The first days of boot camp were knid of like Christmas. You knew it was coming but you did’nt know what to expect. Every body was yelled into formation and we always looked so beautiful as we marched in company to each part of our traing…the feet all going in unison-the harmony of the feet and the recruit petty officer in charge (rpoc) holloring our cadence , numbers one thru four-but not like we spoke them in school. Kind of a blend-upp…ooo…ree…fup,upp…ooo…ree…fup,over and over.
Our first rpoc lasted part of a day and it was learned that his daddy or someone was in congress or something and they wisked him off to be the Camp Moffitt champion recruit,so the guy the put into his place…Potts,can always remember that name-he took over and his first day he tried to catch up and over do the upp…ooo…ree…fup…so much that the following day he was hoarse and could’nt make a peep. So his junior had to fill in until he got his voice back.
Like I said-the place was like Christmas because you saw all these areas that were fenced in or open fields…and there were obsticle coarses and then some where else would be airplane hulks-or a section of a mock ship…buildings called indoor grinders where troops and troops of men could march indoors and do anything in them. And we’d march by these places and see the recruits in them training-but be clueless as to why they were there and we had not yet been…but then later in the days or weeks we’d end up there all in the process of time,it was all perfectly orchistrated,and always a neat surprise.
I loved it. The minute my Drill Instructor-DI,came screaming in my face that first morning I knew it was over and there never any more complaining about my parents-they werent here,and who ever this guy was…he had my attention right then. I know I promised myself I’d do whatever he said before my feet ever hit the ground.
I had cheated,I had a bit of preperation the night before I went to camp Hollibird-the movie with Jack Webb as a marine Drill Instructor-The DI played-just as if it was meant to be so as if planned by a higher scource,so I saw the probability of what to expect,but this was far more magnified. I remember after I got out of boot I went-in uniform,of course-to the marine recruiter that jammed his finger in my chest -knocking wind out of me-and I thanked him for talking me into going in the Navy because if the real marine boot camp was stiffer and meaner than Jack Webb played it,than I was a most lucky guy.
Our boot experience-our company 407 and our sister company-was really a good experience that got better the fifth week into the program. The rpoc’s sort of had things a little easier and got to hang out in the DI’s office and got top smoke more often,more soda’s-they cheesed is what it was. Well,it went to thier heads a bit as you can expect. One day we went to what they called damage control. We learned what the airplane hulks and ship mock up was for and had to go into the ship section with it filled with smoke and then later we went into a tear gas chamber. The two companies always went to training together…160 or so men-I can’t recall,but if we went-they went. So wee were all lined up in formation and the DI’s that were in charge of the gas tank were walking around us yelling-every body yelled-and they were instructing us how to put on the gas masks…then,one of them goes up to the rpoc’s and he’s holding these two pellets the size of a moth ball and he’s yelling-everybody yelled- at the two rpoc’s about these pellets all the while holding them up in the air so everybody could see them,but he’s talking-yelling-at the rpoc’s….and as he says “I want you to take this pellet…” he hands them to each of the rpoc’s and our sister companies guy must of thought since he was an rpoc it was going to make him immune to the gas…so he swallowed the pellet like it was a pill. The DI’s had a fit and really freaked out on the guy trying to save his life,one of them was just loosing it…thier hearts as men came out…and thier real compassion-and we saw it,and they saw us see it…and then it just seemed boot camp took a different level because they knew we now knew that they were’nt all bad ass….they were feeling people like us. I dont know what happened to the guy,they never told us that I recall.
In the final weeks of boot camp you end up seeing the people that are giving you the duty stations you go to after training. The question was asked if I had any friends or kin folk I’d like to do buddy time with-and since my older brother Frank was on the USS Vulcan I asked if I could do that…and off to the Vulcan I was sent.
The last days of boots you get to go through this place and buy a ring like a graduation ring-I got one of those,but later lost in in Jamacia…and we also bought these ‘grips’ all black and there were these lettering artists that would monogram your ships name on them with some kind of marker -all for a fee,of course. So-mine was the sharpest…the USS VULCAN AR-5.
The Vulcan was a neat ship. She was a repair ship-carryed a foundry and a cabinet and wood working shop-metal shop,welding-gauge repair…you had it broke out at sea…the Vulcan put it back together for you. My first sight of her at the pier in Norfolk was the most awesome view my eyes had ever seen…I was 18 years old of one happy kid-I was going to live on that ship.
That turned around pretty quick. My brother was not not too pleased with my plans and instantly made my life on ship miserable. He ran the laundery-and there he took all of my work shirts and had LIL’HERRON over the shirt pocket as regulated,so every body called me Lilly,or Lil..and he cut the sleeves-ruining my shirts,and making it so I was restricted to only certain parts of the ship-because of improper uniforms. One of the first things a recruit-now seaman apprentice-does when he boards ship is to tour around and learn your areas and meet the doctors and dentists and shown where the post office and the barber and gee-dunk was located. Another thing is the tests-and I did so good that the education officer was going to get me through the G.E.D. test and told me I could qualify for a certain program that would send me to college…it was all to unbelievable,and news I wanted to share with Frank. He was so non-supportive beat down everything about it-and me. I really wish I knew that he was going to be like that-but,it was sealed in fate by then…it can never be turned around. I will always remember that mistake.
People have a hard time believing all the things in the Bible can be true-Caine and Abel? And look at Joseph, the boy with the coat of many colors who dreamed dreams-and was loved the most by his father-and hated by his brothers…they sold him into slavery , and told father he had been killed. It seems my story-with my brother proves these ancient Bible stories are’nt so out of range after all. My brother Frank became my own personal navy boss-all was reported to him by his pal’s and my punishments were full face socks with his fist and easier tasks like shining his locker ’til I can see the pimples on my ass ‘ -he’d say. All this took place in the laundry…way in the depths of the ship where no one else was. He even went as far as to work it out to where I had to work for him down there…it was miserable but the cooks complained because I was supposed to serve as a mess cook first and foremost upon joining the crew, so being sent to the galley was an improvement…but I still had to go below and do for Frank after hours.
We went to sea and that lightened things up some,but not always-but by this time I learned I could rack anywhere on the boat I wanted to-so I found these empty racks near the rear of the ship and moved there to hide from Frank.
We shipped to Cuba-hard to guess where,and for a break we went to Montego Bay Jamacia for a weekend…my only cruises ever on the Vulcan-because my life was fixing to change for ever.
…and I will have to write some more later.