on the APA. Mess hall was below decks, and we had to keep the ladders cleared for guys trying to get out for barfs. Also had barfs going on from the racks that were five high. Head activity described was just like we had on the APA. Our ship’s head had the long troughs with running water fore & aft. Clowns would roll up wiping paper and set it on fire with their zippo’s just as was described. All this brings back so many memories Thanks for the stories Jim. That’s the funniest, and made my day. It gets kinda dull at age 87 getting ready to fall-out.

  21. Lucky as I was in Da Nang hospital with Malaria, my fever broke a day before my rotation and the kind doctor signed my release so I could fly back to the world instead of a long cruise on a ship. I really don’t know if I could have handled a ship at that point and time. I was just lucky I guess. Hell, all of us that made it home won the lottery, thank you Jesus, amen.

  22. On my Midshipmen Summer Cruise in 1953 on the Battle Ship “Big MO”, The USS Missouri BB 63, the heads were as described. Trough on the wall and a long set of seats over a trough in the middle of the head. (In fact I seem to recall that there may have been two of the troughs, one behind the other.) You wanted to always get upstream (Towards the bow of the ship) as the water flowed toward the stern of the ship. It was not unheard of for some one to drop a lit match into some toilet paper they had carefully place in the trough at the top end. Also if you happened to be at the end of the trough when the MO went over a really big wave and came down hard … well you get the idea.

  23. Husband went over to Okinawa on the E D Patrick in the late 50. Still have his card when he crossed the Equator. Only complaint he had was the racks. Had a good friend RedWarner. Met him on his last duty station. MP at Cherry Point. I was in communications . Best time of my life. Been on a carrier John Stennis from Pearl. Loved it.

  24. In 1963 did a Carib cruse on the Cavalier and it’s the same class as the Breckinridge with identical mess, berthing, and head facilities. Nothing beats a Med cruise on an LST(USS Wood County 1178) and crossing the Atlantic during hurricane season. Best short cruise was Mount Whitney LCC-20 to the Med and the 1973 Arab-Israeli set-to. Went to Oki in ‘64 via Staging Bn at Pendleton on a forgettable troop ship.

  25. I HAD THE PLEASURE OF GOING TO VIETNAM ON A JET PLANE. A REAL ONE WITH STEWARDESS. I FEEL REAL BAD ABOUT YOUR TRIP VIA THE CRUSE SHIP. VERY FUNNY STORY. SORRY I MISSED THAT EXPERIENCE. BELIEVE THAT AND I WILL SELL YOU A BRIDGE. REALLY ENJOYED IT AND LAUGHED A NUMBER OF TIMES THINKING OF YOU POOR SONS OF BITCHES. SUE THE GOVT FOR WATER BOARDING. VERY FUNNY. SEMPER FI. BRENDAN MC CARRON 1ST MAW DANANG 1966 — 1968. ANY WOMEN MARINES ON BOARD?????

  26. Enroute to Korea in 1952 on the MSTS Gen Walker, I don’t recall too many similar stories, especially about seasickness, but I do recall having to take Navy showers – in and out in a couple of minutes of wetting, washing, rinsing off and out of the shower. At 83, I still practice this. Coming home after the Forgotten War, I do recall that, with my Marine Corps training to be a clerk typist instead of a tanker liked I wanted to be, I was aboard another MSTS troop ship which name I have since forgotten. We had a postal clerk on board who was ineligible to be in G or S 2 if you get the picture. I understand a certain Marine with typing experience wrote up a faux set of orders directing said postal clerk to man the duty station at the bow of the ship which, as an earlier poster here mentioned, was closed off and nobody was allowed in front of the rope. He asked what his duties were and was told that he had to (1) notify the ship’s captain immediately when we crossed the international date line and (2) notify the ship’s post office when the mail helicopter arrived. Not knowing what the international date line looked like, he was told it was a six-inch chalk line and the captain had to set all the ship’s clocks back (or ahead) exactly 24 hours. As far as what time the mail copter arrived every day, I (excuse me, the other Marine) told him that it depended on how far out to sea we were. One day a MC Officer of the Day approached him to see why he was off limits and after hearing the young snuffy’s story, he just shook his head and with a good sized grin, he left our hero to complete his duties.

  27. Cpl. S. H. Pittard Came back from Far East in October, 1960 on TAP 176 Breckenridge. Almost 60 years later I still remember the unforgettable ride. It took my wife 40 years to get me on another ship because of the ride. I could not have written it better than Jim Barber. I had forgot the fire on the butt. Made me a little sea sick just reading it brought back the memory’s .

  28. I had the same experience went to Okinawa on the Breckenridge in ’56, we were in a typhoon with the same details. Assigned to 3rd service regiment. In ’57 returned to the states on Hugh Gaffey and weather was better but still the crowded conditions. Jim Barbers story brought back a lot of memories.

  29. Great story and oh boy, it brought back so many forgotten (buried!!) memories. Went over from Long Beach on the LST Bexar (Bear) to the Rock with H-2-5 in Jan ’66 along with an LSD and I think an oiler in a 3 ship convoy.. And yes, most of us, including our Navy hosts were sea sick until the Docs filled most of us with saltines!!! Took the George Clymer down to Chu Lai from Oki. I guess it’ll be a day or 2 before I can get those head stories buried again!!! Semper Fi to all!!!

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