Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Navy and I

President John F. Kennedy gave a speech on TV. He said the Soviet Union was sending missiles to Cuba and they would be are were aimed at the United States. He announced he was putting an embargo around Cuba not allowing any more USSR ships with arms through.

That was my call to arms.

The next day I went out and joined the Naval Reserves. That was in October 1962. I had my boot camp in December on the Navel Reserves Base. July 10, 1963, I went on active duty.

I went to the Naval Station in Charleston, South Carolina, which is on the Cooper River. I stayed there about 38 days awaiting on an assignment. Me and several thousand others. We did not just sit around and read and wait while our orders were being processed. Each morning at 8am we had to stand on a number and petty officers over the various details would look us over and pick who they wanted.

I felt like a slave standing on the auction block or maybe waiting to be picked for a team. Through this daily process if any petty officer liked your work they could pick you to report to them directly each day, without having to report to the auction block.

I went to the various work places. One time I had to paint a certain deck area of a little boat that was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Naval boat. I suppose the name of it at the time he was aboard it was Navy One. It was a luxury little boat with all the comforts of home, if your home has accommodations for a press corps. While I was painting a wave knocked me over into what I just painted and I got paint all over my clothes, plus a good skid look on FDR’s deck. Needless to say, I was not picked by the petty officer-in-charge to come back. One time a group of us cleaned up the Chief’s Club; and other details I have forgot.

One morning I was picked by Special Services, which was the theater on the base. The only thing I remember we did were sweep between the seats, mopping, waxing, and buffing the lobby. There were only two of us on the detail The petty officer-in-charge of the detail liked our work and told us from then on report directly to him.

Which we did. We more or less kept the garbage cans emptied and picked up litter outside. The detailed crews, which we were no longer in, would do the grunt work of mopping, waxing, and buffing. It didn’t take us long to realize the petty-officer-in-charge, his boss which was a chief, and us two would spend about two hours with them each day watching the latest movie that just came in. And we were free to make comments and give our opinions. Not too much unlike Science Fiction Theater.

My friend soon found him a nice little couch to sleep on in a dressing room. And I found me a nice seat in another dressing room to read. Life was good.

My friend was from south of Atlanta, someplace like Griffin, Georgia. I wrote my family often and once my other found out the guy’s name and where he was from it did not take her long to rake up kin – we were related. Again, a small world.

All good things run their course, and lounging around the theater was no exception. While we were sitting around chatting one day, the wave who worked in the office that one time bitterly told me to empty her “shit can”, but after a while she became friendly, I think she is repelled by strangers – the wave came down and told me my orders came in, report to the assignment center.

At the window a personnelman gave me orders and papers to fly to Philadelphia, then take a shuttle or cab to the bus station in downtown Philly and take a bus from there to Lakehurst, N.J. and report to the ship the U.S.S. J.K. TAUSSIVE.

What I didn’t know and apparently, who ever created the orders didn’t either, was Lakehurst, N.J., was thirteen miles inland and the only vessels they had were air vessels. It was a Naval Air Station, where incidentally, the Hindenburg from Germany exploded in the mid-air in 1939, causing the announcer, who would broadcasting live, to break down crying with emotion.

I was running low on money. It was a week before payday.

I flew to Philadelphia and took an airport limousine to the bus station, which I had to pay out of my own pocket which left me with two dollars.

Riding on the bus through the New Jersey countryside was interesting. I have never been that far north before. I was glued to the window taking in everything.

The bus let me off at the gate of the Lakehurst, New Jersey Naval Air Station, or better known as NAS Lakehurst. At the gate was a big two story house that you instantly know by the style it was there long before the Naval Station was there. I went in the front room to the duty office and gave them my orders.

They said they didn’t have ships there. They were thirteen miles from the ocean.

Now what? I only have two dollars.

The officer on duty got on the phone and found out the U.S.S. J.K. TAUSSSIG was anchored in Boston. He said maybe I should go there.

I said I needed a ticket. He said they would have to wait until Monday morning to process and get new orders processed. They took me to the main enlisted men barracks and gave me a meal ticket to get me in the chow hall for several days. I think this was on a Friday night.

I was given a sheet, blanket, and a pillow. I was shown into a huge dark room that I could see nothing but an red lit exit sign on one end. After my adjusted I could make out silhouettes of bunk beds. It was a big room with very few people there. I did hear movement noises and maybe some breathing or snoring.

In the dark, I found a bunk bed that apparently had no occupants. No bed linen. I had my duffle bag – I don’t know what I did about that, I don’t remember if I found an empty locker or just put it by my bed or what. I put the bed clothes on, stripped down to my skivvies (as us Navy people said at the time), and went to sleep. It was a tiring day, I was exhausted, I fell instantly to sleep.

However, I dreamed I was in the barracks in Charleston and we were being bombed by the Russians! Bombs were hitting just outside the windows. Loud wind-whistling then loud explosions. I got up and started running, I did not know where to go, we were being invaded – or so I thought.

I ran out into the lobby and two men in civilian clothes were coming in from a night out. I ran up to them and yelled that the Russians were bombing all over the place, what should we do? Where should we go?

Both of the men looked at me puzzled. They told they thought I was having a bad dream.

And I woke up as they told me that. Shit!

They walked away looking at me, probably wondering if I should be in the funny farm someplace…. And should they report me?

I went back into the big black room with the bunk beds . I had no idea where I was sleeping before I got up and started running. I had no idea where my belongings were and I had no idea where my two dollars were.

It is hard to remember what solution came of that. I think I just searched and searched around and found the bed and my shoes and under them. I do remember feeling terrified and helpless.

Whatever solution I came up, I got through it and thought it was over it until at breakfast that morning in the chow hall I looked up and saw the same two men who I talked to in a frantic fashion only several hours before were sitting eating, watching every move I made and making comments to themselves.

Well, I might as well grab the bull by the horns and get this over with. I walked over and introduced myself to them and explained what had happened. They were friendly and understanding. They told me a lot about the base and the neighboring area.

One was from North Carolina and one was from New York. But, strangely the laid back one with the Southern accent was from New York and quick concise speaking one was from North Carolina. I thought they were playing with my mind, but a couple of months later I got a ride with them as far south as North Carolina, and they rightly presented themselves.

I hoped things would get better. This wasn’t too good of a start.

To be continued – eventually.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Steve said...

Due to a foot deformity my service didn’t last that long, though I cleaned out a barracks in the USAF when we got into with Ghaddafi (whose name can not be misspelled). Looking forward to more….

12:27 PM  
Blogger ET said...

Steve,
Thanks. I am making a list, trying to put some of the events in order that they happened.

1:00 PM  

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