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 September, 2007

Three Ways to Catch a Skunk

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 29, 2007

There are three ways to catch a skunk. My wife will tell you there are only two ways: the right way and the wrong way. It doesn’t matter which way you do it, my wife will not want to be anywhere in the area. If you live near a sizable metropolis you might be able to get the Humane Society or a pest control expert to do the job for you. But we lived forty miles from the nearest city — and it wasn’t much of one.

Friends of ours were visiting and staying in one of our upstairs bedrooms — the one with the chimney in the closet. Our friends had two dachshunds, which they kept with them. One night the dachshunds were having a fit and our friend Dick said he saw some kind of an animal go into the closet. A similar incident happened the following night.

After they left I determined to catch whatever it was that was roaming about. At this point we had no idea that it was a skunk because it had left no tell-tale odors. When I went upstairs to investigate I noticed a peculiar odor; it smelled like burning rubber or insulation. I looked in every room and every nook and cranny in the attic. Nothing was amiss.

As time went by, we would hear our intruder but could never catch it. I borrowed a cat trap from Dick, placed a can of tuna in it, and set it in the bedroom. That’s the first way to catch a skunk.

No more than 15 minutes passed when we heard a commotion and banging around upstairs. Our quarry had been captured. I grabbed a 30-gallon trash bag and I, along with my older son Michael, headed upstairs. In the trap was a beautiful skunk. I had never seen anything like it before (or since). It was about half the size of a full-grown striped skunk, had a tail that fanned out like a peacock’s, and a horizontally-elongated “s” marking on both sides.

“Michael,” I said, “you get in front of the skunk and distract it. I will go behind and lift the back of the crate off the ground. With its back feet elevated, it won’t be able to spray.” That is the second way to catch a skunk, and particularly effective under the right circumstances.

Michael dutifully did as I had directed him. I, on the other hand, proceeded to place myself at the business end of the animal. The skunk acted nonchalantly so I was surprised — as in “taken by surprise” — by the three stinking, rapid-fire squirts of jalapeño-hot skunk juice which found its mark in my open mouth as I raised the back end of the trap off the ground.

The skunk’s dirty work now done, I just picked the trap up and carried downstairs and outside to the front lawn.

Later, when recounting the incident to my often-away neighbor, I found out the fool-proof way of capturing a skunk. “What you should have done,” she said, “was to get a 30-gallon garbage can and put the can of tuna or cat food in it. Then place boxes around it so the skunk can climb up. He’ll drop in and won’t be able to get back out. Then all you have to do is put the lid on the can and take it outside.” That is the third way, and probably the best way, to catch a skunk.

Some lessons are harder to learn than others. This was one. Spotted skunks are much different than striped skunks, and much rarer. Spotted skunks can climb up the inside of a house while striped skunks cannot. Spotted skunks can spray when their feet are off the ground while striped skunks cannot. Their odors are different, also, although I can only pontificate on the taste of the one.

In time, the taste and the burning dissipated. The odor lingered on for several weeks . After almost ten years, with taste and odor long gone, the memories still are vivid and fresh in my mind. Now, as I think back on that encounter, I realize there is a fourth way to catch a skunk: let somebody else do it.


Posted in spotted skunk, striped skunk | 2 Comments »

Rattlesnake Ramblings

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 27, 2007

Those never having lived in rattlesnake country think of rattlesnakes in terms of Western movies: rattlesnakes are always coiled up ready to spring, are always on the alert, and always hiss in warning. That’s pretty much the picture I had of rattlesnakes when I first moved into the mountains of northern California.

My wife and knew a little bit about rattlesnakes. We knew enough to know that you really do not want to encounter one up close and personal. Our two boys, young teens, were warned about staying on well-trodden paths and not venturing out into the taller grasses. The immediate locale around our home was an area in which rattlesnakes had often been seen.

The first rattlesnake I came across was on Scott Mountain in Siskiyou County. It was crossing the road and easily stretched from the centerline to the side of the road and was about four inches in diameter. I have seen photographs taken in the area of rattlesnakes draped over a man, with both ends of the snake touching the ground.

One of our neighbors, a hippie-mountain man hybrid, made his living at certain times of the year hunting rattlesnakes. He would go up into the hills to known rattlesnake dens, don his armor — stove pipe shin and arm guards — and enter the many caves in search of his prey. The meat would go into a pot for dinner and the skins would be tacked to a board and dried for use in making hat bands or whatever. By-the-way, rattlesnake meat is quite tasty, at least barbecued (and tastes like chicken — I mean, doesn’t everything?).

One day our sons came home from school and jumped off the school bus and took out in a full gallop. Adam, our younger son, left the trail and had taken only a few steps when he stepped on the head of a coiled rattlesnake. His older brother, seeing the snake, decided to become its executioner and dispatched it by repeatedly dropping rocks on its head. One of the neighbors cut the head off and buried it to prevent the dogs in the area from being poisoned, should they decide to eat or play with it. Adam was given the rattles, five in length, as a souvenir.

Once, while returning from Mount Ashland in southern Oregon, we came across a rather large rattlesnake crossing the road. All in the car thought the appropriate thing to do would be to run over it. Upon having done so, Adam yelled, “Dad, did you see that?” The rattler had apparently recently eaten a mouse or rodent of similar size. When the car ran over it, the pressure build-up between the rodent and the snake’s head caused the head to fly off and rocket across the road.

A few years after moving to California the state passed a law making it illegal to kill rattlesnakes unless you had a fishing license. I had not seen anything to that effect in writing but it was the talk of the town for a while. I was somewhat skeptical, but this was California, after all. About a year later I was attending the Siskiyou County Fair when I encountered a game warden. I asked him if it was true that a fishing license was required to kill rattlesnakes. He replied in the affirmative. I said, “Why, they aren’t fish and they aren’t game.” He said, “But people eat them.” “Yes,” I replied, “they also eat skunk, but you don’t need a license to kill them.” That’s a result of all the concrete-bound tree-huggers that live in loony towns like LA and San Francisco.

That summer a man was bitten by a rattlesnake when he attempted to get into his SUV. A rattlesnake had taken refuge in the shade his vehicle provided and when the returning man approached the snake bit him. A medical unit was called but offered no assistance because they didn’t recognize the purplish swelling as a snake bite. A Highway Patrolman happened along about this time and reported to his superiors that he was following the snake down the middle of the highway. When asked why he didn’t just shoot it, he replied: “I don’t have a fishing license.” Why he didn’t accidentally run over it with his patrol car is beyond me.

I was walking up the road in front of my house one day when I espied a rattlesnake crawling in front of me. I looked around, found a stick, and began poking it. The rattlesnake was more than content to mind its own business and did not at all make any threatening moves towards me.

I have a healthy respect for rattlers and hope I never meet one face-to-face, yet I find them fascinating and intriguing — from a distance. That’s where I think I’ll leave them.

Posted in Callahan, rattlers, rattlesnake, Siskiyou County | Leave a Comment »

The First Bearded Postal Worker

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 25, 2007

My first enlistment in the Navy ended in April of 1967. Within weeks I was hired as a postal clerk at the United States Post Office in Rochester, NY. The Post Office Department, as it was then called, operated along military lines. There was a definite chain-of-command that had to be followed. They had a dress code which included being clean-shaven. After three years in the Mickey Mouse club, I had no problem with meeting the Post Office’s requirements.

I was hired as a substitute clerk. That means I did not have tenure or any right to the job. If I behaved well for two years I could expect to become a regular clerk. That would give me more job security but few other significant privileges. Under the Post Office Department everything in the Post Office was done by seniority. I had none. With no seniority I was assigned to wherever I was needed, which was the New York State sorting section.

As a New York State clerk I was required to learn all the post offices within the state and the sectional centers they got their mail from. I also learned, although it was not required, where the nixies went. Nixies are towns without post offices.

One of the jobs I frequently was assigned to was the incoming mail sorting belt. There were several of these. The incoming mail had to be canceled but certain items could not go through the machines. My job was to get those off the belt before they jammed. Another belt was sorting the tons and tons and tons of film that Eastman Kodak or Dynacolor, both local firms, had processed. That job was tedious and I hated it. In fact, I dreaded it.

My immediate supervisor was not a supervisor but an expediter. Expediters were straw bosses. I don’t know that they had any real authority but they sure acted like they did. Over him was a supervisor and then a general foreman, who was also the shift supervisor. My expediter was a likable fellow and handsome. He had a nice, well-groomed mustache.

Day after day, I would see this gentleman walk by with his mustache. Then I would think about it. Didn’t the postal personnel regulations require their workers to be clean-shaven? Each time I saw the expediter my thinking went a step farther until I determined that if clean-shaven allowed for mustaches it must also allow for beards. Wrong!

I started to grow a beard. Now, remember, this was 1967. Exactly three days later Mr. Expediter told me, “Go home and shave that stubble.” I replied, “But I’m growing a beard. And, besides, if you can have a mustache and be clean-shaven then I should be able to wear a beard and be clean-shaven.” My remonstrance did not meet with acceptance but it did gain me a little time. “Well, don’t come in tomorrow if you haven’t shaved.”

Of course, the next night I punched in with another day’s growth. I was immediately put on report. Now I had to go see the Superintendent of Mails, a wizened and gnarly old man. I fully expected to be fired when I entered his office, but he found my reasoning to have some merit. He agreed that if clean-shaven meant no facial hair than it had to apply to mustaches as well as beards. “I’ll tell you what,” he intoned, “you shave that beard and I will personally take this to the regional superintendent in New York when I go there later this week.”

I went home and shaved the beard. Two weeks later I was called back into the Superintendent of Mail’s office and presented with the decision from New York. “You can grow your beard,” he said.

When you see a postal worker with a beard, you can trace that privilege back to me, for I was the first.

Posted in beard, dress code, Post Office Department | Leave a Comment »

First Leave

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 23, 2007

I had finished boot camp, and what a relief that was. Early on in my training I was offered a medical discharge because my nose would rupture and spew blood at the most unexpected times. This was 1964 and dropping out of boot camp would have been an humiliation. I stayed on and opted for surgery sometime during my enlistment.

I had grown a bit, also. I entered boot camp at 5′ 10″ and left at 6’0″. My shoe size had gone from a 9 1/2 to a 12. I was still as skinny as I was 8 weeks earlier.

We did not get much money to spend while in boot camp. There wasn’t much to spend it on anyway. One of the things I did manage to purchase were two sets of sailor suits for my much younger brothers. As you can see in the picture they wore the three stripes of a seaman while I sported the two stripes of a seaman apprentice.

That’s me in the middle;
Paul is on the left and Ian on the right

I was proud of my uniform and proud to have finished boot camp. I looked forward to my short tour in San Diego where I would attend “A” school. I boarded the train for the 13-hour journey to Rochester filled with a ton of thoughts. I do not remember much about the trip except for the incessant clickity-clack of the wheels against the tracks.

We were living in downtown Rochester at the time, on Court Street. Court Street is still there but the apartment building we lived in, along with its two sisters, is long gone — a victim of urban renewal. I arrived back in the city around 7 A.M., grabbed my seabag, threw it over my shoulder, and walked home.

My folks, of course, were glad to see me. We had to go have a family portrait taken with me and my brothers dressed in our sailor suits. The only copy I have of that photo became stuck to another photo and has lots of other-photo remnants on it. I also went to the bank where I had worked to see my former fellow-employees and visited a few friends from high school days. And, of course, I spent some time with my girl friend of several years.

Most of the two weeks was spent goofing off and helping around the apartment. The only important thing that I can remember happening was that Carol and I discussed our futures and decided to break up. She was about to start her second year at Robert’s Wesleyan College in North Chili where she was studying to be a teacher and I was about to go off to the other side of the country. I wouldn’t see her for another five years, and that only fleetingly.

When the two weeks were up I was ready and excited to move on to the next phase of my life.

Posted in boot camp, furlough, leave, Navy | Leave a Comment »

Fathoms of Fun

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 20, 2007

Port Orchard, Washington has an annual festival called Fathoms of Fun. I have never attended the event, although I do know they have a parade complete with floats. In fact, it was one of those floats that almost was my undoing.

This happened back in 1971 or 1972 while I was stationed aboard the Polaris Submarine, the USS Robert E. Lee (SSBN 601). The ship was then undergoing overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington. The crew had a living and work barge, YRDM-25, which was tied up to one of the piers. Across the pier from us was the work and living barge for the USS Patrick Henry, the ship our commanding officer had served on before taking command of our sub.

The Patrick Henry crew, much more civic-minded than ours, was building a mock-up of their submarine to enter in the Fathoms of Fun parade which was about another week away. That float in-the-making was on top of the three-story craft.

One night, the air clear and balmy, I was standing on the outside walkway of the barge by the barge entrance talking with a couple of chief petty officers and another lesser-ranked enlisted man. Somehow the conversation got around to discussing how easy or difficult it would be to penetrate security and get on the Patrick Henry’s barge.

As I considered the question — or was it a challenge? — I developed a plan whereby I would prove that I could demonstrate my prowess at getting past their guards and crew. “I can do it!” I announced and dismissed myself.

My plan was to get some lard from the cooks and a paint brush from the deck division and paint an inscription on the sail of their submarine. That was the easy part. The hard part would be to get past the security guard on the main deck and all the crew members that would be milling about or working.

I stationed myself to take advantage of any break that would afford an opportunity for me to succeed. I also discovered that I could maneuver myself under the pier rather than crossing it in plain sight and come out at the end of the barge instead of entering through the large entry doors. I managed to get aboard the barge and was making my way up the outside ladder when I was spotted by a crew member. I mumbled something to him and kept on going like I belonged there.

Once I got on the roof I kept a low profile and scooted and slithered and slid into position. Then, in a bold stroke, I painted “USS Neversail” on the side of the sub. I left the lard and paintbrush and made a hasty retreat back to our barge. I reported immediately to the chief’s quarters and awakened the duty chief. “Chief, I did it! I got up there to the submarine.” He didn’t believe me so I persuaded him to go out on deck with me and view the evidence. “Oh, no! Now we’ll be a target for retribution.”

The next morning I got up early to view the expressions on the sailors as they walked down the pier towards our barges. There, in big, bold, white letters was the incriminating evidence. The Patrick Henry crew were not amused. They were even less amused when the rising sun melted the lard into the fabric of the sail. Needless to say, the Robert E. Lee was dirt. And … two weeks later we got our just desserts when we woke up to a self-deprecating banner hung from one end of our barge to the other.

The USS Neversail sailed down Bay Street in Port Orchard as scheduled. What was done to cover up its shame I do not know. As for me…. No one was ever the wiser and this is the first time I have made my rôle public.

Posted in Fathoms of Fun, Navy, Port Orchard Wa, prank, PSNS, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, submarine, USS Robert E. Lee | Leave a Comment »

Flight From Fear

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 19, 2007

“Well, you can park it or fly it.”

“I’ll fly it.” The instructor shut the door of N8142S, the Cessna 150 that would catapult me into the roll of aviators, stepped back off the taxiway and waved good luck. I swallowed my anxiety, returned the wave, adjusted the aircraft trim for the loss of a passenger, and taxied onto the runway.

“Remember, you can always go around if you make a bad approach. You’ve got two hours of fuel: don’t be afraid to use it.” The instructor’s last minute advice helps to alleviate my fears.

Once on the runway I line up the airplane’s nose with the centerline. I check to see that all is clear for takeoff, advance the throttle as smoothly as my tremulous hand would allow, release the brakes, and I’m off and running.

What had brought me to this place? My mind goes back to just nine days earlier. I had been terrified of flying. I had hated it. Even now I’m not comfortable.

The airspeed indicator passes 45 … 50 … 55 mph. I pull back on the yoke … 60 … 65 mph — airborne! I choke on a gulp. I’m up … and alone.

“I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.” The words of the 23rd Psalm reassure me. I repeat it. “I will fear no evil.”

I’m not even clear of the runway and the glove box pops open. Logbooks, tools, and a Coke bottle, aided by the sharp climb angle, slide out. I reach over and slam the door shut with one hand while the other drunkenly controls the airplane.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee.”

I am in control. Two left turns and I level off at 800 feet above the ground. I’m now parallel to the runway. As I arrive opposite the runway numbers I pull the throttle back to the idle position, turn on the carburetor heat, and prepare for landing. My hands are wringing with perspiration. My heartbeat feels like a run-away jackhammer.

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord tby God is with thee withersoever thou goest.”

How far I’ve progressed from that introductory flight nine days ago. A Christian pilot and friend had talked me into taking flying lessons.

“But I’m terrified of flying!”

“You can got over that. Three weeks from now you’ll be surprised you ever were afraid.”

“But what if…”

“It’s a sin to be afraid. You just don’t trust God.”

“Well, it’ll either be one of the best things I”ve ever done,” I said as I turned to sign the papers that got me started, “— or the most stupid.”

Two more left turns and I’m lined up with the runway again — this time in the air. I start my descent … I’m too fast. I drop the flaps and slow down — too much. I’m getting closer. I’m too low. I increase the speed to arrest the descent. Now I’m too high. I can’t land!

“Lord, help!”

I shove the throttle all the way in to regain cruise speed and push in on the yoke at the same time to keep the nose from pitching up while simultaneously turning off the carb heat. As the speed increases I retract the flaps and ease the airplane into a climb attitude and go around for another try.

I’m calm now. The spirit of fear is gone. The words of the Apostle John have proven true: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” What is that perfect love? “Herein Is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.”

“Yes, Lord, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.”

© Willard Paul 1975 All Rights Reserved

Posted in Cessna, Cessna 150, fear, flying, N8142S, solo flight | Leave a Comment »

You Mean Habanero, Don’t You?

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 13, 2007

I have an affinity towards certain candy items, one of which is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Living at some distance from the nearest grocery store, I protected any I might have from my teenage sons by keeping them in my desk, which was in my locked study.

One sunny summer day, as I was mowing the front lawn, I espied a wrapped Peanut Butter Cup on the ground underneath the living room window. I picked it up and found it to be undamaged. I know I did not leave it there and that left only one of my two sons who, I supposed, I must have surprised as they were about to enjoy this delectable.

I certainly did not appreciate this pilfering, yet I could not make any accurate accusations. What could I do to find out who it was that took it and what could I do to preempt any future thefts?

I had some medical syringes and I had some habañero peppers soaking in their own juices. The idea hit me as a sudden and delightful inspiration. I filled a syringe with habañero juice and injected it through the wrapper into the peanut butter cup. The penetration would not be noticed by the casual observer. I replaced the candy where I had found it and went on about my business. Soon, the incident was forgotten.

About two years later my younger son, Adam, was eating dinner with us when I remembered the peanut butter cup. “Whatever happened to that peanut butter cup that I put jalapeño juice in?” I wondered aloud.

“You mean habañero, don’t you?” Adam responded.

After a gut-busting laugh, I said, “Adam, the only thing better than that answer would have to have been there when you bit into it.”

[The story might leave the reader to believe that Adam had taken the candy. He came upon it, as I had, and took advantage of his find. Poor lad.]

Posted in candy, habanero, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup | Leave a Comment »

What Is That Smell?

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 6, 2007

It was one of those hot summer days and Mary, my wife, had gone shopping for groceries to last the next two weeks. Going from one store to another, she loaded the back of our minivan with canned goods, produce, soft drinks, and meat, along with sundry other items. When she got home she asked me to unload the stuff and bring it in the house.

I responded dutifully and did as she requested. Inside the house, Mary unpacked the bags and put her haul away. But something was not quite right. She asked me if I had brought everything in. “Of course,” I replied indignantly. “Well, I thought I bought four chickens and I can only find three. Go out and check the van and see if there’s not another.” So I trudged out to the van, took a look around, saw nothing, and headed back into the house. “Nope, it’s not there,” I announced smugly.

The days went by one by one and I drove the van to work, letting it bake during the day in the blaze of the desert sun. As the days progressed I began to notice an unusual odor. At first it was just odd. Then, as each day arrived, it became even odder. After several days it smelled like a loaded diaper. A few more days and it started to smell like a high school boy’s locker room. Finally, it smelled … well, it just smelled!

When I got home from work, I told Mary I’d have to give the van a thorough going over because something must have died in there. After dinner I went out to investigate the source of my olfactory misery. It wasn’t long before I found it. You guessed it – the chicken of last week’s grocery shopping trip. It had rolled out of its bag and wedged itself under one of the seats, completely hidden from casual view.

What do you do with a dead chicken? Especially one that’s – how do you say it? – ripe? I had the answer. Wrap it in a few of those disposable plastic grocery sacks and put it in the outside garbage. Great idea, Bill! And so I did. “That should do it until the garbage truck comes in another three or four days,” I thought. Right!

Now my ripe, dead chicken was to go through a second baking. Inside the confines of the garbage can the Nevada sun did its work. Oh how I dreaded taking the garbage out. Lifting the lid of that container released the most obnoxious (and probably noxious) odors. I’d take a deep breath as I approached, not breathe for as long as I could hold my breath, run for the can, lift the lid, throw the trash in, and scram! After gaining a safe distance, or so I thought, I’d gasp for fresh air – only to take in what I had let out of the can. Something would have to be done. Tomorrow.

The next day Mary greeted me at the door when I got home. “Bill, that smell is stinking up the whole neighborhood,” she said, a sense of urgency and pleading in her voice. “The neighbor across the back fence was in his yard today and I heard him say, ‘What IS that smell?’”

She didn’t have to tell me. That smell was hanging over our end of the cul-de-sac like a pall of invisible smoke. It was awful. I had never smelled anything quite like it. Something would have to be done – before dinner.

Bravely I approached the garbage can. I couldn’t take a breath and hold it because the air was putrid. So I just tried to hold my breath. I gingerly lifted the lid and the odors, having gained a bit of strength, just reached out and whacked me. “Run, Bill, run,” I thought. But where could I go? There was just no place to find shelter.

I went back into the house and got a half-dozen or so more plastic grocery bags. Putting one inside the other I returned to the “oven” and tackled the offending object, stuffing it into the sacks and pulling the handles tight at the same time. Now all I had to do was get rid of it.

What do you do with … it? I couldn’t take it in the house. Maybe put it in someone else’s garbage? Throw it out in an open field? Well, the first thing is to get it out of the neighborhood. So Bill and his chicken headed for the car.

As I drove away the thought came to me: 7-11 has a Dumpster! Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll put it in their Dumpster. So I drove to the nearest 7-11. I pulled alongside the garbage bin and made sure no one was around – not that they would have stayed long – and like David getting ready to slay Goliath, spun that chicken with all my might and let it go. It hit its mark, dropping with a semi-liquid thud, or “thup.” As I drove away, I could only laugh as I thought of the night clerk taking out the trash and asking, “What IS that smell?”

© 2002, 2007 Willard Paul – All Rights Reserved

Posted in odor, Smell | Leave a Comment »

Last Day of Boot Camp

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 5, 2007

Reveille on July 7, 1964 sounded at 0530 hours, as usual. This morning all awakened with a renewed energy. We were leaving Great Lakes. We were going home. We were starting our Navy adventure. All of us were promoted from seaman recruit to seaman apprentice (or aviation apprentice, construction apprentice, etc.) and received our orders to our next duty station. We had been advised some days ago where we were going. My orders were to FLTASWSCL, SDiego. That’s Fleet Anti-submarine Warfare School, San Diego, California where I would attend Torpedoman “A” school. Everything in the Navy has an acronym. I was beginning to learn them.

In my blog entry entitled “My Recruit Training Company Commander,” I mentioned that our CO had a sense of humor. We, the recruits, did not always appreciate it because sometimes it was at our expense. So it was today. Our seabags were outside the barracks, the barracks themselves were cleaned spotless and had passed inspection. We were chatting animatedly, excited about our futures. Then came the CO who informed us we had one more duty to fulfill. He formed us up and marched us to the barber for our last haircut — a boot camp special — which means everything off.

That being done, we marched back to the company area and soon the buses came that would take us to our immediate destinations: O’Hare International Airport, the bus stations, or the train station. I had opted to go home on the New York Central’s “Twentieth Century Limited.”

I arrived back in Rochester early the next morning for two week’s leave. Boot camp was over. I was on my way to being a sailor.

Posted in boot camp, company commander, Navy, recruit training | Leave a Comment »

A Typical Day in the Life of a Boot — 1964

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 4, 2007

Boot camp in 1964 was different than it is today. I am not saying it is better, although I think it was. I hear stories from time-to-time about the boot camp of the 21st Century and wonder what the world is coming to. For instance, one of the stories I have heard from several that have been there is that if you feel a little blue you can get a pass to excuse you from the routine of the day. What are we turning out? That’s a good way to ensure we control the sea lanes.

Reveille was at 0530 (5:30 A.M., for you non-military types; for you officers that’s when the little hand is on the 5 and the big hand is on 30). Initially it was our CO or his assistant that would come into the barracks at reveille and take a glass Coca Cola bottle and run it around the rim of an empty metal 30-gallon trash can. That was sure to wake you up. Later on in the training cycle, the barracks watch would awaken everyone. Upon awakening, we would all rush to the head (nautical for restroom) and take care of our morning routine, which included taking an ice-cold shower.

After having dressed, and that not at a leisurely pace, we made up our bunks and straightened up our lockers, preparing both for inspection. The bunks were double-decker affairs. The man on the top slept with his feet at the head of the person below and each set of bunks alternated so that as you walked down the length of the barracks it was head, toes, head, toes, etc. During the day, the bunk had to be made up just so. The blanket was folded into a square with the top layer folded back at a 45-degree angle. That angle had to be positioned the same on each bed, the direction of which I can not remember. Tied to the end of the bunk was a ditty bag, which held dirty laundry. It too, had its ritual placement. The top of the bag was folded over the bar at the end of the bunk and tied with 21-thread (3 strands of 7 threads intertwined) and tied off with a reef or square not.

We always knew what to wear because our uniform of the day was prescribed on the Plan of the Day (POD) which was usually posted the preceding afternoon. The POD also included other information which we, as boots, often had no idea of what was meant. Our uniform of the day was usually long-sleeved blue cotton chambray work shirts over a white tee-shirt, and blue denim bell-bottom dungarees. A web belt with a polished brass buckle, black socks, and black boondockers (ankle-high work shoes), and a white (dixie-cup) hat completed our dress. If it was going to rain we were often told to wear our rain coats folded per regulation and secured to our backs with the web belt. If it rained we were allowed to remove it from the belt and put it on. If, however, it was not prescribed on the POD we were not allowed to wear it, no matter how hard it rained.

A different uniform was usually prescribed for watch-standers. That usually consisted of wearing undress blues or whites, depending on the season. The undress uniform was similar to the dress uniform. Undress blues had no white piping or stars and with no kerchief. Undress whites were exactly the same as dress whites, minus the kerchief. Both were worn with the white hat.

Watch reliefs went to the head of the line upon arising. They got first use of the head and showers and had to dress hurriedly. After making their bunks and seeing that their lockers were ready for inspection they would double-time it to the chow hall for breakfast, where they also had head-of-the-line privileges. After gulping their breakfast they would double-time it back to relive the watch for breakfast.

After completing the wake-up routine the company would form up in ranks and march to chow. There was a “No talking in line” rule that was generally disregarded. The lines were always long (unless you were the first company) and recruits would often call out to those in other lines, “Where you from?” A common response was, “From my mother.”

Breakfast was followed by standing for inspection. Recruit companies would form up on a parade ground or grinder and the CO and several others would give each of us a going-over. I had a mole with several thick hairs directly under my lower lip. I got gigged on a regular basis for not being clean-shaven on account of that. Inspection stopped at the top with the hat and ended up with the shoes. The hat had to be perfectly white with no spots or dirt on it. After our hats were inspected the command, “Uncover — two” would be given. At “uncover” our right hands would go to the brim of the hat and with the “two” our hats would come off. The inspectors would then proceed down the line in front and then in back inspecting our bodies and our uniforms for conformity to Naval Regulations. If a pocket was unbuttoned the inspector would ask: “Do you want this button, sailor.” The recruit would answer, “Yes, sir!” At that, the inspector would rip the button off and hand it to him. Irish pennants (loose or dangling strings or threads) were another common cause for getting gigged. Each gig counted towards your doing time on the grinder at night doing calisthenics, marching, and running laps with your rifle over your head at arm’s length.

While this inspection was going on another was taking place back at the barracks. There inspectors would tour the barracks. They checked each bunk to see that it was made up properly. Any infraction guaranteed your coming back to find your bedding on the floor. Lockers, too, were inspected. Everything had to be just right. You had to fold, roll, place each item in its prescribed place in the prescribed way. If not, your belongings would end up on the floor. Contraband, such as electric razors, cigarettes, or other forbidden items had a way of just plain disappearing.

After inspection one of two things would typically happen. We sometimes went to class and learned the theory behind such things as seamanship, Naval protocols (when, where, and how to salute officers; boarding a launch, embarking and disembarking, morning and evening colors, etc.), Naval history, ranks and ratings, etc. The other option was drilling. We did a lot of that. We learned to march. We learned to do various maneuvers as we marched: right face, left face, about face, right flank, left flank, shoulder arms, port arms, and so on. We got to do that so good that one time we were marching in review and our recruit company commander (not the CO) marched us into the reviewing stand. That was a simple mistake, like commanding “Right face” instead of “Eyes right.” It was also the end of his stint as our recruit company commander.

The Recruit Training Command used Springfield rifles left over from World War II. We learned to use these (although I have no idea why) and to treat them with respect. In addition to learning how to carry and salute with a rifle, we also learned the 16-count manual of arms along with the chant that went with it. This was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it although portions, like holding the rifle above your head and rotating it 90 degrees back and forth, were exhausting.

Other activities also filled our days: obstacle course training, abandoned ship training, getting shots, going to the dentist, taking tests to see how the Navy could best use us, standing inspection, etc. Then there was lunch and dinner. The Navy only has to give you one meal a day (at least that was the case during my entire service of 8+ years) so if you missed one — oh, well.

Evenings were usually free. That, of course, depends on what you mean by “free.” We were free to shine our shoes, wash our clothes, write letters home, and go to extra-time PT.

Washing clothes in boot camp was fun. There were no washing machines. Our washing machines were stone slabs against which we would lather our clothes with detergent. To get dirt out of an item of clothing, one would grasp the article on either side of the stain and rub the clothe against one’s knuckles until either the stain or the skin was gone. We did everything like that, including our sheets. Then the clothing was hung out to dry and to get sooted on from all the Chicago-area coal dust generated by the thousands of nearby homes burning coal. That way we had the privilege of washing our clothes all over again.

Extra-time PT was something I got to do regularly because of getting nicked for my mole hairs. It was a two-hour routine from Monday through Friday. It actually did a lot toward strengthening my emaciated body, for I was thin as a rail and not at all athletic. We would march and march and march. Marching was filled with “counter” commands — those demanding quick turns and about faces. Then there were push-ups, more push-ups, and even more push-ups. I managed to do 200 at a time. Push-ups were accompanied by sit-ups, which I also gained proficiency in. Interspersed in all this was doing the 16-count manual of arms. The hardest part of the night, though, was running with the rifle at arm’s length above the head. That just plain hurts. And it makes you sweat. Then I learned, quite accidentally, a trick that made it a breeze. I found that if you threw your arms back as far as they would go, the weight of the rifle (19#) would keep your arms up without straining your arm muscles. I dared not share my secret, though, because if the Drill Instructors found out they would make me keep my arms forward.

All-in-all, I found the routine at boot camp to be not to rigorous, although there were those that could not acclimate themselves to it. For them there was the “Mickey Mouse Club.” Recruits that received an inordinate amount of demerits were sent to Mickey Mouse. Recruits that were insolent or could not buckle under to authority were sent to Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse was no fun. It was designed to teach recalcitrant recruits that it paid to conform and to get with the program. They exercised, marched, exercised, and marched all day long. Only a few returned to their companies. Most were set back and not a few received administrative discharges.

I look back with a little bit of nostalgia for boot camp. After leaving boot camp I seldom marched again. I have never done the 16-count manual of arms again. What I learned in boot camp was discipline and teamwork. That, if nothing else, made it worthwhile.

Posted in boot camp, Navy, recruit training | Leave a Comment »