Wednesday, December 24, 2008

1975 Revisited, part 3

This is part three of I'm not sure how many. Find part one here.

12/31/1975. Less than one month before this date I never would've imagined I'd be spending New Year's Eve in Boot Camp. But there I was and surprisingly, I was already feeling comfortable in the routine.

Easily my biggest concern going in was how my right knee would hold up to the physical demands of the 8-week training as I'd torn ligaments and cartilage in it twice in the previous six months and had my leg in a full length cast each time for one month during the recovery. It was far from healthy. The most stressful thing was all of the marching we had to do but I think that only helped to make my knee stronger.

As long as we were on base there was no such thing as motorized transportation. We marched everywhere, in neat rows. Everyone had a specific place in our platoon's formation and as the weeks went by, our improved synchronization became noticeable. We'd sing out cadence sort of like convicts singing on a chain-gang. "I don't know what I've been told but four-oh-five is growing I right or wrong?'re right...are we weak or strong?...we're strong...sound it off...three-four...bring it on down!" Our CC would usually lead our marches but sometimes he'd take off in his orange Maverick and meet up with us. Winters in Chicago could be brutally cold; who could blame him?

Our Recruit Petty Officer Chief, (RPOC) was a guy named Anthony Laverpool from Brooklyn, NY. He was the recruit among us designated to be in charge when our CC or his assistant wasn't there. He'd wake us up in the morning with his booming voice as he'd walk down the row of bunks. I can still hear him in my head..."Out the rack, Gheemoe...out the rack!" I think he was 27, making him several years older than most of us. He had my respect.

Nights were usually spent polishing shoes and studying the Blue Jacket's manual (a sailor's bible) for weekly tests we'd have to pass. I seldom had time to study due to my clerk duties so I'd go into the tests blindly. Not a good idea. I nearly failed one of them which would've set me back a week in training.

Evenings were also a time when you could socialize with the other guys. One night while I was arranging some stuff in a drawer by my bunk, Edgar came over and offered to give me a hand and show me how he organized his locker. Great! What I didn't realize until later was that after his help, my ID card was missing as well as some money from my wallet. Losing your ID card was a major sin and not one easily forgiven. I couldn't prove that Edgar had stolen from me but in my mind, there was no question about what had happened. Nobody else had access to what was in my drawer as it was always locked when I wasn't in it.

I'd have to tell my CC what happened and suffer the consequences which I was sure would mean a two day trip to Delta (not a place you want to go). Delta was for recruits who needed help following instruction and usually involved lots of physical exercises—read: "pain". I fully expected to be sent there.

I told my CC of my dilemma and he said he'd see what he could do. He arranged a meeting between myself and his boss, LTJG Dillon. I told Mr. Dillon what happened and he gave me the typical reply about being more responsible and blah blah blah, but then he did what I wasn't expecting. He sent me off to get a new ID with the admonishment to be more careful in the future. No Delta. I wasn't expecting that.

I never mentioned to Edgar what happened nor did I ever question him about taking my wallet. It wouldn't change anything. I was back in the fold and that's all that mattered.

The further along we got into our 8 weeks, the more respect we gained from our CC. The mashings were nonexistent in the last few weeks and if the focus had been on breaking us down early on, it was now spent building us up. We were operating as a cohesive unit and winning inspection competitions against other companies on base. I wasn't going to miss the experience when it was done but I'd be thankful for having gone through it.

Without question, my time in Boot Camp was a life-changing experience for me. I felt as though I'd actually accomplished something meaningful rather than just barely getting by as I did in high school.

J. R. Bartling was proud of our company. There was a look of approval that last day which hadn't been there before. You could see it in his face as we gathered together on the grinder outside our barracks one final time before boarding the bus for the airport. Although he did comment to me that I'd let him down with the near failing score I'd had on the one exam. Had I scored better, we would've won another flag to go with the four others we'd won and that was important. One more to our tally would've put us among a small percentage of companies to achieve that accomplishment. It mattered to me but going home probably mattered more at that point.

I remember shaking his hand before I turned to board the bus with my heart in my throat. I had so much respect for him that words were hard to say. I don't know that I needed to say anything. I think he knew.

I'd spend the next two weeks at home before returning to the Naval Training Center in Chicago to go through Radarman A-School before being sent to the Philippines to catch my ship, the USS Fresno, LST1182. The next three and a half years would provide a boatload of experiences, pun intended. I intend to occasionally write a bit about them as well.

To be continued...


John A Hill said...

Merry Christmas

Unknown said...

I remember one of the guys in 405 ripping me off for 50 bucks. I too didn't say much since I felt keeping a low profile was all too important.

Great story - it does bring back memories of those few months.

Gene Ednie