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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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.

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