Liberty in Rio. My imagination could not have embellished the good time we made of our nine days in port, indulging in the vices sailors are infamous for, as if we had been at sea for months instead of weeks. After some excessive drinking, nightclubbing, and little or no sleep, I had exhausted my appetite for the joys of liberty and intended to return to ship. Chuck Larson persuaded me to accompany him to a party at a grand house on Sugarloaf Mountain. There I met and began a romance with a Brazilian fashion model, and gloried in the envy of my friends.
We danced on the terrace overlooking the bay until one o'clock in the morning, when I felt her cheek was moist.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"I'll never see you again," she replied.
I told her that we would remain in town for eight more days, and that I would gladly spend as much time in her company as she would grant me. But she rebutted my every assurance with "No, I can never see you again."
"Are you engaged?"
"Look, I'm going to be down at the gate of the shipyard at one o'clock tomorrow afternoon. I'll be there, and I want you to be there, too."
She said nothing in reply, and an hour later she left the party with her aunt, who served as her constant companion and chaperone.
The next afternoon, I left the ship at about twelve-thirty and waited for her at the place I had designated. An hour passed, and she had not arrived. Another hour and still she had not appeared. An hour after that, I forlornly prepared to abandon all hope. Just as I was preparing to return to the ship in a state of deep despondency, she pulled up in a Mercedes with gull-wing doors. She honked the horn, and I jumped in, ecstatic.
I spent every free moment with her for the rest of my stay in Rio. She was very beautiful, stylish, and gracious - common attributes in her wealthy and socially prominent family. She took me to dinners and receptions where I toasted my extraordinary good fortune in the company of cabinet members, generals and admirals, wealthy aristocrats, and, on one occasion, the president of Brazil.
We spent my last evening on liberty together. She drove me to my ship the next morning. I emerged from under the open gull-wing door and kissed her to a chorus of rowdy cheers from my shipmates. I accepted their approval with an affected sheepish humility.
When we returned to Annapolis, I had a few weeks' leave, which I used to fly right back to Rio to continue my storybook romance. By the following Christmas, the distance between us, and our youthful impatience and short attention spans, brought an end to our affair. But it resides in my memory, embellished with age, of course, among the happier experiences of my life.
On the return cruise we made port in the Virgin Islands and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where we received further instruction in the rituals of shore leave. Guantanamo in those pre-Castro days was a wild place. Everyone went ashore and headed immediately for huge tents that had been set up on the base as temporary bars, where great quantities of strong Cuban beer and an even more potent rum punch were served to anyone who professed a thirst and could afford a nickel a drink.
The officers' club boasted the same menu in slightly more comfortable surroundings. We drank there for a good while, serenaded by a Pat Boone record. A music lover had evidently come ashore and filled the O club's jukebox with as many nickels as he could scrounge, choosing but one selection, "Love Letters in the Sand," which played over and over again. Returning to the ship, my friends and I were delighted to discover that the throng of sailors and Marines crowding the landing had taken a dislike to one another and had begun fighting. The shore patrol arrived and waded into the riot of whites and khaki vainly trying to separate the opposing forces. It was bedlam. We loved it.
Excerpted from Faith of My Fathers by John McCain with Mark Salter. Copyright© 1999 by John McCain. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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