It was a cold day in the 60’s that I started a 4 year journey that would change my life forever. I started out a boy and when I was done, I had become a man.
I boarded a bus for Great Lakes, Michigan. There I would spend months learning to march, and how to handle a rifle. Yes, I was at Navy Boot Camp.
This was the longest period of time I had ever spent away from my friends and family and it prepared me for even longer stretches I would have to spend away from them. I was selected as the leader of my group which meant I was responsible for the actions of all the people in our company. This was the first thing I learned in the service. Don’t volunteer for anything. I got this job because they asked if anyone had a driver’s license. I raised my hand anticipating a plum job driving around dignitaries and officers. Psyche, they were just looking for someone foolish enough to raise their hand.
We started out with a physical examination (turn your head and cough). They checked our eyesight where I failed the color perception test (it didn’t matter). After they checked our hearing, we went to the clothing issue area where we were measured and given a sea bag full of clothing including underwear, socks and shoes. We also received personal care items like a toothbrush, toothpaste and a bar of soap.
Then we took a general classification test to determine the area of our aptitude. After physical training and a visit to the obstacle course, we participated in a swim test, water survival class where we learned how to remove our jeans and make a floatation device. We took damage control training where we had to repair simulated damage to our “ship” before it sank. We then visited a burn building to learn how to put out a burning ship, a smoke house, and a trip thru the tear gas building, After many hours of classroom instruction to complete our training, we graduated and got our stripes.
We then received our “Marching orders”. I was lucky to be selected to go to Machinery Repairman “A” school. This was probably due to the machine shop and mechanical engineering I took I took in high school and college. After a brief leave to visit back home I boarded a flight to San Diego California where they offered this school. California was interesting. I had never been somewhere where all the trees were palm trees, no maples or pine trees. On the weekends, some of my “mates” and I would get sleeping bags from “special services” on the base and go to the sandstone cliffs of La Jolla for the weekend. Armed with my “boom box”, we would swim and enjoy our time away from the base.
We would build a small fire to cook our meals and there was a public drinking fountain nearby that we would fill gallon bottles of water for our use. Water wasn’t all we drank. We used to get a gallon jug of Red Mountain wine at the local package store. This was accomplished by asking someone going into the package store and giving them a few bucks to get this for us. None of us were old enough to buy it ourselves.
We would take food from the mess to take with us but we would also buy food from the Alpha Beta supermarket that was near our campsite.
When I graduated from “A” school I took another short leave to go home and then went to my ship in Newport Rode Island. My wife and I got married after a long 6 month cruise and we started living in Fall River Massachusetts. That was one of the roughest times of my life up until then. We were living without the benefit of family living nearby and I now had someone else relying on me for food and shelter.
We had no safety net so we had to do it on our own. All through the first few years of our marriage and the birth of two of my children, I was at sea as much as I was in port. It was during this time I learned a lot about myself. I learned more about personal responsibility, family values and self-reliance than I ever had before. Now some fifty years later, I am amazed that my younger self was able to pull it off.
I developed skills during my time in the military service that enabled me to survive, raise children and live a good life. I learned self-confidence and self-reliance. Before military service, I was just a boy and when I was done, I had become a man.
Lead image: click