Bill's Vignettes

This is my story. It will consist of little pictures, snippets, or vignettes, from my past. It is a legacy to my children and grandchildren and those that may come after and hopefully will also be of some interest to the casual reader who doesn't know me from Adam.

Archive for August, 2007

My Recruit Training Company Commander

Posted by sundoulos2005 on August 31, 2007

Chief Matthew Fowler, whom I believe was either a Torpedoman or a Quartermaster, was my recruit company commander. I do not know if our company was his first, but I am sure he wished it was his last. In fact, after some weeks of pushing us recruits he came into his office and cleared everything out. “I quit!” he bellowed. I think that was more for effect than anything else.

Chief Fowler was ideal for the job. He looked like the professional sailor he was. He was always immaculately dressed. His weight was proportionate to his height which was, if my memory is correct, around 6 feet. I can recall a number of occasions when he was really ticked off but I do not remember his yelling at us. He had that look about him that let you know you had crossed the line and were in deep trouble.

The first day with him we got a lecture about going AWOL. It seems like every new company had at least one foolish enough to jump the fence and make their way back into “CIVLANT” — Navy lingo for “civilians – Atlantic Fleet.” Everything in the Navy has some term applied to it that only sailors know. I suppose in San Diego it would have been CIVPAC. That night we lost two. One was caught shortly after his escape, the other a few days later. Upon their return they were held up to scorn as examples of what we did not want to do. That was our first incident.

After moving, some weeks later, over to Camp Moffett and a brand new barracks, one of the less brighter lights was goaded into pulling the fire alarm. The Chief was called in from home. As one might expect, he was not at all happy. Things like that merited our being awakened in the middle of the night to spend some time on the grinder — a concrete area used for drill and exercise.

During my first half of boot camp I accumulated so many demerits that there was no way I could work them all off before the company graduated. I spent every night for weeks at the drill hall running laps with my rifle over my head, doing calisthenics, and otherwise experiencing various tortures. Chief Fowler called me into his office one day towards the end of training for what I thought was going to be the news that I was being set back. Instead, he wiped off all my demerits.

Chief Fowler did have a sense of humor. That is not to say I appreciated it. We had graduated, marched in review across Ross Field, received our orders to our first posting and were waiting to be dismissed. Along came the Company Commander with his assistant and formed us up for marching. We proceeded to march to the barber shop where our hair was cut to the nub just like it was the first time we were clipped.

I have not seen my Company Commander since leaving boot camp. I do not even know if he is still alive. I owe him a lot and perhaps this will get back to him and he will know that he did some good to more than one boot during his time at Great Lakes Naval Training Center.


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General Orders

Posted by sundoulos2005 on August 28, 2007

Upon arrival at boot camp each recruit is given, among other things, the “11 General Orders of a Sentry.” He is required to memorize them within the first several days. When we left Camp Barry for Camp Porter to start our training those general orders would be put to good use, for we would then be standing guard duty. The General Orders as they are today (2007) are listed below.

1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.

2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.

3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.

4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.

5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.

6. To receive, obey and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.

7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.

8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.

9. To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.

10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.

11. To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

We stood guard duty wherever our superiors could find a place for us to stand. One of the worst assignments was to guard the laundry room. It was always hot because of the steam lines that passed through there. Four hours in the middle of the night was torture. Sentries were required to stand at parade rest until an officer (in boot camp this was anyone E-6 or above) approached. Then you would snap to attention and salute. We were issued Springfield 30-30 rifles left over from the big war — World War II — 19 pounds of dead weight.

During the first several weeks of basic training any officer would grill the sentry on the General Orders. Miss one and you got to do 25 push-ups. Miss two and the number would double. Any mishap merited push-ups. I once had to do 200. Some officers took delight in torture. Push-ups while holding a rifle in your hands (knuckles against the ground) was excruciatingly painful. Another recruit, caught smoking, was required to do push-ups while smoking four cigarettes.

I survived all that and was the better for it. I sometimes wished I could retalitate against those that made my life miserable but that was out of the question, so I determined I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of knowing I hurt. By the time we moved to our next camp, Camp Moffett, that sort of thing was almost never encountered again.

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Holding Company

Posted by sundoulos2005 on August 25, 2007

It was mid-afternoon when that huge gate was shut to my past and, not having eaten either breakfast or lunch, I was hungry. “Is there any place I can get something to eat?” I asked the guards.

“Oh, sure,” one replied, “at the chow hall.”

“But it’s closed,” replied the other. “You’ll have to wait until supper is served.” I was directed to the administration building where I would be checked in. By the time I was finished with the paperwork and assigned to my barracks and bunk the holding company had already left for chow. I quickly found out that single recruits were not allowed to go anywhere on their own. I missed another meal. I just as quickly found out that nobody really cared.

My stay in Holding Company, or “Incoming Detention” was short-lived. As soon as there were enough recruits we were formed into a training company and moved to different quarters. In the meantime we underwent physical examinations, uniform issue, were taught how to stand at attention and parade rest, how to salute and whom to salute, and when to salute. In Boot Camp recruits salute anyone E-6 and above. We were given rudimentary instructions on how to march. We spent long hours in the rain, getting up on some days at 3 or 4 A.M., even though reveille was not until 5:30 A.M., and assembling in the rain to wait and get drenched enough to march. Lake Michigan rains are mighty cold in April, particularly when they are blown in from across the lake.

Once the day was through we did have free time. There wasn’t much to do so most of us watched the movie provided each evening. I was very much surprised to find they were recent releases. The only movie I remember by name is “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” starring Don Knotts. It was good entertainment for a dime. Even though it is far-fetched, I still enjoy watching it.

All recruits were required to attend “the church of his religion” on Sunday morning. If you didn’t have one you had to pick one. That is where I first heard the Navy Hymn. It seems we always sang the first stanza:

Eternal Father, Strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty Ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to thee,
for those in peril on the sea.

It is a beautiful hymn with beautiful music. You can read the history and alternate stanzas here.

About three or four days into Boot Camp we were introduced to our Company Commander, TMC(SS) Matthew Fowler. He assembled us together along with all our worldly possessions and marched us off to our home for the next four weeks, which was across the railroad tracks and highway and accessed by an underpass. We were finally going to be sailors.

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First Day in the Navy

Posted by sundoulos2005 on August 24, 2007

Yesterday* marked the 43rd anniversary of my joining the Navy. After I took the oath I was pretty much on my own. I was given a manila envelope with my new service record, an airplane ticket to get me to Chicago, a chit for dinner and breakfast, and a voucher for a hotel room. Then I was released on my own recognizance. Well, that’s what it seemed like.

I left the Armed Forces Examining Center and stepped out into the Spring sunshine and proceeded to locate the hotel I was sent to. With several hours of daylight and not much to do, I wandered up and down the streets of downtown Buffalo, window shopping and observing the sights and sounds. Several years later I would be back, observing the carnage inflicted by the race riots of the mid-sixties. But today was a pleasant day and I was happy and content.

Dinner was at a restaurant the Navy had selected. I remember ordering spaghetti — and my first beer. I am sure my parents would not have approved of the latter but that thought didn’t linger. I was flexing my new-found wings. In those days the legal drinking age was 18. Despite the many warnings I had heard over the years one did not lead to another. That would come later.

Day 2 brought another first. I took my first trip on an airplane. I would fly from Buffalo to Detroit and there change flights for the next leg to Chicago. The plane taking me to Detroit was a DC-3. Now that’s the ideal plane for a first ride. The apparatus shook and vibrated — and that was on the apron. I was apprehensive and anxious. I had no idea of what to expect. I was sitting next to a middle-aged woman who was unconcerned and relaxed. I decided to imitate her.

There was a lengthy layover in Detroit. I played some pool and pinball machines and walked around the airport trying to fight off boredom. Finally, it was time to go. This airplane was much larger, possibly an L-188 Electra or a DC-7. It was definitely a step up and much more comfortable. We landed at Chicago’s O’Hare airport late in the evening.

I was told by my processors in Buffalo that when I got to Chicago I was to call a certain number and they would send a bus to pick me. I called the number and was told that no bus was scheduled for that night nor would there be one the next day. The voice on the other line directed me to go the next morning to a certain place in Skokie and from there I could catch the Chicago and Northwestern train to North Chicago (which is not even close to Chicago) and the Recruit Training Command.

Now what do I do? There are no beds at O’Hare. There are lots of chairs. Hard, straight-backed plastic chairs. I would nap for an hour or so, walk the entire circuit of the terminal, nap some more and in that manner passed the night. I remember being fascinated by the people that were there: soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, some foreign military, civilians of all shades and manner of dress.

Getting to Skokie was no problem, nor was catching the train north. The station at North Chicago was just outside the entry gate to the Recruit Training Command, also known as RTC, Great Lakes. I was directed to the gate and there presented my orders. The gate, imposing, made of chain link, creaked open and a sailor bade me enter. He was checking my paperwork and said, “You know, you didn’t have to be here until tomorrow night.”

I replied, the gate being almost shut, “Well then, I’ll come back.”

“Too late. Your stuck!” The gate clanged shut, adding force to his words.

And so I was.

* This blog originally posted at on April 21, 2007

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Leaving Home

Posted by sundoulos2005 on August 23, 2007

Forty-three years* ago today I enlisted in the United States Navy. I was living in Rochester, NY at the time, had graduated from Monroe High School the previous June, was working at the Lincoln Rochester Trust Company and was anxious to get out and make my own way in the world.

We were a very close family and I did not want to hurt my parents by just up-and-leaving. Sometime after I got out of high school I volunteered for the draft. At that time we had Special Forces operating in Viet Nam and some troops in Laos, but the Vietnam War had not yet got underway. My dad, a World War II veteran, was opposed to my going in the service and had tried to dissuade me of any idea of joining up. I, on the other hand, was enamored of the slick advertising the services had created to lure youngsters like myself.

Late in February, 1964 I came home from work and my mother handed me a letter from the Selective Service Board. “Here’s your draft notice,” she said. When I opened it and read, “Greetings from the President of the United States,” I blanched. Reality hid hard. I was both shocked and surprised because I thought the summons would be much later.

On the appointed day I reported, along with more than a hundred others, to the Armed Forces Examining Station (AFES) in Buffalo, NY. There I and the other draftees were subjected to poking and prodding by Army doctors. Even though we were still civilians, the military personal treated us like we were felons in the penitentiary. The doctors told me I had scoliosis. Someone else told me the Army couldn’t induct me until I was cleared by the court in Rochester for an incident I was involved in a couple of years earlier. So it was back to Rochester to wait for things to clear.

Three days later I went to the military recruiting offices, which were housed in the Federal Building, determined to join the Marine Corps. Unfortunately my friend, Sgt. Johnson, wasn’t in that day. The sergeant that was there was gruff and impolite. I walked out and went to the Air Force recruiter. He had me take a test and told me I would excel in electronics. I wasn’t interested, particularly since I had had only one year of math (elementary algebra) in high school. I then went to the Navy recruiting office, signed up for three years with no guarantee of anything. Next, I visited the judge and asked him to release me from the court’s jurisdiction. He was happy to oblige.

On April 20 I was back at AFES where I went through all the examinations of a week earlier and was sworn in. I had joined the Navy.

* This post originally published at on April 20, 2007

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