Richard’s boot camp training lasted eight weeks. It was around the middle of May that he came home on boot leave. When I got home from work and found him sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, I was immediately envious his snappy uniform.
He was wearing dress blues with the three shite stripes around the large collar in back which also had two white stars. The single stripe of an apprentice seaman was around the buttoned cuffs. His black neckerchief was tied in a square knot at his throat, and a jaunty white hat was perched precariously on the very back of his curly black hair.
We shook hands and I made him stand up so I could admire the uniform fully. It looked good on his slender frame. His black shoes were shined to a high gloss. He looked more mature than I remembered.
“Well, bird brain,” Dick said, “how is your love life these days?”
I reddened and said, “Oh, it’s okay, I guess.”
“Hear you been keeping company with a state senator’s daughter, old Shirley Mills. You want to watch out—she gets her hooks into you, you might wind up with a ball and chain. No sense in buying a cow when milk is so cheap, you know.”
Mother, who was bustling around getting supper, reproved him, “Richard, you shush that kind of talk!”
I noticed a white-winged propeller emblem on
Dick’s lower left sleeve. “Hey,” I said to change the subject, “what is that?”
“That, my boy,” Dick said, “is an aviation machinists mate striker badge. I am going to be an airplane mechanic! I passed the test in boot camp and am being sent to aviation machinist mate’s school on North Island in San Diego bay. When I graduate from that, I am going to put in or a patrol squadron, get on a flight crew, and be a machine gunner, too.”
My envy was now a shade of deep green. I said scornfully, “Shoot! You don’t know anything about airplanes like I do! I have been for airplane rides twice and you have never been up!”
“Never you mind, boy,” he said. “In four month I will know more about airplanes than you ever thought of knowing.”
I was so bemused when we sat down to supper that I toyed with my food and ignored Rex’s excited questioning. Damn, I thought bitterly, here it was my idea of joining the Navy in the first place and I really want to fly. Now old Dick’s got it all!
After supper Dick regaled us with tales of everything that had happened in boot camp—washing his own clothes, learning to tie knots, rowing a whaleboat, marching on what he called “the grinder”, learning to semaphore and read Morse code, and on and on. My envy was a torment.
Later in the evening, I lounged on the bed upstairs while Dick gussied himself up to go out with the car and impress his friends. He neatly re-reolled his neckerchief, tied it higher than regulations specify, and re-shined his glossy black shoes. As he combed his thick black hair, I asked, “They really tell you that time that they would take me in the Navy?”
He lowered the comb and turned. His face was dead serious. “Sure they did. I wasn’t just shittin’ you, Con. You could still sign up. The way things are going in Europe, you would be a real bird-brain not to do it!
“Heck, after the way you and I used to tinker with that old Model T in Missouri, that examination for mech school is a lead pipe cinch. I made a four of on it and didn’t have to spend half the time of some of the others that made it. If you know a box wrench from a pair of pliers, you got it made!
“Like I told you, brothers can be stationed together if they want. We could be in the same squadron. Come on—wise up!”
“We-ell,” I hedged, “I dunno.”
I was in a real quandary. I kept thinking maybe it was not too late to get into the Navy and maybe make it to the academy—at least try. Even if that did not work out, like Dick kept saying, if a war came I would be a lot better off in the Navy than to be drafted into the Army. It kept occurring to me, however, that what a good thing I had going here at home—good job at the store, money to spend, and a car to drive.
“Aw,” I said, “I got a pretty good job. Got a raise to sixteen dollars a week not long ago. Shoot, that’s sixty-four a month and you are only getting 21 bucks a month in the Navy!”
“It ain’t the money that’s important,” he stated flatly. “Anyway, just looking at that part of it, in two more months I will be a seaman second class and then I get thirty-six. Six more months and I will be a seaman first and getting fifty-four. Then, after I’ve been in a year, I will be eligible to take the test for third class mech—which is a petty officer rate and they get seventy-two.
“On top of that, by then I can get into a flight crew if I get into PBYs or something and flight skins add fifty percent of your base pay. Figure it out—that is over a hundred a month in a year! Shoot, you’ll still be sweeping out the CC Store for two thirds of that. What chance you got of getting another raise soon?”
He had a good point. I did not know what the others made, but I doubted that clerks got more than twenty a week and I doubted if the store manager got more than a hundred a month. I was sure not putting anything in the bank, what with spending most of it on clothes, gasoline, and girls.
Richard settled the white hat on his dark hair with it tipped jauntily over his right eyebrow. “Furthermore,” he went on, “that Navy pay is free and clear. They give you your first outfit of uniforms and gear, all your chow unless you eat ashore, and a decent place to live. You can’t go on freeloading on the folks forever. You got to go it on your own. You think about it.” He departed, whistling “Anchors Aweigh” and flipping the key to the Chevrolet in his hand.