- I spent years in the Army having bad experiences with ships, so I swore I’d never go on a cruise.
- My wife, Donna, helped me change my mind and I fell in love with the luxury of cruises.
- Now, at 95 years old, I’m about to go on my 108th cruise.
For a long time, I swore I’d never set foot on a cruise ship.
After all, I’d been on many boats and had some harrowing experiences. There were times when I wasn’t sure I’d survive another trip overseas.
But decades later, my wife, Donna, convinced me to give it a try. And now, I’m about to board my 108th cruise ship.
During my time in the Army, my experience on boats made me believe I’d never make it home
In 1946, I was 19 years old and after a year and a half in the Army, I was excited to be going overseas — to Europe no less.
I boarded the SS Hampden Sydney, a World War II Victory ship, in January 1946. We first went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, because New York had no oil for fuel, then headed for Le Havre, France.
The ship was incredibly crowded. I was in the forward hold, so when waves hit the ship, the noise was amplified and felt almost constant. Weather was awful — cold, rainy, foggy, snowy — and with winds that kept us from going on deck.
Pretty soon, one person got sick, then another, and then everyone was. With no ventilation, no one to help, and no hope, we lingered onboard for 11 days. I lost 28 pounds.
When I got settled in France, I wrote my parents that I would never see them again. I said I loved them, thanked them for all they had done, and told them I had had the best boyhood ever, but that this was goodbye. I could not survive a return trip.
After 10 months, I was told I could go home. By then memory had dulled the senses — I suppose in the way some forget the labor pains of childbirth and have more kids — and I went to Bremerhaven to board another ship, the SS Wilson Victory. The trip was no picnic, but it was survivable, and I got to come home to my parents.
Fast-forward to the year 1951 when my country called again, and I answered.
On a bigger ship, I sailed from San Francisco to Pusan, Korea, spending another four weeks at sea. The motion sickness was not as bad this time, but boredom set in early and I was nervous about my future.
Ten difficult months later, I boarded another ship — a narrow one called a landing craft infantry that would take me to another ship that would take me to Japan, to get another ship. I wasn’t thrilled to spend even more time at sea, but I carried on.
Eventually, I boarded another ship, Private Sadao S Munomori, to get home.
At last, I arrived in Seattle with the thought that my sea days were behind me. It was a very happy moment.
Just when I thought I’d never set foot on another ship, I fell in love with someone who dreamed of cruises
Skip to August 1957 — I finally successfully wooed Donna, the most wonderful woman I’d ever met.
Before we got married in Michigan, I told her that I would never, ever get on a cruise ship. For a while, the topic never came up. Our life in Michigan was busy and we suddenly had three little ones.
But 20 years after our wedding day, my words came back to haunt me.
I had just asked the family, now five of us, to move to Florida. It caused a bit of friction because two of our kids were in college in Michigan and our youngest daughter would have to start in a new high school in a new town with no friends.
I knew it was a lot to ask, but we did it. Amid all of the stress, Donna suggested we go on a short cruise, but she remembered what I had said about ships and didn’t push it. But it seemed to me that keeping her happy in those days was important, so we booked a three-day Bahamas cruise out of Miami on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Sunward II.
It was my baptism of oceanic fire.
The first cruise I took felt like magic — and my wife and I went on dozens more together
All of the details of my first cruise aren’t totally fresh. But I remember that the smell of the ocean — fragrant and clean — impressed me greatly.
It was such a different smell than what I remembered at sea. My smeller is very active — I remember 20 miles out of Pusan I could smell Korea — so this nice, fresh odor seemed a good sign.
The Sunward II wasn’t the most elegant ship, but it was tastefully furnished and decorated. It was bright and cheerful and our outside cabin on the ship turned out much bigger than I expected. In fact, I kept waiting for others to come in to share our quarters.
My happiness grew as Donna found everything she’d hoped for onboard and much that surprised her.
For the next three days, we relaxed, participated in events, and just had fun. We loved the meals with many choices that were served by friendly, knowledgeable staff. There was even a real midnight buffet and a ton of entertainment that Donna loved.
Unlike my other experiences on boats, about everything went right. The thing that sold me on cruising was the service we received then and have received ever since.
After three days of being pampered and spoiled, it was back to life on land. As I left the ship yearning to be back onboard, I knew I was hooked.
I wonder if those three days had been less than they were, maybe I would not be, at 95 years of age, about to take my 108th cruise. This will be my first since I lost Donna, but I know she will be onboard with me and I will hear her voice, particularly when I reach for that third Manhattan.