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.

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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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