Into the pressure cooker—

Early October was known as our "forming" days, and October 9 was to be our first day of formal training. By October 2 it seemed like things were beginning to get routine. (There is comfort in routine after one's world has been flipped upside down and turned inside out in a matter of one week.) However, "routine" was short lived and was to end this day.

Taps sounded at 4:00 AM. Upon completion of the three S's (shit, shower and shave) we marched to the chow hall for breakfast bloat. Next we marched to the testing center and sat through a long series of aptitude and knowledge tests lasting six hours. The assembly line tests covered everything from measuring existing math, science and clerical skills to discovering latent talents in learning foreign languages and Morse code. Then it was back to the chow hall for lunch. We then marched directly to the base pool for a swimming test, which we had to pass if we were to graduate from boot camp. This experience, strangely enough, was sheer hell.

We arrived with our stomachs distended with heavy Navy food and were told we would have to jump into the Olympic-size pool, make one complete circuit, then tread water for several minutes before leaving the water. In order to pass we also had to climb out at the end under our own power. It wasn't just our company. There were several different companies participating.

Before we entered the water there was a period of instruction on how to abandon ship by jumping into the water. We also were shown how to make floating devices using our regulation issue Navy clothes. Everywhere was the tight feeling of panic coupled with indigestion. There were so many men. Once we entered the water, it was every man for himself. We were cautioned to stay clear of any floundering swimmers. They would be hauled in by men stationed around the pool, whose job it was to pull them out before they drowned. If a panicker grabbed you, both would be in trouble.

More men floundered than I would have imagined. One of our comrades was from Texas and had never swam in his life. Another fellow from our company who had to be pulled out was an excellent swimmer but got caught up in the panic. Only with immense luck did I make it that first time. The ones who didn't attended mandatory swimming instruction before returning to the pool again (and again, if necessary) until they qualified. Unfortunately, there were occasional drownings.

October 2 was also the day we received our "pieces." Pieces were old, single-shot Springfield rifles, from which certain vital parts had been removed, that were never called guns or rifles. Pieces were simply things to be used from then on out in our exercising and marching drills in preparation for the eventual graduation ceremony at Preble Field.


"Preble" was the informal name of the ceremony carried out each Friday at Preble Field, where graduating companies paraded and did their exercises before the captain of Recruit Training Command, his guests, and families of many of the graduates. Formally, it was known as the Brigade Review. Here, boots used their pieces for the last time.

Using pieces was another discipline-teaching tool. They also made excellent torture devices. It was not uncommon for a Company Commander, or CC, to order a boot to hold his piece across both palms at arms length, arms perpendicular to body, for several minutes. (Try holding a broom that way and see if it isn't torture!) We had to become skilled at taking pieces apart, cleaning and polishing them until they glowed, putting them back together, stacking them properly, drilling with them, etc. Very seldom did a recruit have to actually sleep with one. Those who found themselves in that predicament were usually fellows who mistakenly called their piece a gun.

We had an official inspection on October 9, which marked the beginning of our formal training. We also learned that our company, Company 675, would be graduating on December 6. This didn't mean all would be graduating on that day. It wasn't unusual for men to drop back to younger companies for various reasons, like too many failures at passing the swimming or any other test, or transferring to one of the special companies like the Navy's Drum and Bugle Corps (Company 4006) or the Bluejacket Choir (Company 4007).

If I remained with Company 675, my leave would start as of December 9 and last fourteen days. This I was looking forward to. However, I had volunteered to join the Bluejacket Choir soon after arriving at camp, citing as qualifications my participation as a member of the Haven United Methodist Church choir for a few years plus one semester of Cadet Choir training at Jackson High School. If accepted I would stay in boot camp an additional week or two. Drat!

Auditions for choir were held on the morning of October 15, when men from several companies received walking chits and crossed the bridge, meeting at the choir rehearsal building #214. Included in the list of hopefuls from Company 675 were Gilson, myself, Borgia and two others. However, on our way across the bridge to the choir building Gilson turned back. He had a bad head cold at the time.

It was true that spending an extra one or two weeks in boot camp was a definite disadvantage. However, there was a list of advantages that I felt more than compensated. There was the relative honor and prestige which being in the Bluejacket Choir granted, a possibility of trips away from the Naval Training Command to sing at civilian locations (shortly after my arrival in the choir the more senior members sang during half time at a Chargers football game), plus I'd have liberty more often than if I had stayed in my old company.

Members of Company 675 would be allowed one day liberty, which would occur on the weekend after their graduation. A member of Special Company 4006 or 4007 could be allowed as many as four days of liberty, two on Sundays and two on Saturdays. The total allowable number of liberty days for any particular boot depended on whether the individual's Special Company was 4-0 (perfect) during their performance at Preble Field graduation each week of his participation. Less than 4-0 at a Friday graduation and nobody in the company got liberty that weekend. (During my tenure we were always 4-0, so I became very familiar with San Diego.)

Another benefit was to sing at North Chapel each Sunday at one or more of the services (optional). A dubious honor was the ever-present possibility of a surprise visit at rehearsals by Rear Admiral Bergner, commander of the Naval Training Center, or Captain Fisher, commander of the Recruit Training Command.

The bases for selection during the audition were: accurate musical responsiveness, above-average vocal quality and superior Armed Forces Qualification Test scores. Previous choir experience was desirable but not necessary. There was also an attempt to maintain balance between tenor, baritone, and bass sections of the choir. Three of us from Company 675 were accepted as prospective choir members at the end of the audition, though our transfers wouldn't occur right away. In fact, it would not be until November 1, our 3-5 day, that we would make the change.

Later, Gilson auditioned for the choir and was accepted as both a singer and organist, although when the new list came out naming transferees to the choir his name was missing, and I was greatly disappointed. When we next met he explained that it was the extra weeks required in boot camp (and away from his new wife) that had ultimately discouraged him from transferring.


Gilson remained with Company 675, where I would occasionally visit with him and other friends made during my stay in that company, including Hallenbach, Daane, Robertson, Knierem, Emert, Carlson, Kelley and Peterson. Gilson later fulfilled his ambition to become a Chaplain's Assistant. We got together a few times when he was stationed on the U.S.S. Bon Homme Richard, an aircraft carrier informally called the "Bonnie Dick." He tended to be more pious than I, and he was always involved with one religious-oriented project or another. Rosalee eventually moved to the west coast, and I visited them at their place near San Diego.

Meanwhile, there were still many things to learn and do with Company 675. One of the most important of these happened on October 23, when we were given our individual career orientation interviews and allowed the opportunity to make a wish list of six Navy careers. The Navy would make the ultimate decision. My greatest personal interest lay in foreign language interpreting. However, the results of the language aptitude test had disqualified me. The realistic, final choices were:


Journalist (JO): Including 12-week class "A" school; Assists public relations officer; Prepares material for hometown newspapers; Requires a security clearance.


Communications Technical Technician (CT): Including 22-week class "A" school; Performs special communication duties under cognizance of the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations); Requires a security clearance. CT's were informally called "gumshoes" and were charged with ensuring that Naval communications adhered to the guidelines of Comsec, or communication security. They were stationed as monitors of air transmissions throughout the fleet. This career was closed to me as I would have to re up (re-enlist) for another two years in order to qualify. No way!


Radioman (RM): Including 24-week class "A" school; Transmits and receives messages and operates and repairs equipment; Requires security clearance. The schooling would mainly stress basic message formats for Teletype, voice, and "CW" (carrier wave) telegraphy. It would also concentrate heavily on how to operate a wide variety of Navy communications equipment. I was warned by several people against putting "RM" as a choice, especially Mr. Moak. He said Radiomen were in great demand in Vietnam on the gunboats that patrolled up and down the rivers and deltas because their life expectancy on gunboats was short.


Interior Communications (IC): Electrical maintenance and repair of communication systems; Must stand gyroscope watches; Requires security clearance.


Yeoman (YN): Clerical plan and secretarial duty with typing, filing and use of audio recording equipment; Requires a security clearance.


Instrument Man (IM): Fixes watches and all instruments, e.g., clocks, cash registers, etc.; Requires a security clearance.

- - - - - -

We spent most of the next day, October 24, at the grinder being drilled in marching and doing exercises with our pieces in preparation for the company's eventual graduation ceremony at Preble Field. Drilling and attending classes were our staple diet throughout this period. Before we left in the morning, however, there was a small matter of carrying out our field day prior to barrack inspection. Butt kits (ash trays) had to be ash free, shit cans (trash receptacles) empty and in virginal condition, center boards (long, picnic table-like structures extending the length of the barrack down the center between the two rows of bunks, or "racks") had to be dust free and glistening, etc. At least now all of us were well aware of the difference between Navy swabs and Q-TipsTM. It had been some time since the last confused boot had been forced to scrub the deck with the cotton swab he had mistakenly brought to the CC in response to an order to "get a swab."

One carrot that kept me going was the knowledge that in a few days, our 3-4 day to be exact, we would relocate across the bridge, and on the 3-5 day I would make the choir barrack my new home. I would be able to turn in the piece I had so frequently and so painstakingly disassembled, polished and reassembled, which had become such an integral, and unwanted, part of my life. The only other carrot was the boot camp version of pay day.

Initially, the Navy didn't allow us to receive any actual pay. Instead, we were issued credits against the money being accrued for each of us. About once a week we were marched to the local PX (Post Exchange), where we could buy razor blades, toothpaste, soap, etc., paying with our credits. Anything extra, not considered a necessity, had to be purchased with our own money, and few of us had brought an abundance of that commodity. The Navy's logic in handling our paltry money in this way had its humanitarian side. From past experience it had learned that a boot was not likely to save enough money, if left to his own resources, to pay for passage home for his post boot camp leave. Thus, the Navy had taken on the role of parent in order to keep an adequate amount of each recruit's pay safe from being spent imprudently. About half way through boot camp we began to receive $30 per pay day in real money. The remainder was issued to us only after graduation.

Shortly after we took up residence on the other side of the bridge I received a "care package" from Mom consisting of fudge, candy, gum, etc. When I wrote to thank her, on October 28, I thanked her from myself and the rest of the guys in my company. It was boot camp policy to share all received eatables with everyone in the company. No hoarding and no leftovers. Everything had to be eaten on-the-spot. In response to her question as to what I'd like for Christmas, I suggested adjustable razor cartridges, shaving cream, possibly a little money, and a collection of family pictures.

The new barrack, built on the same floor plan as the former, was as old as our old barrack had been new—meaning "very." Most barracks on this side of the bridge had been hurriedly built for World War II recruits and were not intended to be permanent structures. Nearly thirty years later they still didn't look permanent. Though the building was in a state of borderline dilapidation, it gave me a more homey feeling than did our prior. It was directly across the channel from the other barrack and allowed a comparably fabulous view of the channel, bay, ships, city, and in the distance, the ever-elusive mountain range, not to mention the beautiful palm trees dotting a sunny, poetry-inspiring panorama.

Company 675 was getting a few more privileges, now that we had passed our 3-4 day, including access to candy vending machines called "gedunk" machines (pronounced GEE'dunk, soft "g"). I was learning more about the privileges available to choir members, also. Phone chits allowing access to public telephones at the R-4 building were available as of the first day in Company 4007. Additionally, we would be issued our dress blues and whites on the first day in choir rather than on our 6-6 day, customary with the regular companies. Marching and singing at Preble required dress uniforms as did North Chapel services and extra-curricular singing engagements. Most importantly to us, we needed the dress uniforms for "prospective" liberty days.

It was during Company 675's "duty week" that the ASMO sheet, or list of recruits being transferred between companies, came out with my name on it for transfer to Company 4007, effective November 1. My duty week assignment had been to work at the medical recording center helping file medical records and assorted personnel data. This assignment ended as Bluejacket Choir inaugurated the three of us, along with several other fellows coming in from other companies, into a whole other dimension of the boot camp experience. Instead of working out with the "piece," soon there would be plenty of exercise for my baritone singing voice.

Copyright 1992, 1998 Charles W. Paige

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