Our landing in Sidney is right on the dot, 0600, and our pilot welcomes us to Australia, and that we are the first flight to land or take off in Sidney on 11 December 1968.
Then, a jarring note after we come to a stop. An NCO gets on, and gives a little lecture. Something to the effect that we are guests in Australia, and must act as gentlemen, and not disgrace our country, that we can't bring "Playboy, or Playboy-type" magazines into Australia; nor can we bring any drugs into Australia.
We are told to board some busses, which will take us to the R&R Center.
The good folk of Sidney are going to work, it is rush hour, as we wind our way through town. "Hey, look at all the mini-skirts," someone on the left side of the bus shouts; and the bus tilts sharply on its left side as sex-starved GI's crowd to the left side for a look see. For many of us, these are the first mini-skirted girls/women we see; and it is a gorgeous sight, indeed.
We file into the auditorium of the R&R center, and our friend Captain Dave Zxxxxxx meets me at the door. He says Joel's bus is probably right behind us, and we should meet him immediately after he conducts the in-coming briefing. I must say, Dave has lost that intense look and air about him he had a few months ago in Soc Trang. He is at ease, and appears to be enjoying himself.
He gives the briefing, the usual crap about we can't drive while in Australia, don't get drunk in public, have a good time, and make damn well sure we are back in this very location seven days hence, to head back to Vietnam, or we will be considered AWOL! And, anyone not being back in time to take the R&R flight back to war, will have to pay his own way to get back to battle!
Joel and I meet with Dave in his office, and the first thing he does is break out the Jim Beam for Joel and Johnnie Walker for me, and he toasts our arrival in Sidney. He says he is having a great time, and we chat a bit about Soc Trang.
Then he tells us he has made reservations for the two of us at the Coogee Beach Hotel, in Coogee Bay, where we will be most welcome; and that we need to hurry to our bus which will stop at a couple other hotels on the way.
Takes us about an hour and a half to wend our way through Sidney, stopping at other hotels to let happy R&Rers off, and finally, we are the only two left when we pull up to the hotel, only a block from the beach and ocean!
The manager meets us at the door, and invites us into his office where he has the bar tender serve us drinks, and we register. His name is John, and he tells us he has taken 14 rooms on the third floor and turned them over to American service men and women, taking only two a day. He also tells us two rooms have been converted to an upstairs lounge, which the hotel stocks with booze and snacks, and to help ourselves anytime. He says we can be "hosts" up there if we want to, that it is the only place in all Australia where we can invite an Aussie to have a drink on us! But, we won't be able to pay!
We go to our rooms, and the first order of business is to take a nap until lunch time. A quick sandwich, and it is time to hit the beach! And, for the first time in my life, I am content to just kickback and laze on a beach, with not a care in the world.
Back at the hotel, I find out that Joel has asked John to get us dates for the evening, and we have dinner with two nice Australian nurses. Joel has taken off his ring, but I don't, and I think that rains on Joel's parade and plans for the evening. But, I don't give a shit!
By nine o'clock, dinner is over, and I take my leave; and walk down to the beach to sit and listen to the waves, and to anticipate being home with Liliane, Don, and John (whom I have yet to meet), in a month!
It chills up a bit, and I headed back to the hotel, making the mistake of stopping in a local pub. I went up to the bar, and told the bar tender to give me any Australian beer. Oh, it was good! And, give was the operative word. A big hand clomps onto my shoulder, "Hey, Yank! Come sit with us for awhile!" I did, and seven beers later, not a one for which I paid, I excused my bad manners by leaving early, and headed for the hotel and the sack.
I am going to like Australia!