The Indian Ocean finally ran out of water for us to cross. We were so far south of the equator it was early spring, not summer. Lightweight suits were comfortable again. Just after dawn on the morning of July 23, a Portuguese pilot came aboard to guide us into Lourenco Marques harbor, where we were to be transferred to the Gripsholm for the rest of our journey home. The Gripsholm, which had brought the Japanese who were to be exchanged for us, was already there.
The actual exchange of passengers was a simple thing. We had thought it would be complicated with the neutral governments-Switzerland for the United States and Spain for Japan-having representatives at desks who would check off name against name. Instead, the passengers merely walked down the gangplank of the Asama and up that of the Gripsholm.
Ambassador Joseph Clark Grew and Admiral Nomura already had been exchanged. Most of the Americans and the Japanese didn’t see each other. We were to pass on opposite sides of the flatcars the Negroes had laboriously pushed into place on the tracks. But Grew and Nomura almost brushed shoulders. They nodded with severe formality.
“I received a message later saying Admiral Nomura wished to talk with me.” Ambassador Grew said, “I didn’t respond. I had nothing to say to him.”
After the ceremony of exchanging the ranking diplomats had been observed, the rest of us stepped on the free soil of Portugal for the first time. I went up the gangplank, dropped my luggage on the deck of the Gripsholm, and returned to the wharf. For the first time in two years I didn’t have to think about a Japanese policeman snooping at my heels. It was a good feeling.
No meal will ever taste better than the cold buffet lunch served us at noon on the Gripsholm. We wouldn’t have been hard to please, but the stewards spruced themselves up in starched white coats and put on a parade. There were big plates of white bread, soft and tasty, not gray and tough; bowls heaped with fresh butter; tender and rare roast beef; chunks of cheese and bottles of beer, and ham from pigs that hadn’t been fattened on fish; mounds of potato salad glistening with oil and mayonnaise.
You have seen audiences in theaters rise and with spontaneous enthusiasm cheer and applaud a fine performance by an actor or a singer. Those stewards, with their platters and trays, received that sort of welcome as with accurate toes they pushed open the swinging doors which shut off the kitchen and deposited the tempting array of foods before us on tables.
After packing away my share, I left the ship and walked down the wharf past sweating Negroes working with cargo for freighters and went on into the town.
The Japanese had a two-day start on us in buying clothing and food and books. I tried to find a dictionary, and finally located the last one in Lorenco Marques at an obscure shop on the waterfront. You may wonder why the Japanese would strip the town of dictionaries. It is because none of the conquered peoples of Asia understand Japanese, and the only language in which they can issue their commands is English.
The Japanese from the Gripsholm were everywhere, scampering around the town in their new American clothes and American shoes and wearing out the leather they can’t replace when they get home: but if I know them, they had at least a ton of unattached soles packed away in their luggage. They flattened their pocketbooks and every time they returned to their ships they were loaded down with packages, and many had a half-naked Negro boy trotting behind with additional supplies.
But that was nothing compared to what the Japanese brought with them from the United States. They had sewing machines, metal filing cabinets, typewriters, cameras, electric refrigerators, and phonographs.
“They wouldn’t even let me bring my own machine from my home.” Ernest Vest said. He had been the Singer representative in Yokohoma for many years.
“I tried for two years to buy a metal filing cabinet for the office in Tokyo, “I said.
“Only reporters brought their typewriters along,” Joe Dynan added. “They were on the prohibited list. And try and get a camera with a good lens out of Japan!”
Ton after ton of possessions which would make their Japanese owners the envy of all of Japan was shifted from the Gripsholm into the holds of the Asama.