Navy Schools

    Dad was supporting Esther’s college education, which I assumed would use all his income for a few years.  Therefore, I entered a one sided contract with him.  I would join the Navy for three years and then when my sister’s education was completed, I would go to college.  That was my decision and Dad was supportive whether he actually agreed or not.

    After high school graduation day I had some two weeks vacation.  I could have gotten my recruit training in San Diego if I had enlisted in Quincy.  The other choices were Bainbridge or Great Lakes. I chose Great Lakes.  I had the option to wait a few weeks and join an all Iowa company of recruits.  That did not work out as my birthday was a pending factor.  The recruiter swore me in, gave me my orders and the family packed into the Ford to deliver me to the induction center in Des Moines.  After our good-byes, they headed over to Mom’s aunt’s home for a visit and I turned myself in to become a sailor.

    The induction center catered to all services and the day I was there was not necessarily a Navy day.  Many were answering the Army draft call.  The complete GI physical was endured and after passing all the initial testing, I was given train tickets to Great Lakes.  That was some lonely trip, (I had only been on a train once before, with the family), but I made it to Chicago and then took the North Shore Line to the gates of the Navy.  It was evening, but the sign said, “Through These Gates…” and they let me in.

    Camp Barry was the in-processing step of becoming a sailor.  Shots were given, the first meals fed and clothing issued.  The haircut was no big thing to me as the fad for high schoolers at that time was to sport “flat tops” which were one step beyond the crew cut which would be acceptable to the Navy.

    Our seabags were full of all the necessary provisions including summer, winter, and work clothing; “The Bluejacket's Manual”; mattress covers, blankets, and pillow cases; a chit book used to purchase expendables. To this day I still have my flat hat, which I never wore.  All clothing had to be stenciled with your last name, initials, and service number.  By the way, the service number was a seven digit number which required immediate memorization.  The first three digits would serve to identify what state you enlisted in.  Mine was 973, which was shared by all who came from Iowa at that time.  Anyway, they required us to “lay out” our seabags in rows on the drill hall floor.  “Service week” recruits did the actual stenciling to insure uniformity.  There were several hundred of us to go through this process.  We had been told about an important test coming the following morning and it appeared that the stenciling would drag on into the middle of the night.  I required my sleep, so I decided to lie down next to my possessions and go to sleep.  In the middle of the night I was awakened to be told it would be my turn next.  I looked around and noted that the drill hall was all but vacant.  Very quickly I had my name emblazoned on all my possessions and was headed toward the barracks.

    I enjoyed sleeping what was left of the night but reveille came early.  We now put on our dungarees, hip-hops, leggings, guard belts and white hats.  All of our civilian clothing was packed into corrugated boxes and sent home.  I was allowed to keep my camera and French horn.

    The GCT test was to determine our intelligence for as far as the Navy was concerned.  Fortunately it was presented in the multiple choice format, which would prove to be my sort of test. When the results were posted I found my name near the top of the list with a very high mark, possibly due to the sleep the night before.  That mark would come into play all during my first enlistment.

    Companies of sixty recruits were grouped together and we got our first instruction in formation marching.  Three abreast and spread out for some twenty ranks we soon found ourselves on the way down the road and off to boot camp.  There were three camps on the west side of Sheridan Road.  We were assigned to the lower east wing of one of the WWII temporary barracks.

The Grinder - RTC - Great Lakes    Our company commander was a first class petty officer by the name of Lucas.  Now, I really don’t like to complain, and I certainly couldn’t in 1956, but I had a problem with Lucas.  He liked to drink to excess.  It was so pronounced that we would not see him until mid morning, at which time he would come into the barracks, look over the situation, pick out the best made rack and flake out on it for the rest of the day.  When he left in the afternoon, we wouldn’t see him again until his repeat performance the next day.

    There were special companies for personnel involved in various activities.  The Recruit Training Command had a show quality drill team, a Bluejackets Choir, and a band.  The band was made up of pre-selected musicians heading to the Navy music program.  To fill out the ranks of the band, auditions were held to include normal recruits with musical background.  I was destined for electronic school, but thought the band sounded like a good past time for boot camp, so joined in.  That proved to be quite beneficial as I was excused from normal recruit drilling under arms, on the grinder.  Those few of us in the company that were in the special units would rest in the barracks at that time, watching the rest of the company drilling while we listened to the radio and smoked our cigarettes.

     This paragraph is difficult to write as I have yet to find any documentation to back up my statement.  I declare this to be true:  One chilly morning we woke and upon gazing out the windows of the barracks were greeted with a snow storm.  It covered the grinder, but was gone very quickly.  It’s hard to believe in the midst of summer, but the absolute truth.  This was not some illusion conjured up by an irresponsible youth.

    Because of the high GCT score, I was selected to be considered for the Naval Air Cadet program which would produce Navy pilots.  A number of us were bused to the Glenview Naval Air Station for exams.  All was going well until the dentist looked in my mouth and saw my pronounced overbite.  I was disqualified at that point as it was judged my speech would be unintelligible when wearing a helmet and speaking into the microphone in close quarters.  No sense in endangering the mission.  As I look back at that day, I know God was in on that decision for me.

    Yes, there were certain offices held by recruits in the company.  I was chosen to be the Educational Petty Officer.  Sounds like a cushy job.  Well, there were weekly progress tests to insure we were learning the lessons taught in class work.  I don’t know the average education level of our company, but we consistently failed our tests.  Even with the classes I conducted in the evening, I found myself failing at times.  I can’t put my finger on the cause, but my thoughts keep returning to the lack of leadership shown by our company commander.  We would have periodical bag inspections in which we would lay out all our clothing and possessions in a precise order on the floor of the barracks.  A division officer would conduct the inspection and in the process would ask questions related to the training we had just completed.  Even when the bag layout was ok, the questions would trip us up.  One time bag after bag was flipped, (requiring a re-inspection) due to a response our company commander prompted us to say when we didn’t have a clue to the answer of the question.  “I don’t know, Sir; but I’ll find out, Sir.  The officer got tired of hearing one after another of us give this response, so informed us that the next time he heard it, the bag would be flipped on general principles.  I was next!  The question was, “What are submarines named after?”  I didn’t have a clue, and the rest is history.  Later I would tell him in his office that they were “named after denizens of the deep”.  That choked him and with snickering going on all around, he tossed me out of his office, accusing me of using $25 words when 10¢ words would do. I guess he would have settled for “fish”, but the BJM called them “denizens”.

Two Hamilton Sailors - Bob and Warren    The barracks were wooden structures and at least 15 years old by the time I got there.  To keep them clean was the requirement, and that was impossible to do.  The dirt of years of recruit boots was in every crack.  We were on the bottom, so used one tool that the topside company couldn’t.  The fire hose was unracked when witnesses were elsewhere.  That stream of water floated the grime up and we swept it away with our brooms.  That became a weekly chore that never seemed to solve the problem.  Those battalion inspectors could find dust anywhere.

    We were individually responsible for the cleanliness of our uniforms.  That meant nightly trips to the laundry room with scrub brushes to clean away the day’s dirt.  Clothing was hung outside or in the drying room in a precise manner using the great invention called clothes stops.  These were pieces of cord which were wrapped around the item and the line in the proper direction only and tied with the correct knot.  No short cuts to cleanliness.  We learned to spit shine our shoes.  Polish was also applied thickly and lit with a match to fill in the pores of the leather to produce a shine you could shave in.

    We marched everywhere during the day; to class, mess, drill halls, and swimming pool.  At the pool I again found I had an edge.  I knew how to swim, had my senior lifesaving badge from the Red Cross and enjoyed that class.  I accepted the task of helping others in their quest to somehow get around the pool without drowning. To distinguish who we were, we wore our navy blue woolen swimming trunks inside out. We learned to enter the water fully clothed; take off our trousers; tie the legs off and use them for emergency floatation.

    The gas chamber was not so pleasant.  Into the box with our masks on we were instructed to take them off when the teargas hit the bucket of water.  What a shock.

    Firefighting taught us how survive the unthinkable. The school was located next to the golf course on Buckley Road.  We got there by riding the ‘cattle car’, which was akin to riding in a semi trailer. I was selected to be nozzle man on our hose.  We would go into the enclosed compartment to put out an oil fire while our backup would send a spray of water over our heads to prevent the flames to jumping across the ceiling and hitting us from behind.  We went in and did our job, only to find out that the backup crew had backed out on us.  I was spitting up black phlegm for days. 

    We were in boot camp for some 6-8 weeks.  During that time Lucas insured, by his actions or inaction, that we would not be honored by winning any special achievement flags to proudly display while we marched.  In fact there was a period of time when he was so embarrassed that he would not allow us to carry our own company flag because of the ridicule received from his peers.  We did get to fly our company flag at graduation.

    On graduation day my family drove to Great Lakes and was present for our pass-in-review.  Afterwards I was able to spend some time with them in the visiting center which was located at the northwest corner of the mainside entrance bridge.  I can’t remember for sure if our ceremony was in the drill hall or, as was the custom on fair days, on Ross Field. 

    A few days later I would return to Hamilton for a short time on recruit leave.  I soon found out that I had somehow changed and had lost track of my childhood surroundings, so cut the visit short and returned to Great Lakes to begin my electronics training.

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    I will probably tell you  next about Basic Electricity, and Electronics Schools.

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