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 the ‘Navy’ Category

Tijuana Tourist

Posted by sundoulos2005 on May 10, 2008

San Diego is only 17 miles, if my memory serves me right, from Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. Although I had lived fairly close to Canada all the time I was in high school, I had never been out of the United States. Being on my home and so far from home was an adventure for me. I drank in everything because everything was new and different. I could not be that close and not do anything about it.

Tijuana had a reputation — a bad reputation. It was, in those days before no-fault divorce, a mecca for those seeking to dissolve their marriages. It was also a place where underage sailors could drink freely. There were other vices that held their attraction for sailors, marines, and college kids. On the positive side, Tijuana had some class, as well. It had a professional jai alai team and stadium and a bullfight ring. As much as I had wanted to, I was never able to take in a jai alai game or a bullfight.

One of the things Tijuana was noted for was its jail. Our superiors in the Navy repeatedly warned us about the evils of the Tijuana jail. They told us that if we should be locked up there, there was no telling when or if our command would be notified. It was an automatic AWOL and if incarceration lasted long enough, desertion. We were also told that the jail was dirty and fetid and that food was not provided. I never bothered to find out.

I cannot remember for sure, but I do not think we were allowed into Mexico in uniform. That was probably a command regulation. On Friday evening we would head into San Diego and don our civilian clothes and head to the Greyhound Bus station. The bus went as far as San Ysidro, a San Diego community on the Mexican border. Once disembarked from the bus, we would walk into Tijuana.

Even though we were in civilian clothes, our haircuts gave us away as military. That made us quick marks for the many street vendors and solicitors. Young boys — and I mean pre-teen — would try to pimp their sisters and their mothers. Hawkers would stand in the doorways of bars and entice you with the supposed beauty of the girls on display within. The streets were crowded and filled with sightseers, drunks, donkeys, cabs, taco vendors, and others trying to gain your attention. One always had to be alert to pickpockets, as you often were jostled about as you made your way down the street.

On one of my first visits to Tijuana I purchased a taco from a street vendor. Having grown up in New York State, I had no idea what a taco was before reporting to San Diego. I did try one there. The counter girl asked if I wanted it American or Mexican style. “Well, let’s be authentic,” I said and ordered it Mexican. That was my first encounter with hot sauce and jalapenos. The girl that sold it to me got a good laugh watching me take my first (and last) bite. Now that I was in Mexico, I could get a real taco, I thought. I was not impressed. In fact, I took one bite and spit it out. What the heck was that? I wondered. It was worse than what I had had in San Diego. That was my last venture with Mexican food for at least another ten years.

I took a lot of pictures in Tijuana. Unfortunately none have survived. One that I took was of a lawyer’s office. Even in Mexico they have every angle worked out. “Juan Gomez [a fictitious name], Attorney at Law,” the sign read, “Marriage / Divorce.” Now there’s a business. Wed them one day and they can come back the next and undo it all. Tijuana was also noted for its art work. One could buy velveteen pictures of an ugly representation of Jesus Christ, usually with his thorn-wrapped heart exposed or beautiful ones of Elvis Presley, cactus, desert scenes, and adobe houses.

One of the saddest things I remember about Tijuana, besides the debauchery, is the poverty. Passing from San Ysidro to Tijuana, one had to cross over a bridge spanning a gully or depression. There were occupied houses there that had no roofs or a wall would be missing. It was hard for me to grasp that people actually lived in those hovels.

Crossing back into the United States required retracing, on foot, the same path taken into Tijuana. I was always glad to get past the border station and even gladder to get on the bus. There, exhausted, I would collapse into a seat and sleep until our arrival in downtown San Diego.


Posted in Navy, San Diego, Tijuana, tourist | Leave a Comment »

San Diego Liberty

Posted by sundoulos2005 on April 1, 2008

I forget how many days there was to duty rotation at FLASWSCHL. I often was a supernumerary, meaning I had to be on base, was in a duty status, but did not have to stand a watch. Most days I had the ability to go into town on liberty.

My salary was insufficient for doing much. I think the monthly pay for a seaman apprentice (E-2) was $72.00 a month. I had an automatic allotment of $10.00 to pay for my life insurance. Other than that, I had to pay the launderer to clean, starch, and press my whites. We were required always to have clean and pressed uniforms. I lived in the barracks and ate in the mess hall so didn’t have the expense of room and board. There were minor expenses: shoe polish, brass polish, toiletries, etc. I didn’t have much left and it was never enough.

Even though money was always tight, I usually was able to find something enjoyable to do in my off hours.

One option that was always open was watching a movie at the Recruit Training Command Theater. The theater showed current or recent films. I can remember watching only The Robe although I went there several times. All movies commenced with a visual of the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem.

The USO provided free or reduced rate tickets for local attractions. I often went to the San Diego Zoo. Servicemen got in for $1.00 (a one-day adult admission ticket costs $34.00 today). That I could afford. The San Diego Zoo was state-of-the-art. And it was huge! Unable to afford the fare to take the tram, I walked the entire zoo. I would enjoy visiting it once again.

The Zoo is located in Balboa Park, a large inner-city park. Admission to the park was free, although some of the museums charged. The park is home to botanical gardens, pools, and rolling hills of green grass. On the far side of the park was the Balboa Naval Hospital, now Naval Medical Center, San Diego (NMCSD).

Sometimes I would head to Horton Plaza, which was surrounded by cheap-ticket movie theaters. The all seemed to show "B" movies, or worse. You could, for a dollar or less, watch three bad movies in a row.

A couple of times I walked out Rosecrans Blvd. to visit the Cabrillo National Monument and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. That is one long walk!

San Diego offered a wide variety of off-hours entertainment and while some was prohibitively expensive, by walking, using reduced-fare tickets, and generally conserving one’s money a good time was always within reach.

Posted in Balboa Naval Hospital, Balboa Park, Cabrillo National Monument, FLASWSCHL SDIEGO, liberty, Navy, San Diego, San Diego Zoo | Leave a Comment »


Posted by sundoulos2005 on October 17, 2007

My first duty station after boot camp was Torpedoman “A” School at the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare School (FLASWSCHL) in San Diego. Everything in the Navy has an acronym. Some can be pronounced. This is not one of them.

The base is probably the smallest base in California. At the time I was there it was home to three distinct units: Torpedoman “A” School, Sonarman “A” School, and a radio command. I was assigned to the radio command while waiting for school to start. Not being skilled at anything I made coffee and ran errands. During my short stay there we had a personnel inspection and I found out that my commanding officer was a Vice-Admiral. It was a small command consisting of less than 25 people. But it must have been an important command to rate such a high-ranking officer.

The base is one of the nicest bases I have been on. There were the school buildings, the radio command building, a few barracks, an enlisted men’s club (EM Club) and a brand new swimming pool. There was at least one pier which almost became two piers when a minesweeper tried to cut it in half. It did not have many of the amenities that larger bases have, but the Recruit Training Command was within walking distance and they had everything.

The base is located at the junction of North Harbor Drive and Nimitz Boulevard. The Recruit Training Command (the Marine Corps side was featured in Gomer Pyle, USMC) was nearby as was the airport. North Harbor Drive was a straight shot into downtown San Diego. On top of all this, the weather was the greatest — always sunny and warm.

Torpedoman “A” School was the primary school for future torpedomen, as the “A” indicates. There are also “B” and “C” schools for more specialized training in a variety of interests and disciplines. The first half of the school I was attending was called E&E school — Electricity and Electronics. Although transistors had been used in commercial applications for five or more years, my class was the first to be taught transistor theory. I liked this part of the school and especially the lab work, which consisted of building a superhetrodyne radio. One day near the completion of the project I picked up my radio by the chassis and, not having pulled the plug, found myself and my chair flying across the room when my fingers crossed the primary coil.

The second half of the school introduced us to the torpedoes we would be using in the fleet. Our class was taught the Mark 27, Mark 14-3A and Mod. 5, the Mark 16, and the Mark 37 Mods O and 1. All the torpedoes except the Mark 37’s were WW II vintage.The Mark 27 had four hydrophones and lead acid batteries. It would be out of service in about 18 months. The Mark 14-3A, a steam torpedo, was already obsolete, but was the basis for the Mod 5. That training would come in handy years later, when I was on the Robert E. Lee. The Mark 16 was a Navol torpedo and rather dangerous to have aboard. Many captains refused to use it. The Mark 37’s were homing torpedoes, the Mod 1 being wire-guided.

I graduated high enough to earn a promotion, but accepting it would have required an additional year’s service. I did not accept it.

While going to school we also had to stand watches. I was fortunate to often be named a supernumerary — an extra person and not needed for the watch bill. We stood watches on the gate on the weekends, barracks watches, swimming pool watch (after someone had defecated in it the night before it was to be opened to the forces), and dumpster watches. Why the Navy insisted we guard its garbage containers, I’ll never know.

Today the base is different from when I was stationed there. You can see that it is filled with structures, most of which were built after 1964. The ones I remembered are no longer there. Only the swimming pool is recognizable. Oh, well, nothing stays the same — except the memories.

Fleet ASW School, San Diego Google Earth view

Posted in FLASWSCHL SDIEGO, Navy, San Diego, school, torpedoes, torpedoman | 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 »

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 »

Service Week

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 1, 2007

Boot Camp in 1964 was divided into three sections: basic, service week, and advanced. I made it through the basic four weeks (somehow) and qualified to enter service week. During service week our standard company training was suspended and we were each given different assignments. I expected to get assigned to mess duty, working at peeling potatoes and washing dishes, because I was not one of the company’s best sailors. I was therefore surprised — pleasantly so — when I was assigned to stand guard outside the Administration Building in Camp Barry. Camp Barry, for those who have not read my earlier posts, is where recruits initially muster in and form into a training company.

All recruits are (or were) required to wear leggings, or spats. These canvas-colored items were given to us with our initial uniform issue and were worn throughout our time at Boot Camp. There were a select few who were able to trade their canvass spats for white ones. Administration Building guards were among those. When I started Service Week I was required to wear the white leggings along with a white web belt. These items I was allowed to keep when I proceeded to the last four weeks of advanced boot camp.

White leggings gave special privileges. No longer did I have to run when alone. I not only did not have to run anymore, but I was also allowed to form other recruits into a marching unit and march them to wherever they wanted or needed to go. I was in heaven, I thought.

Most of the recruits were assigned tasks that kept them busy from early morning until late in the afternoon, or even into the evening. Those assigned as mess cooks, for instance, had to be on the job around 4 A.M. in order to assist the cooks in preparing breakfast. My guard duties consisted of standing at parade rest, coming to attention to salute, outside the Administration Building for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. The rest of the time I was free to do whatever I desired. How or why I got this job I do not know, but I sure liked it.

What to do with all that time off? I spent a lot of time at the receiving barracks assisting with the processing of incoming recruits. While there a recruit arrived that I knew from Rochester, NY. For some reason he did not catch on real fast that the Navy is serious business. One afternoon, while the majority of the recruits were out doing whatever they were assigned, this young man unhooked all the inner metal connecting support pins under the mattress of an upper bunk. That evening, the bunk’s occupant returned and took a leap and a lunge for his bunk, hitting it right smack dab in the middle. He landed squarely on his mattress which, no longer being supported, fell through and landed on top of the recruit in the lower bunk. While all the recruits, except the ones under and on the mattress thought this to be hilarious, the senior petty officers in charge of the unit did not. My friend quickly learned that actions have consequences.

Upon the completion of Service Week we were allowed our one day of liberty in Chicago. In order to take advantage of this privilege we had to stand for uniform inspection, were lectured on how to behave and the serious consequences of not making it back on time. Recruits were forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages while assigned to the training command, and that was duly impressed upon us. On the appointed day we boarded the Chicago & Northern Railroad and proceeded to the big city of Chicago.

I roamed the town with a few of my buddies, ending up at the USO. There I entered a competition with a man who was playing eighteen or nineteen games of chess simultaneously. I was dumbstruck by how quickly he could make his moves as he went from player to player, hardly pausing to look at the board. He had no trouble defeating me.

This was supposed to be the only liberty that we got, but we were in boot camp on the 4th of July, a Saturday. We were given another liberty to travel to Milwaukee for the parade, again with the usual admonitions to refrain from drinking — a real temptation for many because the Schlitz brewery gave beer away along the parade route.

On both occasions we all managed to make it back in time, sober, and went on to continue our training

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

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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