Basic Electricity/Electronics "P" School—

 

The following includes excerpts from letters written to Mom:

 

 

January 8

 

"It's beautiful here. The weather is perfect and my everyday routine superb. It isn't at all like boot camp. You can travel about NTC [Naval Training Center] almost as freely as on city streets. A person can actually live and breathe and be a part of the environment!

 

"Before I came back to NTC I had the fear that I would get night classes. Well, I'm going to start night classes on January 20. Yet, surprisingly enough, I think I'm going to love it. Night classes means I'll have liberty from 1:30 o'clock in the morning (when classes let out) until 5:30 o'clock in the afternoon (when they commence). With hours like those I should have plenty of opportunity to take pictures and see the sights.

 

"The trip back here was disastrous. Never in my life did so many things go wrong in such a short period. I wrote everything down that happened. It took about six notebook pages. Here I'll just give you a brief rundown: plane breakdown, delays, flight cancellation, planes booked, overnight wait in Los Angeles, general havoc. As you can see there was ne'er a dull moment for me and many other people. I ended up paying $80 in Chicago for a reservation to San Diego instead of trusting my luck to flying standby. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have gotten back on time.

 

"Thanks to Mary and Rob, I had enough money to get a Sands Motel room in Los Angeles Saturday night."

Liberty was great. I already knew my way around San Diego, especially regarding what buses to take, because of my four liberty days during boot camp. When on liberty, one of the first things I would do after taking a bus downtown was to head for the Servicemen's YMCA. There was always something interesting to do there. One could partake in the challenge of a board game (chess, checkers, etc.), pinball or card game. More passive entertainment might be reading, or eating at the on-premises restaurant. It was centrally located so a great place for meeting new, or meeting up with old, friends. We also had ample opportunity to buy from the many salesmen displaying their wares, including having our pictures taken by a professional photographer to send back home.

Just because salesmen were at the Servicemen's YMCA didn't necessarily mean that they were the most honest or, professionally speaking, best qualified of their fellow artisans. When I first visited the "Y" after returning to San Diego I was talked into having my portrait taken. In preparation I received a leather flyer's jacket displaying a Navy insignia to wear for the picture. The results, though, didn't exactly get rave reviews from back home. On the largest of the black and white pictures (the only colorized one) the touch-up artist had tinted my face far too dark and had made my eyes so blue they could have been those of Paul Newman or Frank Sinatra.

There were other things besides liberty to occupy my waking hours. After all I was still in the Navy. Consequently there was work to do at NTC. We still had field days for cleaning, polishing and swabbing countless decks, barrack inspections, and duty days when the duty section stood watches, did additional odd jobs, and was confined to the base. Yet classes, the reason for our being there, didn't start till after the first few weeks of the year.

 

January 18

 

"I've taken all kinds of pictures and movies. Thursday I picked up fifty-two pictures and some developed spools of film from the Navy Exchange film center. Then I borrowed an 8mm movie projector from Special Services and watched the movies. The pictures and movies turned out well. Next Thursday I'll pick up two more movies that I took this week. One of those spools has assorted shots of different places on base. The other has footage showing the first Preble graduation of 1969, complete with Bluejacket's Choir, Drum and Bugle Corps and Naval Training Center Band.

 

"I'm getting more and more interested in photography and now have another still camera. This one is an Argus C-3, bought at the Exchange for $30. It has a place to hold my light meter and the flash attachment I haven't bought yet. The Argus will be used for taking slides. First I must learn how to adjust all the gadgets right.

 

"Surprisingly, NTC food is good! I suppose the reason for the good quality is that an independent, civilian organization operates the galley."

 

January 24

 

"Well, I started school Monday the 20th. There were many preliminaries, but it wasn't long before we were moving right along. There are four different classes: C, D, F and H. The Cs and Ds have all the training in six weeks. The Fs have the same in seven weeks. The Hs have it in eight weeks. We were distributed among these classes according to our abilities to learn. Not to brag, but I am in C class.

 

"Classes convene at 5:30 PM and continue until 1:30 AM. We receive an hour off for "lunch" between 9:30 and 10:30 PM. We also receive a five-minute break every forty-five minutes (mostly to accommodate the smokers).

 

"From this school I'll go on to Radioman "A" School for fourteen weeks.

 

"By the way, I've been appointed religious representative for my class. The responsibility is to keep the men informed of on-base religious services and special programs and to attend lectures and seminars put on 'to enlighten our minds.'"

January 24 was a Friday, and RTC [Recruit Training Command] was to have its second Preble graduation for 1969. Unfortunately, it had been raining unceasingly for some days, and it didn't look like a break in the weather should be expected. I was especially looking forward to seeing this Preble, because Captain Frank Borman, an Apollo VIII astronaut, was to review the men. Astronauts Borman, Lovell and Anders recently had flown their Apollo VIII spacecraft ten times around the moon. This made them the first earthlings to see the dark side of the moon. Despite the driving rain I made my way to Preble Field, but Preble had been called off (though the men still graduated). In the distance I saw a procession of limousines driving toward one of NTC's exits. Intense winter rain storms during this time were responsible for floods and mud slides in Southern California that destroyed thousands of homes and killed over 100 people.

Basic Electricity/Electronics "P" School was preparatory for every rating that had anything to do with the handling of electricity and so was a prerequisite for many rating schools. Taught were the basic laws and mathematical formulas to predict electricity's behavior and direct its use. Bar none, it was the most crowded institution at NTC and had to be placed on a 24-hour schedule to handle the flow of students.

Most of what was taught at BE/E "P" School was simply a review of what I already had taken in high school, so the classes weren't particularly difficult. Still, my interest was maintained because of our colorful teacher, an ICC (Internal Communications Chief), who had been yanked from the fleet and assigned as instructor. Chief claimed to know very little about what he was to teach, and the claim proved entirely justified. Yet he occasionally came up with interesting stories, many of which had to do with his experiences during survival training in Vietnam.

The chief's survival training tales made us hope more than ever that we would not be assigned shore duty in Vietnam. The training started out as a series of classes showing how to survive off the land and on the run in the jungle. Upon course completion, the students were sent into the jungle to be pursued by Marines. If any students were caught, the Marines subjected them to samplings of the types of torture they could expect from Viet Cong captors.

I enjoyed being a religious representative. It gave me opportunities to hear some very interesting lectures, including one on Vietnam by a chaplain who had served there, and one on the Armed Services YMCA. It was at the latter presentation where I discovered that, starting February 9, any interested serviceman would be allowed a free, five-minute telephone call from the Servicemen's YMCA in San Diego to any place in the continental USA, from noon until 3:00 PM. This special arrangement continued for some time, paid for with money received by the YMCA from a fund created to absorb the overabundance of money donated by San Diego citizens to help men of the captured Navy Intelligence ship U.S.S. Pueblo. North Korea had captured the Pueblo on January 23, 1968, and they didn't release the crew until December of that year. The release occurred only after the United States signed a letter of apology for the ship having violated North Korea's territorial waters.

Very little time elapsed before I stopped in at Seven Seas and had them tailor one set of dress blues and one set of dress whites. It was time to be made up like the salts one could see anywhere on base or in San Diego. I wanted my black neckerchief steam rolled into a symmetrical, tubular shape, and tied just so. And I especially wanted the accented "V" shaped waist for which the Navy uniform was famous. Neither I nor Seven Seas took my shoulders into account when taking waist measurements. Consequently, whenever I wore either the dress blue or dress white jersey, it took teamwork to squeeze me in, and it took half the Seventh Fleet to wedge me out. (When I finally realized that zippers could be installed up the jerseys' sides to eliminate the problem, any interest or need to wear a uniform off base or ship had disappeared.)

The first school barrack I stayed in was smaller than those used in boot camp, though they also had two decks and were of the same hoary vintage as those housing Special Companies 4006 and 4007. My first floor berthing compartment during BE/E "P" School housed about fourteen student sailors. I had a lower bunk, and a fellow named Senft had the upper. Another fellow by the name of Sloan bunked on the other side of the compartment.

 

Sloan liked to drink. He and his drinking friends would leave for town directly after class, pausing just long enough to change into civvies (civilian clothes). Then they would stumble back drunk, rowdy and noisy, in time to catch a few winks before their next class. After "P" school I didn't see Sloan again until early 1972, a few months after my ship returned from a six-month tour of duty off the coast of Vietnam. He recently had been assigned to my ship, and I ran into him (figuratively speaking) as he was buying a soft drink from an onboard vending machine.

 

Not long after our reunion Sloan was returning to the ship following a night of heavy drinking. The aircraft carrier was in dry dock at Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard, and the ship's port side after brow had been barricaded off due to repairs in progress. The starboard after brow was open, but detouring meant a longer walk around the ship to the other side. One of Sloan's buddies successfully climbed around the barricade, but when Sloan tried he fell and landed far below on the dock's cement floor. From scuttlebutt (the grapevine) I heard that he lived only long enough for the rescue team to reach him.

Graduation from "BEEP" School occurred on February 28, and the long-awaited day of moving to the new barrack finally arrived. My classes at Radioman "A" School wouldn't start for a few days. Until then I, and classmates to be attending the same school, would be engaged in odd jobs around the school and barracks. After a month of trying to be attentive into the early hours of the morning, I was especially looking forward to "A" School's day classes.

Copyright 1992, 1998 Charles W. Paige

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