It was October of 1943 when we stepped from the train. I decided then that Sampson was the coldest place in New York State. By Christmas I knew that Siberia would be a vacation pleasure. My first ten minutes at Sampson exposed me to a complete new language: Head, Bulkheads, Overheads, Gangways, Hatches, Ladders, Topside, Below. I was surprised to find the Poopdeck was not the Head. We had to attend classes to learn the Navy jargon.
"Trousers, God damn it", corrected an Ensign, "women wear pants."
Company 143 lined up at the barbers. One hundred and fifteen recruits. We were not yet considered men. On our return to the barracks, we didn't know what to call ourselves. There wasn't a hair left on our head that could be picked with a tweezer. We certainly didn't resemble the same 115 people who entered the barber shop. One lad who looked like the shaggy dog, was now revealed with a human face. Cameras were not allowed on base, otherwise we'd have sent his picture to his mother, who, no doubt would have disowned him. Now we knew the meaning of SKINHEAD.
The barracks were rectangular buildings two stories high. Company 143 occupied the first (deck). Company 144 was bunked (topside). Priority number ONE was calisthenics. Every morning at six the perverted bugler would wake us. "Everyone fall out for calisthenics", came the call over the loud speaker. "Uniform of the day will be skivvies and work shoes." I swear it was ten below. If you didn't work up a good sweat you would freeze to a solid cake of ice. Fall in and count off, was the next command. Everyone to the showers. The shower water was 32 and a half degrees. 15 minutes later; fall in for chow. Uniforms will be blue sweaters and pea coats. Our stomachs laughed at the rest of our bodies because the stomach knew the only warmth in Sampson.
No one walks at any time in boot camp. We marched double time to the barracks. "Fall out with bathing suits and towels for swimming instructions." We marched to a big dome like building that housed the swimming pool. Now this building had to have heat. How else would they keep the water from freezing to ice.......Ha!.........Ha!
They probably put anti freeze in the water. But first another cold shower, then into the pool enclosure to put on a life jacket that others had worn in the water fifteen minutes before us. We waited for the first cardiac arrest, but it didn't happen.
"Into the water. Climb the nets to the main deck." The decks were platforms built above the water to simulate the deck of a ship.
"Abandon ship", was the next order. Oh my God! Back into Siberian waters.
"Shower, dress and fall out for rifle drill."
Rifle drill,.....Ha. They were dummies stamped from a block of wood. You'd get splinters if you handled them wrong.
"Right shoulder arms. Forward March. Column Right march. Right about face march."
After a week of this we no longer knocked each other over. We were becoming sailors and proud of it. We were threatened with life boat drill out on lake Seneca. We knew the lake was 12 inches thick with ice which made boating impossible, but you never knew scuttle butt from fact in this man's Navy. Always prepare for the worst and you wont be disappointed. There is a story to tell of the tear gas chamber, but I don't want to even think about it.
With boots drawing to a close, we filled out a form which told of our mentality and capabilities, if any. We waited our turn to be interviewed by a couple of officers. I must have scored high mechanically. One raised his eyebrows to the other and asked what particular duty I would like. I replied, "the Navy Air Corps sir." He said, "my boy, you have it."
Shipping out was scheduled the next day. That night I stood watch for an hour. I swear it was the coldest night of my life. Every fifteen minutes a jeep came by with hot coffee. My fingers could hardly hold the cup. "Curse me", I stuttered to the Petty Officer of the watch, "I want to feel you're hot breath."
Six o'clock bugle as usual. There will be no calisthenics this morning..........What?
..........What happened?........is the war over?
"Pack you're seabags and get ready to ship out", The loud speakers were blaring all kinds of orders. "Inspection at six thirty. Chow at seven. Uniform of the day will be......"
No longer did anyone call the other Mack or Skinhead. We were now Gobs and we addressed each other as Mate. Marching to the train we sang Anchors Aweigh.
The seabags were stowed in a baggage car. We lined up at the train for final muster before climbing aboard. Most of the faces were new. I was now mingled with other prospective air corps candidates. Good old 143 was scattered to the winds. Some became armed guards aboard merchant vessels, some Shore Patrol School. The rest were scattered to where ever the navy needed live bodies. I felt a presence on my right shoulder that remained for three years, even though I continually fought it's guidance.
It took three days to reach Jacksonville Florida. Sidings along the way was routine. " It has been eight hours, why are we waiting here?" Some remarked, " who the hell cares?" Scuttlebutt had it the tracks were sabotaged. We pulled into Jacksonville New Years Eve and marched directly to the barracks for taps and lights out. At mid night I awoke suddenly realizing the reason for so much noise. Now I was Depressed like I was never depressed before.
GO TO the next chapter in my life
RETURN to the table of contents
RETURN to the home page