In 1956 at the end of my senior year, I found summer work stacking baled and loose hay. I was injured on one of those jobs and required hospitalization. After spending the rest of the summer in a body cast, in October with no job opportunities in sight, I joined the Navy.
Well, well, well, its wake up to reality time for little Bobby! I remember the train ride from Colorado to Chicago as I was cutting a wisdom tooth at the time. After reaching Chicago, myself and the other four recruits I was traveling with took a cab to an El platform where we would take a train to the Great Lakes NTC. It was about 7PM and as we traveled along between the buildings of Chicago, we could see into the apartments and I recall seeing a man standing at his mirror shaving. There were some tough looking guys in leather jackets, chains and slicked back hair on the train as well and we speculated that they were some gang.
When we arrived at the training center we were met by a sailor who gave us escort to the compound. Its about 9PM and as we were walking through the compound, some recruits lean out of their windows and shout "You'll be Sorry!" Upon completing some more paper work, we were escorted to a barracks and assigned a cot. Its been a long dreary day, it is 1AM and we are tired. AAAHHHH Sleep!! 5AM REVEILLE! (&*@#)Seemed like I just closed my eyes and some idiot was walking about the barracks beating a baseball bat inside a trash can.
At this time we are actually in an induction center (Camp Berry) where for the next week we are issued our GI haircuts, uniforms and shots if needed. Oh yeah, the toughs from Chicago? They didn't act or look so tough after the haircut! From Camp Berry I went to company 619 at camp Moffett, which was my hell on earth for the next 9 weeks. Yes sir, No sir is all that better come out of that mouth. Scrubbing barracks floors, washing your clothes in trash cans with a toilet plunger, manual of arms training, calisthenics till your body ached and burned; lectures and movies while your fighting the urge to sleep (you didn't dare, because if you did, they would find some worse punishment if that was possible). Oh yes, lets not forget seabag inspections, with everything folded and laid out just right and spotlessly white, including what you were wearing. I remember during one inspection the company commander wasn't finding any gigs, he stopped at the guy just before me, ridiculed him for sloppy presentation, picked it up and threw it out the window. He then ordered the company outside to tramp across it. Then he ordered the sailor to wash, dry and present his bag for inspection that evening. I guess the point I'm trying to make here is even though the sailors bag was SPOTLESS, he suffered the humiliation at the hands of a ruthless commander. The object of our training at this time was to see how much mental and physical abuse you could take before cracking! This is where my stubborn streak came in handy, there was no way they were going to break me.
I enlisted as an airman recruit, but during my training, I asked if I could be stationed with my brother. They told me I would have to change my designator to Seaman, which I did, only to find out the my brother had been transferred to shore duty and as a recruit I was ineligible for this type of duty upon graduation. So, I got orders to report to the USS Arikara ATF98 (Fleet Tugboat)
I reported for duty January 3,1957 and was assigned to the Deck department (deck apes) and began to learn the fine art of using a chipping hammer, wire brush and painting. This wasn't the Navy that I joined! This ship was every color but haze and deck gray, big gaping holes in the deck, wiring, hoses and scaffolding strung all over and "Yard Birds" everywhere. No, No, this can't be the Navy that I groomed myself for 10 weeks to become a squared away sailor only to report to the Quarterdeck and find two sailors standing watch in denim shorts, no shirts, hats on the back of their heads and (GROAN) shower thongs. Surely there must be some mistake!
Alas that wasn't the case and I soon found myself getting accustomed to shipboard life. It was like learning how to walk and talk all over again. Learning shipboard lingo and meeting people from all over the U.S. and their idiosyncrasies. After a short tour on the deck force I was assigned to the Chief PettyOfficer's quarters as their "messcook and janitor". I really didn't mind this duty, beat chipping paint. Chief Dowdy explained my duties and instilled on me that above all else, "Make sure I never come down here and pour a cup of sour coffee!"
After my tour as messcook, I was in the Gun Gang for a few months and then onto the Supply department where I excelled as a Storekeeper. I was promoted to Petty Officer 3rd class and in the early part of 1959 was transferred to the USS Grapple ARS7 (Rescue Salvage)
I remember packing my seabag and bringing it topside, leaving it at the quarterdeck while I went to get my transfer records from the Yeoman. Upon return, I picked up my bag and proceeded to my new duty station, which was about 4 piers over from the Arikara. I remember thinking that my bag seemed heavy and I found out why when I unpacked it. Near the bottom was a shackle that weighed in at about 20lbs. I found out later that the engineering officer had deposited that little "momento"
I felt bad about leaving my shipmates on the Arikara, but I was well received by my new shipmates on the USS Grapple. The duty was much improved in the sense that I was finally going to see Japan. I remember asking the Boatswain how long before we get to Japan. His answer was "when you smell fish, your about 300 miles out". Turned out, he wasn't kidding! One of my shipmates who had been to WestPac before took me on a tour of the local skivvie houses. I thought I had died and went to heaven.
Upon return to Pearl Harbor, we immediately had to take in tow a barge with two huge diesel generators on it and proceed to the big island of Hawaii. Just before our arrival to Pearl Harbor, the big island had been hit by a Tsunami (tidal wave) which had demolished the business port of Hilo and 6 blocks inland. After mooring our tow, we had to get underway once again and head out to sea as we were alerted to the possibility of another surge wave. After the crisis passed we returned to port and our salvage crews helped local authorities pumping out basements, and set up the generators for power.
While in Hilo, we took a little tour of the Volcanic area and got acquainted with the locals. I will insert pictures of both the volcano and of the aftermath of the Tsunami to the photo pages