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Bo's Stories, Page 23

THE FAMILY OF BESSIE EDNA BROWN & THOMAS MONNIE WOODS

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Naval Reserve Electronics Division 8-3

Nacogdoches, Texas

 

         On my first day in Orientation (this is a short course to familiarize the new students with the college routine), in September 1958 at Stephen F. Austin College, a guy came in to speak to the new students.  He was a Navy Electronics Technician First Class by the name of George Blankenship and he had come to tell us about the Navy Reserve program on campus.  

 

         George was the “Station Keeper” (he was a regular Navy man stationed there to do the day-to-day management of the Division under direction of the reserve officers of the division and of the Commandant Eighth Naval District, New Orleans), and his duty station was in the old Aikman gymnasium.  The division was Naval Reserve Electronics Division 8-3, Nacogdoches, Texas.  George went on the air twice per day with routine transmission of communications.  This was normally done in Morse code, but he could do voice transmissions if needed.

 

         I went by the gym at my first opportunity to see if they could use a First Class Parachute Rigger and George checked with New Orleans and they told him to sign me up, which he did.  I was one of two or three Petty Officers First Class in the division, and there was one Chief by the name of Morgan and another one there briefly that I don’t remember.  Chief Morgan worked for the Forest Service in Lufkin.  We met each Thursday night for two hours.  For those meetings we received 14 days pay per quarter, which for me was about $75.00 four times per year.  This came in very handy as the G.I. Bill paid me only $140.00 per month for attending school.

 

         Most of the reservists in the division went aboard ship for two weeks active duty each summer.  I asked to be sent to the Naval Air Station, Dallas, Texas for my training and I was.  I enjoyed most of my duty at NAS Dallas each year.  We received normal active duty pay (for our rank), plus travel expenses to and from the duty station.  My first cousin Bobby Gaston and his wife Dolly lived in Dallas and I visited them frequently during my tours there.  I enjoyed that very much.

 

         At our meetings each week I served as an instructor.  The college allowed us to use classrooms in the Thomas Jefferson Rusk building for our classes.  Most of our people were recruits without any active duty training.   As a senior enlisted man, with extensive active duty training  and  experience  I  became  an integral   part  of  the  training  program.   I taught close-order drill  (marching and general drill  activities), marlinespike seamanship (knot tying and the care and handling of lines), and the “Rules of the Road” (the rules regarding navigation and the movement of ships).

 

         Most of our officers were Professors at Stephen F. Austin.  We had Dr. Nelson Sampson, Forestry, Lieutenant;  Dr. Lawrence Franks, Philosophy, Lieutenant Commander; Dr. Prince, Biology, Lieutenant Commander  (whose brother Dr. Carl Prince delivered my son Clifford at the hospital in Carthage); and Dr. Steinkelner, Philosophy, Lieutenant Commander. Other officers were Mr. Ard, Lieutenant, who owned a furniture store in San Augustine; Dr. Wallace, Captain, Dental Corps, who had a dental practice in Nacogdoches, Ensign and later Lieutenant Grammer who was a school teacher at Arp. Grammer was commissioned while I was there; and Mr. Victor B. Fain, Lieutenant, the owner and publisher of the Nacogdoches daily newspaper, the “Daily Sentinel”.  The SFA Dean of Education, whose name I can’t remember, was a full Commander. 

        

My only contact with these officers away from the Navy was; I had one class under Dr. Prince, and Dr. Wallace was our family Dentist.  Of course I saw most of them either around the campus or around town and knew them well.  They were a great bunch of guys and I enjoyed my association with them. 

 

         George Blankenship and I were good friends.  I had an office, courtesy of George, in the Division spaces where I spent a lot of time.  When I had an off period at college, I usually would go by the Division and study or work on reports or papers for my classes.  I had a typewriter available there, whenever I needed one.  This was a quiet place to work and I took advantage of it, using the SFA library only when I needed  material that couldn’t be checked out.

 

My promotion to First Class Parachute Rigger was in April 1953 so I became eligible (one was required to serve as First Class for three years before promotion to Chief) to take the exam for Chief in 1956.  I took it and was promoted to Chief Parachute Rigger.  Chief Morgan retired and I became the Division Senior Petty Officer.  I ordered a uniform from Small Stores in New Orleans.  It fit fine, but I had to make severe alterations to the hat to make it fit.  I only bought the one dress uniform which was a summer tan gabardine. I still have it.  I normally just wore washed khakis (shirt and trousers), along with my uniform hat, belt, tie, shoes and socks, to drills.  I wore the same thing to my college classes except for the hat and tie.

        

         I decided to apply for a direct commission in the Naval Reserve when I neared the end of school and was about to get my degree. George Blankenship handled the paperwork for me and I made application.  I was ordered to report to the Naval Reserve Offices in Houston, which I did.  The Navy put me up in the Montague Hotel downtown which was near where I needed to go (I don’t remember now where it was) the next morning.

 

         I rode the Greyhound bus to Houston from Nacogdoches one afternoon, spent the night at the Montague Hotel and reported the following morning to the Houston Naval Reserve offices.  They gave me some exams, had me fill out beaucoup papers, and then drove me over to the Veteran’s Hospital for a physical.  I returned home to Nacogdoches that evening on the bus.

 

         My records showed that I had once had hepatitis (the Navy said my jaundice was hepatitis).  They told me that the only way I could be commissioned in the Navy with that on my record was to have a liver function test, to be sure my liver was O.K. The test was a simple one and is known as a Serum Bilirubin test.  In the laboratory, a serum is injected into one arm and then after a set period, blood samples are taken out of the other arm at 5-minute intervals and tested to determine the effectiveness of the liver in removing the serum from the bloodstream. 

 

         I arranged to have the test done at City Memorial Hospital in Nacogdoches where I worked the evening shift as an Orderly to supplement my GI Bill.    One of the Doctors on the staff (our family doctor, Dr. Rogers) handled the test for me, no charge, and I got a 50% discount from the hospital because I was an employee, so I think it cost me about $25.00.  It probably would be $750.00 or more now. In any case, I passed the test.

 

         I worked the 3-11 shift at the hospital six days a week.  My day off was Thursday when I had my Naval Reserve meeting.  When I began at the hospital my pay was $0.44 per hour plus my supper and laundry service for my hospital white uniforms (which were required and that I had to buy).  That was soon raised to $.58 per hour.  I worked there my last two years in college.  The second year my pay was raised to $0.78 per hour.

 

         I was ordered to report to the Naval Reserve Station in Dallas, Texas on the 14th day of April 1959.  We were living in Tenaha Texas at the time and I was working for my brother Lloyd running a hatchery.  I took the day off and drove to Dallas where I was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve with a date of rank of 8 October 1958.

 

         I continued to wear my Chief’s uniform to drills because that was all I had.  I planned to buy new uniforms, but money was very scarce and I had to order from a uniform store either in Houston or New Orleans and I just never did it.

.

         On November 16, 1959 we moved from Tenaha, Texas to Pasadena, Texas.  On November 23 I went to work for Shell Oil Company at the Deer Park Chemical Plant Research and Development Laboratory and on the 25th, I joined Surface Division 8-91 at the Naval Reserve Training Center in Houston, Texas.  I only attended two or three drills because my Commanding Officer insisted that I wear a proper uniform that I didn’t have and couldn’t really afford. 

 

The bank in Tenaha, where I had a meager account, failed and that put us in a real financial bind.  On top of that, the FDIC called in all notes and I had a $1,000.00 dollar note outstanding that was not due for several months.  I could barely pay rent, and buy food and medicine, but still I had to pay the note.  There was no money for a uniform so I just dropped out of the program.

 

         In January, I was selected for promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade (Ltjg) subject to my forwarding proof of my readiness.  Of course I was not ready since I was no longer attending drills.  I could have resumed going to drills and accepted the promotion but I didn’t.  I had more pressing things on my mind so I never did send the papers in and was never formally promoted to Ltjg.

 

Then in August 1960, there was a strike at Shell Oil Co. and I was put on shift work as an operator for a year.  I worked a lot of overtime and the furthest thing from my mind was the Naval Reserve.  What I really wanted was enough sleep.  We did not have air conditioning when I went on shift in August 1960.  You can imagine, (no you probably can’t unless you’ve done it) what it was like with three little boys and a brand new baby girl in the house, all the windows open and stifling hot while trying to sleep with the sun shining in the window.  To put it mildly, I suffered and I suffered.

        

         In September 1961 I enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officers School on Cullen Boulevard in Houston.   No uniforms required.  Lieutenant Commander George Walker who was an attorney was our instructor and the nine-month course was “The Uniform Code of Military Justice”.  Mr. Walker (later a District Court Judge over a trial in which I was a juror) did a good job teaching a dry subject.  By the end of the year I knew more about military law that I ever wanted to know.  I’ve tried hard to forget it all and have pretty well succeeded.

 

         The school lasted until June 1962 and I have not attended an official Navy function since then.   I was transferred to an inactive status in the Naval Reserve.  In August 1964 following a North Vietnamese attack on a Navy Destroyer, the U.S.S. Maddox, the congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that gave almost a blank check to President Johnson to wage war.

 

         Soon after, I received a letter from the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington advising me that in the event of a mobilization, I should proceed to Long Beach, Californiaforthwith” and report to the Commanding Officer of an LSD as the Personnel Officer.  The LSD is a Landing Ship Dock. I looked it up, and what I found follows:

         The landing ship, dock (LSD), more than 450 feet in length, is the largest landing ship. Actually it is a ship built around a floating dry-dock, and it carries loaded landing craft into the beachhead area. The hold is then flooded and the craft sail out. The LSD has a massive forecastle which, combined with a low stern, gives it a top-heavy, unbalanced look. Insignificant stacks rise amidships from each bulwark. The open hold aft may be decked-over temporarily to carry more cargo. It is well armed for antiaircraft defense and may function as a repair ship after the beachhead has been established. Some of the LSD's were originally laid down as other types and converted for use in World War II as landing craft. Their full-load displacement is over 9,000 tons and, equipped with turbine engines, they can attain a speed of more than 15 knots. They are capable of accommodating a crew of about 325 officers and men.  They usually carry one 5"/38 dual-purpose gun and two twin and two quadruple 40-mm anti-aircraft guns.

 

          To tell you the truth, what I read did not excite me in the least about such an assignment.  I was thankful that no mobilization ever took place requiring me to report for this duty.

 

Ratings and Ranks that I held in the Navy were:

 

Airman Recruit                                     

Airman Apprentice

Airman

Parachute Rigger Third Class

Parachute Rigger Second Class

Parachute Rigger First Class

Parachute Rigger Chief

Ensign

Lieutenant, Junior Grade (I was promoted to this rank, but never accepted it.)

 

In August 1966 I received another letter from the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington advising me of their intent to discharge me from Naval Service and requesting me to submit a letter resigning my commission as an officer in the United States Navy Reserve.  That I did and I was discharged from the Navy,  “with regrets”.     

 

         About 1967-8 a new Naval Aviation Squadron was forming up out at Ellington Field, just southeast of Houston.  I loved the Navy and was tempted by the call for personnel for the new squadron

        

         I drove out to Ellington and talked with the people.  I told them I would join up at my rank of Ensign or as a Chief Parachute Rigger.  The personnel officer got on the phone with the Eighth Naval District in New Orleans and then with the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, D.C. and the best they would offer me was Third Class Parachute Rigger.  I would take it in an instant now, but wasn’t smart enough to do it then.   Had I joined up, the lower rank would have meant less pay for a little while, but that is all.  I could have gone right back up the promotion ladder and even if I hadn’t, my retirement pay would have been based on the highest rank at which I satisfactorily served, which was Ensign.  But, I didn’t do it and that is water under the bridge. 

 

         I finished up with thirteen “good years” (either on active duty or with a minimum of 50 retirement points per year in the Naval Reserve) toward retirement from the Navy.  Had I completed seven more good years I could have retired and would now be drawing upwards of $1,000.00 per month in retirement pay.  I could have used it, but I’m surviving without it.

 

         Few in my family understand how much I really enjoyed the Navy.  It was a wonderful experience.  I have never for a moment regretted the years I served in the United States Navy.  I count it a privilege to have served and as time well spent.

        

The few medals awarded to me are shown below: They are from left to right:

The National Defense Medal

The United Nations Medal

The Navy Good Conduct Medal

The Korean Service Medal

Missing is the Republic of Korea Medal which must be obtained from the Korean government.

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