1975 Revisited

I think I've mentioned here before that I was a lousy student in high school and probably going back before then. I'd include a senior photo from my high school yearbook but I never bothered to have one taken. I did the minimum to get by and for the most part, I did a good job of that while falling through the cracks. With six kids in our family and a father who was away on business much of the time, it was easy to slide by undetected so long as none of my teachers were calling home. I honestly don't think my parents ever asked to see my grades. If they did they never expressed any concern about the education I wasn't getting. I didn't even bother to attend my graduation ceremony. How disconnected was that?

The summer of '75 after my senior year was a blast but I knew my carefree days were numbered and when nearly all my friends headed off to college in the fall, the party was over. It didn't take much to convince me that I needed to do something more with my life other than my factory job at Northland Aluminum in St Louis Park making Bundt Pans. I remember being new on the line one night when one of the workers asked me if I was I.H., short for Industrial Help. They were the day laborers who were bused in from the inner city for a shift of work. "No man, not me. I'm an employee here; what do I look like?" I was being mistaken for somebody on the lower rungs of society's ladder and that thought stayed with me.

I enrolled at Hennepin Technical College that fall in their drafting program while working nights at the Holiday gas station on Highway 55 in Golden Valley. I wasn't very invested in either endeavor. I'd leave school during lunch break to grab a beer or three with one of my classmates at a place called the Fox Den or Wolf's Den (or some such name) by the gravel mines on County Road 18 not far from the college. I had little to no direction in my life nor any real ambition.

Queue the music

Diana Ross, Do You Know Where You're Going To, (hey, what can I say? ...work with me on this)

In early December of '75, my sister Jackie would suggest that I pay a visit to the Navy's recruiting office in Robbinsdale. I'd never considered joining the Navy or any other service but at that point, I could clearly see that my options were limited.

I walked into the recruiter's office and sat down with Chuck Wilson whose specialty was air traffic control. It didn't register with me at the time that I too could be a controller. I'd have to take the aptitude test to see what I'd qualify for. As it turned out, I scored high enough to get a seat in Radarman School. I don't know if I'd have qualified for Air Traffic Control School because I never asked. I don't remember it being an option so my guess is I didn't make the grade.

I spent a week kicking around the idea of enlisting while Chuck would call me occasionally to see how I was doing, all the while coaxing me along through one step of the process after another. I remember driving with him to a building in Minneapolis where I'd receive my physical. I asked him at what point was it considered a done deal—that I'd be joining: when would I sign the next four years of my life away? He said that once a person has gone through the physical he likes to think they've made a commitment. That's where I was. It was decision time.

I had one stipulation for Chuck: I wanted to go out and visit my parents in Pottstown, PA prior to beginning my service. It must've been simple enough because he arranged for me to enter through the Recruit Depot out by my parent's home. No more requests, I had no good reason to say no.

I flew out to see my parents and Keith and Tim during Christmas week before entering the Navy. I remember driving to the Norco (short for North Coventry) Mall in Pottstown and hearing the song Do You Know Where You're Going To by Diana Ross. It was popular at the time. That song had special meaning for me as I really didn't know what would become of my life. Hearing the song today takes me right back to that same stretch of Highway 100 on the way to the mall and the thoughts I was working through. It's funny how music can capture a moment for you.

I remember going to the recruiter's office in Pottstown for my exit from the civilian world. I would meet a couple of other guys there who would also be a part of my Boot Camp company, James Carlisle and Scott Trimbur.

From the recruiter's office, we'd be taken to Philadelphia where we'd meet the rest of the enlistees and be sworn in. It still wasn't too late to back out but I was fully wedded to the plan at this point. After being sworn in with the 30-40 others, we were put on a train for the nearly 800-mile trip to Chicago. We were told we'd be riding in sleeper cars but they never appeared. The cheap seats had us crammed in with no room to lay down. That would be a sign of things to come.

Welcome to the Navy!

To be continued...


Anonymous said…
It was actually the Wolfs Den. No longer there however. Anxiously awaiting the rest of the story....
Kevin Gilmore said…
Yeah, that's the name. Just a tiny shack of a place. Thanks.
Unknown said…
wow i really love this, its kinda similar to where im at now im actually going into the Navy great choice in my opinion thank you for showing me this blog!
Kevin Gilmore said…
You're welcome. Do you know where you'll be going to basic training and did you get some kind of guaranteed school/training where you'll report after basic?

It's all about what you make of it. For me, it was the absolute best choice I could've made. College just wasn't in the cards for me at the time. I got to see so many places I'd have never seen otherwise. I grew up along the way as well. The only downside for me was the last year of my four year enlistment...I really wanted it to be over. I was feeling anxious about falling behind people I'd graduated from high school with. After all these years though none of that matters. I'm doing fine and if given the same set of circumstances I'd do it all over again the same way.
Unknown said…
I'm not sure yet I'm barely in the beginning stages of enlisting so hopefully I'll be going to meps by the end of the month, I'm trying to get hospital corpsman so most of my time is studying.
Exactly, my family hasn't been very supportive about my choice mostly because they prefer college and they think this will set me off course, but I personally think it's a win win situation. I suppose only time will tell:)
I'm glad your decisions have gotten you to a good place
not a lot of people can say the same

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