At some point not far into basic training I heard rumors that Hospital Corpsman also served with the Marines. This was more than somewhat disconcerting! Now, if I remember right, my Recruiter never made any mention at all of this fact! Possibly that was the reason for the sly sparkle in his eye, and that shit-eating grin? Still, there are a lot of Navy Hospitals, and ships, and they all need Corpsmen, so…. Not to worry!
Every item you now own, which was only what was issued to you, had to be stored in those three little locker shelves and that one little drawer in it, with the lock on it that best not be discovered unlocked! (I found that out the hard way.) The ditty bag? Now what kind of thing is that…? Doo wah ditty ditty dum ditty bag!! And about those blue wool trousers with a flap in the front with 13 friggin buttons…. What if ya gotta go really bad? Cripes, ya coulda went twice in the time it takes to get those damn things undone! The ditty bag Xmas song was learned of course: “On the first day of boot camp my Navy gave to me, a ditty bag that wouldn’t hold shit. On the second day of boot camp my Navy gave to me, two boots to shine, and a ditty bag that wouldn’t hold shit. …”
Ah and the bunk beds with the ridiculously thin mattresses; fart sacks, and all made up uniformly, with WOOL blankets of course. Man is the Navy ever fond of wool! Everything was UNIFORMLY done! We became a Unit though, much to everyone’s surprise. And a damn good one.
Our Company Commander was a BT1 (Boiler Tender 1st Class), but I cannot remember
his name off hand. He had a firm but gentle way about him, and was liked and respected
by all of us. We saw and heard what the Chiefs who led the other Companies were like,
so we felt very fortunate, and worked very diligently to do what was expected of us.
We wound up Honor Company. Company 076. Our Recruit leader (RCPO) was Steinberg…. Not well liked as I remember, and an egotistical SOB. Rough gravely voice, and a real winner. Supposedly had been in a military school and he volunteered to be the honcho.
We went through all the initial indoctrination, inoculations, outfitting, classes and so forth,
and then came the day we “crossed the bridge” and got our white hats. There were classes daily, and testing, etc. Formations, drills, marching everywhere in formation! We learned how to “Stack Arms” (remember the point earlier about guns?), and stand for endless periods of time at parade rest; particularly interesting after meals… You should not rock your legs back and lock your knees… lowers your blood circulation causing dizziness and/or fainting. Doing so could also can result in the loss of ones recent meal, which was particularly amusing, due to the ever present sea gulls, who seemed to relish freshly upchucked peaches, as well as other donated foodstuffs, which caused some of the lighter hearted to provide even more sustenance for the gulls. If there were no “hot meals” for the gulls, we would be bombarded with oysters (or clams) from the heavens. Seems as though this was their favorite place to drop them, from on high, which broke them on impact with the “grinder’s” asphalt, thus baring the delicate meat for their consumption.
I remember the morning inspections on the grinder. We would face south as I recall, and not having much facial hair, shaving didn’t seem terribly urgent or necessary. Wrong again! I got hit for “peach fuzz on my neck for craps sake! Needless to say, with the daily full shave thereafter, it didn’t take long for those little suckers to toughen up enough to force the lifelong daily ritual of the close shave. We would have weapons inspections, where those useless old bolt-action Springfield’s would have to be dust, rust, and lint free. While I thought this thing was heavy, my next issue would be an M-14. A heavier, more unwieldy piece of iron too. Had to fam-fire that thing… had a nice little kick to it. But that was later on.
We learned a lot about those old Springfield’s, mostly I suppose to get us to operate in unison as a team. I think is was the 16 count manual of arms drill that we had to learn, and although now it would probably be a snap to learn, it seemed to take forever for some of us to master that. And snapping that chunk of steel into your shoulder…. A real bruiser of an ordeal.
The boots we were issued had to be from cows with huge skin pores. I melted a can or two of shoe polish onto those things…and they still never really took that patent leather look shine that seemed to be the desired effect of the inspectors. How many hours were wasted shining those stupid things? And polishing that brass buckle on our belts, what a pain in the tukus.
Ah and the night watches on the clothesline… whether or not there was anything on it. It
seemed that if you were less than exhausted, there would always be some demands to get
you there. Taps was at 2100 hours and Reveille at 0400 hours. Barracks guard duty nightly (2 hour watches) on a rotating basis, the routine was endless it seemed. We had classes on knot tying which was another tricky situation for those of us who only knew how to tie our shoes, and do a “granny” knot. The square knot, that came easy enough, But bowline? I was going to be a Corpsman, not a Bosn’s Mate for crying out loud!
I remember the night before one inspection, our CC brought in some bleach (a no-no since you were supposed to scrub those damn white hats and tee-shirt collars clean), to make sure that we had a perfect inspection. He had apparently stopped off at the NCO club earlier, and wound up helping some of the guys get their boots polished right. It was great for morale that he was there helping, instead of just demanding, and then bitching. He apparently had some problem at the gate leaving later, and the great inquisition began shortly there after. Bright and early the next morning we were dragged aside by some inspectors or whatever, interrogated as to whether our CO had been to the barracks the night before. (He had forewarned us of this, and said that we could say what we might, but he would rather have not been there the previous night.) And surprise, surprise, to a man questioned, he indeed had not been. Any other of the CO’s would have been hung out to dry! But was not just any Company CO, this guy had the real respect of his men!
At some point, they had a hepatitis or meningitis out-break, and all of our laundry was done for us from then on, however, it came back in the net bag… wrinkled like crazy. It was difficult to look neat from that point on. Most were given penicillin injections, but I was allergic to it, thusly was given some huge pink pills to take. I took about 3 of them; they were horrid as well as huge! They disappeared in one flush!
Also vividly remembered was the Marines “Correctional?” facility across the fence to the east of our “grinder”. We would watch in pity as some poor schmuck would be filling sand buckets and moving a pile of sand back and forth, being ever verbally inspired by two hulking Marines accompanying him. Or small groups of “bad boys” being run double-time around the endless confines of that fence. We never learned quite what it was all about, but it did serve as inspiration to keep our noses clean, and to keep our focus to our tasks at hand!
During service week, most had mess duty. However a few days prior, sans glasses, we were double-timed out of a little stadium for some kind of physical fitness testing. The whole thing was dark green, as were the shit-cans in the exit area, and the asphalt was pitch black of course. Needles to say, I did a header over one of them (everything appeared a green blur to me). I had scraped my knuckles, thereby having scabs on my hands, disqualifying me for mess duty, thus I was assigned to the duty of assisting the “drowndees” at the pool for that week. Rough break! Not! Sometimes good things happen ... even to a recruit. (Now this may be choice info for any young people thinking of joining the Navy!)
After many weeks, nine as best I can remember, we were approaching graduation. We got a Cinderella Liberty went into San Diego, and among other things, a few of us went to a Burlesque show. For a naïve kid from Oklahoma, this was a big adventure! It was amazing yet rather tame, I imagine, when compared to what goes on now. No audience participation, other than hooting and hollering.
Then came our graduation day…. Marching as a Unit, parading before the crowds in our dress blues, my two white stripes on my sleeve, and National Defense Ribbon on my chest, and our 076 Ensign with Gold ribbons flying proudly! We made it intact, and with flying colors.
And now I was a Hospitalman Apprentice (one step up the ladder!).