We marched over over the bridge between the old side of the Naval Training Center and the new. Four columns, ten per column. Eyes ahead. There was a guy rowing a single scull across the black water on the east (I assume) side of the bridge. San Diego Bay was on the west. We were going to our home for the next few weeks.
These barracks were new. Or newer anyway. They looked like low rent apartments. They consisted of four bunk rooms, two on each floor. Between the bunk rooms were two sets of shower areas plus toilets, urinals, and sinks. In the bunk rooms were twenty bunk beds; racks, as they were called. Four groups of five. Next to each rack was a "locker". Actually, this was an open set of metal shelves with one drawer that had a lock hasp. The drawer was for our wallets, rings, and whatever would otherwise occupy a pocket. We spent the next few hours stenciling and then learning to fold the clothes we had been given and putting them in the lockers in a specific way. Jacket pockets were sewn shut to prevent the temptation.
We had three sets of washable clothes because we would be wearing one set, waiting for one set to dry after we washed them, and one in the locker. outside, in the "courtyard" of the barracks were two large concrete wash tables and two sets of clotheslines.
We had also been given a set of leggings. Canvas wraps, like spats, that we would wear with our pant legs folded just so and tucked into them. We learned to lace them properly. We were given an orientation speech by Shipfitter Mullin who addressed us as "PEE pull" and spoke at a level just above tolerable whether he was 6 feet away or 3 inches from your nose.
We were then marched to the mess hall for lunch (noon mess). I was not a milk drinker growing up. I avoided it. Boot Camp changed that. I drank 2 to 3 mugs (there are no glasses) of milk every meal. It was cold and filling. I ate everything on the tray and everything on the tray was everything offered by the mess cooks on the line. I drank all the coffee I could too. And it all was gone within 15 minutes.
After noon mess, we marched to the armory and were issued M-1 rifles. Harmless, though. The barrels were plugged and the firing pins removed. They were just for show, to be used to march with, to be used as a means of exercise (something called "The 16 Count Manual of Arms").
We also were marched to the Canteen. Like a tiny PX, or more like a bodega in a storage unit. We went in and were told to get toothpaste and toothbrushes (if needed), razors (no electric, all safety), blades, soap (Lava only), writing material (if needed) and Wisk detergent. It was put on our accounts. It would be deducted from our pay of $82 (I think) per month. There was an empty shelf location for these. We were not allowed to buy shaving cream or after shave. We would use soap and hot water. Or just hot water. We also had to buy a scrub brush each. These would be useful for scrubbing dirt from colors, necklines, and sweatbands of hats.
Nothing would be ironed. The folding would accomplish the only pressing the clothes would see.
When we returned to the barracks, we were given a 15 minute smoke break. Eventually, these would be routine breaks after each meal.
The rest of the afternoon was spent marching, learning the commands, learning to react promptly and as a unit. We were introduced to the 16 Count Manual of Arms. Then it was march to the mess hall for dinner (evening mess). Each visit to the mess hall was orderly. We would be assigned a time to be there. We would be early. We would wait, as a company, among other companies, at parade rest, as each company was called in until our turn came.
After returning from evening mess, we were free to wash clothes, smoke, and congregate. We were also assigned "watches" (sentry duty to you non-Navy types). On watch, you would march back and forth outside the courtyard area with your rifle. After taps (lights out), you would patrol the bunk area. Your primary duty was to stay awake, not sit down, wake everyone in an emergency, and wake your relief toward the end of your watch.
You would shower before taps. After taps, the only ones up and around would be the watch and anyone who needed to use the facilities. We had no trouble sleeping. We awoke around 5 AM and had maybe 15 minutes to get ready, dressed, and formed up in the courtyard.
This was the essential routine. The only variation would be classes on seamanship, Navy history, military organization, and so on. Days would drag on, nights would go fast.
Boot Camp would take 3 months. It was broken into "weeks" that might be two weeks long. There would be inoculations, trips to fire school, to the rifle range, a couple of weeks working in the mess hall, and other. The first 4 weeks were spent in the new barracks. After that, you were "rewarded" by moving over to the older section on the other side of that bridge. You then stopped wearing your ball cap and started wearing your white hat. The barracks were older, drafty, and moldy. It wasn't much of a reward. But you felt better, closer to being in The Real Navy.
There are stories within these three months. Stories of fights, of mishaps, of struggles with authority, of finding a way to become part of a unit while retaining some semblance of individuality. I'll get to them, I am sure.
A Night Unremembered
6 years ago