Some memories remain, though, dimmed by time. Such are those of my time in the US Navy Boot Camp. Forgive me for rambling. It is what it is.
My strongest memory is of the day my father came to visit near Christmas. I was called to the Brigade office, where he waited. My father was on active duty, an EMCS, whose ship had returned from a tour in the Tokin Gulf. We spent about an hour together before I had to return to my company.
They bussed several of us from the airport to the San Diego Recruit Training Center. We arrived and lined up as directed. Our Recruit Company Commander described us and our future in words that would have burned my mother’s ears—they did mine.
Remember, it was November 1966. No one worried about our fragile psyche. After all, they were preparing us to go to war where more than words might hurt.
We met our company commander. He was a First Class, but I don’t remember his rating. However, I remember he was short, of Filipino heritage, with a loud voice.
He marched us to the barber for my first and only shearing. Then, we marched to get our new clothes and boxed our “civilian” attire to send home. I call it marching, but these attempts were more like people going in the same direction.
Part of our processing was a medical screening and a series of injections against what was never made clear. However, there was one few recruits would forget. It was a form of penicillin, given in the upper thigh. We marched for hours after that shot to work off the stiffness promised by my company commander should we not march. The medicine must have been effective since I don’t remember anyone getting sick in the thirteen weeks there.
The routine was to get up early, march to the galley, march to class, practice formation movements by marching, and march back to the barracks after evening chow. Punishment time was in the evening.
Punishment might be a strong word. Perhaps, call it behavior correction. Most of us required correcting one or more times. Failure to adequately demonstrate making a bed or properly folding clothes, improper shaving, and not shining boots or belt buckles to a good luster were all corrected by a session behind the barracks.
The sessions involved the manual of arms with the recruit’s M1 Garand rifle or physical exercises. For egregious behavior failures, one demonstrated how to carry the 9.5-pound gun over his head for some extended time. Rarely did a recruit qualify for more than one of these sessions.
Recruits spent one week on galley duty. The recruits helped the mess cooks prepare the meals and clean the galley. I remember peeling thousands of potatoes and hours loading the dishwasher after meals. But fortunately, I never made it to the serving line, where one was always under the eyes of mess cooks.
Other “good times” included fighting a fire inside a USS Recruit (TDE-1) compartment. I was the first man behind the nozzle man on the five-inch fire hose. The smoke and heat were terrible. I am blessed never to face a real fire.
Another was experiencing tear gas. We donned gas masks, entered a chamber with tear gas, and removed the mask when directed. We spent some time inside before being allowed to leave. Some of us used words learned on the first day to describe how we felt about tear gas.
One day, we marched to a large building with a swimming pool. Here we would simulate an abandon ship drill and test our ability to swim. First, we climbed to a platform high over the water. Then, we were to step off the platform, fall into the pool, swim once around the pool, and climb out. I never had swim lessons, but I dog-paddled the required distance and climbed out. Some others failed and were given remedial swim training.
I enjoyed the time at the shooting range. Sure, we only shot .22 caliber rifles, but it was hours not on the grinder marching to nowhere.
Our company commander introduced us to the competition between companies for streamers to go on the guidon. There were streamers for many things, including marching. His desire for that one kept us out for hours, repeating left turn, right turn, about-face, and more. I don’t remember how many streamers we earned, just that there were several.
We didn’t use washing machines. Instead, we scrubbed our clothes on the wash tables behind the barracks. It still gives me a warm feeling as I can visualize my grandmother’s washing machine with a scrubboard attached.
There was the time before lights out for us to study the Bluejackets Manual. Tests on its contents contributed to determining the company winning the academic streamer. We won that one with my help.
One of my fellow recruits returned from his dental visit less several teeth. They told him they couldn’t save them. Several others had wisdom teeth removed. I wasn’t one of those.
I hope you enjoyed reading some memories of my first thirteen weeks in the US Navy at the start of a twenty-five-year, three-month, and two-day career.