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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Friday, August 19, 2016

Lessons from Boot Camp

On the second day we were issued World War vintage 30-36 Springfield rifles, webbed belts, and bayonets that would be part of our attire in South Unit while we learned close order drill.  For the next three weeks, without liberty to leave the compound, our days would blend one into another.

Each morning we assembled at sunup for muster and calisthenics before breakfast.  After morning chow we hit the grinder and marched and drilled until noon.  Noon chow was a very brief respite, then it was back to the grinder for more drill and practice of the manual of arms with the rifle.  After we secured at sixteen hundred hours, we showered and did our laundry, then there was evening chow and class sessions that followed to occupy us until nearly taps at twenty-two hundred (10:00 PM).

Richard had by no means described everything at book camp.  Our South Unit curriculum included personal hygiene and first aid, naval customs and courtesies, organization of the Navy, and the seemingly unending close order drill and manual of arms.  It was not long before our response to orders were automatic and immediate.
My deep interest in airplanes caused me a problem with Chief Nelson on afternoon.  Flights of Navy training planes (the military version of the Ryan ST low-wing, open cockpit, monoplane) regularly took off from North Island and flew over the training station on their way to their practice areas.  This day, a flight of three of the Ryans passed low overhead.  As we marched I looked up at the airplanes, missed a step, and almost tripped the man close behind me.
Chief Nelson called a halt and pivoted us to company front.  Then he barked, “Frieze, front and center!”
I came out of ranks, smartly executing my ninety degree corners, and came to a halt in a rigid position of attention in front of the little CPO.  He looked me up and down from my sunburned face to thetips of my shoes and snarled, “You like to watch airplanes, Frieze?”
All right, Frieze, we will give you an opportunity to watch airplanes.  You are not on plane watch.  On the deck, flat on your back, and at attention.  Whenever you see an airplane, you sing out lud and clear with its identity and direction!”
I hit the deck and came to attention, my rifle at my side.  Nelson marched the company away leaving me in the center of the paved grinder.  For a very few minutes it was a relief from the marching then it got very uncomfortable.  The blacktop was hot as a griddle and the afternoon sun burned down on my unprotected face.  I was soon soaked with sweat.
From a distance I heard Nelson yell, “I hear an airplane, Frieze!  Where away?!”
I sang out, “PBY, sir!  Low over the water south!”
Nelson left me there and continued the routing for the better part of an hour.  It was a relief to get back in ranks.  After dismissal I had to endure the jibes from my shipmates and it took me an extra-long time to scrub the grime from the back of my whites so that I was nearly late for chow formation.
By the time supper was over, I was in agony from sunburn.  My face was red and blisters the size of silver dollars appeared on my neck where the sun had found the vee of my jumper.  It was so painful that I finally got permission from the duty petty officer to visit the sick bay to get some tannic acid put on it.  When I came out, Chief Logan was waiting for me.
“Got yourself a little fried, eh, Frieze?”
I grinned ruefully.  “Guess I did, sir.  Reckon it was my own fault, though.  I should have been paying attention and not goofing off watching the airplanes.”
“Well,” Logan said in a kindly voice, “it will heal.  Don’t hold it against Nelson—he is just trying to instill some discipline in all of you.  Not paying attention can be dangerous to your shipmates some time.  I did think he left you out there longer than necessary.  I have spoken to him about that.  Sorry.”
“Been sunburned before, sir,--I’ll survive and I will watch it next time, and I don’t mean airplanes!

Dick came over from North Island to see me the following Sunday.  Although I was still in detention, I was allowed to visit with him in the unit library.  He grinned as he looked at my sunburned face and my neck where the big blisters had not yet fully healed.
“Been enjoying the old grinder, I see.  How the heck did you get blistered like that?!”
I related what had happened and he just laughed, “Serves you right for goofing off and getting caught!”
I told him that I would have my first liberty in two more weeks and could get together with him in town.  He shook his head.  “I would like to but it won’t happen.  We graduate form mech school next week and they are shipping me out to Hawaii.  I kept my grades at the top of the class—which is not hard with some of the dummies that get in—and got my choice.  Our orders came out yesterday.  I’m being sent to a PBY squadron, VP-23, on Ford Island at a place called Pearl Harbor near Honolulu.”
Once more I had an old familiar feeling—that of trailing behind Dick and running to catch up.  Damn, I thought, if it had not been for that missing tooth, I would be the one already shipping out!
“Great,” I said.  “if I make mech school and get a choice, I’ll see you out there.”
“Oh, you’ll make it all right,” Dick said with confidence.  “The test is a cinch and the training is fun.  If you should goof off and flunk it, I’ll disown you as my brother!”
“What happens to the ones that flunk?”
“Hah, they send them to sea on a fast tin can!  You sure as heck don’t want that.  About the best you could do then would be to strike for boatswain’s mate or something like that.
We passed the time of day until his hour was up, then shook hands and said “so long” quite casually.  I was pleased that each time I saw him, Dick was treating me more and more as an equal and not like a little brother.