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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Monday, October 24, 2016

An Inspection and an Examination

Although I was barely twenty-one years old and had been in the Navy less than three years, I considered myself an “old salt”.  I wore my white hat at a cocky angle over an eyebrow and my liberty neckerchief was non-regulation pressed black silk.  My tailored white uniforms were also non-regulation with wide bell-bottoms.

The imaged I had of myself was reinforced from the unlikely source one weekend shortly after we reported at NATTC.  On Friday afternoon just after we secured for the day, Lieutenant Dugan, the division officer for our class, informed us that there would be a surprise admiral’s inspection the following morning.  The class would fall in for inspection in the central passageway on the first deck.  Since the weather had turned warm the uniform of the day for inspection would be dress whites.

Come Saturday morning when I started to dress for inspection I was dismayed to find that I did not have a fresh clean suit of regulation whites.  Except for the gabardine tailor-mades I had bought in Honolulu, my white uniforms were in the laundry and for some unknown and unexplained reason our laundry, due on Thursday, had not yet come back.  Also, I could not find my regulation issue neckerchief that was worn rolled.  I had only the pressed black silk.  I knew that if the admiral was a hard-nose I could wind up on report for a non-regulation uniform but I had no choice.  I put them on.

When we fell in for inspection and Lt. Dugan looked us over, the division officer sharply ordered me to go get into regulation uniform.  I said, “Sorry, lieutenant—my issue whites are all in the laundry which didn’t come back this week.  It’s this or nothing.”

Lt. Dugan shrugged and turned away looking down the row of white-clad sailors, most of them looking as if they were just out of boot camp—many were—with baggy blouses and stovepipe-legged pants.  Their rolled black neckerchiefs were uneven and did not tie neatly.  Their crimped white hats sat squarely two fingers above the eyebrows.  They were regulation all right and were quite a contrast to my crisp white gaberdines that were pegged at the knee and had flared bell bottoms.  My white blouse was tailored to my slender frame so that I had to have a zipper under one arm to get it on and off.  The division officer shook his head and said, “Okay, Frieze,--don’t say I didn’t warn you!”

I never knew the inspecting admiral’s name but when he came down the line he had the appearance of a stern officer that went by the book.  I heard him cite two or three for non-regulation haircuts or for unsatisfactorily shined black shoes.  At least, I thought, I was in the base barber shop two days ago and I knew that the toes of my black shoes could have been used for shaving mirrors.

The admiral halted directly opposite and looked me up and down.  He took in the crimped but crisply clean white hat tilted just a bit over the right eyebrow, the three campaign ribbons over my pocket, the first class AMM “crow” and chevrons, and the gunner’s badge on my lower sleeve.  I was at rigid attention,--my back ramrod straight, my thumbs precisely on the inverted side creases of my trousers, and my gaze fixed in the distance past the admiral’s right ear.  The admiral’s scrutiny went to my bellbottom pants then he said softly, “What your name, sailor?”

I am happy to say my eyes never wavered as I responded, “Frieze, Sir,--Frieze, C.R.”

I waited for the senior officer to tell the yeoman at his elbow to take my name and offense but then my gaze fell to his as the admiral said, “Been in the Pacific, eh?”

“Yessir—two years, admiral.”

“Well done, son.”

Then the grey-haired admiral made my day.  He turned and looked back alpong the long line of baggy regulations uniforms, then turned to Lieutenant Dugan.  “Now there, lieutenant,” the admiral said mildly, “is a sailor!”

I never knew the admiral’s name but I went on liberty that Saturday evening feeling as if he had given me the Congressional Medal of Honor—or at least a Navy Cross!  Dutchy and I celebrated sufficiently after she got off work at the lounge that I did not make it back to 87th & Anthony until after noon Sunday.  I woke up in Dutchy’s tiny apartment in the murphy bed between she and her blonde roommate Alicia.  “Allie” was a bit out of sorts that morning because she had not been able to find her nightgown the night before.  The missing nightgown bothered her a lot more than getting from bed to the bathroom stark naked.  I got my bellbottoms on and the three of us had breakfast before I headed back to NATTC.  It was a causal relationship and Dutchy, Allie, and I kept it that way.  The two were more than used to the sailors who came and went as the war went on.

One afternoon, still in April I believe, the NATTC education officer came looking for me.  The eager young lieutenant junior grade explained that he had been going thorough personnel records and he believed that with my high school record, I should apply for the Navy V-12 officer training program.

Until then I had never heard of the V-12 program.  When the lieutenant explained that it was a training program that would provide a complete college education to officer candidates followed by a commission in the Navy after midshipman’s school.  I tipped back my head and laughed.

“Hell, lieutenant, sir, I ain’t a college boy—I’m a fleet sailor!  They say they’ll make me a CPO when I get out of here in two months, then I can help form a new squadron and go back out to fight the Japs.  That’s where they started it and I aim to be there when we end it!  Besides, I got my application for AP school to learn to fly.”

Looking at the record of my high school grades that was in the personnel file in his hand, the JG—as I recall—said something like, “Okay, Frieze.  Fine.  Do me a favor though—let me fill out the application for the program.  You may not make it anyway.  They only need sixteen people form here this spring.”

Somehow that riled me a bit.  I thought about my Annapolis ambitions, the preparatory courses that I had taken in high school, and the injustice of my Annapolis examination being burned during the Japanese raid on Hawaii. I laughed and said, “Okay, lieutenant.  Fill out the papers and I’ll take the exam!”

The next Friday evening Byrd, Rineman, and I were at our usual table at the Crown Propeller Lounge.  I was reasonably sober when we got back to 87th & Anthony but, I must admit, had a pretty fair hangover the next morning when Rineman woke me and said, “Hey, Frieze, aren’t you supposed to be taking that examination today?”

I groaned.  It was nearly oh eight hundred and the examination was scheduled for 0830.  I had a quick shower, but was still foggy when the education officer put the examination packet in front of me.  

It was not a snap exam.  There were sections on English, American History, World History, Geography, and Mathematics through solid geometry.  The answers came hard to my aching head.  At the four-hour deadline I turned in my papers with the thought, “Well, that takes care of any chances to go to officer candidate school!”

I went back to my classes on Monday feeling sure that I did not have a chance at V-12.  I recall clearly that I had just finished a class on the Stronberg-Carlson pressure injection aviation carburetor when I encountered Rineman in the passageway.  “Hey, Frieze,” he said, “they just posted the results of that exam you took for V-12.”

It wtas not exciting news and I figured that I probably finished way down on the list; however, I went by the bulletin board to have a look.  The names were listed in order of grade and a red line had been drawn beneath the sixteenth name.  To my astonishment that sixteenth name was “Frieze, C.R., AMM1/c”!

It was dizzying news.  I immediately called my parents to tell them I was going to go to college.  I also called Shirley and told her to put aside any wedding plans.  Officer candidates were not allowed to be married until they received their commissions and, going to school year ‘round, college and midshipman’s school would take more than three years.  I offered to break off the engagement, but she would have none of it and insisted that she would wait.  I let it ride.

On 21 June 1943 my orders arrived.  I was to report to the University of Notre Dame ion South Bend, Indiana, for my pre-major semester in the Navy V-12 college training program.  The orders included a seven-day delay enroute.  That was not enough to make a trip back to Vancouver, but I did not care.  I decided to go down to the Ozarks to see my grandparents and relatives.  I took the train to Kansas City, then the bus to Greenfield.

I had deliberately not notified my grandparents, but wanted to surprise them and easily found their little white house a block off the courthouse square.  When I walked up carrying my zippered blue ditty bag, Grandpa Stanley was out back painting the tailgate of the small pickup truck that he had in retirement.

It was a joyful reunion and my grandparents were flabbergasted when I told them that I was on my way to college.  I recall clearly that Grandpa blew his nose on his red bandanna and said, “Well, boy, we have been real proud of you and Richard and now we are especially proud of you!”  Grandma promptly got a dozen eggs and made me one of her fabulous angel food cakes.
The author's grandparents in Greenfield, MO 1943

We had three pleasant days of visiting.  The weather was clear and balmy and one evening we sat out on the front porch.  At my urging, Grandpa got out his old violin and played several pieces that had people stomping on the street in the twilight to listen.  His “Marching Through Georgia” was rousing and toe-tapping and when he played “Amazing Grace” there in the still and balmy twilight you could see and hear bagpipes in the Scottish Highlands.  (My mother told me in later years that it was probably the last time he touched his fiddle.  He already had the first signs of a terminal illness and died the following year.)