My early life, grade school through high school, was miserable but I
really didn’t realize that until much later. It is now with the writing
of these recollections that my misery was apparent. (But what is also
apparent is there is real basis for neurological deficit not known in the
early 1930’s.) I was a very skinny kid with little appetite. I had to
have chocolate milk as real milk nauseated me. I couldn’t sit still and
had to be out running around all the time. I wet the bed till I was about
ten. School was awful as everything was really hard for me. I shit my
pants in the first grade and I was mortified when my mother opened the
door and took a whiff.
I did have friends though, but I got teased a lot because there was no
meat on me. I think my style was to accept the kidding hoping it would go
away. I had a terrible time all through grade school. I went to Malden
Catholic High School but was thrown out because I was a very poor
student. The days at Everett High School were no better. I quit high
school and joined the Navy.
I landed on the CVB 42, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the biggest aircraft
carrier around in those days. For a couple of years I worked on the deck
pushing planes. I asked if I could become a signalman, got accepted, but
floundered around at that. My pal Murphy (we used last names then so I
don’t remember his first name) taught me how to do semaphore. Our ship
was going into dry dock for repairs. Murphy said we both should try to
get on the signal tower in Hampton Roads and perfect our semaphore and
signal light skills. At that time I was a follower so I did what Murphy
said. I remember going to Chief Keene and telling him that if he let me
go to the signal tower I will learn to read light by the time I get back
to the Roosevelt. Chief Keene took me seriously and he let me go.
On the signal tower there were places to stand so that you could face out
into Hampton Roads to send semaphore signals to the ships anchored there.
We were a great combination, me and Murphy. He stood where I could see
him so we imitated each other sending the same semaphore signals.
Semaphore signals are little flags attached to a short staff like a
stick. Murphy had a style of his own doing semaphore, flicking his arms
and hands, which he quickly taught me. I was very attached to this lean,
tall, smiling Irishman who was always happy. When Murphy told me he had
signed off for another ship that was going to the Suez Canal I really got
down in the dumps. Murphy went off and I never saw him again.
I stayed on the signal tower and tried very hard to master reading light.
These were signal lights that faced onto Hampton Roads where large lights
that had levers that opened and closed when lit. If you got a signal from
a ship at anchor you gave it -.- which is king in Morse code, a signal
which means you are ready to read. I remember standing next to the light
and trying to read the flashing lights from the other ship. As I
struggled, all of a sudden I began reading what was being sent. Standing
next to the guy who was receiving and sending signals with the light, it
was sort of like magic when in the
first moment I could not make out these signals to all of a sudden I
could. I had made a tremendous effort to read the light that burst upon
me, I CAN READ LIGHT! The tears just poured joyfully from my eyes.
For days after, I bounded out of bed and ran up the stairs to the signal
tower wanting to make sure I could really read the light. When I got back
to the FDR I ran up to Chief Keene and shouted, “I can read light!” Keene
said, “Good for you!”
Then came the Korean War and I got extended for another year. I really
did not mind as I hadn’t made up my mind whether I wanted to stay in the
Navy or become a civilian. The FDR was now out of dry dock and was headed
for another trip to the Med. I became a third class petty officer and got
put in charge of overseeing the bin that contained the books of signal
hoists and such. Off we went for a three month trip to the Mediterranean.
This was a real chance to test my skills with reading light. There were
lots of signal lights between ships as we sailed in a group of ships,
several destroyers, two cruisers and a plane guard that was used to fish
pilots out of the drink should they crash. I became very skilled at
reading light. When a ship would signal us I would send them a king, -.-.
I became really good at this and would hold the light open meaning that
the other ship could keep sending as long as my light was lit. Some guys
would speed up sending but I rarely faltered and read it all. When off
duty I would sometimes go to the signal bridge and ask by light if they
had someone who was trying to learn to send and to read light. I would
send slow messages for a person trying to learn. I could spend an hour or
so doing this. It then began to make me think that this is what I want to
do. I would get out of the Navy, finish high school, go to collage and
become a teacher. In 1957 I was graduated from Boston University with a
college degree for teaching.
July 5, 2013