By Garland Davis
Fifty-eight year ago, July 20th was my third day in the Navy and my first day in “Boot Camp” at RTC San Diego. I spent the 18th, my 17th birthday, at the Armed Forces Induction Center in Raleigh, NC taking tests, a physical exam, and coughing for the doctor while he held my nuts. I remember wondering what they held while the females were coughing in the other room.
After the tests and physicals were completed for all of us there, they lined us up and an Army Officer came in and completed our enlistment by rendering the oath. Since it was late in the day, we were given vouchers for a seedy hotel (the hookers were probably ashamed to take a John to such a rundown joint) about a block away and told us to report at 0600 the next morning for our records and travel vouchers. We were warned for the first of many times that failure to report when and where ordered by a superior was an offense and we would be severely punished.
The next morning we were given envelopes with our meager records, vouchers for air travel to our respective boot camps’ An olive drab Army bus dropped us at the airport after dropping the soldiers bound for Georgia at the train station. I would fly from Raleigh to Chicago where I would change for a flight to San Diego. There was a long wait in Chicago and a stop in Albuquerque. We finally arrived in San Diego about 2130. We reported to the Shore Patrol booth as instructed and were told to wait for a bus. I grabbed a couple of candy bars from a kiosk and was glad that I did. Breakfast was a long way off.
The bus carried us to RTC. I remember wondering, as we entered the gate what awaited. I had a pretty good idea. I had read the books and seen the movies about boot camps and was prepared. I did push-ups for half a year before enlisting just to be ready. The entire time I was there, no one ever insisted that I do a push up except at PT.
As soon as the doors opened, three or four people were yelling at us to hurry off the bus and line up on the footprints. Another bus came in and they filled out the footprints. Once all the prints in the group had a person on them, a short Chief Petty Officer had us do a left face and told us we were in Company 310, that he was BMC Jones and we would be the best company in San Diego, even if it killed us.
He marched(?) us to an empty barracks full of unmade bunks. He informed us that the place was a shithouse and we were to clean it. Buckets and swabs were distributed and we scrubbed that room. There was a buffer that tried to do bodily harm to us before this geeky looking guy from who Boston finally figured out how to operate it.
About midnight the CC finally admitted that the place was as clean as civilians could get it and pointed to a stack of fart sacks (mattress covers) and blankets, told us to make the bunks and go to sleep. He said, “Reveille is early.” At 0400, he was back, banging on a shitcan with what I would later learn was a foxtail. He chewed our asses out for being scrounges and made us shower. Then we had to clean the barracks again because we had fucked it up.
It was just starting to get light in the east when he marched (?) us to the galley for breakfast. That was the first of many times I heard the term “Nuts to Butts.” I don’t remember what I ate for that first meal. All I had had since Chicago the previous day was a candy bar, I had given the other one to one of the guys who was probably as hungry as I was, so whatever it was I scarfed it up. I remember the coffee was good. I had become a black coffee addict while working the night shift at the original, and at the time, the only Krispy Kreme doughnut facility.
After breakfast, we marched back to the barracks, recovered whatever baggage we had brought with us and went for our haircuts. I had gotten a “Boot Camp” haircut from my ex-Marine barber before I left NC. The guy put me in the chair and ran the clippers over my head. It was his rice bowl, he collected twenty-five cents for each haircut.
Our next stop was Clothing Issue. We went through the line with a seabag, sailors handing us clothing items and yelling for us to move the line. After we had received everything, we were taken to another building, handed a stencil with name and service number and other recruits on their Service Week stenciled the shit out of everything in that bag and the bag itself. After the stenciling was finished, we were made to get naked and dress ourselves in the mothball smelling dungarees. Next stop, carrying that unwieldy bag and our luggage was a place where you could mail the luggage home or donate it to the needy. There was nothing in that old AWOL bag that was worth the cost of mailing it to NC, so I just threw it in the donation bin. All I had left of NC was my wallet and a few pictures.
From there we were marched across the bridge to our barracks for the first three weeks of our training. According to the Chief, they were a shithouse and needed cleaning immediately. We spent the next few days learning the difference between attention, parade rest, at ease, lolly-gagging, and grab-assing. The last two could cause you to run around this big-assed parking lot that he called a “Grinder.” We learned to march and the different movements as well as how to stand in ranks for hours while he dreamed up shit for us to do.
While we were doing all this, we scrubbed all the cotton clothing, because they were dirty, of course. We learned the proper way to fold the clothes and to stow them in the locker. When an inspector found an improperly stowed locker, we all had to rewash our “dirty” clothes and restow the locker. We learned to check each other and make sure all was proper.
Oh hell, I forgot mention Clothes Stops. Our freshly washed clothing had to be tied on the lines with a proper square knot. Nothing as mundane as clothespins. And if the inspector found a knot, other than a square knot, we all had to rewash our clothes because he would cut them all off the line and leave them on the ground.
And we marched, did we ever march. Sometime during all this activity, we were issued 1903 Springfield’s which we hung suspended by clothes stops below the bunk, but if you fucked up for some reason you got to put it inside your fart sack and sleep on it. We learned to march with it, to stack it and to exercise with it. An infraction of the many rules could cause you to run numerous times around the grinder attempting to hold it at high port.
The only time I was individually punished, I was watching an airplane taking off from Lindbergh Field. The Chief made me spend the morning chasing planes as they took off. I had to yell, “Wait for me Sir” as I chased the planes. We were often punished as a group for infractions caused by one person. In the second week, Company 310’s Smoking Lamp was extinguished for the rest of the time we were in Boot. Only if I had taken the opportunity to quit at that time!
We moved off the island to a filthy barracks on the main side which, of course, had to have a field day, though the decks were still wet from the company that had moved out. The first thing after moving was Service week. Company 310 went to the Galley where we washed dishes, pots and pans, scrubbed decks, and helped the cooks. The day at the galley started at 0400 and ended about 2000. Our clothes still needed scrubbing and the barracks turned filthy during the day and had to be cleaned. During that week you went to bed, or as we had learned to say, hit the rack exhausted and awakened tired to the bone.
Some way, we made it through Service Week like the millions who had gone before us and settled into an easier training routine which consisted of classes and practicing for the graduation ceremony.
Somewhere about the sixth or seventh week, I began to wake up feeling good. The classes were easy, the marching was learned muscle memory. I no longer had to think when the Chief gave a command, my body just reacted with the proper move.
The next few weeks are a blur. Everything was routine and mundane. The last week, we received our blues from the tailor and we were marched to the place on the base where we could buy our tickets for home or our next duty station.
The night before Graduation Day, we packed our seabags with everything except the whites we would wear for graduation and the blues we would wear traveling. Somewhere along the way, we had turned in the Springfield’s and the leggings.
I remember Chief Jones shaking my hand and saying, “Good job sailor, perhaps I’ll see you in the fleet.” The moment that I knew I was a sailor
PS: There is so much I’ve forgotten to mention, The leggings, The Duty Belts, The watches, The Chit books, The asshole inspections for dingleberry’s before being permitted in the swimming pool and so much more.