From email exchange with Don Wallace in May 2011 (launched from parent page Singing Swabbies):
NOTES: 1) The last paragraph provides additional information about some of the Navy’s acronyms used in Don’s account. 2) All bracketed material was provided by C.W. Paige.
Here is how it went for me. I started active duty in Oct 68, the week after you arrived. I was in Co 691. The whole experience was quite an overload for a teenager from the Alaska frontier so my memories of people and details are slim. I do remember auditioning for the Drum & Bugle Corps at some point; that happened in the Corps barracks as I recall.
There were traditions somewhat like yours, especially the junior-junior-junior advancement. Shortly after I joined the Music Coordinator position opened (he graduated) and I was selected for it. It was an RPO1 level so I got a big jump in status. It was my job to issue music and instruments. During parades I ran through the crowd with spare drumsticks, etc., and replaced any dropped items. I also made the list for who marched in the Preble ceremonies.
One episode that you might actually recall involved my other duty, repairing broken instruments. One time I was soldering a bugle back together and the combination of propane torch with flux and dried spit made more smoke than I had figured. Soon there were running footsteps in the passageway that connected your end of the barracks with ours, then banging on my office door. Upon opening it I was informed that smoke was coming out of my door and they thought the room was on fire. As you know, that would have been a serious problem in those dry old barracks. Fortunately there was no fire and I was more careful after that to prevent such excitement.
[I do remember an episode where men from Company 4006 came pouring into the Company 4007 barracks, but there were so many different kinds of high jinx going on between the two barracks that I don't recall making too much of it.]
Two parade trips I remember were to Huntington Beach in LA and also the Mother Goose parade in El Cajon. Did the Choir sing in them? It was kind of nice to have the extra liberties that the regular companies didn't get as well as getting off the base for parades.
I had enlisted with a guarantee of electronic school with a 6-year obligation and was accepted as a CTM. I went to BE&E school in Jan of 69. I was assigned to night classes. You and I might even have lived in the same barracks room. The classes were overfilled so I had to wait a couple weeks; they put us to work around the base doing evening janitorial work. After that I went to TI for ET A school so I was probably there when you went to firefighting school. At that point our paths diverged; I went on to KWR-37 school and to a tour in the Canal Zone. Later I ended up on TI again for EW A school (72-73). From there I went to a destroyer in NYC and got out as an EW1 in 75.
I hope this hasn't been too long-winded for you. I was just struck with the coincidences of our early Navy days and how close two paths can be without any actual contact, at least as far as my recollections go.
CT is Communication Tech; we were the Naval Security Group of the National Security Agency which has been much more visible since 11 Sep 2001. We ran intercept stations around the world. Most have apparently been closed down as technology has marched on. The M branchers were Maintenance…. We went to ET [Electronics Technician] A school and then to C schools for specific equipment. Yes, the KWR-37 was crypto; I'm sure you dealt with them to some extent as they were the main fleet traffic devices. You probably recall cleaning the card readers with a dollar bill and using many new words and hand signals trying to get them in sync when they were restarted or dropped out. They were getting obsolete then and many details of their operation are on the Internet now. When John Walker and his kids sold the Russians the manuals and key cards any pretense of security went out the window. TI was Treasure Island, ET A school was there until 70 or 71. There were also some C schools for radar and ECM [Electronic Countermeasures] as they called it then. When it was changed to Electronic Warfare they turned the C schools into EW A school. I ended up there because the Navy decided there were too many CTs and force-converted some of us to EW. With enough time obligated we were able to go to A school and also got our advancement and VRB [Variable Reenlistment Bonus] opportunities back. I had to extend a few months to go but decided it was worth it. Otherwise, I had orders to the Hancock which was at that time turning around mid-Pacific to go back for another tour off Viet Nam, since Nixon had just ordered the mining of the North's harbors. I was able to take and pass the test for 1st Class but got caught in the wage/price freeze so wasn't advanced until the next year. The point of all this rambling is that if I made something of my time it was mostly dumb luck. I tried to do my job and make the best of it but was not especially looking to advance my career. I was pretty disgusted with the conversion but even it turned out to my advantage, and being on the destroyer was in hindsight a good experience. There is camaraderie on a small ship that I had not felt even in the small units of the NSGA [Naval Security Group Activities]. I guess knowing that each of you is depending for your life on the other guy doing his job right sharpens your focus.
Copyright 2011 Don Wallace