Aboard the USS Fall River, Limón Bay, Panama Canal Zone, 5–8 Feb 1946 – The six days from Hampton Roads, Virginia, to the Panama Canal Zone were drills, drills, drills.
I was awarded Shore Patrol duty in the liberty town of Cristóbal. There were plenty of bars and nightclubs for the sailors of the world, but the town looked dirty and the ladies of the night looked tired. Bar girls were hustling “blue moon cocktails”, a soda pop with blue coloring, and the guys bought the drinks just to talk to the girls. The “red light” houses were at street level, like retail shops, with a line of guys standing out front waiting their turn. My SP duty was uneventful, the usual number of drunk and disorderlies. The biggest beef my SP partner and I broke up was between two Marines and several sailors. The Marines had cut in front of the sailors in line at a “red light” house and that triggered an old-fashioned donnybrook.
On 6 February, I had liberty and went ashore with four Sixth Division Gunner’s Mates to Colón, the other liberty town. By the looks of the above photo taken by the nightclub photographer, my mates and I appear to be reasonably well behaved.
On 8 February, the Fall River transited the 35 miles of the canal in 10 hours. Once at sea, the black books came out and stories of liberty were shared. The lyrics to the World War II calypso tune made famous by the Andrews Sisters took on new meaning — “Drinkin’ rum and Coca Cola… workin’ for the Yankee dollar.”
Now everyone was looking forward to the next stop, the Port of Los Angeles, and Hollywood a cab ride away.
Excerpted from Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946 by William L. McGee with Sandra V. McGee.