A few days after I started school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill I was ordered to report to the Navy & Marine Corps Reserve Center in Durham, 12, 13 miles away.
And, of course, I did.
I had joined the Navy Reserves when I was 17 and still in high school in Charlotte. My three brothers, John, Pop, and Dave, had also been sailors, and had joined when they were 17. I had agreed to served two years on active duty and, as I recall, five years on inactive duty — attend drill one weekend a month and train for two weeks in the summer.
After I finished boot camp I served 20 months aboard a heavy cruiser, USS Los Angeles, and now I was back in North Carolina, going to college, waiting for The Letter. When my orders arrived, I reported for duty.
The enlisted man who showed me around the Training Center said something very odd: “If you decide to come…”
I stopped him right there, “Did you say ‘If‘– do I have a choice?”
Yes, he said.
If I had been a radarman, I would have had no choice. The Navy needed radarmen; it did not need journalists and that’s what I was, a Journalist Third Class.
I told him, “If the Navy ever needs me, call me. I’ll be here. Until then, see you.”
That, it turned out, was the end of my Navy career.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Journalist Third Class is a rate. It’s not the same thing as third class journalist.
Coming Friday: Call me “Lucky”