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Bo's Stories, Page 24

THE FAMILY OF BESSIE EDNA BROWN & THOMAS MONNIE WOODS

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Part I

 Now Hear This!

“My Days in

The United States Navy”

 

By John T. Woods

Chief Parachute Rigger

 

Foreword

 

         I joined the Navy in 1948.  Forty-five years later, in 1993, I began to write this account.  It is not meant to be an interesting story, but instead is more of a journal of what I remember of those days.  There was nothing special about my years in the Navy.  In the grand scheme of things, it was as a raindrop in the ocean.  But, to me and many thousands of others like me, it was a special time.  Many of us served our time and did our duty in relative safety and ease while others suffered hardships, danger and even death.  I salute all those who served, in whatever capacity.  We share a comradeship which others cannot fully understand.

 

         I chose “Now Hear This” as the title of my book because it is a phrase often used in the Navy.  It prefaces all announcements in the Navy and means Pay Attention!  You are about to be told something important.  Not to say that what you read on the following pages is important in any way.

 

         My memory of times, places, and people is spotty.  On one hand I might remember with almost complete clarity, on the other, I am completely blank.  It is somewhat surprising to me, how many details I do recall.  I do not claim that everything is completely accurate, but it is a true account of how my mind tells me it was.

 

         For those of you who take the time to read this, I feel you will gain a little understanding of what it was like to be there….  to be away from home and family, to face completely new challenges.  It was a time in my life that I will always cherish for the friends I made, the places I visited and the experiences I had.

 

         I am thankful for a loving family.  For my Mother, my Father, although I barely remember him, my brothers and sisters, my Wife and wonderful in-laws, and then, of course, my children and grandchildren who are the ultimate rewards in life.  I am thankful too for the many warm friendships that I have had.

 

 

Duty Stations

 

         U.S. Naval Training Center, San Diego, California

 

         Naval Air Technical Training Command, Naval Air Station,

         Memphis, Tennessee

 

Parachute Rigger School, Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey,

 

         U.S. Naval Destroyer Base, San Diego, California

 

         U.S. Naval Station, Treasure Island, California

 

Air Transport Squadron - 21, Fleet Logistics & Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron - 117,

U.S. Naval Air Station, Barbers Point, Territory of Hawaii    

 

Air Transport Squadron - 5, Fleet Logistics, Naval Air Station, Moffett Field, California

 

Naval Reserve Electronics Division 8-3, Nacogdoches, Texas

 

         U.S. Naval Air Station, Dallas Texas

 

Naval Reserve Surface Division 8-91, Naval Reserve Training Center,      Houston, Texas

 

Naval Reserve Officers School, Naval Reserve Training Center, Houston, Texas

 

 

“Off To San Diego

 

From the days when my brothers Ray and James were in the military during World War II, I had a strong desire to join up.  Had I been old enough, I would have gone in before the war was over.

 

I delayed my joining out of a sense of responsibility to Mama.  I knew she didn’t want me to go and I felt I should provide for her.  When the Congress passed the peace time draft bill in 1948, I used that as an excuse to join up.  I waited until my brother Ray and I  finished a crop in 1948 and then along with my friend Harold Gene Williams, I went to Marshall, Texas to the Navy recruiting office.

 

The recruiter there was a Chief Petty Officer whose name I’ve long since forgotten but he gave us the tests and signed us up to leave the following day.  I had seen the Navy brochures and had decided I wanted to go into the Navy Air Force.  Being on an Aircraft Carrier looked mighty appealing to me.  I told the Chief and he enlisted me as an Airman Recruit

 

The Chief drove over the next day and picked us up and took us to Marshall and put us on a late afternoon train to Dallas.  Mama was standing out in the front yard, and when I was about to get into the car to leave she said to me “Always remember who you are and where you came from”.  I never forgot.  Those words were the bulwark between me and those things I should avoid.  If you will, they were like an angel on my shoulder that whispered in my ear.  That is not to say that I never fell from the straight and narrow, but it sure made it easier to right myself.

 

This was my first train ride and I enjoyed it.  At supper-time we went into the dining car and I was a little intimidated by all the white linen, nice silverware and uniformed waiters, but Harold Gene didn’t seem to be.  The waiter asked us if we were under military orders and we told him we were.  Well we were not exactly, and the Chief had not provided us with meal tickets, but we didn’t know all of this.

 

The waiter served us a really good meal including dessert.  Then when he asked for the meal tickets we didn’t know what he was talking about.  Meal tickets were given to personnel under orders to pay for their meals on the train.  Of course we were not under orders since we were not even in the Navy yet, so we didn’t have meal tickets. Neither of us had much money to pay for our supper so after the staff huddled for a few minutes they decided to write it off.  We got a free meal off Southern Pacific.

 

We got to Dallas and the Navy put us up for the night in the YMCA.  After we got checked in we went down to the basement where there was a recreation room and shot pool until bedtime.  This was the first time I had ever played a game of pool, or seen one played for that matter since it was against the law in Texas for minors to enter a pool hall.

 

In the morning they took us to the Santa Fe Building where the Navy had spaces leased.  Here they gave us complete physicals.  There was a group of probably about a hundred of us in a large room and they had all of us strip down -- completely.  They had us line up in several lines and a Hospital Corpsman came by and painted a number about 2” high on the right chest of each man in indelible ink.  We were not yet in the Navy and had no serial number for a reference, so they did it this way to keep everything straight until we were through processing.

 

I was at about the middle of the back line.  There were two doctors, or maybe two for each line.  At any rate, a doctor started at each end of the line each time.  They came down the line looking in our ears, down our throats, at our tops and our bottoms and everything in between, front and back.  They checked us with a stethoscope and then when all of that was done, they told us to jog in place.

 

Then they came down the line checking each man for hernias.  The doctor on my right got to and checked the man next to me and quit.  The doctor on my left checked the man next to me and he quit.  I was still jogging, but when they quit, I quit jogging and neither of them ever checked me.

 

After that, they checked our height and weight.  One of the corpsmen pointing told me to go over to a door.  I thought he said through the door and opened it.  There I stood in my birthday suit looking out over a large room full of women sitting at desks typing.  Before I could move the corpsman jerked me back into the room, slammed the door and yelled at me for being a stupid farmer.  Well I was a farmer, and ignorant maybe, but not stupid.

 

We finished our physicals and were given the oath of office.  My friend Harold Gene was not among us, for he had failed his physical.  I don’t remember how tall he was, but I think he weighed only 113, and for his height the minimum weight was 115.  I was 6’ 1” and weighed 137.  The minimum weight for my height was 135, so I barely passed.  They sent Harold Gene home to gain some weight, the rest of us finished processing, were sworn in and had our picture taken.

 

In the late afternoon we boarded the night train for San Diego, California.  We were on a through train which stopped only once and that was in West Texas some place and then only for a few minutes to pick up some additional rail cars.  There is an old saying in the Navy that two per-cent of the people never get the word.  That is, they don’t know or understand what it is they are supposed to do or not do; or else they don’t do it.  Well we had three or four guys who got off the train in West Texas, I think, to buy some liquor.  We had been told repeatedly not to leave the train.  For any reason!

 

The men were almost left behind when the train pulled out, but they did manage to get onto a car in the rear section.  The cars back there had a separate dining car from the front section where the rest of us were.  The rear section was separated from the front section by some baggage cars and there was no passageway to the front section.  No problem you say.  Well these guys didn’t have enough money to buy their meals and their meal tickets were up front with the rest of us, so they starved for a day and a half until we got to San Diego.

 

“ The Naval Recruit Training Center

San Diego, California

 

They met us at the depot with buses and delivered us to the Navy Training Center, took us to a barracks and assigned each a bunk where we spent the night.  The guy in charge asked for volunteers for fire watch and several eager beavers held their hands up and had to stand watches during the night.  The rest of us got some sleep.

 

The next morning they herded us (we were not yet up to marching and other orderly activities) to the mess hall.  To my utter dismay, they were serving beans and cornbread.  I left my beans but ate my cornbread and my seat-mate’s too with a glass of milk.  Not too bad.

 

We went over to small stores (clothing) where each man was issued a complete wardrobe that consisted of:

 

 1  Blue Uniform, Dress

2      Blue Uniforms, Undress (plain collar, no cuffs on the

blouse)

2 White Uniforms, Undress

3 Shirts, Chambray

3 Trousers. Dungaree (bell-bottom, denim)

3 Shirts, Tee

4 Drawers (Skivvies, One size fits all with string ties to adjust)

1 Belt, Blue

1 Belt, White

1 Jacket, Dungaree

1 Leggings, pr., Canvas

1 Shoes, Black Brogan Work

1 Shoes, Black Navy Dress

1 Neckerchief (A large square handkerchief, rolled diagonally for tying around the neck)

1 Shoes, Rubber Over

3 Hats, White

1 Hat, Dress Blue

3 Handkerchiefs, White

4 Pairs Black Socks

1  Jersey, Wool (I still have the one I was issued on that day,

November, 26, 1948)

1 Cap, Wool Watch

2 Cases, Pillow

2 Covers, Mattress (Called “Fart Sacks”.  What else?)

1 Blanket, Wool Olive Drab

1 Coat, Pea

3 Towels, Bath

3 Towels, Face

3 Cloths Wash

1 Bag, Sea

1 Bag, Ditty

 

This first clothing issue was free, but all replacement items had to be purchased at small stores.  We were given a small monthly allowance, with our pay, for replacement purchases.  We got to try our shoes on.  The other clothes were issued according to what we asked for in size and/or the best guess of the storekeeper who was looking at us.

 

They issued us a “Chit” book.  This was a book of coupons good at the PX (in the Navy called the Ships Store).  This was a fifty-dollar book, which we paid for out of our first month’s wages.  There was a little graft going on about which we could do absolutely nothing.  Some of the coupons had been removed from the books.  We totaled them, and the remaining ones added up to $37.50, so each one of us contributed $12.50 to somebody or something.  Given the number of people going through there, we’re talking some pretty good money.

 

My Company was 546-48, the 546th company assembled in the year 1948, which means that 546 times 80 men entered boot camp by November 26th in the year 1948.  That comes to a total of 43,680 men at $12.50 each or $546,000.00.  I still wonder where that money went.

 

Our pay, as Naval Recruits, was $72.00 per month.  I took out a family allotment for Mama, claiming her as my dependent.  I believe the allotment was for $67.50 per month, and of this amount, I had to contribute $27.50 from my pay.

 

After getting the chit book, we went by the Ships Store where each man bought the same things.  Namely: toilet articles and stationery that we paid for with chits.  On the way back to the barracks we stopped at the barbershop and got a trim.  The barber asked each man how he wanted his hair cut and listened patiently before proceeding to cut everything off that you can get off with electric clippers.  To add insult to injury, we had to pay for the haircut from our chit book.

 

Back at the barracks they had us change into our new dungarees and then get all of our gear.  From that, we had to put everything except civilian clothes into a large cardboard box in the center of the barracks.  All I had was a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and a cheap razor.  Some of the guys had electric razors, boxes of stationery, cameras, pen and pencil sets and other plunder.  All of it went into the box and I’m sure was divvied up by the staff there.  The civilian clothes were packaged up and mailed home.

 

In the afternoon we went to the dispensary (medical clinic) and got a battery of shots.  Just about everything you can think of including the Yellow Fever and Black Plague.  Our arms were like pin-cushions.  Most of us had our arms swell up and get sore, and we ran a little fever for a few days from all of this.  To that point I had had one shot in my life.  That being the first in a series of three diphtheria shots that they gave us at Brooks school when I was ten or eleven years old.  That one shot made me so sick, they couldn’t catch me to give me the other two.

 

We took all of our new gear and went to the barracks assigned to Co. 546-48.  It was located in Camp Decatur which was the quarantine camp for the training center.  There were several other camps in the center and each housed people according to their phase of training.

Throughout the Navy, there is posted daily on the bulletin boards the “Orders of the Day” which include all kinds of pertinent information; such as the duty roster (the watch schedule), and the “uniform of the day”.  The uniform of the day tells everyone what to wear so that all hands will be dressed the same.

 

Our typical uniform of the day in boot camp was Dungarees (denim trousers and chambray shirt), with work shoes and leggings.  The leggings had hooks instead of eyelets, and a strap that went under the shoe at the instep and buckled on the other side.  The hooks were turned to the outside of the leg.  (Sometimes a recruit would get it wrong and put the hooks on the inside.  When this happened, the hooks on one leg would hang on the hooks on the other leg and trip the guy.  He would remember the next time).

 

         The trousers must be gathered tightly around the leg and the excess material folded toward the inside into a pleat.  The trousers could not be allowed to blouse out over the top of the leggings.  To properly do this, one must loosen his trousers and pull them down a few inches, then while sitting, fold the trouser legs and fasten the leggings with the strings and hooks.   Then stand up and gently pull the trousers up to the waist and fasten them.  It took some practice to get the hang of this.

 

That afternoon we met our Company Commander.  He was a Chief Gunners Mate by the name of Mr. Cleaver.  I think he was just about burned out at this job, because he was remote and seemed to be disinterested in us.  He did know how to train us though.  The first thing he did was organize the company.

 

First he selected a Recruit Company Commander (RCC).  This was a guy who had been several years in a military academy type school.  He already knew the drill.  That is, how to march and all of the commonly used commands.  Next he picked a guy to be our Company Clerk.  He drilled with the rest of us, but had the additional duty of keeping up with the paper work.  Another guy with military school experience was appointed our Guidon (Pennant and Flag Bearer).

 

Chief Cleaver took the 78 of us remaining (excluding the RCC and the Guidon) and had us line up in one long line according to our height. The Chief shuffled us around until he was satisfied we were properly lined up. Then he took the six tallest men from the front of the rank and made them squad leaders.  He lined them up abreast and moved the remaining men, six at a time, into line behind the squad leaders, also in order of height.                                                                                          

 

Thus we had six squads of thirteen men each, two platoons of three squads each, of declining height, with the number one squad being a little taller than number two and etc.  I was the seventh tallest man in the company, hence I was just behind the tallest man who was my squad leader.  His name was White and he was from Tennessee.  White was 6’4” and was about fifty pounds overweight.  At 250 pounds he outweighed me by about 115 pounds.

 

I liked White and we became pretty good friends.  He almost died later on during our training.  Someone challenged him to chug-a-lug (drink without stopping) a pint of whiskey.  I tried to talk him out of it but, (already inebriated) he wouldn’t refuse the challenge and he did it. Within minutes, he turned beet red and began to have trouble breathing. We thought he was a goner, but it made him sick and he threw most of it back up and soon got over it.

 

By the time I left the company, White was down almost to 200 pounds and was trim and hard. While his weight was dropping, mine was going up.  I guess I gained 15 or 20 pounds during that time.  My best friend in Boot Camp was named Joe Weldon.  After Boot Camp, I never saw nor heard from him again.  Joe was from Wichita Falls.

 

A word here about friends.  I had never been away from home for even a day without some member of my family or neighbors.  To leave all of them and go off in the company of total strangers was difficult.  There is a basic human need for companionship, and most people will go to some lengths to find it.

 

It was my experience that friendships were made quickly and were deeply felt.  Were I to see Joe Weldon today, I would feel that special warmth that you feel when seeing a dear friend or loved one after a long separation.  He would not be a stranger to me, although we spent only a few months together.  I’ve thought of trying to call him, but it is difficult to stay in touch with family, much less friends from past years.  Though I do have some special friends from the Navy that I stay in touch with.

 

I don’t remember going to lunch that first day, but I will never forget going to supper.  The main course was some kind of baked squash.  I have always liked squash, but this was half of a squash baked in the oven and was dry, tasteless and tough.  One of the worst meals I had in the navy.

 

We spent three weeks in Camp Decatur.  While there, we were not allowed to go to the Ships Store (called the Post Exchange or PX in the Army), the movies or anywhere else for that matter, except as a company.  After about two weeks, a friend talked me into slipping out and going to the movies.  He had talked to some other guys who had done it and it seemed to be pretty foolproof, so we went.

 

Red River” with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift was showing.  We got in, saw the movie and got back to the barracks undetected.  But, the next night I was drafted to stand a fire-watch from 6 to 10 PM.  Where do you suppose my station was?  Where else but in the theater where I had to stand at parade rest, in front of the double doors facing the screen.  I got a little tired of standing there (we had marched all day), but it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad except I was bored from seeing the movie the day before.  Talk about “poetic justice”.  I wondered if Chief Cleaver somehow found out about me going to the movie the night before and gave me the assignment as punishment.  I decided that was not his style.  He wasn’t that subtle.

 

The first few weeks we had dummy pieces (rifles are never called rifles in the Navy, but pieces) which we carried and drilled with.  These probably weighed about half of the 8 pounds of the 1903 Springfield, .30 caliber that we used later.  The M-1 Garand was the official piece of the Navy, but we never used those except on the firing range.

 

Once early in our training we were out on the parade field (grinder) and the Chief had us at “Port Arms”.  That is where you are holding your piece with both hands in a horizontal position in front of your chest.  He was explaining something to us and I was paying close attention.  While intently listening to him, I relaxed and let my piece sag down some.  I didn’t realize it until the Chief, who was pacing back and forth in front of us, suddenly stepped up, jerked the piece out of my hands and said, “Get out here.  You are supposed to hold this piece up under your chin, not across your belly.  Now you stand out here and hold it out at arms length until I tell you to stop.”

 

Let me tell you.  The average person cannot hold a rifle out at arms length very long.  I held it as long as I could and then let it down to rest for a moment and then put it back up.  I could see the Chief out of the corner of my eye and I tried to time my “rest periods” for when he was turned away from me and after about ten minutes he had me get back in ranks.  I was embarrassed and mad.  I felt like he was picking on me, but realized later that he was just using me to get a message to all the troops.  Nothing personal in it at all and he never singled me out again.

 

Those days were a blur.  We were up at 5:00 AM, shaved, dressed and ready to march to the mess hall by 5:15.  I can still get ready in 15 minutes and give you 5 minutes back.  If you were not ready, you missed breakfast and were in big trouble with the Chief.  We never straggled anywhere at anytime.  We were required to march everywhere.  If three or four of us were going to the movies, we got into some kind of formation and marched, in step.

 

During the first few weeks, Chief Cleaver frequently checked us for cleanliness.  He would have us drop our pants out on the parade field (grinder) to see if our drawers were clean.  He would check our ears to see if we had washed them.  About once per week, while on the parade field, we would have what is called in the Navy a “short-arm” inspection.  This was an inspection to see if we were infected with a venereal disease.  The Chief would have us drop our pants and skivvies (shorts), and then a Hospital Corpsman came down the line checking to see if we displayed any of the symptoms of venereal disease.  This was just another of those things one is made to do that removes one’s dignity and individuality.  It makes you one of the “herd”.

 

About a month after I began training, my friend from home, Harold Gene Williams, showed up.  They had told him to go home and eat all he could plus eat lots of bananas to gain enough weight to pass the physical.  He did gain enough and made it in.  I saw him but a few times.  After boot camp he went to Electricians School and then to Submarine School.  He spent much of his career on the U.S.S. Sarda, a submarine.

 

After breakfast (all meals are called “Chow” in the Navy.  There is morning chow, midday chow, evening chow and sometimes and places, midnight chow.)  we either had a class of some kind or we hit the grinder (concrete or asphalt parade field) and marched or practiced our drills.  We had to learn a 64-count manual of movements with the piece.  By the time we finished we could do that almost in perfect unison.  We also had to learn the semaphore (alphabet with hand-flags) and the Morse Code.  Our minds were reeling.  Sometimes we would sit on the ground and have a class on something or other then go back to our drills.  Out on the grinder in the sunshine we would work up a sweat marching, but a few minutes in the shade and our teeth would be chattering.  Such is the weather in San Diego, California.

 

In the evening after supper we had to do our washing.  The barracks buildings were back-to-back with a wide courtyard between them.  In the courtyard there was a tall wooden mast with perhaps 6 or 8 lines (ropes, but there is no such thing as a rope in the Navy.  They are lines) running from posts around the perimeter to the top.  Each line was continuous, passing through a pulley at top and at bottom.  Clothes could be fastened onto the line and then pulled toward the top, adding clothes at the bottom until you were finished or the line was full.

 

We washed our clothes by hand on wooden scrub benches, then rinsed, and squeezed them out before tying them onto the line for drying.  For tying we used short shoestring like pieces of white cotton cord.  There could be no “holidays” (gaps) either between an item of clothing and the line, or between items of clothing.  They had to be “two-blocked”, that is, pulled up snug with no slack.

 

Although I had never washed clothes at home, I had helped on occasion and had observed enough to know how.  Some of my shipmates knew nothing.  They used too much soap and then failed to rinse properly and their white clothes were yellow after the first washing.  That was unacceptable, so they had to do them over and over until they got them white.

 

Perhaps the toughest thing for the recruits was to properly roll their clothes.  You see; all of our clothes were kept in our seabags and our seabags were hung on the ends of our bunks.  Each man had a ditty bag in which he kept all of his toilet articles and any other small articles that might be frequently needed.

 

In order to maintain a decent looking wardrobe, the clothes (all of them) had to be; first, stenciled with our names; second, folded and then; third, rolled and tied before putting into the bag.  All of this had to be done according to strict guidelines.  The rolls had to be firm, clean and with the stencil showing along the length of the roll.  Then once weekly all of the clothes had to be laid out on top of our blanket on our bunks (of course in a certain specified order) for inspection.

 

If you didn’t pass this inspection the first time you were warned.  If you didn’t pass the second time, the blanket with all the clothes would be thrown into the shower and the water turned on.  Then you could have a fresh start with a week to get everything washed, dried, rolled and tied for the next time.  If you failed again, you had to go to regimental headquarters and lay your clothes out on the front porch for the duty officer to inspect.  You had to do this every night until you passed.

 

Of course while these “Dilberts” (a Dilbert is a guy with two left feet and little common sense.  It is said they comprise two percent of any group) were fooling with their clothes, the rest of us were free to go to the Ships Store (after Camp Decatur), or the movies, or we could write letters home.  Those guys whose clothes got thrown into the shower were frequently up until long after taps (9:00 PM).  All the lights were out in the barracks at taps except for in the head, so that’s where they had to work.  I did mine right the first time and kept it that way.  For you landlubbers: in the Navy the compartment containing the toilets, showers and lavatories is always known as the “Head”.

 

Soon after we began our training they took us to an Olympic size swimming pool to qualify as swimmers.  I’d been swimming since I could remember, so this was absolutely no problem for me.  To qualify, we had to go in at one corner and swim all the way around the perimeter of the pool without stopping.  There were many that could not do that; in fact there were a good many who could not swim at all.

 

There were instructors around the perimeter of the pool with long poles equipped with padded ends.  They used these poles to push men (there were no women there) off the sides of the pools, to force them to try harder to swim or keep swimming.  For those of us who qualified, we later had swimming sessions where we learned to tread water for long periods and to use our clothes as flotation.  Those poor guys who didn’t qualify had to go every night after supper for swimming classes until they qualified.

 

         I got sick on a Saturday with Cat Fever.  I never knew exactly what this was, but I think it was some kind of influenza.  I was very, very sick. By Sunday I was unable to go to meals (didn’t want to anyway) and was burning up with fever.  My friend, Joe Weldon from Wichita Falls, my bunk-mate, was sick with it also. Some of the other guys became worried about us and late Sunday they dragged us to the dispensary (hospital) where we were immediately hospitalized.

 

In fact my temperature was so high (I was told 105) that a corpsman stayed by my bed throughout the night bathing me off with an alcohol/water bath to bring it down.  They were also giving me a shot of that new wonder drug “Penicillin” every 3 or 4 hours.

 

I slowly responded to the treatment, but they were very concerned about me.  An X-ray of my chest showed a dark spot on my lung about the size of a quarter.  They thought that was a tumor and called in a specialist from Los Angeles.  After another X-ray or two he decided that it was an abscess caused from pleurisy and not a tumor.  He thought that it would clear up and he was right, it did.

 

My friend, Joe Weldon, and I were discharged from the dispensary together.  They put us into a company that had a month to go, which meant that we had to repeat the training for weeks six and seven which we had already done.  We didn’t mind that, but our new Company Commander had taken us against his wishes and the rest of the company shared his feelings.  That made for a sticky situation.  Their big gripe was they hoped to win some of the excellence awards given for proficiency in marching, and drills of different sorts in competition with the other companies.

 

Those guys didn’t know it, but Joe and I were both very good at all those things.  We soon showed them that we were as good as they were.  Instead of being a drag, we actually helped them out, so by the time we graduated we were in good with them and we did win an award or two.

 

Since I had enlisted as an Airman Recruit, I was slated to be sent to Memphis, Tennessee to the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC).  When you finished boot camp you were transferred to Camp John Paul Jones which was called the OGU (Out Going Unit) to wait for orders and transportation to be arranged.

 

I hate to say it but this place was worse than Camp Decatur where I started out.  Here I was.  I had completed my training, and been promoted to Airman Apprentice and was treated worse that I had been previously.  I was assigned to a temporary company headed by a Chief Boatswains (Bosun’s) Mate by the name of Bricker.  He was a sadistic little redheaded guy with a huge chip on his shoulder.  About half of the guys stayed in trouble with Chief Bricker all the time they were there.  Once in trouble with him, you didn’t get out.  I walked a wide circle around him.  When he said jump, I jumped, as fast and high as I could.

 

Chief Bricker’s Company manned the mess hall for the Camp.  It was a small company, actually about half a company.  We stayed in a small building out back of the mess hall instead of in a proper barracks.  The reason for this isolation was that we had to get up at 3:00 AM.  To compensate for this early reveille, lights out came at 8:00 PM instead of 9:00 PM.  My duty station was in the scullery (where the dishes are washed) which I liked fine.

 

The Scullery had stainless tables on which the sailors placed their stainless steel tray, stainless silverware and heavy china cup, after emptying, on their way out of the mess hall.  The tables were about 4’ wide and had sides on them. They ran the length of the room, which was about twenty feet.  I took the items from the table and placed them into heavy stainless wire mesh trays and sent them through a washer/steam sterilizer and then they were taken back to the front of the mess hall to be used again.

 

One of the worst scares that I ever had, happened in that scullery.  A guy came in and threw his silverware onto the table and it came flying down to where I was and almost hit me.  I guess my nerves were a little shot, what with tiptoeing around Chief Bricker and the long hot working hours and I flashed.  I picked the knife up (these knives are heavy stainless steel) and threw it at that guy.  The instant I released it I wished I hadn’t done it, but it was flying straight as an arrow right at his face.  He appeared to be paralyzed for a moment and then jerked the tray, which he still had in his hand, up in front of his face.  All it did to the heavy gauge tray was put a dent in it.  Had either end of the knife hit the guy, I have no doubt it would have killed him.  Needless to say he got out of there in a hurry, and I had the weak trembles all afternoon.

 

I got out of Chief Bricker’s Company a few days before my departure.  On my last days I was selected for working parties.  One day I spread manure on the golf course.  This was my first ever look at a golf course.

 

Another day I was standing at the front of the first rank when a Sea Bee Chief came up to get his working party.  He told the Bosun that he needed only one man and he took me.  We got into a pickup, drove off the Navy Base, then into the Marine Base and way down into the boondocks (this is from an Oriental word meaning mountain, but as a slang word used in the Navy it means, remote area) by the bay.  This was not a talkative Chief and we rode in silence.  Down near the bay there was a large bulldozer.  We stopped next to it and got out and walked over to the dozer.

The Chief said,  “I have a bad back and need you to start

this kicker-motor on the dozer”.  Then he showed me a small lawnmower type engine with a rope starter.  I started it for him then went over to a shade tree to wait for him.

 

Soon, a panel truck pulling a trailer drove down to the bay near us.  They had a model airplane on the trailer.  The plane was a four-engine amphibian with a wingspan of about 12 feet.  The van was full of instruments and gear.  Two of the men had on wet suits and they launched the plane.  They worked on it for a little while and then started the engines and flew it up and down the bay by remote control, never getting it more than three or four feet off the water.  This was the first time I saw a radio controlled plane fly.

 

I was all set for a long and boring day when the crew showed up with the plane.  I stood out there and watched them all day.  They kept bringing the plane in and making adjustments.  Very interesting, but they shooed me off and wouldn’t let me get close enough to talk to them

 

On the weekend, I stood guard duty in my dress Blues at the main gate during the day shift.  I had to wear white leggings and a white duty belt and carry a white Billy club.  It was an interesting change of pace and I kind of enjoyed it.  Just that once!

 

Finally my orders were cut and transportation was arranged to Memphis and I left USNRD (United States Navy Recruit Depot) behind forever.

 

 

Naval  Air Technical Training Command

Naval Air Station, Memphis, Tennessee

 

Three of us left OGU, on Friday April 1, 1949, for the Naval Air Technical Training Command (NATTC) at Naval Air Station (NAS), Memphis, Tennessee.  As per the Navy custom, all of the men were put in the charge of one, and that happened to be me.  I had custody of all our orders and meal tickets for the trip.  This was before the days of common air travel and we were booked first class on Southern Pacific Railroad.

 

When we got on our Pullman (sleeper) car, we found only two other people.  It was that way all the way to Memphis, just the five of us.  You know, I remember one of the navy guys, he was going to Lithography School at NAS Memphis.  His upper arms were covered with scars where he’d had some tattoos removed.   The other sailor is a cipher.  But I do remember the other two guys on the car with us, very well.  One was a Police Lieutenant from Virginia and the other was his prisoner.  The officer stayed handcuffed to his prisoner all of the time except when they were sleeping.  Then the prisoner was cuffed to the train in the upper berth with the officer in the lower.  The policeman told us zip about the prisoner.  We never knew what he had done, or was accused of doing.

 

When we left San Diego, I had no idea of the route we would take to Memphis.  I had only a vague idea of where Memphis was located.   Some place in Arizona I was talking to the Porter for our car and he told me we would go through Marshall, Texas late Sunday morning and would stop there.  Mama, and my sisters, Cathryn, Nell, and Patsy were all living in Marshall at that time.

 

I told the Conductor I would like to send a telegram and he said we would be stopping that night (Saturday) for about five minutes at some place in West Texas that I don’t remember.  He said that if I hurried I would be able to send a wire when we stopped.  When we came into the town, the Conductor opened the door and got down on the steps with me.  He pointed out the telegraph office that was about a block beyond where my car would be stopping and up one flight of stairs.  I had my wire already written out.

 

When the train slowed enough that I could safely get off, I jumped down and ran for the telegraph office and up the stairs.  I quickly handed my message to the Telegrapher.  He told me the price, I paid him and ran out and down the stairs.  It was a short five minutes, for the train was already rolling when I got down the stairs, but the Conductor was there at the door waiting for me and I ran and jumped on.

 

I don’t remember what I said in my wire except that I would be in Marshall on Sunday morning on the SP train.  When we got there, there was Mama, Cathryn, Cleo, Nell, and Patsy and my nephews.  They were all dressed up for Church, and Mama had brought me half of a cake that she had made for Sunday dinner.

 

We stayed in Marshall for just a few minutes, but I got to visit with my loved ones and got half a cake too.  After lunch I shared the cake with my car mates.  As I recall, I cut it into 5 pieces and we ate it.  I even let the prisoner have a piece of cake.

 

It was about night when we got into Memphis.  We had no idea where the Naval Air Station, Memphis was located, and were in no hurry to find out.  According to our orders, we had two more days before having to report.  We looked around for a little while, then found us a room in a boarding house.  (There were no motels in downtown Memphis, only hotels and we figured they were too rich for us).

 

The room we booked had only one double bed, so we shared the bed and were a little crowded to get much sleep, but when you are young most anything will do.  I think the room was $4.00 for the night.  The next morning after breakfast I decided we should go ahead and report to NATTU, NAS, Memphis.  I was out voted 2 to 1 for staying in town until we had to report.  I’d had a look at Memphis the day before and was ready to go to my new duty station.  I convinced the other two guys that we should report (after all I had their orders) and then called the NAS Duty Officer and he had a van pick us up.

 

NAS Memphis is located near the little town of Millington, which is about 20 or 30 miles northeast of Memphis.  There was not much to Millington then, but today the area is pretty well developed.  A state highway divides NAS Memphis.  NATTC was on the East Side of the road.  The operating squadrons and the base command were on the West Side.

 

It’s still that way today.  My friend James Calvin Doyal (more about Doyal in later chapters) from Conroe, whom I met in Hawaii in 1951, and I drove over there in September 1994 for a reunion of the Navy Parachute Riggers.  NAS Memphis hosted the reunion, and on the last day they threw a barbecue for us.  The Commander of the base joined us for lunch and James and I talked with him.  I never would have imagined socializing with the brass when I was stationed there in 1949.

 

I liked the Airman Prep School to which I was assigned and worked fairly hard to do well. The school was eight weeks long and was broken into two terms of four weeks.  In the first four weeks we had four two-hour classes each day.  The subjects were Mathematics, Physics, Blueprint Drawing, and Hand Tools.

 

The instructors were outstanding.  I had done well in math in high school, but this was like a college course completed in four weeks.  I breezed through it and still use many of the techniques learned in that school.  This was my first taste of Physics and it was a little tougher for me, but the lesson plans and level of instruction were so good that I found it a fun course.  I could say much the same thing about the Blueprints course, which I enjoyed and still use.

 

Hand Tools was a tough course.  We had it last period of the day and frequently had to work overtime to finish our assignments.  I will never forget our first lesson.  Each of us was given a block of steel about 3” x 3” x 3”.  These were about square, but purposely cut so they would not be.  We had to make them square with a file.  Once our work was approved, we had to layout four holes on one side according to exact dimensions.  Then we had to drill the holes one-inch deep with a hand-drill and cut threads in the holes with a hand tap.

 

Once this work was done and approved, we were given a steel rod 24” long, the same diameter as the holes we had drilled.  This rod had to be cut into four pieces, each 6” long, using a hacksaw.  Once cut, one end was threaded using a hand die.  The threaded ends were screwed into the holes on the block and presented for inspection and, hopefully, approval.  To pass, the bolts must all be the same height, and the top ends must be the same distances apart as the holes in the block, (it is very tough to drill perpendicular holes with a hand drill) within very close tolerances.  If the work didn’t pass inspection, you got to start all over.  Many of the people did, but not I.

 

The second four-week term was spent visiting all of the Naval Air Ratings (professions) shops.  We spent a couple days at each of the twelve different ones.  The purpose of this was to familiarize us with the role of each of the different ratings.

 

After completing term two, we spent about two days taking tests after which the class rankings were announced.  I was ranked 226th out of 580 men and women in this session of the school.  I guess there were probably 50 to 75 women (Waves) in the class. Results of the tests we were given showed which of the professions each student was best suited to pursue.  They told me that I should go into Aviation Electronics, but I had other ideas and they would allow us to bid on the three professions that we most desired.  I had long thought that Aviation Photography would be best for me, but it was highly sought after.

 

A person’s ability to get what he wanted was based on his class standing.  In other words, the number one person could have whatever he chose, but the lower you were in class ranking the less your chances.  At 226 I was in pretty good shape, but knew my chances of getting photography were very slim.

 

I had met and become friends with a guy from Balmorhea, Texas by the name of James F. Taylor.  His middle name was Fay, but he threatened me with death if I ever told anyone.  James had decided that being a Parachute Rigger and getting to make a parachute jump was exactly what he wanted to do and he begged me to go into it with him.  I finally agreed.  He was a week ahead of me in school and had already been selected for Parachute Riggers School.

 

On the final day, I put down my 1st choice as Aviation Photography, my 2nd choice as Parachute Rigger, and my 3rd choice as Aviation Electronics.  Such is the way paths are taken on the road of life.  I missed the cut on Aviation Photography, but made it on Parachute Rigger.  They always had plenty slots in Electronics had I missed PR.  Too bad I didn’t go into electronics.  I could have gotten a college education in electronics.  I got one in parachutes, but it is not of much use in civilian life.

 

James Taylor went on to Lakehurst, New Jersey where the Parachute Riggers School was located, a week or two ahead of me.  I hung around Memphis and painted a few offices (poorly I might add), then spent three weeks in the hospital before leaving.  There is one thing about the Navy.  They do not believe in idle hands.  Anytime a sailor was in between assignments or awaiting orders or transportation, he was always thrown into the labor pool and given a job (usually a day at a time) of some kind.  I had some interesting jobs over the years.  In this case I was chosen as a painter.

 

Twice while I was at Memphis, I went home to Marshall to visit Mama and the rest of the family.  Technically this was against the rules, since NATTC had posted a 100 mile limit on the distance we could travel on a weekend pass.  I exceeded this limit by about 500 miles.

 

The way I worked it was, on Friday afternoon I took the bus (they ran hourly until midnight) from Millington to Memphis.  Then I caught the 9:00 P.M. train from Memphis to Marshall.  At Little Rock this became Southern Pacific’s “Texas Eagle” that ran all the way to San Diego from the East Coast.  This was a very nice, fast train which made few stops.  I rode coach, which was much cheaper, though I cannot remember how much it cost me.  The train got into Marshall about 4:30 A.M.  This was in the early summer and day was just breaking.   This was a beautiful time of year. 

 

I learned something about myself then.  I found the anticipation of being at home and visiting the family was a very delicious feeling.  Once I got to Marshall, I was content to take my time to get to the house where Mama lived.  I took a slow leisurely walk from the depot.  I could smell all of the blooms of spring, and enjoyed having the morning all to myself.  Knowing that in a few minutes, I would be sitting in the kitchen talking to Mama.  A warm, perfect, greatly appreciated feeling seldom felt.

 

The weekend was too short and passed too fast.  Soon after lunch on Sunday, I had to leave to go back to Memphis.  I hitchhiked back to Memphis both times I made the trip.  Going home was a dumb thing to do under the circumstances, and I cut it pretty close both trips on getting back to the base on time.  The deadline was Sunday mid-night.

 

I had a couple of interesting things happen to me.  First, I was out on the north side of Texarkana thumbing for a ride when a pickup truck pulled up and stopped for me.  The truck belonged to a drilling company, and the driver had been sent into Texarkana to pick up some parts for the rig.

 

The driver was in a big hurry since the rig was down, waiting on him.  He was driving fast and I didn’t mind that, but what I did mind was he had a six pack of beer in the floor of the cab.  He must have already consumed quite a bit because he was clearly intoxicated.  Had I known that, I would not have gotten into the truck.

 

I tried to get him to stop and let me drive, but he wouldn’t hear of it.  A couple of times we narrowly missed collisions while he was rummaging for another beer.  Once I had to grab the wheel to keep us from hitting a bridge.  I begged the guy to stop and let me out, but he wouldn’t.

 

I kept a close watch on both him and the road (US-67 then was a rough, winding two lane road, I-30 was not even a dream yet).  After a while we came to the town of Hope.  I looked around some but didn’t see Bill Clinton.   Maybe he wasn’t born yet. Then, Hope had only one or two red lights I believe.  I was hoping in Hope that the guy would have to stop or slow down enough for me to bail out and I was ready.  Sure enough, just as we were coming up to a light, it turned red and the guy saw it and slammed on his brakes and stopped.  I was out of the truck in a flash and said a prayer for my safe delivery.

 

It was late afternoon by then and I got a hamburger at a small joint. Then I walked up the hill past a fork in the road and waited for a ride.  Things didn’t look promising.  There was not much traffic, but I was thumbing everything that came up the hill.  It was dark by now and I was getting worried.  I guess I had waited 30 or 40 minutes when a vehicle pulled off the road and stopped about a 100 feet before it got to me.  It was too dark for me to see what kind of vehicle it was, but a man got out and walked around in front of the headlights and called out to me.

 

My heart sank.  The man was in uniform.  A Chief Petty Officer in the Navy and I assumed it was the Shore Patrol about to arrest me for being outside limits.  But, in fact it was a Chief who had been on leave and was on his way back to NAS Memphis.  What a stroke of luck for me!  We had a good time visiting and stopped for coffee in one small town.  The chief drove me right up to the door of the Naval Hospital just down the road from NAS, well before my deadline.

 

The reason I had to go to the hospital was that I had been a patient there for about three weeks.  I have a long history of ear problems that were pretty severe in my youth, and I had a bad infection that spring.  They admitted me to the hospital and began giving me penicillin.  I got an injection (this was before oral penicillin was developed) every three hours for eleven days.  My behind looked like a pin-cushion.

 

Since those days doctors have learned that daily large doses are as effective and no longer give the frequent doses as they did then.  Anyway, I got over the infection, finished up my duties at NATTC and left for Lakehurst, New Jersey.

 

Parachute Riggers School

Naval Air Station

Lakehurst, New Jersey

 

About twenty-five of us left Memphis for Lakehurst.  We traveled first class by train.  Most of the twenty-five were Waves headed for the Aerography (the Navy term for meteorology) School that was also at Lakehurst.  I think six of us were destined for Parachute Riggers School, although I don’t remember a single individual from that train trip.

 

We spent two days and nights on the train before arriving in Newark. There we had to change to a local train for the final run into Lakehurst.  My impression of that part of the country before going there was that it was heavily developed and populated.  Imagine my surprise when I saw the sparsely developed countryside of pine forests as we neared Lakehurst.

 

I was more surprised when I got off the train in Lakehurst.  Talk about a one-horse town…..this was it.  We went into the station that looked like something out of an old movie.  We called the base and they sent a bus for us.  While we waited for the bus, we went out and looked around the town.  That didn’t take long, but we did see a number of old “Hillbillies”, which I found out later were called “Pineies” in those parts because they lived out in the pine thickets.

 

NAS Lakehurst was about three miles from town, and it was another couple of miles from the main gate to the barracks area.  This base was, and I think still is, the home of the blimps (Lighter Than Air or LTA’S in the Navy).  This was the place where the German airship Hindenburg burned in 1935.  During the days of the Hindenburg, airships were filled with hydrogen.  Hydrogen is so flammable that a change was made to the inert gas, helium.  NAS Lakehurst was built as a training base for LTA pilots and was much nicer than most facilities for the “White Hat Sailors” of which I was a member.

 

As we drove into the base, the road ran by the largest single building that I had ever seen.  This was a blimp hangar and it was huge (the Hindenburg burned just outside this hangar).  They told me that it was a mile long, but I don’t think so.  There was a catwalk in the framework under the roof and it was said to be 276’ from it down to the hangar floor.  While I was there one of the national magazines, “Look”, I think, set up and ran an experiment to determine if a thrown baseball would actually curve.

 

They mounted a high-speed camera on the catwalk, brought in a pitcher and catcher and photographed the ball about ten times between the pitcher’s hand and the catcher’s mitt.  They ran the photos and story in the magazine.  They proved that, yes, thrown baseballs do actually curve.  Now with the quality of television cameras and with the ability to run in slow/stop motion, ball movement is clear, but then we didn’t have that.

 

There was a helium storage tank at NAS Lakehurst that fascinated me.  The tank was in two parts.  The lower half was fixed in position, but the upper half moved up and down as the pressure in the tank changed.  There was a liquid seal between the two halves of the tank to keep helium from escaping.  There was a metal frame around the tank which supported rubber tired wheels on opposing sides of the tank.  These tires rolled on the side of the tank and kept it in position.  As the tank warmed up in the sunshine, it would grow and then when the sun went down it would shrink.  A strange sight for a farm boy!

 

There were always blimps coming and going around the base and we became used to them.  But, I never tired of watching them.  It was however, a little disconcerting to look over your shoulder and see one of those huge things about a 100’ off the ground bearing down on you.

 

There were only three barracks buildings, all two-story.  One for the base staff (normally called Ships Company throughout the Navy), one for the Aerography School and one for the Parachute School.  We were given our barracks assignments (called billets) of four men to a room.

 

Each room was about 10’ by 14’.  Just to the left of the door as you went in, there was a lavatory on the wall with a typical medicine cabinet above.   In the center of the room there were two small tables, each with a chair.  On the wall opposite the lavatories was a steam radiator for heat.  There were two small, four-drawer chest-of-drawers and two double bunks.  The head (toilets and showers) was down the passage way (hall) and shared by all the rooms on the floor.

 

Four men shared the medicine cabinet, and lavatory. Two men shared a chair and desk, and each man had 2 drawers in a chest.  This was very nice after having lived in large dormitory style barracks and lived out of a sea bag and a ditty bag.  Under the window was a coiled rope with knots in it for fire escape from the upper floor where I lived.

 

When I first reported to the barracks, the clerk miss-spelled my name when it was entered on the roster.  He had me down as Wods, J.L.  I told him about the error and he said he would correct it.  He didn’t.  A few days later old J.L. Wods made the duty roster as a fire watch.   The sorry guy didn’t show up and they came and got me to stand the watch in his place and the Chief Master-at-Arms (CMAA) was irate.  It was a very serious offense to miss a duty assignment.  I said, “Chief, that’s not my name on the duty roster so you shouldn’t expect me to show up.  If that is supposed to be me then get my name right”.  He knew I had a good case so he dropped it.  Of course the clerk knew that I knew, but if he confessed he would be saying that he had failed in his promise to correct the spelling so he laid low.  Guess what?  They never got my name wrong again.

 

A class at PR School had just started when I got there, so I was faced with having to wait until the next one started.  I worked a few days for the Chief Master-at Arms who ran the barracks, doing odd jobs until I was assigned to mess-cooking duty.  In the Army this is called K.P. (kitchen patrol) and is usually assigned by the day.  In the Navy it is typically assigned for three-month periods.  In this case it was for four and one-half months although I didn’t know that at the beginning.

 

I hated the thought of doing mess-cook duty, but it turned out to be a really good assignment.  I moved from the PR Barracks to quarters above the mess hall.  The mess hall, kitchen and associated storage and utility facilities were located on the ground floor in a very nice brick building.  The second floor was a gymnasium with large locker rooms. The locker rooms had been converted to living quarters by putting some bunk beds in the equipment storage rooms.

 

Out one door of my room was the head (showers, lavatories and toilets), and out the other door was the gymnasium floor.  This was really great.  Almost no one used the gym (most didn’t even know about it) but us.  We spent much of our spare time playing basketball.  I had never played before this.  In high school, I was a country boy who had to ride the bus home, so could never stay after school for practice, and was too small anyway for the coach to be interested in me.

 

As a mess-cook, I was assigned to work one of the serving lines.  This was not a bad job, so I was reasonably happy.  The mess-cooks were organized into four groups, each of which was led by a mess-cook “Captain”.  The captain was just another guy of the same rank who through ability to lead or some other manner had gotten the assignment.  The captains were responsible to the Chief Cook who ran the whole mess hall under a Commissary Officer, normally, and in this case, a Lieutenant.

 

At Lakehurst the Chief Cook left the Mess-cook Company completely in the hands of the captains, including the assignment of captains.  That is how I came to be a mess-cook captain my second week as a mess-cook.  Although I worked hard and did what I was told, I got the job because the captain was going back to wherever he came from and he took a liking to me.

 

One morning at breakfast, the captain I was working for, asked me if I would like to be captain.  I thought he was kidding me, but I said sure.  He said, “O.K., its yours tomorrow.  This is my last day”.  And, so it was.  You are probably thinking, why wasn’t there uproar from the other guys about me getting the job?  Well, you have to understand that we were all young, not long out of Boot Camp where we had learned never to question authority.  We had been drilled to just do our jobs, do as we were told and “always obey the last order first”.

 

There were about twenty mess-cooks.  Each line captain had about five men, the kitchen captain had 5 or 6 and the captain of the Chief Petty Officers (CPO) Mess had 2 men helping him serve the Chiefs.  The Chiefs had tables for four with linens and they were served at the table.  They did not have to stand in line and go through cafeteria style as the sailors did.  The CPO mess also fed the Bachelor Officers at this base, but that was not usually the case.

 

The mess cooks in the kitchen did essentially all of the work of preparing the food, including bread and desserts.  They did this under the supervision of 2 or 3 cooks.

 

Every afternoon except Sunday, the two line crews cleaned the tables then moved all of them to one end of the mess hall.  We then scrubbed, squeegeed, and mopped the deck (known in the Navy as a “clamp down”).  We then moved the tables to the clean end and did the rest of the deck (floor).  Once per week, we waxed and buffed the entire deck.  We kept it spotless, the other guys did the same for their areas, and all of us together cleaned our quarters and the gymnasium.

 

There were several perks that went with being a line captain.  One, the captain was an observer and supervisor, not usually a worker.  However, I frequently did lend a hand when it was needed, as I believe every supervisor should.  The best perk to me was being able to sleep in, every other morning.  Let me explain that.  Our Chief Cook, or his relief, came on duty at 4:30 every morning.  A fresh pot of coffee had to be ready when he got there, so that meant that someone had to get up and make it.  To share the burden and get a benefit, the two line captains alternated.  One got up and made the coffee, then supervised the serving of breakfast while the other line captain slept in.

 

When I say fresh coffee, I mean it was fresh.  We ground coffee beans every morning just before making the coffee.  We had two large urns, I guess about 20 gallons each.  We made them full every morning before breakfast and then made more as needed.  The Chief Cook had me put a handful of salt in the basket with the coffee grounds, saying that kept the coffee from being bitter.  I don’t know if it did or not.

 

Friday was always inspection day…..not only here, but  throughout the Navy.  This fact drove the menu.  On Thursday nights we had cold cuts (sliced luncheon meats, cheese, bread and canned fruit).  The kitchen prepared baked beans and cornbread for Friday breakfast.  The reason being that they were easy to prepare and easy to clean up after to get ready for inspection.

 

I fell into a routine and everything went smoothly until I got cross ways with the Marines.  All Navy bases and most all ships at sea have a contingent of Marines for security duty.  At Lakehurst they manned the gates, the brig (jail) and supervised prisoners.  The marines on the main gate had a Buck Sergeant (a “three striper” and the lowest sergeant and, some say, the lowest form of life) who supervised them.  He was a real cocky guy (seems most marines are, particularly Sergeants) and had received special privileges from the line captain before me.

 

If there is one thing that I detest, it is that some people get unearned privileges over others and I determined to stop it.  Privileges because of rank, standing, contributions or knowledge are fine, but others I object to.  Mainly what the Sergeant was getting was extra rations of milk and desserts.  The Commissary Officer along with the Chief Cook told us how much we were to serve to each person.  They did this to stay within budget for expenditures for food.  They said one-half pint of milk and one serving of dessert per man per meal.  I told my guys to abide by that…..no exceptions.

 

When the Sergeant insisted on more he was referred to me.  I told him sorry, but those were the rules. He said he would talk to the Chief Cook and I told him to have at it, but I didn’t think he would.  I don’t guess he ever did, but a day or two later he walked by me and said, “don’t ever leave the base”.  He said that if I did they were going to “get” me.  Now I would be afraid, but then I wasn’t.  It was a bluff, for I left the base many times, but was never accosted.

 

I remained a mess-cook for four and one-half months and then moved back to the PR barracks and started school.  I had some interesting classmates.  One of them was an Aviation Machinist Mate First Class by the name of C.R. Thomas from NAS Olathe, Kansas.  Thomas made his rank in the Naval Reserve and got an assignment as a “Station Keeper” there.  They had a billet for a Parachute Rigger First Class, but in order for Thomas to switch ratings, he had to attend Parachute School.

 

It is hard for me to judge ages from this perspective, but I guess Thomas was about thirty-five.  He was a jolly guy and we became very good friends.  He was full of fun and mischief and everyone liked him.  He was also full of tobacco.  He chewed a plug of “Days Work” chewing tobacco every day.  He would go to class with a wad in his jaw and by the time the two-hour class was over, all he would have left, if anything, was a coarse stem or two.  He was not a spitter (it wouldn’t have been allowed anyway).  He swallowed the tobacco and the juice.  I told him what I liked best about him was, he didn’t have any worms.  Thomas was probably the oldest student ever to make a parachute jump at the school.

 

I had a black classmate too.  That was pretty unusual because the Navy was still largely segregated, although President Harry Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces in 1948.  Prior to that, all blacks in the Navy were cooks or stewards, although they did stand duty watches and sometimes serve as gunners and lookouts during combat.  My black classmate was a nice guy.  His name was Ragsdale and he was a Coast Guardsman from Floyd Bennet Field in New York.  His class standing was good enough to get him in the first load of jumpers on jump day, so he was either number 8 or 9 in the class.  I remember looking at him in the plane just before we jumped and I remember how wide his eyes were.  He really looked scared.

 

Just before Christmas in 1949, I met Harold Gene Williams, my friend from home, in New York City. At the time, he was stationed at New London, Connecticut.  We wrote to one another and agreed to meet at Grand Central Station at 4:00 P.M. on Friday.  I hitched a ride over to Toms River, went to the bus station and bought a ticket to New York City.  This was my first trip up there.  They had a lunch counter in the station and I went over and bought a cup of coffee.

 

While I was drinking my coffee, a man on the next stool asked me where I was going and I told him.  He told me that he and his mother-in-law would be leaving for New York City in a few minutes, and why didn’t I ride with them.  I told him I already had a ticket, but he told me to cash it in.  Well I didn’t cash it in, I still have it in some of my things here, but I did ride with them.

 

He had brought his wife down to stay at one of the resort hotels (a spa if you will) for a couple of weeks.  She and her mother were at the hotel, and this guy had to go by and pick up the mother.  So that is what we did.  I waited in the car while he went into the hotel, said good-bye to his wife and got the mother.  We had a very nice visit.  I don’t think they had ever met a farm boy from the South, and they seemed very interested.   They asked me many questions.  I enjoyed it.

 

We drove up and took a ferry across from Jersey to NYC.  This was a very large ferry and took probably 30 minutes or more going across.  We went in near the Battery where Wall Street is located.  We drove off the ferry and they dropped me at the very door of Grand Central Station about 3:30 P.M.  I looked around a few minutes and then went to an information desk and asked them to page Harold Gene, which they did, and in a couple minutes I saw him headed my way.

 

We went to the YMCA and got rooms, then did the town.  I don’t think we slept more than a couple hours that night (much of New York never sleeps).  On Saturday we went to CBS at Radio City and they gave us tickets to several TV shows and also provided us with details on how to get to the various places.  The shows were being broadcast live from various spots in the city.  I had never seen television at that time.  There was a TV set in the recreation room in our barracks, but it broke before I got there.

 

I enjoyed the shows very much.  I remember one was put on in a room about 20-feet square.  The set was over in one corner and 10 or 15 of us sat on folding metal chairs in the opposite corner watching the show.  This one was the Mohawk Carpet Show.  I have no idea who the people were that starred in the show, but there was a performer who sang the song “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow”.

 

There was a dummy wall across the corner, with a window and during the song a guy on a stepladder behind the wall was pouring fake snowflakes out of a bucket and they were drifting down outside the window.  The wall hid the ladder and the camera angle cut out the upper part of the wall.  We could see the picture on a monitor and it looked very real.

 

We had to take the subway to the 49th St. Theater to see a TV show called “We The People”.  I think Garry Moore who later emceed the show “What’s My Line” was the emcee of this variety show.  Harold Gene had brought a friend with him from his submarine, and the three of us were talking and waiting on the subway when the train pulled in to the dock and the doors opened.

 

Harold Gene had his back to the car, but he turned and stepped on just as I said, “That’s not our train”.  Too late!  The doors closed and he was gone.  His friend and I caught the right train and went to the theater.  About half way through the program, Harold Gene came in.  The train that he caught was an “Express” train to Queens, so he had to go all the way out to Queens before he could catch a train back.

 

The next day we went out to the Statue of Liberty and toured it, then went to the Empire State Building and went up to the observation deck (did you see “Sleepless in Seattle”?).  We also went to Rockefeller Center and watched the people ice-skating.  It was a memorable weekend that came to an end too soon and we had to return to duty. It was to be several months before I actually saw a TV show on a TV set.

 

         Back at the Parachute Riggers school things were going along great.  I was enjoying the course and looking forward to the day we would make our jump.

 

The Commander of the Parachute Riggers School was a Lieutenant whose name escapes me. We dubbed him “Sam Spade”.  At that time there was a popular radio show by that name, starring the deep voiced Howard Duff as a Private Eye.

 

Our Sam Spade was always harping about security and keeping accurate logs.  Every fourth day (we were divided into four duty sections, hence every fourth day, each section would have the duty) we had to stand watches (fire and security) in all of the buildings.  Sam wanted us to be sure and record every detail of every event that occurred on our watches.

 

It came to pass that I had the “Mid-watch” (midnight to four am, or in Navy time, 0000 (same as 2400) to 0400 on New Years Day, 1950 in our school building.  That is no way to start a year, but it could have been much worse.  The plan was for the man on watch to continuously walk throughout the building, repeating the tour every few minutes.  On this night when I went through the sewing room a mouse scurried across the floor.   He was quick, but not quick enough because I put my foot down on him.  I wrote in the duty log, “Discovered an intruder in the sewing room at 0017 and dispatched him with a size 9 1/2 boot.  Flushed same down toilet.  Subject was a gray, medium sized, mouse”.  I never had any feedback, so I guess Sam liked it.

 

If you didn’t have a car, there was only one good way to get around in that part of New Jersey in those days and that was to hitchhike.  My friends and I did quite a lot of it.  We went to Toms River, the closest sizable town, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, Pleasant Point and New York City.  I liked New Jersey but could never reconcile it with my expectations of what it would be like.

 

My friend James Taylor was two classes ahead of me and I saw little of him, but we did manage to pal around together some.  On Halloween 1949 James’ kid brother and some more boys were soaping the window of a store.   The owner fired some shots at them and killed James’ brother.  This happened in New Mexico. He flew home for a few days, came back and finished school and shipped out.

        

I made other friends.  One was a guy named Frank Morgan from Carthage, Missouri.  Frank was a cocky guy and he decided he would delay opening his parachute when he jumped.  One thing the instructors really stressed was to follow the instructions verbatim.  As a member of the United States Navy we were government property and doing anything to jeopardize that property was a serious offense.  Disobeying a direct order was a court-martial offense.  Nevertheless, Frank was determined.  He swore me to secrecy.

 

The reason for him choosing to do this was Mary Redfern.  Mary was the first peacetime Wave to attempt to become a Parachute Rigger and would be the first Wave to actually make a jump…..if she jumped!  Mary was in Frank’s class and was scheduled to jump in the second load.  Frank didn’t like her and figured that she would chicken out after seeing him do a “swan dive”.  They made an aluminum and foam rubber chest protector for Mary to protect her breasts (she was a stout woman) from the parachute harness straps when the chute opened.  I guess it worked O.K.

 

Of course I knew Frank’s jump number and that he was in the first load.  As an underclassman I was on the jump field waiting on the jumpers to come down and I was watching for Frank to come out of the plane.  One of the senior officers at the school was always on the field with a megaphone so that he could talk to the jumpers while they were coming down (I never heard him while I was in the air when I jumped).

 

I saw Frank jump out of the plane and true to his word he didn’t pull the ripcord.  He plummeted like a rock, straight at the ground.  The officer with the megaphone was yelling, “Pull that ripcord, pull that ripcord”.  Still Frank kept falling.  Only I knew this was a planned event and I was scared.  I thought something was wrong and he wasn’t going to open his chute at all.  Finally, though, we saw the chute pop out and he began drifting down.  He was so low when his chute opened that he didn’t drift far enough and he missed the field.

 

Several of us ran toward where Frank came down and found him about a hundred yards out in the pine timber.  His parachute canopy came down over the top of a small pine tree and that left Frank hanging a few feet in the air.  He didn’t get a scratch and was grinning like a cat when I got to him.  We helped him down out of the tree and retrieved the parachute.

 

Meanwhile, back at the base the second load of jumpers loaded up and headed for the jump field.  They had seen Frank plummet behind the trees out of their field of vision and still didn’t know if he fell straight to the ground or got his chute open.  I was told later there were some white faces and scared sailors, but no one chickened out.  Mary Redfern did jump and made history as the first woman Navy Parachute Rigger to make a jump.

 

Next day the school Commander had Frank on the carpet.  Frank told him that he must have blacked out when he jumped and came to just in time to open the chute before hitting the ground.  There was no way to tell if this was the truth, so they took no action against Frank.

 

Parachute Riggers School was divided into several sections, or shops we called them.  They were: Sewing, Survival Equipment (Life Rafts, Life Jackets, First Aid Equipment), Oxygen Systems, Parachutes and Jump Training.

 

One of the most important things that I learned in the Navy schools was how to learn.  Our instructors were outstanding and the lesson plans were very good.  They trimmed out most of the fat and just gave us the meat of the courses.  Also they taught us how to take “good” notes.  To be sure that we did that, no pens were allowed in school.  All notes had to be taken in pencil.  Each Monday we had to turn in a copy of our notes written in ink for review and grading.  The theory being, and I think it was a fact, that once you heard something once and wrote it down twice, you would remember a good deal of it.

 

The instructors coached us on how to take good notes and how to study.  Too bad they don’t do that in public schools.  I think the real key to learning is paying close attention in class and jotting down key words, statements and facts.  Many students try to write down everything.  Everything is already in the textbook, why write all of it down.  Just write enough to help you remember the rest. Some students are so busy writing notes that they stop paying attention.  In a fast paced course it is very difficult to catch up once you fall behind.

 

They taught us how to use and repair sewing machines and oxygen equipment.  Also how to care for, repair, pack and use liferafts, lifejackets and parachutes.  Then when all of that was done, we had to inspect and pack two parachutes, then go up in an airplane and jump out using the chutes we had packed.  Believe me, when you know that you must pack the parachute that will bring you down safely when you jump out of an airplane, you will pay close attention to the instructions.

 

While I was in school I had a really bad case of “athlete’s foot”.  This was the bane of sailors then and it probably still is.  Mine was bad enough that I went to sick call at thirteen hundred (1:00 PM).  The Dr. checked my feet and another sailor’s feet with the same problem.  He told the Hospital Corpsman to have us soak our feet in Potassium Permanganate solution.  I was very familiar with this remedy since we used it at home for poison ivy rashes.

 

The Corpsman took us down to the basement and gave each of us a large pan.  He told us to fill the pan with hot water and put in a measure of the crystals, stir it up and then soak our feet in it.  He told us when the water got cold to fix a fresh hot solution and repeat it until he came back for us.  Well, he didn’t come back but another Corpsman found us about two or three hours later.  By then our feet were purple and shriveled.  He wanted to know what in the world we thought we were doing and we told him, “Exactly what we were told to do”.

 

The Corpsman took us up to see the Doctor and as the kids say today, he almost had a cow.  He was very concerned and had us come back for a checkup weekly for the next two or three weeks.   My feet peeled off and kept peeling for quite a while, but apparently there was no permanent damage.  I’ll tell you one thing.  I didn’t have athletes foot for months after that.

 

We had snow several times that winter of 1949 and once we had a pretty heavy one.  It so happened that we had our annual full dress inspection scheduled for 0900 (9:00 AM) on the Saturday morning following this heavy snow.   Visibility was very low that morning with a fog hanging over the base and the temperature was down close to zero.  There was no wind at all and there was an eerie look and feel to the world. It was surreal. Admiral Harold Martin, Commander Naval Air Technical Training Command (NATTC), who later became Navy Chief-of-Staff and hob-nobbed with the President, conducted the inspection and he made pretty short work of it.  The uniform was dress blues with wool jersey under the blouse, peacoats and gloves, dress shoes with rubber slipovers.  I was very glad when the inspection was over and we got in out of the snow and cold.

 

We completed the sixteen-week course about the second week in February 1950 and then began waiting for a suitable “jump” day.  For safety reasons, the Command would not allow jumps to be made when the wind velocity was above 10 knots, which is about 11.4 mph.  There were a number of anemometers (this instrument has cups designed to catch the wind and spin the instrument) located around NAS, and the first thing every morning was to check the wind velocity.  After seeing them on a regular basis you can just about tell the velocity by how fast they are spinning, although they are connected to a read-out unit on the ground.

        

It seemed that early every morning the winds would be calm, but then would speed up and the jump would be canceled.  We spent our days doing “exaggerated” calisthenics that is, doing running, jumping, tumbling, and all the standard exercises.  All of these were done at a fast and strenuous pace.  We were hard and ready, with our parachutes packed, waiting to jump.

 

Each of us was issued a pair of “Paratrooper” boots and a football helmet for training and for the jump.  All of our training was with this gear, plus a “Chest” pack.  The parachutes that we had packed for ourselves consisted of the main pack, a 32 foot (diameter of the canopy) chute carried on the back and a 28 foot chute in a smaller pack that was carried on the chest.  For the jump, the main chute would be used, if for some reason it didn’t fully open (about 5-10 % didn’t), then the chest pack was opened.

 

We did not use static lines like you see the Paratroops use in the movies.  That is where you hook a line to a cable in the plane and when you jump out, the line opens your pack and pulls the chute out.  Our procedure was called “Free Falling”, that is, you ran and jumped out the hatch of the plane and counted “one and two and pull” and pulled the handle (“ripcord”) that opened your pack.  We packed a small spring-loaded pilot chute (about 18” in diameter) just inside the cover and we put bongee cords around the pack to jerk the flaps out of the way when the pins were pulled.  When the rip-cord was pulled the flaps jerked back and the pilot chute sprang out, catching the wind and dragging the canopy out behind as you fell.

 

On jump days, school was let out and all the under-classmen were bused out to the jump site to act as ground crew.  We would help the guys deflate their canopies and get out of their harnesses when they landed.  Then we would load the chutes into a truck while the jumpers enjoyed the after-glow of a successful jump.  So, all of us had been through jump days and knew what it was like except for the actual jump

 

I suppose there were 10 or 15 instructors at the school.  I never had a picture of all the school-staff and can’t remember how many there were.  On jump days most of these guys would jump multiple times.  We had one instructor who had been unlucky enough to have two streamers in a row.  A streamer is a chute that comes out of the pack but doesn’t inflate.  When that happens you pop the reserve chute and usually the other canopy will inflate before the jumper reaches the ground.  This guy….and I don’t remember his name….was nervous about jumping again, but he was determined to do it.  I was on the field when he jumped and sure enough he had another streamer and for some reason was late getting his reserve chute open and he was near the ground before it inflated.  I was the first one to reach him and he was clearly shaken.  As a matter of fact he was shaking like a dog and I think he retired from jumping after that episode.

 

There was a Chief Parachute Rigger there by the name of Burns.  I didn’t know him well, but I was told he had taken a laxative the day before and when he jumped he had an accident in his pants which were tucked into his paratrooper boots.  He never lived it down the rest of his time in the Navy.  I was to see him again in Barbers Point in 1951 or 1952 and a couple years later at Moffett Field. In 1994 I talked with him at the Parachute Riggers reunion at NAS Memphis, Tennessee.  I didn’t mention the “incident”.

 

After what seemed forever: March 1, 1950 dawned, chilly, clear and almost no wind.  A beautiful day and the jump was a go.  We were very excited.  Our jump position was determined by our class standing.  I was number 7, which meant I would be in the first load of the morning.  Our class jumped in four loads.  The jump field was only five miles away, so a load would jump and then the plane would return to the base to pick up the next load.  Everyone had jumped by noon.  On jump day some of the instructors (most) would jump two or three times.

 

The plane we used for jumping was a Navy R4D, more commonly known as the Air Force/Commercial C-47.  Our plane was specially rigged for jumping with the hatch (there are no doors in the Navy) not open, but removed completely.  There were seats for twelve jumpers and a wide center aisle.

 

There was always a senior Parachute Rigger on the plane who was the “Jump Master”.  He stood just behind the open cabin hatch and called the shots.  He was in charge of the jump once the pilot got us to the right spot to exit the plane.

 

The first load always put out two “Spot Jumpers” (instructors) to check the wind drift calculations that had been made.  They were targeted to hit the center of a cleared circle on the ground that was 4000 feet in diameter.  The pilot would circle after they jumped so the Jumpmaster could see where they landed and adjust the jump spot accordingly.

 

On the following pass over the field the rest of the load was led out the hatch by another instructor, half of the student jumpers, another instructor, then more students followed by a final instructor.  The instructors were to set the pace and instill confidence in the students (they also kept the students moving, not giving them time to “chicken” out).

 

When the plane neared the jump spot the pilot flipped a switch which turned the cabin signal light from red to yellow.  When this happened the Jump Master held his hand up and said, “Coming on range” and the jumpers all stood up, as trained, in the proper order, and in single file facing the hatch at the rear of the cabin.  When the yellow light changed to green, the “Jump Master” dropped his hand and said, “Go”, and the instructor leading the line headed for the hatch.  The other two instructors also began moving, so if you were a student sandwiched in between them, you had to go too.  We were told the “Jump Master” would push anyone out who tried to stop at the hatch.  I don’t know if that ever actually happened.

 

When we got to the plane that morning, we found a photographer and newsman from “The Philadelphia Inquirer”, the area daily newspaper.  They formed us up (Navy lingo for getting us into orderly ranks) for a picture that was in the paper the next day.  I have a copy here someplace.  We got onto the plane and found a TV camera from a Philadelphia station set up just behind the hatch facing forward (front is always forward in the Navy).  I had never been up in a plane before that morning, so I was excited about that.  To tell the truth, I was at the same time extremely exhilarated and scared to death.  It was kind of unreal, and I asked myself, “Am I really here about to do this foolish, dangerous thing, or is it merely a dream”?  I’m sure many people have had this same feeling when faced with new, exciting and dangerous things.

 

All went according to plan.  The two Spot Jumpers stood right in the open hatch as we “came on range” and when the Jump Master said, “Go”, they just kind of disappeared, like a trick shot in a movie.  One moment they were there and the next they were gone.  I felt a little twinge in my gut and the hair stood up on the nape of my neck.  We circled around and flew back across the field.  Our altitude was 2600 feet and the yellow light came on.  We heard, “Coming on range”, then stood and faced the rear.  The green light came on and we heard, “Go”.  We started toward the hatch in a trot.  My mind said stop, but my feet kept churning.  I ran right at the TV camera and just before I got to it the guy in front of me made a right turn and disappeared.  I would like to see the video to see if it revealed the terror that was in me at that moment.  I too, veered right and felt the blast of cold air, and then I was clear.  I had no sensation of falling and was just floating like a feather.

 

We had been drilled and drilled about counting “One and two and pull”.  And when you said pull, you pulled the ripcord.  I forgot all about counting, but I rolled and when I saw the plane going away from me I knew it was time and I pulled the handle (you jump with the handle of the ripcord in your hand).

 

When your chute opens, you experience a tremendous shock.  After all, you are falling at a pretty good speed (a falling body will reach a speed of 120 mph in about 30 seconds) and all of a sudden you not only stop, but you actually reverse directions as you bounce.  I was amazed at the clarity of everything.  The sun was shining, the air was crisp and cold and it seemed so quiet.  I know it wasn’t, but it seemed to be.  An amazing and exciting experience that I will never forget.  I just sat back in my harness and enjoyed the ride down.

 

A Navy SNJ (the “Texan” single engine trainer) came screaming by with a photographer in the passenger seat taking pictures.  The only bad thing that happened was that a fellow jumper swung into my canopy and got tangled in it.  I heard him yell and was looking up at him when I hit the ground.  No damage done except I hit my knee on a rock when I landed and cut a small gash in it, but it wasn’t very bad.  I think there was only one rock on the whole field and I hit it.

 

About half of the people who jump are just immensely glad it is over and done with.  The other half, want to go right back up and do it again.  I was in the second group, but I never did it again.  The elation lasted for several days while we reviewed our options for duty assignments.  My class standing was 7 out of 29, so I was in good shape to get NAS Corpus Christi which I wanted.

 

There was another thing for me to consider at that time.  The Congress had severely cut military appropriations for 1950 and the Navy had just announced that all pay grades below E-5 would lose their family allotments.  Those people caught by that order had the option of applying for immediate discharge.  Upon completion of Parachute Riggers School, I was promoted to Airman, which is pay grade E-3.  But, I would still lose the allotment to Mama.  After some soul searching, I decided to accept the discharge.  I applied for it and was processed out of the Navy on March 16, 1950, just two weeks and two days following my parachute jump.

 

Men I remember from Lakehurst:

 

Burns, PRC. Instructor

Cappocia, AA (Airman Apprentice)

Hutchinson, PR2, Instructor

Khun, AA

McCall, Harold, AA

Morgan, Frank, AA

Morrisey, Warrant Officer

Offenhauser, PR1, Instructor

Parrottee, George F., AA

Ragsdale, AA

Redfern, Mary, AA (First woman to complete PR School

and make a parachute jump.)

Seiple, AA

Taylor, James F., AA

Thomas, C.R., AD1 (Aviation Machinist Mate)

 

The following day, I packed my gear, caught a ride out to the main highway to Philadelphia and thumbed a ride to Camden, New Jersey, which is just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.  I took the subway from there to Penn Station in Philly and bought a train ticket home.  Two days later I was back home with my family.

 

“The U.S. Navy Destroyer Base

San Diego, California

 

I got home from Lakehurst around March 19 and set about putting in a cotton crop with my brother Ray.  Three months later on June 25, 1950, the communist troops of North Korea attacked South Korea.  This aggression was outlawed under the United Nations charter and member nations began rushing aid to South Korea.  The United States called up all of their military reserves.

 

It looked as if our crop was a bust, and I was not happy farming anyway.  Ray agreed to harvest what crop there was by himself and, on August 21, I went to Marshall and re-enlisted in the Navy. My sister Nell’s husband, Edward Austin had already gone to San Diego in the Navy Ready Reserve call-up.  I was processed in Dallas the following day, and caught the night train to San Diego.

 

I arrived in San Diego with thousands of reservists who had been called up.  The Navy had buses meeting all of the incoming trains to haul the men to the appropriate base.  Most of us had orders to the Destroyer Base, and I arrived there about 2100 (9:00 P.M.) on August 24, 1950.  The Chief Master-At-Arms billeted me in a transit barracks.  I had brought my sea bag of clothes with me and hung it on my bunk and went to bed.

 

On arising in the morning, I felt really bad.  My stomach was cramping a little but I thought maybe that I just needed a good breakfast.  I went outside and asked directions to the mess hall, which was down the street and around the corner.  When I turned the corner there was a line, 4 men wide about a block long waiting to get into the mess hall.  I got in line.

 

I was used to lines.  In the Navy you stand in line for everything.  In most cases, although not for chow, the lines are in alphabetical order.  That means that I was near to last almost always.  There were a couple of guys behind me in nearly every line I stood in.  Their names were usually Young and Zimmer or Zimmerman.    If an old “Salt” wanted to put a young sailor down, he would tell him, “I’ve stood in more pay lines than you have chow lines, or I’ve worn out more sea bags than you have socks”.

 

On this morning, as I stood in line I began to cramp worse and a guy next to me said, “You need to go to ‘Sick Call’”.  I decided he was right and he told me how to find the Dispensary, and I left.  I got there and the door was locked, so I sat down on the steps and leaned up against the door.  A few minutes later a Hospital Corpsman opened the door from the inside and I literally fell into the Sickbay (clinic).

 

The Corpsman got me in and had me lie on a gurney and a little while later a doctor came in and examined me.  I was feverish and cramping.   He gave me a rectal exam (called a “finger wave” in the Navy), and told me that I had acute appendicitis.  A few minutes later I was in an ambulance, with the siren on, headed for the Balboa Naval Hospital a few miles away.

 

An hour later I was in bed on a huge ward (I think 50 beds, 25 down each side) when a Navy Surgeon (rank of Commander) came and examined me.  By then I was feeling better and he said that it appeared my attack was over for the moment and I might not have another for months.  But, he said, “You might be at sea on a ship without a doctor next time, so I will schedule you for surgery tomorrow morning and get that appendix out”.  And, he did.

 

They took me in and gave me a spinal anesthesia and removed my appendix.  It was the practice then in the Naval hospital to keep patients heavily sedated for the first two days.  They used morphine injections, so my first two days just slid by unnoticed by me.  Late the next day after surgery the morphine stopped.

 

Morning call was at 0800 (8:00 A.M.).  The doctors and ward nurses made rounds on the ward.  All people able to stand had to stand by the foot of their bed for this inspection.  The doctor would look at the patient’s chart (kept hanging on the foot of the bed) and the patient, then move on to the next one, until all were checked.

 

On the third day I was feeling much better and had made friends with the guy in the bed next to me.  I don’t remember his name (I’ll call him Watts), but he was an Electrician First Class off a ship.  He had been stabbed in the back, but not seriously wounded and he was ambulatory as I was.  On our breakfast tray was a small carton (about 1/2 pint) in which they wished for each man to give them a stool specimen.  Also on the tray were some of the sorriest, runniest, scrambled eggs that you can imagine.  I wished it had been my idea, but it was Watts’ to put our eggs into the specimen carton.  That we did, and never heard a word from anyone about it!

 

That same morning the Chief Nurse, a Lieutenant Commander, came in to tell me that they had tried repeatedly to have my command send my sea bag to the hospital, but they couldn’t find any record of me.  So, there I was with only the suit of dungarees that I had on when I came in.  Watts and I were about the same size, so he let me wear some of his clothes.

 

On the fourth day Watts and I had to go the several blocks to the mess hall for our meals.  That was difficult for me.  I still had a bandage over my incision and my stitches were still in.  I had trouble standing up straight, but made it to chow, if somewhat slowly.  But the more exercise I got the better I felt.  I was deemed well enough for a working party the afternoon of the following day and had to report to the Master-at-Arms (they have them everywhere in the Navy).  He had the poor sense to assign me, over my objections, to a garbage hauling detail.

 

It was pure agony for me to climb on and off a truck and to handle the garbage cans, but I made it.  I vowed revenge if I ever had a chance to exact it from that Master-at-Arms.  Believe it or not, I actually did cross paths with this guy about three years later and had it within my power to bring him to his knees.  I am glad to say that my Mama came to mind and I knew she would not approve and I let the opportunity pass.  The guy never even recognized me, but I would have known him anyplace.

 

When I returned to the ward, it was obvious that my afternoon had been rough.  The Chief Nurse asked what I had been doing and I told her.  After that she would not allow them to put me on working parties and I stayed on the ward and did a little janitor work.  Watts, by virtue of his rank, was exempt from working parties, so he and I spent a lot of time together.  He let me wear one of his Undress Blue uniforms with his First Class stripes and soon the word got around that I too was a First Class Petty Officer and they left me alone entirely until I returned to duty.  Rank has its privileges (known as RHIP) and I had a taste of it and I liked it.  I determined then and there to work hard for promotions.

 

When I went to get my stitches out, I discovered that my incision was a long one, extending from my right hipbone to my mid-line.  The surgeon had taken stitches, and then put on a row of stainless steel clamps.  The clamps were pinching me and once they were removed, I felt like a new man.

While I was still in bed in the hospital, my brother-in-law Edward Austin had tried to find me.  His ship was the Destroyer Escort U.S.S. Wiseman, nicknamed the U.S.S. Kilowatt because of its function, which was to provide power to shore facilities.  It had large generators and could generate enough power for a small town.  The Wiseman was tied up at the Destroyer Base.  Edward had found my bunk and my sea bag, but nobody knew anything about me.

 

Finally he decided that maybe something happened to me and he called the hospital and found out I was there and they transferred the call to my ward.  There were only two phones on the ward.  They could be plugged in between the beds anywhere on the ward and were frequently moved.  My neighbor on one side was a frequent user of the phone (calling his bookie to bet on the horse races) and one of the phones was between our beds.

 

I was lying there about half-asleep when the phone rang.  He started to reach for it when I said, “It’s for me”.  Where that came from I will never know.  That was the strangest thing.  I had not had one thought of anyone calling me up until that instant.  ESP, I guess.  I picked the phone up, and there was Edward on the other end.  We talked and then later he came by for a visit.

 

Watts and I had a great time for our last few days in the hospital.  We went outside and walked around.  The weather was beautiful, as it usually is in San Diego, and the grounds were well kept and beautiful.  We went to the movies at night and enjoyed our leisure.

 

When I returned to the Destroyer Base, I was shocked. Thousands and thousands of men had reported to active duty and the facilities were stretched to the limit.  I checked in with the Master-at-Arms and was billeted in a barracks across the main highway.  The barracks buildings over there had been vacant since 1944.  To provide access, a long wooden pedestrian bridge spanned the highway.

 

I guess it was a mile walk from where I found my sea bag, still hanging on the bunk in the transit barracks, to my new barracks.  That was a tough jaunt carrying my gear, but I made it.  They called these old decrepit barracks on the hill “Splinter City”.  They were well named.  Some windows were broken out and the heads were in disrepair, but it was plenty good enough.

 

As the WW II veterans, from the reserve call-up, were processed, they were given jobs to do, in whatever their profession was.  That meant most of the day-to-day activities were now managed by these reservists.  Many of these guys did not even know they were in the reserves until they got a letter ordering them to report to active duty.

 

None of them knew what an Airman was.  The Airman rank was a new program, begun after the war, and here I showed up with that rank.  They didn’t know what to do with me, so mainly they just left me alone.  I managed to get my Service Jacket (records) activated and I got paid.  I also took out an allotment for Mama.  After that, I roamed around, explored the base, shot a lot of pool and did a lot of nothing while awaiting my orders to duty.  I missed out on a lot of working parties, but I didn’t mind.  My side healed up nicely.

 

When I filled out my “desired duty” form, I put my first, second, and third choices as Aircraft Carrier because I was certain that is where I would be going.  Imagine my surprise when my orders came through for VR-21 (“V” means heavier than air, and “R” means transport) at Naval Air Station, Barbers Point, T.H. (Territory of Hawaii).

 

My orders directed me to proceed by first class railcar to San Francisco, California, and to report to the Commander, Naval Station, Treasure Island California to await air transportation on a triple A Military Air priority to Honolulu.  A railroad ticket to San Francisco was attached to my orders.  I left the next evening and shared a sleeping compartment (the only time I ever had a “room” on a train) with another guy on the ride north.

 

U.S. Naval Station

Treasure Island, California

 

Treasure Island was reached by exiting the bridge between San Francisco and Oakland onto Yerba Buena Island, sometimes called  “Goat” Island.  This island supports the bridge about midway across.  From Yerba Buena you can drive onto Treasure Island which is a flat 400-acre, man-made, tidal island.  When I was there in 1950 the “Bay Bridge” was the longest bridge (8 miles) in the world that spanned navigable waters.  One could see grim Alcatraz Island across the bay about eight miles away.

 

I reported in on arrival to Treasure Island, commonly called TI, and was assigned to a transit barracks (this is a Navy term referring to a place where sailors in transit are billeted) with a Chief Boatswain’s Mate as the Master-at-Arms.  The barracks buildings were set back from the street, facing the street.  I can see them now in my mind and the vision does not make me homesick.

 

Between the barracks and the street, squares had been painted on the asphalt.  Each square had a number from 1 through 120,  to represent the number of men assigned to that barracks.  The squares were arranged in ranks.  Each man had a billet number, and every morning at 0700, and every afternoon at 1300 (1:00 P.M.), he must be standing on his number.  Or else he was in big trouble with the Chief.

 

Every morning and every afternoon, those needing workers were there to take however many men they needed.  For best utilization of manpower, those in professions with needed skills were first told to remain in ranks, leaving the unskilled to do whatever was needed.  For example; Yeomen (Office Clerks, Secretaries) were usually reserved to do office work, Hospital Corpsmen were sent to give shots, etc.

 

This system was almost my downfall.  I had been there only a day or two (not long enough for the “Bosun” to recognize me) when I was standing on my number in the rear rank.  My back was to the sidewalk and within a foot or two of it.  I sensed someone coming down the walk and glanced around just for an instant and recognized the kid who grew up just across the field from us.  It was my boyhood friend, and neighbor, Gene Kelly.

 

I stopped him and we were talking when I became aware our ranks had thinned out, and I knew I had missed my call for a working party.  I quickly decided the best thing to do was keep my mouth shut until I was found out.  About that time, the “Bosun” spoke to the man nearest him and said, “March these Corpsmen over to the dispensary, they’re going to be giving shots this afternoon”.  Uh Oh, I thought.  What am I going to do now?  I fell in as the last man in the rank and off we marched.

 

I didn’t even know where the dispensary was, but we marched down a street and turned a corner, out of sight of the barracks, and the next building we went past; they went “that-a-way” and I went “this-a-way”.  Nobody knew anybody, so they never missed me.  Gene had told me he had been shooting a lot of pool, so I found the pool hall and there he was.

 

Gene and I spent about a week or two there just goofing off and shooting pool and talking about back home.  I enjoyed it a lot.  Gene and I spent quite a bit of time playing together and running together when we were kids.  We were never as close as some of the other boys, but I liked Gene a lot.  The fun and games came to an end when my transportation was finally arranged.

 

With a triple “A” air priority, I was sure that I would be flying out to Hawaii.  What I did not realize was the tremendous numbers of people that were headed west.  Not only for Hawaii, but for Japan, Formosa, the Philippines and other places where staffs had to be beefed up to handle the massive mobilization that was taking place for the Korean War.  To fly, one needed at least a 4A or 5A air priority.

 

When I got my travel orders, I was directed to report to Pier 17, San Francisco, Shipyard and board the USNS Sergeant Mower for Pearl Harbor.  And that’s what I did.  I went aboard the Sgt. Mower, which was a merchant ship….a freighter….that had just been pressed into Naval service.  She was 142’ long, painted black and red, and she was scroungy.  The ship had a Merchant Marine crew, and every available inch of living space forward and below was filled with men.   The upper decks aft were filled with officers, military dependent women and children.

 

There were no prisoners on board, so some of us were billeted in the brig.  I can truthfully say that I once spent 5 days in the brig while I was in the Navy; although, I was not a prisoner. This was the forward most of the living quarters and was down two decks, the roughest ride on the ship.  My bunk lay against the curvature of the prow.  The bulkhead (wall) by my bunk, was the skin of the ship and was the temperature of the sea water.  Every time the ship pitched and rolled, I would be thrown, first against the bulkhead and then almost out of my bunk.  The bunks were stacked four high.  I was in the third, which was nice, because the bunks were very close together, and the top bunk kept me from rolling out of mine.

 

We sailed out of San Francisco Bay, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, about mid-afternoon on a cold dreary day, about the middle of October.  It was overcast, chilly and very windy.  The water was very rough and the ship was pitching and wallowing in the waves.  Not the ideal start for a farm boy on his first cruise.  I decided to go anyway (like I had a choice).

 

I handled the rough seas pretty well through the afternoon.  The old salts had told me that, if possible, I should go ahead and take all of my meals, even if I was feeling a little squeamish.  With that advice, I went below for evening chow.  I went in and got a tray and started through the line.

 

When I got to the entree, the mess-cook threw a serving of sauerkraut and wieners on my tray.  He shouldn’t have done it.  I never slowed down, just dropped my tray on a table and went topside (up on an open deck).  The fresh air and salt breeze perked me up and I felt better.  When I went below, the smell of vomit was over-powering and I got deathly seasick.  After losing everything in my system I crawled into my bunk to die, but I didn’t and was not sick again on this five-day cruise.

 

It was a rough night, with the pitching and rolling and I didn’t get much sleep until near morning when things settled down.  I got up and went up on deck and found there had been a change in the weather.  The seas were calm, the wind was light and the sun was shining.  It was a wonderful day, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

The rest of the trip I spent all of my waking hours on deck.   I stood at the rail and watched the fish jump (I can’t remember what kind of fish these were, but they were with us almost constantly and seemed to be following along with us and jumping into the air).   Or I reclined on a hatch cover and enjoyed the warm sun and salt air.

 

The few merchant marines in the deck crew spent their days putting a coat of navy-gray paint on the ship.  Why they didn’t put all of the sailors to work, I will never know, but we could have painted the entire ship twice in five days, if we’d had the paint and brushes.  I suppose the reason was, there were no Navy officers or senior enlisted men on board to take charge and get us organized.   The Merchant Marine officers really had no jurisdiction over us either.

 

One morning I was standing at the rail talking to a couple of other sailors.  There was a large cargo boom laying down and secured horizontally on each side of the ship.  There was a merchant seaman astride of one of the booms about ten feet off the deck and almost over us.  He had a gallon bucket of paint hanging from a hook on a strap around the boom and he was painting the boom and sliding backward as he painted.  Although I didn’t see him, one of the sailors said the seaman reached down, picked the bucket of paint up and painted a space and then reached to drop the bail of the bucket back onto the hook.  He missed and the bucket fell and landed flat on the bottom about three feet behind me.  When the bucket hit, a geyser of paint flew into the air and covered the back of my legs below the knees with battleship gray paint.  I had to throw the dungarees away.

 

I ate sparingly on this voyage.  The only thing I remember about the food was, that it was very poor and that there was no bread served at any of the meals.   We never learned what the foul up was, but somehow they had failed to properly provision the ship.  I’m sure the poor provisions applied only to the peons forward, because once I got a glimpse of the dining room aft where the military dependents took their meals.  It was all white linens and silver with stewards attending the passengers, much as on a cruise ship.

 

The hatches between the dependents and us were secured, so there was no way we could mingle with them.  It was almost like we were on a different ship, but I wasn’t envious, just curious.

 

On the morning of the sixth day, when I went on deck, I could dimly see land in the distance.  Slowly the islands grew and before noon we put in to Pearl Harbor and dis-embarked.  It was good to be back on terra firma.  After lunch in the Pearl Harbor Navy Base mess hall, we were loaded onto what appeared to be cattle trucks and hauled to our new duty station.

 

 

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