Fundamental to the image of L. Ron Hubbard as prophet are the tales of his teenage travels. At the age of fourteen, it seems, the inquisitive lad could be found wandering the Orient alone, investigating primitive cultures and learning the secrets of life at the feet of wise men and Lama priests. 'He was up and down the China coast several times in his teens from Ching Wong Tow to Hong Kong and inland to Peking and Manchuria.' In China he met an old magician whose ancestors had served in the court of Kublai Khan and a Hindu who could hypnotize cats. In the high hills of Tibet he lived with bandits who accepted him because of his 'honest interest in them and their way of life'. In the remote reaches of western Manchuria he made friends with the ruling warlords by demonstrating his horsemanship. On an unnamed island in the South Pacific, the fearless boy calmed the natives by exploring a cave that was supposed to be haunted and showing them that the rumbling sound from within was nothing more sinister than an underground river. 'Deep in the jungles' of Polynesia he discovered an ancient burial ground 'steeped in the tradition of heroic warriors and kings . . . Though his native friends were fearful for him, he explored the sacred area - his initiative based on doing all he could to know more'.
There appeared to be no limit to the young man's abilities: 'I remember one time learning Igoroti, an Eastern primitive language, in a single night. I sat up by kerosene lantern and took a list of words that had been made by an old missionary in the hills of Luzon [Philippines]. The Igorot had a very simple language. This missionary phoneticized their language and made a list of their main words and their usage and grammar. And I remember sitting up under a mosquito net with the mosquitoes hungrily chomping their beaks just outside the net, and learning this language - three hundred words - just memorizing these words and what they meant. And the next day I started to get them in line and align them with people, and was speaking Igoroti in a very short time.'
Throughout this period, Ron was said to have been supported by his wealthy, not to say indulgent, grandfather and it was during his
1. Facts About L. Ron Hubbard - Things You Should Know, Flag Divisional Directive, 8 Mar 1974
2. What Is Scientology?, 1973, p. xlii
3. ibid., p. xliv
4. Scientology: A New Slant on Life, L. Ron Hubbard, 1965
travels in the East that he became interested in the 'spiritual destiny' of mankind. 'L. Ron Hubbard learned that there was more to life than science had dreamed of, that Man did not know everything there was to know about life, and that neither East nor West, the spiritual and the material, had any full answer. To L. Ron Hubbard there was a whole field here that was begging for research.'
It would, to be sure, have been an impressive start to any young man's career, if only it had been true.
(Scientology's account of the years 1924-28.)
(Hubbard's travels in Asia in 1927.)
At the end of March 1924, the Hubbards left Washington DC and moved, once again, from one side of the continent to the other. Having finished his training at the Bureau of Supply and Accounts School, Harry Hubbard was promoted to full Lieutenant and posted back to the Puget Sound Navy Shipyard at Bremerton, in Washington State, as Disbursing Officer.
Bremerton was a nice little town mushroomed around the great naval shipyard, the northern base of the Pacific Fleet, which sprawled along the shore of Puget Sound. Seagulls wheeled and cawed over the quiet high street and the fishing fleet in the harbour and a tangy aroma of salt, tar and oil scented the breeze off the Sound, where bustling white-painted ferries provided the town's main link to Seattle on the opposite shore. The Hubbards found a house two blocks from the shipyard and their son enrolled in the eighth grade at Union High School, on the corner of Fifth and High Avenues.
Run liked Bremerton on sight, as would any thirteen-year-old with a taste for outdoor activities. After school in the summer he invariably joined a group of boys to swim and fish and canoe in the Sound and at weekends he cadged a ride out to Camp Parsons, the boy scout camp on the north-west shore of Hood Canal. Parsons was a permanent campsite in the heart of the Olympic National Park and was considered by thousands of boys to be paradise. There were oysters, clams, shrimp and crabs to be fished from the canal and cooked over campfires; eagles soared in the thermals high overhead and the dense forest all around the camp was alive with deer, beavers, bobcats and black bears. Like countless fellow scouts, Ron's favourite trek from Camp Parsons was the 'Three Rivers Hike', which started with the 'poop-out drag' - a long climb up a sun-baked southern slope - and ended in the late afternoon at Camp Mystery at the top of the pass, where there were meadows full of wild flowers and thrilling views over the Olympic mountain wilderness. It was a boyhood idyll that was to last for only two happy years; in the summer of 1926 his parents decided to move across the Sound back to Seattle. It was no trouble for Harry to commute to work at
5. Facts About L. Ron Hubbard - Things You Should Know, Flag Divisional Directive, 8 Mar 1974
the shipyard by ferry and they felt that Ron ought to complete his high school education in a bigger and more sophisticated school than Union High. So it was that Ron began his sophomore year at Queen Anne High, a majestic seminary built in sparkling white bricks on a hilltop overlooking Seattle.
He was barely into his second semester when his father received his first foreign posting. Lieutenant Hubbard was to take over as Officer in Charge of the Commissary Store at the US Naval Station on Guam, a remote, mountainous tropical island in the Pacific, three thousand miles west of Hawaii. Largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands, Guam had been ceded to the United States as a prize in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and, as far as the Hubbard family was concerned, was so far away it might as well have been on another planet.
May and Hub talked long into many nights about how they should accommodate their lives to this new upheaval. Guam was a minimum two-year posting and May naturally wanted to accompany her husband, particularly as there as no chance of him returning home on leave. What most worried them was what to do with Ron, who had immediately assumed he would be going too. Then just sixteen years old, he was thrilled at the prospect of exchanging the dreary routine of Queen Anne High for life on a tropical island.
But officers returning from Guam were full of lurid stories about the island and its inhabitants. Many of them concerned the charms of Guam's 'dusky maidens' and the uninhibited enthusiasm with which they pursued young Americans as potential husbands. There was also much gossip about the horrendous strains of venereal disease which were endemic. Time and time again Hub was told by ex-Guam veterans that they would never let a son of theirs set foot in the place.
In the end they made the painful decision to leave Ron behind. May arranged for him to move back into 'the old brick' with her parents and to finish high school in Helena. Ron made no secret of his disgust When his parents broke the news, although he was slightly mollified by his father's promise to try and arrange for him to travel with his mother out to Guam for a short holiday before returning to Helena.
Lieutenant Hubbard sailed to Guam on 5 April 1927; his wife and son followed several weeks later on the passenger steamship, President Madison, bound for Honolulu, Yokohama, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Manila, out of San Francisco. Ron took with him his ukulele and saxophone, two instruments he had been struggling to learn, and a headful of yarns, spun by his father's friends, about how anyone with red hair was instantly proclaimed king on arrival in Guam. To his great chagrin, his return passage was already booked for July, to get
him back in time for the start of the junior term at Helena High School. May took sufficient books to tutor her son in history and English during the trip, to make up for him not finishing the semester at Queen Anne High School.
Considering he was still only sixteen, Ron's log of his trip to Guam was acutely observed and literate, even if the prose was occasionally artless and self-conscious ('Westward tugged the ship's twelve thousand horses'). It was also packed with information, reflecting the unashamed curiosity of an inquisitive and extrovert young man travelling abroad for the first time.
Watching San Francisco's Golden Gate disappear from view, Ron admitted to a lump in his throat, although he was soon involved in the timeless and time-wasting pursuits that comprised life on board - shuffle board and deck golf, a dance one evening, a movie the next, and obsessive discussion about who was seasick and who was not. Some of the crew tried to turn Ron's stomach by describing revolting meals of salt pork and slippery oysters, but he was pleased to record that neither he nor his mother succumbed.
First stop, six days out, was Honolulu, where the President Madison was greeted in the harbour by flotillas of small boats rowed by lithe, brown-skinned urchins who dived for quarters flipped overboard from the deck of the steamship. They used to dive for pennies, Ron noted laconically, 'thus has the Hawaiian developed his commerce'. Friends showed the Hubbards around the island while the ship was docked and Ron managed to get a swim and a ride on a surf-board at Waikiki beach. The waves were much longer than those in California, he wrote, and sometimes attained speeds of sixty miles an hour.
Outward bound from Hawaii, Ron made friends with the second engineer who took him on a conducted tour of the ship, including the galley, 'spotless with shining equipment and Chinese cooks who grinned and displayed blank teeth'.
Fifty miles off the coast of Japan, they caught their first glimpse of the 'celestial beauty' of Mount Fuji rising through the clouds and cloaked in a 'pink robe of snow' suggesting, Ron thought, a 'garment for royalty'. They stayed three days in Japan, first at Yokohama and then at Kobe. Ron made meticulous notes about everything he saw, including detailed descriptions of how the people dressed. Much of the devastation caused by the earthquake four years earlier was still evident - including the ruin of a 'hideously scrambled' fort guarding the harbour entrance in which 1700 men had died when the walls collapsed. Ron was generally unimpressed by Japan and clearly unprepared, as a young American innocent of foreign ways, for the sights and smells of the Orient - the disease and the dirt, the stinking
slums and the beggars sleeping in the street. 'It doesn't look the happy land so pictured in stories,' he concluded. 'Only at cherry blossom time or in the romantic novel do I believe there is beauty in Japan.'
He was rather more cheered by Shanghai, the President Madison's next port of call, partly because the first flag to greet them as they entered the Yangtze river was the Stars and Stripes, flying from the stern of a US Navy destroyer. The bustling river traffic - 'millions of fishing boats and junks' - astonished him, as did the fact that the 'ragged and decrepit' coolies who unloaded the ship only earned fifteen cents a day and 'fifteen cents Mex at that!' They lived, he added somewhat unnecessarily, 'worse than anyone in the world'.
He and his mother accompanied the ship's chief officer, who was also from Seattle, on a drive through the town. 'Opening down the main avenue over which our car travelled were hundreds of narrow intriguing streets, teeming with life. Great fish floated here and there and paper banners hung overhead. The stores were stocked with every sort of junk. Dried fish rattled on strings in the wind. Queer looking foods and drygoods were side by side. Sikh policemen were everywhere. They are big dark bearded fellows and in their turbans and short trousers of khaki look picturesque. They carry great rattan sticks and a rifle across the back. Tommy Atkins was very much in evidence and the American Marines, as well as Japanese and British marines. On the outside of the British concession I saw a British tommy take a Chinaman by the coat and knock him across the street. On Bubbling Well Road is a beautiful hotel once the home of a Chinese gentleman. The grounds are laid out with pergolas and fountains and the hotel has tapestries and mosaic tile floors.'
It was clear that by the time he reached Shanghai, Ron had adopted some of the more obvious colonial mannerisms, for he casually reported joining the Madison crowd for 'tiffin' at the Palace Hotel later that day and would also soon be referring to the natives as 'gooks'.
From Shanghai they sailed for Hong Kong, a city that was 'very British on the surface and very native underneath' May and Ron took a tram up to the top of the mountain overlooking the harbour, but they found the heat and humidity very exhausting, not to mention the throngs of coolies 'not caring where they spit', and they were glad to leave on the last leg of their voyage on the President Madison to Manila in the Philippines.
In Manila they were to transfer, with fifteen other Navy families, to a US Navy cargo auxiliary, the USS Gold Star, which was anchored across the bay at Cavite, waiting to take them to Guam. There was considerable confusion unloading the baggage from the
President Madison, which Ron blamed on the 'lazy, ignorant natives', and it was some time before their trunks were safely on their way and May and Ron could relax with a glass of lemon squeeze at the Manila Hotel.
Next day Ron went sight-seeing with a Lieutenant McCain from the Cavite Navy Yard, an acquaintance of his father. To a boy who loved blood-and-thunder adventure stories, the old Spanish forts in Cavite exercized a compelling fascination. 'All the old guns have been dismantled, but the emplacements remain. Such an awful place in which to fight. The places were traps as it takes four men to even open a door. There are tunnels connecting all of them to an ancient cathedral which is un-used and filled with snakes, bats and trash. Very mysterious. I looked it over well when Mr McCain told me that millions in Spanish gold were buried in those tunnels. Some day I am going back there and dredge [sic] the whole place. Maybe.'
That evening he was taken to 'Dreamland', one of the more respectable bars in Manila where girls were available for hire, for dancing, at five centums a dance. 'Of course we didn't dance,' Ron was at pains to record, 'because by doing so one loses cast. The Charleston has just hit them, but it's too hot (I mean the weather).'
Two days later, the USS Gold Star weighed anchor and set course for Guam, a seven-day voyage across the Philippine Sea which could not have offered a greater contrast to the comparative luxury of a passenger ship like the President Madison. The accommodation was spartan, the food was poor and the officers remained haughtily aloof from their luckless passengers, even eating at a separate table in the dining-room. To make matters worse, the weather was terrible and the ship pitched and rolled and wallowed in a grey, relentlessly heaving sea with the constant threat of a typhoon gathering on the horizon. It was, said Ron, a 'gosh-awful trip'.
When a smudge of land appeared in the far distance and word went round that it was Guam, the relief was palpable. The USS Gold Star hove to off Guam on Monday 6 June, thirty-six days after the Hubbards had left San Francisco. Hub was on the second tender that came out to the ship and Ron spoke for both himself and his mother when he noted: 'We were sure glad to see him.'
Ron's first impression of Guam, with its thickly forested green hills and little red-roofed houses, was favourable. Even the sickly sweet aroma of copra which filled the air was distinctly preferable to the stench of open drains that had predominated at all their previous ports of call. The poverty, filth and disease which had been so prevalent elsewhere were kept in abeyance in Guam by the overwhelming presence of the United States Navy, which pushed, prodded and paid the local Chamorro natives to keep the streets clean and to observe basic hygiene.
Hub had been allocated a large bungalow surrounded by banana trees in the town of Agana, about five miles from the harbour. It was still not fully furnished when May and Ron arrived, but Ron liked the cool sparse rooms with their highly polished floors of black hardwood, reflecting the light filtering through the bamboo screens. The family had two houseboys and a cook and lived in a style that none of them had ever previously experienced. May, for example, had never had servants in her life and very much enjoyed the novelty.
Ron's father had arranged for him to spend part of the six weeks he was due to stay on the island teaching English to Chamorro children in the local grade school, which was run by the Navy. Ron did not object to undertaking this chore, but found it a more or less impossible task because of his red hair. Although he had not been instantly proclaimed king on arrival, he quickly discovered that his hair caused much excitement and interest, both on the street and in the classroom. The Chamorros, dark-skinned people of Indonesian stock, seemed unable to believe that a human head could sprout such a fiery crine and Ron's students spent their entire lesson staring uncomprehendingly at the top of his head. His parents laughed when he told them what was happening and his mother, drawing on her own teaching experience, softly advised him just to do his best.
When he was not trying to be a teacher, Ron spent a great deal of his time satisfying his natural curiosity by researching the island's history and culture. Some of his notes about Guam and its people bear a strange similarity to stories that would later be incorporated into the L. Ron Hubbard mythology. The Chamorro dialect, for example, which had originally contained some two thousand words and idioms, had been reduced over the years to around three hundred idioms with an almost non-existent grammatical structure - curiously akin to Igoroti, the primitive language Ron was said to have learned in a single night by the light of a kerosene lamp. And one of the Hubbards' house boys told Ron about a devil ghost called 'Tadamona' which was believed to haunt Missionary Point, where a fast-flowing underground river made eerie moaning noises at night . . .
In Guam, as elsewhere, Ron was particularly intrigued by the forts, which held a special romance and mystery he toiled to convey in his journal: 'An especially interesting one is the fort of San Juan de 'Apra [sic] in Apra harbour. Its doors have been sealed for years and, as if to hide the structure, vines wind themselves about it. The walls were built with remarkable skill, especially the corners. Most of the prison and turret have been eroded and have falled [sic] into decay, but the powder house and firing steps remain. The walks that once heard the rhythm of the sentry's beat, and the crash of the evening gun are now
the running place of lizards. One cannot imagine the solitude and depression that surrounds it. All that beauty and grandeur which surrounded it yesterday has faded as the rose which dies and leaves its thorn.'
Ron was due to leave Guam on Saturday 16 July 1927, on board an ammunition ship, USS Nitro, bound for Bremerton. His parents drove him down to the harbour in the early morning and accompanied him out to the ship to help him with his bags, now crammed with souvenirs and presents for the family back home in Helena. The three of them had a quiet breakfast together on board and at eight o'clock May and Hub said goodbye and returned ashore on a tender, hardly daring to look back at the lonely figure of their son standing at the rail. The USS Nitro sailed within the hour.
If Ron was sad to be leaving, he made no mention of it in his journal. He 'felt rather lonely' on the first day out, but the two boys with whom he was sharing a cabin, Jerry Curtis and Dick Derickson, were so homesick that both were close to tears. Ron did his best to cheer them up. He particularly liked Dick, who was from Seattle and whom he had met at Camp Parsons. 'Dick and I have been reading up on atheism,' he noted. 'Such a terrible thing to make an issue of. Something is at the bottom of it. I'll find out in the States.'
Four days out, the USS Nitro hove to off Wake Island so that the crew could go fishing and swimming. Ron went ashore in a whale boat and discovered that the island was inhabited by many strange and beautiful birds, apparently quite unafraid of the sailors walking round their nests. In the lagoon, he wrote, the multi-coloured tropical fish looked like 'a forth [sic] of July parade' and the water was so clear he could see through thirty fathoms to the rocks on the bottom.
Deprived of the recreations offered on board the President Madison, Ron found the return voyage, courtesy of the US Navy, to be unremittingly dreary. He liked to watch the stars at night ('never in my life have I seen such beauties') and during the day he enjoyed visiting the engine-room, but much of the time he was bored.
Ironically, Ron had seriously discussed with his father the possibility of a career in the Navy, although he certainly did not seem much enthused by his experience on the USS Nitro. 'If this ship is the cream of the naval duty,' he wrote, 'I'll sure stick to milk. The officers work about an hour and then sit around and look bored. The enlisted personnel bear the brunt of the work.' Nevertheless, he could not have been completely deterred, for he noted that he and Dick would be going to Annapolis (home of the Naval Academy) at the same time.
Off Hawaii, one of the officers told Ron he could go up to the lookout in the crow's nest. 'A moment later found me staring up the forward mast which looked ungodly high. I overcame a nervous
tremor and climbed a rope up to the steel ladder . . . Nice prospect a fall was. Then I tackled the first fifty feet of ladder. It surely looked and felt insubstantial. About half way up I thought I'd never been so nervous before. After that ladder came an even smaller steel ladder. Up I went all confidence by this time. In a moment I reached the nest and sure enough there was the lookout reading a 'Western Story'. He invited me to climb in. The last in itself is worse than the rest of it put together. One has to dangle with nothing under him and work half way round to the other edge. Over the side of the box I swung and then in. My God what a relief!'
On 6 August, in thick fog, the USS Nitro nosed into Bremerton and moored to Pier 4A at the Navy Yard. Ron disembarked without a moment's regret, thankful to be back on dry land and away from the cramped and stultifying atmosphere of the ship. Next day he caught a train for Helena, where he was welcomed by the Waterburys like the prodigal son. In 'the old brick', savouring the heady fragrance of his grandmother's baking, which he remembered so well, he regaled everyone with the tales of his adventures and if he embroidered the account just a little, who could have blamed him?
Even a local newspaper apparently felt his exploits worth reporting in a double-column story under the headline 'Ronald Hubbard Tells of His Trip to Orient and Many Experiences'. The interview closely followed the notes Ron had made in his journal except for the surprising claim, somehow neglected in his diary, that he had witnessed an execution while he was in China. 'Ronald Hubbard has the distinction', the story concluded, 'of being the only boy in the country to secure an eagle scout badge at the age of twelve years.'
[He had, in fact, been thirteen. But this small slip-up and the curious omission of the 'execution' from his journal were not nearly as puzzling as the fact that it has never been possible to trace the newspaper from which the cutting was taken. It appears to exist only as a photostat in the archives of the Church of Scientology labelled 'Clipping from Helena, Montana, newspaper circa 1929'.]
On 6 September 1927, Ron enrolled in the junior year at Helena High School, a forbidding Victorian building of rough-hewn grey stone with castellated gables and turrets, just five minutes' walk from the Waterbury home. A cousin, Gorham Roberts, who was in the same year, introduced Ron to many of his new school-mates, but no one found it easy to settle down to work, for the whole school was distracted by the frustrating knowledge that Charles A. Lindbergh was visiting Helena. He was on a triumphant tour of the country after flying the Atlantic alone in his tiny monoplane Spirit of St Louis and returning as a national hero, and there was not a boy or girl in the school who did not fervently wish to catch a glimpse of him.
6. Letter to author from Montana Historical Society, 24 Mar 1986
At first Ron seemed perfectly happy at Helena High, perfectly happy to be back with his grandparents. In October he joined the Montana National Guard, enlisting at the State Armory on North Main Street and claiming he was eighteen to avoid having to wait months for his parents to send consent papers from Guam. As a private in Headquarters Company of 163rd Infantry he felt he cut quite a dash as he strode through the town in his uniform - broad-brimmed hat, khaki shirt and breeches, gloves tucked into the belt - to report for training at the Armory, where twin flagpoles rose from perfectly manicured patches of green grass.
At school, he managed to get himself appointed to the editorial staff of The Nugget, Helena High's bi-monthly newspaper. He would naturally have preferred to have been editor-in-chief, but as a newcomer he had to be satisfied with jokes editor, a position he held jointly with Ellen Galusha. He was photographed with the rest of the editorial staff for the year book, standing in the middle of the group on the steps of the school wearing a suit and a bow tie, eschewing the faintly raffish literary style affected by his colleagues. 'The Nugget is a really good paper . . .' the caption explained. 'The name originates from the large expensive gold nuggets which the prospectors mined in previous years on the main street of Helena.'
Although Ellen Galusha rather upstaged her follow jokes editor by winning first place in the district finals of the Extemporaneous Speaking Contest, Ron felt he kept his end up by having one of his essays selected to represent Helena High in the State Essay Contest. He had also written a short play which was performed by the junior branch of the Shriners and very well received.
After school on 2 December, Ron and a group of his friends rushed round to the showrooms of Capital Ford hoping to see the sleek new Model A. Fords which were said to have arrived in town that day. They found a crowd of around four thousand people jamming the street outside the Ford agency, all with the same idea. Replacement for the beloved Model T., the Model A. was not only a completely new design but was also available in a number of different colours, a development which caused Ron and his friends to gasp with amazement. Later, over sodas at the Weiss Café on North Main Street, the boys hotly debated which of the models - roadster, sports coupé or sedan - was preferable and which colour each of them would be purchasing as soon as they had some money.
That winter was the worst in living memory for the people of Helena. On 8 December, Ron woke to find the overnight temperature had dropped fifty-eight degrees [Fahrenheit] to thirty-five below zero, one of the coldest on record. Outside, a biting blizzard swept down from the mountains, obliterating the town and the surrounding country.
Morning editions of the Helena Independent were full of terrible stories of families marooned and frozen to death, school buses lost in the storm and entire herds of cattle wiped out.
The snow had still not melted when Ron began preparing for the annual Vigilante Day Parade, the high spot of the school year, held on the first Friday in May. Although the theme of the parade always harked back to the pioneer days, Ron plumped for a more unconventional role and decided he would go as a pirate. He somehow persuaded five doubting friends, two boys and three girls, to join him, casually brushing aside any objections based on the rather obvious absence of pirate involvement in Montana's early history. Aunt Marnie helped with the costumes by taking down her drapes and removing the brass rings to provide the pirates with suitable earrings, as worn on the Spanish Main.
Thus it was that as the Vigilante Day Parade, led by the Helena High School Band, progressed along Main Street on the afternoon of Friday 4 May 1928, the settlers, cowboys, cowgirls, miners, trappers, prospectors, Indians and sheriffs were inexplicably joined by a small band of ferocious pirates with eyepatches and painted beards, waving wooden cutlasses. At the dance after the parade, 'Pirates by R. Hubbard' won one of three prizes in the 'Most Original' category.
The report on the parade in the Helena Independent next day positively glowed with pride: 'The parade was larger, more ingenious, spectacular, striking, imaginative and suggestive of the past this year than ever before. The high school students once more covered themselves with glory - besides having a jolly good time and communicating a lot of fun to the bystanders . . . As a success the Vigilante parade was complete, and once more advertized to the world that the Helena High School and Last Chance Gulch puts on a show once a year unmatched elsewhere on the globe.'
A week later, Ron disappeared. When he did not show up for school on Monday 14 May, there were excited rumours in the junior year that he had been expelled. 'Certainly we believed he had left in a hurry, under something of a cloud,' said Gorham Roberts. 'The story was that he had got mad at a teacher and put his butt into a waste-paper basket. Old A. J. Roberts, the principal, was a German from Heidelberg and a strict disciplinarian. Ron knew that he would never put up with such behaviour, so he didn't trouble to come back.'
Aunt Marnie explained it differently: 'He just got itchy feet. He wanted to see something new. He was an adventurer at heart. The wanderlust was in him and he couldn't see himself staying in a little town like Helena when there was adventure ahead. He went off to Seattle to stay with my sister Midgie and her husband Bob. They
7. Interview with Gorham Roberts, Helena, Montana, April 1986
tried to talk him into staying with them, but he went south, hopped a ship and worked his way back to Guam.'
Whatever the truth, Ron never returned to Helena High. Two years later, he wrote two colourful accounts of the events leading up to his departure from Helena. Although they were only separated by a few pages in his journal, many of the details do not match; indeed some passages read suspiciously like the adventure stories he was constantly scribbling in his spare time.
It seemed he was driving his friends home after the Vigilante Day Parade in his 'mighty Ford' (presumably his grandfather's Model T.) when someone threw a baseball at them and hit him on the head. He stopped the car, chastized the offenders and dealt with them so severely that he broke four 'marcarpals' in his right hand.
'That was the beginning and the end. I couldn't wait and school faded from the picture. My hand was reset four times and life lost its joy. I sold the Ford and went West, taking Horace Greeley's [sic] advice.'
He announced to his grandfather that he had decided on a 'change of scenery' and caught a train for Seattle, where he stayed with his aunt and uncle for a couple of days. On 7 June, trading on his 'scout prestige', he moved to Camp Parsons for about a week, until it became too crowded and he decided to move on.
'I set out at noon, hiking a swift pace under a heavy pack through the lofty, virgin Olympics. At nine o'clock that night I made camp about two miles down the trail from "Shelter Rock". Twelve hours later I was limp on top of a boulder pile, saved from a broken spine by my pack. I gazed at the blood pumping from my wrist and decided it was high time I went to visit herr Docteur.'
No explanation is offered for this incident or for how he managed, in such a parlous state, to find his way back to Bremerton. It was there, while being treated by a Navy doctor, he was told that a US Navy transport, USS Henderson, was due to leave for Guam from San Francisco in a week's time (in the first account), or two weeks (in the second account). That night (first account), eight days later (second account), he was on a Shasta Limited overnight train heading south for California, apparently intent on rejoining his parents in Guam.
By the time he got to the Transport Dock in San Francisco the Henderson had already sailed. With only twenty dollars left in his pocket, Ron invested a nickel in a newspaper and read on the shipping page that the liner President Pierce, bound for China, was moored at Dock 28. An hour later he was standing in line at the dock, waiting to sign on as an ordinary seaman. While in the queue, smoking to calm his nerves, he suddenly decided it would be worth a call to Twelfth Naval District to find out where the Henderson was. Perhaps, he
8. Interview with Mrs. Margaret Roberts, Helena, Montana, April 1986
thought, she had not yet sailed for Guam, but had just moved down the coast to another port. His hunch was correct - an officer at Twelfth District told him the Henderson was in San Diego. Within half an hour - he appeared remarkably lucky with connections - he was on a bus bound for San Diego, five hundred miles further south.
When he finally caught up with the Henderson in San Diego, 'faint from lack of sleep and food', he was told that Washington would need to approve his request for a passage to Guam. Nothing if not bold, Ron called on the Aide to the Commandant, who turned out to be extraordinarily obliging and agreed to telegraph Washington immediately. Satisfied there was nothing more he could do for the moment, Ron rented a cheap room near the naval headquarters and slept for eighteen hours. When he woke, he learned that a signal had been received from Washington saying that his father's permission would be needed before he could join the ship.
'With fear and trembling, I had a radio sent out to Guam . . . I walked the streets of San Diego all that day with Old Man Worry gnawing at my brow. Would Dad reply "No!" or would he say "Yes"? You see, I had reason to be worried. This would be the first intimation he would have of my portending return . . .'
Out in Guam, Lieutenant Hubbard no doubt wondered what the hell was going on when he received a message from Washington informing him that his son was in San Diego requesting passage on a ship to Guam. It was to his credit that he immediately cabled his permission, which arrived in San Diego, according to Ron, only an hour before the Henderson was due to sail.
This does not quite accord with the deck log of the Henderson, which records that 'L.R. Hubbard, son of Lieutenant H. R. Hubbard USN, reported on board for transportation to Guam' at 1620 hours on Saturday 30 June. The ship did not sail until 1330 the following day. Neither do the dates match Lieutenant Hubbard's navy record, which indicates that Ron wrote to the Navy Department asking about transports to Guam as early as 10 May; he submitted a formal application for a passage in the Henderson on 28 May.
However, Ron never considered that strict regard for the truth should be allowed to spoil a good story and so he described how he was standing with his suitcase in his hand at the bottom of the gangway to the ship when the cable came through. He had lost his trunk, somewhere between San Francisco and San Diego, but he was unconcerned. 'The Henderson sailed with me aboard,' he noted triumphantly. 'My possessions were: two handkerchiefs, two suits underwear, one pair shoes, one worn suit, one thin topcoat, one tooth brush, two pair socks and two pennies. No wardrobe, no money . . .'
He ended this part of his journal with a jaunty little postscript
9. H.R. Hubbard navy record
addressed to the reader: 'I will tell you the secret of this strange life I had. Sssh! I was born on Friday the thirteenth.'
It was, unfortunately, not quite true. 13 March 1911 was a Monday.