A Promise I’ve Kept

I remember, plain as day, the tiredest I’ve ever been.

When I reported to the U.S. Naval Training Center at San Diego, in September 1960, I already had a sea bag full of uniforms because I had joined the U.S. Navy Reserve months earlier, when I was still in high school.

There were a dozen other reservists in my company, but most of the guys were regular Navy —  they had signed up to serve three to four years of active duty; reservists had a two-year active duty obligation.

When you arrive at boot camp you are the lowest of the low -- R&O
When you arrive at the Naval Training Center you go first to Receiving and Outfitting, and become the lowest of the low — other recruits  called  you “R&O!”

The enlisted men in charge of the recruit companies, First Class Petty Officers or Chief Petty Officers, were regular Navy too, of course, and the chief in charge of my company ordered the reservists to carry our sea bags everywhere we went, right up until the regular Navy recruits were issued uniforms.  Then a truck hauled all of our sea bags to our barracks.  

Seaman Recruit Pat Stith, on his first liberty in San Diego.
Seaman Recruit Pat Stith, on his first liberty in San Diego.

We got our heads shaved that day and what seemed like an endless number of shots.  A lot of guys were feverish and all that marching, here, there, and yonder, didn’t help.

After supper we were ordered to stow our gear. Not my way. Not your way, either. The Navy way. When each man finished he was ordered to stand at parade rest at the end of his bunk until everyone finished.

Some of my shipmates needed help, but the ones who had caught on, who had figured out how to do it,  were not allowed to help those who hadn’t. So we stood there, hour after hour, waiting, waiting, waiting.

My company had eaten breakfast shortly after 4 a.m. We ate at that ungodly hour because someone had to in order to get everyone on base fed and, on our first day of training, we were the low man on the totem pole.

Now it was pushing midnight.

The shots, marching all over carrying my sea bag, and 20 hours in the saddle had taken a toll. I promised myself, never, for the rest of my life, would I claim to be tireder than I was right then.

It’s a promise I’ve kept.

NOTE: I have no idea what boot camp is like today, how much it may have changed.   In my day, 1960, the Navy stressed two things: obey orders and stay clean.  Violations were punished on the spot by company commanders.

For example, recruits caught smoking when the smoking lamp was not lighted –that’s a violation of an order– were required to smoke cigarettes with a bucket over their head.

Oh, yea, it made ’em sick as a dog.

If anything, the Navy was even more strict about cleanliness. [Aboard ship sailors were packed into berthing compartments — on my ship our racks were stacked four high — so cleanliness was imperative.]  In boot camp, the smallest infraction,  a shave that wasn’t close enough, a spot on your uniform, boots that did not glisten, was punished, severely sometimes.

I saw this:

One morning two recruits who had failed inspection were ordered to lay down on the grinder and roll over and over shouting at the top of their lungs, “I’m a pig!  I’m a pig! I’m a pig!”  After a few minutes one of them threw up. Both were required to roll through the vomit. I guess that’s why the other one to threw up.  It got to be quite a mess.

Coming Friday: I Doubt That!

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