I was scared to death and it would have been so easy just to turn around and run for home where my Dad, with a knowing smile, would have been so consoling as he plotted his next move to get me a job and start charging me rent just like he did with all my sisters. I had already had experience with that. I remembered my first job as a part time stock boy at Taubman's Department Store on Pratt Street. I made twenty five dollars every two weeks and Dad took twenty of it for "rent". I was fifteen years old. I had no problem with giving my money to my family but I knew that Dad was going to use it for gambling and didn't see why I had to pay for that. Thinking of the consequences of failing in my attempt to change my life spurred me on and I got on the plane. It was a jet which was unusual for 1961 and of course it was the first time I'd ever been on a plane. I remember thinking to myself, see your life's changing already. And change it did...
If I remember correctly it took three hours to get to Chicago and it was evening before we got to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Waukhegen, Illinois... Navy Boot Camp! After arriving I, along with about fifty other guys were herded into an auditorium were we were all sworn into the U.S. military plus we signed an Oath of Allegiance. After that we were given speeches by several high ranking Naval Officers advising us of the honor and integrity of the Navy plus we got a history of the battles that the Navy had won and the tragedies and lessons learned on the battles that were loss. After that it was getting close to taps so we were told to take all our valuables and place them under our pillows for safe keeping. We did as we were told and after reveille in the morning we found that someone had reached under our pillows and stole everything of value...so much for honor and integrity!
Our first full day in boot camp started with a great meal in a chow hall the size if Delaware. After that we got a sea bag and filled it with our first issue of Navy uniforms. We were taken into a hall where we were told to strip off our old clothes and put them in a box to be mailed home. We each had to stand in a three foot square box that was painted on the floor. We put on our Navy work blues for the first time but not for long. We went to the barber shop where we all got every inch of our hair shaved off. As we were leaving guys that had been in the Navy about a week before us began to call us boots. We were divided into companies about thirty sailors per company then each company was given a barracks. after we assigned barracks and "racks"(bunks) we were told to strip down to our scivies and wash all our new uniforms because the Navy believes that all new clothes are considered unclean. The hardest thing to get clean is the white hat. Soap gives it a dull color and you must keep washing and rinsing until it is as white as snow which can take all day.
The next several months was pure hell with getting up at four thirty in the morning for inspection which consisted of your uniform your hygiene and finally your barracks. Every morning one of us would be singled out to for being a scrounge and made to do fifty pushups in front of everyone. If the barracks was dirty everything was thrown out into the middle of the floor from your racks and lockers. Not just the sailor that did something wrong but EVERYONE'S locker and rack. During the day we went to class to learn the basics of Navy life, went to physical training, and marched or if we were out of formation ran everywhere we went.
I was just about finished my second month of basic when I got sick. We were drying our clothes in an indoor drying room and the temperature was always about ninety degrees. I had just stepped in from the outside and the next thing I knew I woke up in the emergency room. I stayed in the hospital for a week and no one ever told me what was wrong. All I know is that when I left they wanted to draw some blood and took me in a room where about twenty sailors were getting blood drawn. The doctor took one look at me and waived the blood test. He told me that I was too under weight to take blood. I know that when I got to boot camp they took my weight and I weighed 112 lbs. when I left boot camp it was 130. Our final week in boot camp was called "service week". For the whole week we had to work at different areas of the base doing things that no one else wanted to do like working on the mess decks (kitchen). I'll never forget the day the gave us our assignments. Everyone in my company got the mess decks, except me. I was told that I was going to be the Master At Arms of the Reserve Battalion on the base. For the whole week I made coffee for the Officers in the morning and sat behind a desk as reserve boots camp into my office and had to salute me as they were given their assignments.
At first I was told that I would have to stay in boot camp for another week to make up for the week I was sick, but they changed their minds and I graduated with my company.
I waited for my name to be called on our final day in boot camp. We were being told where our first duty station was going to be and none of us had any idea as to where we were going. Guys were going all over the world on ships and land bases. My name came up and I was going to a mine sweeper base in Charleston South Carolina.
While I was in boot camp I took a battery of tests to discover what my strengths were and because they were in the engineering realm I was classified as a fireman apprentice.I was assigned to the refrigeration unit and spent the day repairing worn out electric motors from the sweepers. Note of interest: All mine sweepers had wooded hulls because most mines were magnetic. While I was in Charleston I took up karate but didn't get get to far because I was transferred.
There were several South Korean sweepers in port while I was there and there was a story going around the base concerning one of them. It seems that the Korean sailors went on liberty while they were in port and the next day the Charleston police showed up with a female. The female made a report that she was raped by one of the sailors and the police wanted to see all the sailors with the female to see if she could pick him out. All the sailors lined up and the lady walked up to one and said "that's him!" The police wanted to take the sailor in custody but the Korean Captain refused and asked the police to leave his ship. The police left the ship and the ship immediately left port and went to sea. Later that night the ship returned and the captain called the police back to the ship. When they got there the captain showed them the dead body of the accused sailor. They went to sea and hung him!
I really liked South Carolina. It was close to Florida and there were times when I took weekend excursions to the beaches. But, surprise, surprise! I got transfer orders. I was being transferred to Norfolk, Virginia aboard the USS-Borie which is moored in the Portsmouth Naval Station. I had two weeks to get there and went home and told everyone the good news. I was going aboard a ship and I would be closer to home.
After my leave I reported to the base commander directed me and one other sailor to the pier where the Borie was located. We were excited to get to the ship where we were sure we would be spending the next three and a half years.
I was shocked as I stood on the pier looking at my ship. The other sailor and myself dropped our seabags and stared at the ship. It didn't look like a ship. Everything from the main deck and above were gone. Everything was taken off to either be refurbished or replaced. The ship was going through what the Navy calls a FRAM which stands for Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization. She all new equipment and a flight deck.
There were a bunch of sailors aboard the ship yelling at us, welcoming us aboard and asking us where we were from. ect. We could hear the ding, ding, ding of the crane as it headed toward us on it's tracks as it took some old parts off the ship. As it neared the sailors screamed even louder then suddenly they burst out laughing and returned to work completely ignoring us. We turned to pick up our seabags and found that the crane had run over the other sailor's seabag cutting it completely in half. The picture at the right is the Borie in drydock as she was getting her hull painted. The Borie spent most of her time during repair in drydock. Click on the picture for a better view. Notice the big cranes on either side of the dock and the gang plank that we had to go up and down all day everyday until she was seaworthy. I spent most of my time as a fire watch watching the welders and making sure the sparks didn't cause a fire. After that I was assigned to the aft engine room and helped as machinists reconnected all the pumps and engine. There were yard workers that lagged all the piping with asbestos as all the rest of us were working of the power plant. Asbestos was in the air everywhere and to this day I don't know why I didn't get cancer, it was on everyone.
I'll continue this with a new entry called the USS Borie DD-704