Remembering
World War II

I Joined the Navy, 1941

... They make you a man in short order

Bob Ross


I tried to join the Navy while still in High School but at that time there was no build up of the military because of the war in Europe and Japan. I spent a lot of time visiting with the recruiters and finally was accepted. Was sent to Macon, Georgia for my testing and physical. I failed the physical because I was underweight. Was told to go eat bananas and come back. I ate and ate and weighed 118 pounds, which was enough to get me in the Navy. I was sworn in August 27, 1941, put on a train with about 50 others and sent to Norfolk, Virginia for "Boot Training". I think it was 8 weeks, but have forgotten.

Boot Camp was near the carrier piers and just inside the gate, an area with high fences which was called Unit X. We were issued a hammock, blankets, seabag and uniforms, assigned to a barracks, then the fun started.

We wore whites then, complete with leggings. Boots were recognized by the boots as leggings were called. After being instructed on how to dress, we were marched to the barber shop.

We got haircuts. Everything was cut off. The big joke was when the barber asked the man at the head of the line how he wanted it cut. The first few gave an answer, and the barber took the clippers and cut a patch from the middle of his head. Maybe an eighth of an inch remained when he finished. Needless to say, no one replied when asked how he wanted it cut.

Next came the shots. Don't remember how many we got but several. A sailor had a big, big hypodermic needle, like they shoot animals with. We were told one of the shots would be in the left testicle. Most of us were from the sticks, a bit scared about getting shots anyway, and this really had everyone scared. Fortunately that was just to get us in the right frame of mind when we finally got to the head of the line. Amazingly, several of the boys passed out getting the shots.

After the shots we were taught how to take care of our uniforms. A stencil was made with our name. All clothing items were stenciled. The location very exact. After everything had your name on it, we were taught how to roll each item.

Everything had to be rolled up. Not just rolled, but in a very specific way. Then packed in the seabag. Oh, we had a small locker, maybe 12 inches wide and 18 inches high. Here we kept our shaving gear and a few personal items. If you have ever lived out of a suitcase, imagine living out of a seabag. It gets rough. The seabag was lashed to a rail in front of the hammock except after hours. This way the deck was clear for cleaning. Sweeping and Swabbing.

We learned how to string our hammock, and secure it in the morning when reveille went at 5 a.m. Blankets had to be folded a certain way, then the hammock lashed into a small circular tube. It was one compact unit. The unit weighed nearly as much as I did when the Seabag was added.

We were then taught how to get in and out of the hammock. Not easy, but you learn. Sleeping in one takes getting used to also. At one time or another all of us fell out during the night.

Lights out was at 9 p.m. The first few nights everyone talked, but the MAA, (Master at Arms or policeman) warned us to be quiet. We soon learned to be quiet. The MAA was nice the first few days. Just yelled to be quiet. There was always some wise guy, and one night the lights came on, we had to fall in. By this I mean stand at the hammock rail at attention. The MAA walked up and down the aisle, telling us when the lights are out, he did not want to hear anything but breathing. Someone made a remark, and got caught. He was made to pick up his seabag and hold it above his head. Now I said they were heavy. Pretty soon the guy let it drop, but was ordered to pick it up, He did. Soon he fell to the deck, and the MAA stood by him, said next time he would keep his mouth shut. No need to say we learned a lesson and kept quiet when lights out sounded.

Unit X had several barracks for the "boots" inside the wire prison we lived in. We fell in for muster in front of our barracks. We went in formation everywhere. To eat, to do PT, to swim, to take rifle training, gas mask training, to the movies.  We were never separated. Life was rough but we adjusted.

At reveille, 5 a.m., we showered, shaved, put on bathing trunks and did exercises, then ran around the golf course. We then changed, had breakfast and the routine started again. It was rough. Lots of us were homesick, cried at times. Yes, I did too. I wished I never had joined the Navy.

The time flew by though, and we toughened up, really. Doing PT with an M1 rifle gets you in shape or kills you.

I turned 18 years old. Got appointed as Company Clerk that day and assigned MAA duty that night. What a way to celebrate a birthday. Being CC meant I conducted musters, passed the word on scheduling for the day. Sometimes I managed to miss out on some of the PT also.

As I said, I was a member of Company C. There were several companies in Unit X. Every weekend, Saturday, we had smokers. A smoker is where all of Unit X and Unit I, All boots, put on a show for anyone who desired to come and watch. There are lots of misunderstandings and fights broke out. They were stopped, of course, but the combatants could become part of the show. Not forced, just wanting to get at the person he had been fighting with. Soooo, at the Smokers, there were boxing matches to entertain the troops and let us work out our frustration. There were plenty of combatants, too. Not long bouts, three rounds and, I think, two minutes each.

Once during the Unit X days I had a grudge match. We beat hell out of each other, both had bloody noses, and when the three rounds were over, I could hardly raise my arms. The boxing gloves weighed a ton, or so it seemed. It was fun for all, and plenty of bouts every week.

The training was demanding, but by the time the six weeks at Unit X ended, we were no longer little boys. We were men.

From Unit X we moved to Unit I. Nice brick buildings, big lockers, freedom to wander around the base, go to PX, movies and Enlisted Clubs. We also had liberty on the weekend. All of us went to Norfolk, which was several miles from the base. At that time, the Navy was not welcome in Norfolk. There were signs in the yards, Sailors and dogs, Keep Off. We visited the ships tied up; carriers, battleships and destroyers. The battleship were mostly at the Portsmouth Navy Yard. Some of us learned to drink beer. We watched the ships coming in, tieing up at the pier, amazed at how easy it looked.

Talking again about discipline. We had been at Unit I just a few days and one night there was lots of talking. The MAA yelled a couple of times for quiet, then the lights came on, we were ordered to fall in, and he walked up and down, asking who the wise guy was. No one spoke. All of us were ordered to hold our seabags over our head. I was one of the first to collapse. After that when lights went out it was quiet.  

At sometime during the next weeks we were classified. I knew Morse code and was selected to go to Radio School upon completion of Bootcamp. I had one more grudge fight at a smoker before we graduated. And yes, it was with Bacon, the same guy from the first smoker. Amazingly, we became friends and I met him a few years later at the commissary in Norfolk. He got assigned to the Ranger, a carrier after Boot camp and I went to Radio School in Charleston, SC.

We graduated, paraded, showed off how well we could do the manual at arms for those gathered at the Parade Field. All received a set of orders where to report after our 30 days leave, was up. I was ordered to Radio School at the Naval Base, Charleston, SC.

The war had not yet started.

Click for Radio School

August 6, 1999


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