The balance of August went by rapidly in a blur of classes and rowing whaleboats on San Diego Bay. (Later I did not understand their insistence that we know how to row as all of the whaleboats in the U.S. Navy by then had gasoline engines.) It callused our hands and toughened our back muscles.
During the first week of September examinations for special training were give. I requested aviation machinist mate (AMM) school. The Bluejacket’s Manuel spelled out the duties as: “Assemble, service and repair airplanes and airplane engines. Splice aircraft wiring. Know principles and theory of flying.”
Richard had been correct. The examination was a snap. It dealt primarily with identification and use of basic hand tools and question concerning mechanical knowledge and skills. The time limit was one hour. I finished in 35 minutes and when the grades were posted I had a 4.0 and was accepted for AMM school on North Island.
Sometime around then, we from the Pacific Northwest had a real run-in with the Texans in the first platoon. One evening just before taps I was coming back from the library and there was a commotion outside our barracks. I found a circle of Texans taunting Jimmy Williams, a small fellow from Astoria. In high spirits, they were calling hi a “prune-pickers” and using him as a human medicine ball; pushing him from one side to the other. The ringleader appeared to ba a tall, drawling Texan, named D.S. Langford.
Jimmy was not particularly enjoying the game. I shoved my way through the group and confronted Langford. “Okay,” I said, “why don’t you guys pick on someone your own size?!”
Langford looked down at me from his more than six-foot height. “Well, if it ain’t our plane spotter! Why don’t you find someone my size?”
My short-fused temper asserted itself. “Why don’t you Texans get off our backs,” I fumed. “You think you are God’s gift to creation but you are as full of crap as a Christmas goose!”
Langford came at me and I ducked a wild swing and tripped him onto the ground. He came up swinging and a melee erupted. Jimmy went scooting up the stairs yelling for the second platoon.
In less time than it takes to tell, a battle royal was in progress that worked its way into the first floor barracks. As more of the second platoon prune pickers poured down the stairs there were blows, grunts, and a crashing of metal bunk frames. It halted abruptly when there was a sudden roar, “A-TEN-shun!!”
“All right! Who started this?”
Langford was standing directly across the aisle from me. He looked at me and I stared back at him. After a hesitation he said, “I reckon maybe I might have, sir. I threw the first punch, I guess.”
That did not seem right to me so I spoke up, “Only after I tripped him, Chief.”
The others caught on and there was a chorus of voices all taking the blame. Nelson finally shook his head. “Okay, you people, get this mess cleaned up by taps and hit the sack. I will be back and I do not want to hear one sound that the base commander might hear at his house on the hill!”
Both platoons pitched in and we had the first floor barracks set to rights by the time the bugle notes of taps echoed across the compound and the lights went out. I had just fallen asleep an hour later when the man in the next bunk nudged me and whispered, “Pass the word, fall in in uniform with leggings and rifles!”
In the moonlight I could see Chief Nelson glowering from the doorway. I could hear muffled noises from the floor below as the Texans turned out. Nelson got us in ranks and marched us out onto the grinder. For two hours we marched in close order drill to muttered commands in a moonlight parade.
As it turned out, Nelson’s playing one platoon against the other paid off. There was no company on the station that marched with the precision of 40-52 as each platoon endeavored to be the best. The following weekend all companies, in dress whites with leggings and rifles, were transported to the Marine Training station for a dress parade and admiral’s marching competition.
Just before we marched out with Chief Nelson in the lead, he addressed us, “Okay, you people, we are gonna have our own little competition today. I want to see who the best platoon may be. See if you can keep those lines straight and stay in step!”
It was a heady feeling when we marched out onto that huge parade ground to the beat of the marine band playing Sousa marches like “Under the Double Eagle” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever”. Our lines were precise and our heels hit the ground as one man, all eyes straight ahead with our bayonetted rifles exactly aligned. There were ten companies of sailors and ten of marines.
It was an even more heady feeling when, at the conclusion and we were all drawn up on the parade ground at parade rest, Chief Nelson was called front and center with our recruit company commander and they were presented by the admiral’s lady with the blue and gold Navy E flag for excellence. Company 40-52 was the best, including the Marine Corps!
Finally, we of Company 40-52 were Navy shipmates. It no longer mattered where we were from, we were the best. We celebrated together.
The admiral’s review at the marine base had been on a Friday. The next day while we were getting ready to go on liberty, word was passed that the results of the tests we had and assignments had been posted on the bulletin board. I hurried to check the list and there was my name on the assignments to AMM school, North Island. The name immediately beneath mine in the alphabetical order was “Langford, D.S.”
As I turned to go, the tall Texan and onetime foe was standing behind me. He grinned. “Well, Frieze, looks like we have not seen the last of each other!”
I smiled ruefully. “No, I guess not. You know, Langford, you didn’t have to try to take the blame for that ruckus that got us the moonlight parade last week.”
“Well hell,” he said, “you didn’t have to chime in either. Sure was a good little se-to while it lasted. No hard feelings?” He stuck out his hand.
I laughed and shook his hand. “No, no hard feelings. What say we go ashore and have a couple of beers to celebrate?”
We went and had a great liberty afternoon.