I was a member of the "All Florida" company which meant that we would train together and be allowed to carry a pirate's flag during our time at Boot Camp. There were three of us who enlisted from the City of Zephyrhills. We were anxious to leave the small town atmosphere behind us and seek out new adventures. The rest of the recruits going with us were enlisted from the Tampa Bay area. We were all sworn in February 4, 1957 at an elaborate ceremony during Tampa's annual Gasparilla celebration. After the swearing in, we were immediately marched to the train station and sent on our way to Great Lakes; without the flag of course.
Upon our arrival in Chicago, we were placed on a local train bound to RTC Great Lakes. We arrived at the gate five minutes before dark; we were both cold (being from Florida most of us had light jackets) and hungry. While being marched to our temporary quarters colors sounded which at the time meant nothing to us. After much hollering and verbal abuse, we were finally stopped and placed at attention. It was then that I realized with a tear in my eye that this was the real thing and boot camp might not be as adventurous as I had been led to believe. That night many of us suffered our first pangs of homesickness.
After the first few days of getting up before dawn, medical exams, shots, hair cuts, uniform issue, and classification, we met our Company Commander, GM1 A. J. "Choker" Dubay (he told us that "Choker" was his nickname). We had been assigned to Company 44. After the brief introduction, our new Company Commander "Choker" marched us to the training area which would be our new home for the next 13 weeks. Our training was about to begin.
My past experience in the Florida National Guard entitled me to the position of Gunnery Petty Officer. This job required me to issue rifles to my fellow recruits when we were to march or "push" pieces. I would also have to secure the rifles when we returned to the barracks. When I was assigned to this position, I had to go to the gunnery office and pick up the key to the rifle rack. I was told that if I lost the key or any part was missing from any of the rifles (WWI bolt action Springfields), I would have to stay in boot camp until the missing item was found by me personally. At that point in the conversation, he pointed out the window to a recruit who seemed to be searching for something in the lawn. He stated that this had happen to the unfortunate soul outside. At the time I believed him. I held this position for several weeks until I neglected to tie my raincoat properly. Due to this serious oversight, I was relieved by my best friend, who happened to tie his raincoat properly. He managed to keep the position the rest of our time in boot camp. The Navy sent a press release about his important position to the Zephyrhills News. So much for my chance at 15 minutes of fame.
In high school, I had been a trombone player in the band. The recruit band director was routinely contacted about the musical abilities of recruits. When notified there was an opening for a trombone player, I volunteered to be a member of the Recruit Band (this got me out of "Service Week"). Service week consisted of working in the mess hall. The work included either serving food, or washing serving trays and pots. Of course, everyone has heard the story of never volunteering for anything, but this was a welcome change from the everyday rigors of recruit training. We practiced after training hours were over and played every Friday as part of the recruit graduation ceremonies. The two sailors in charge of the band actually treated us as if we were real people. We were asked to march in the St. Patrick's Day parade in a little town in the Chicago area. After 6 weeks of boot camp this was like being on parole from prison. What I remember most was the litter in the streets. After weeks of cleanliness required in a Navy boot camp, everything outside looked unkempt. We were actually glad to get back on the base. The first signs of being brainwashed.
It is interesting to note that today's sailors have no idea of what recruit training in the 50's was like. If a recruit today does not want to stay, he or she can manage to become unfit for military duty and be gone. Not us in the 50's, all we managed to do was to be put back (repeat) a week. The only way we could get out was by way of the brig and a Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD). The recruit's of today don't have to worry with "tie ties" which were used to tie your clothes to a clothes line after washing. Hell they don't even have to wash their clothes in today's Navy. The length of time to complete our training was 13 weeks rather than the 8 or 9 weeks of today.
One thing that I remember well was my first barracks fire watch. It was a mid-watch (12 to 4AM). We were very close to the end of our training and I did not want anything to go wrong. We were required to memorize the general orders and be able to recite them on command. During the watch we were instructed to challenge anyone who came into the barracks, feel for their arm bands in order to ascertain if this person was the officer of the day (OOD), salute if appropriate, and be prepared to be quizzed on the general orders. Lord help you if you did not know your general orders. I was so scared that I stood at attention inside the door to the barracks for four hours, silently repeating the general orders, and worried that somebody would come. Nobody did!!!
Notice my hair in the picture on the right. I have a little curl in the front that I managed to keep the whole time I was in boot camp. When we received our first haircut, the barber in his haste to do so many recruits missed a little spot in the front. I was really surprised to find it still there. I hid it as much as possible from all the drill instructors. We were required to get a new haircut every 3 to 4 weeks. I would wet the front of my hair and try to paste it to my head. Fortunately, after the first haircut the preceding ones were just trims. The Navy allowed us to regrow our hair on top.
One thing we all looked forward to was that first taste of freedom called liberty. They informed us that this was part of our training. The only correlation to training that I could determine was to see if we would come back on time or even come back at all. You had a choice between going to Chicago or Waukeegan. Several of us decided to go to Waukeegan instead of the big city. After wandering around the streets of the city for several hours, a car pulled up with two sailors in the front seat. They asked if we would like to meet some girls. We of course told them; "Sure". The only catch was providing them with some money for beer, which of course we provided. They drove us to a local park where we were quickly stopped by the local police, detained, and brought to the police station. Our short Navy career appeared to be doomed. We were told by the police that the girls were drunk and we were suspected as being the culprits. We spent several scary minutes answering questions. Fortunately for us the two sailors who picked us up informed the police that we had nothing to do with whatever they had done. We were so happy to be out of the police station that we cut our liberty short and immediately caught a bus back to the base.
I had joined the Navy hoping that I would be classified as a Photographer's Mate. During the classification process, we were given a simple Morse code test. I found it very easy and Aced the test. I was then convinced by the classifier that my navy future should be as a Radioman (RM). When our orders came through during our final weeks, mine read proceed to Norfolk, Virginia and report to Radioman "A" School. I would soon be introduced to a city where I would spend the next three years.
Finally, graduation day arrived and the "All Florida Company" left Great Lakes for home. I arrived at the Tampa airport early the next morning in time to watch a glorious Florida sunrise. It was warm and I was finally back home!!!
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