Saturday, February 16, 2008

Two Years in Navy – Part One

We got through the winter of 1945 and it was getting close to the end of World War II, J.D., Albert, and Paul were about to get out of the Navy so I thought that I better get in before they got home. I had a friend that often went with me to the skating rink and one night while at the rink, we decided to join the Navy together. When we went to enlist, the first thing they did was to check our eyes to see if either of us were color blind. My buddy was colorblind so he was not permitted to join the Navy but was able to join the Army. Right after joining, I was sent to Raleigh, NC for more tests. I must have passed them all because the next thing I knew was that they were putting me on a train and sending me to San Diego, CA for six weeks of basic training. I had only been to the beach in South Carolina once and other than that I had been to Charlotte, NC to visit my brother Fred other than those two places I had not traveled far from my home in Iredell County. When I was visiting Fred the big city of Charlotte, I would go along the railroad track behind his house and pick up coal that fell off the cars so he could use it in his stove. It was at Fred’s house that I first saw a telephone with a dial on it. It was an eight party line and I had fun listening to all the people talk. This type of phone was a candlestick phone, a tall one with the mouth piece at the top and the dial at the bottom. I though of my previous travels as I headed across the United States.

When I got on the train, I could not stay away from the window. I had my head stuck out of the window during much of the trip. With the coal burner sending black smoke out all day and night you can imagine what I looked like when I arrived in San Diego. The trip was five days and four nights, we had to ride in an old car that had metal seats and if we would not have been able to walk around I don't think our bottoms could have stood the trip. At night the seats were made into bunk beds with curtains hung over them; with all of the racket we could not get much sleep. At night I tried my best to sleep since all day I could not keep my eyes off of the window. I wanted to see everything that there was to see! I had read about our country in history and geography but it was not like seeing it in person. The mountains, flatland, desserts, and Rockies all were new to me. When we reached California, seeing all of the orange and other fruit trees blew my mind. Listen to me tell this story.

When the seven of us finally reached the Navy base and got off the train, they were waiting for us so they could take us to Camp Decatur for basic training. At that moment I could tell that everything would be just fine because right away we were told everything to think and do; all we had to do was follow orders. I liked that since I did not know what was going on anyhow. The training was easy for me because I had been accustomed to walking and running five or more miles at a stretch all my life so the workout did not bother me at all. I did have a hard time keeping in step with the others since I had never done it before. However, after the trainer hit me across my bottom a few times with his saber I caught on right quick. Everything was going good and I was turning out well. Listen to me tell this story.

I liked KP duty and the others did not so some of them would give me three dollars to do their KP duty, to me that was good money. KP duty is "kitchen patrol/police" work under the kitchen staff assigned to U.S. enlisted military personnel. It would include food preparation, dish washing and pot scrubbing, sweeping and mopping floors, wiping tables, serving food on the chow line, or anything else the kitchen staff wanted us to do. This was in addition to our normal assignments. Listen to me tell this story.

Three weeks into our training, the Merchant Marines started to strike and the Navy took all of the older Sailors from our base to man the Merchant ships. It left us to help train the new recruits. Our commander asked if there were any barbers in the group and no one raised their hand. He asked if any of us had ever cut a head of hair; I was scared not to say I had so I raised my hand. Immediately he sent me over to the barber shop. I told the man I had never seen a pair of electric clippers and he said that did not matter since all I had to do was cut all the hair off every head. I worked in this assignment for three weeks. Listen to me tell this story.

The weekend before getting out of boot camp I got a three day pass to go to Mission Beach, an amusement park in San Diego. This was my first time to see a roller coaster. I studied it closely and it looked safe enough so I bought a twenty-five cent ticket and got on the thing. I was doing great until that darn thing got to the top of the first hill and all of sudden everything fell, the train cars and my stomach. I did not think I would last until it got to the bottom, I did but the coaster kept on going up a hill and then down again! When I got off the rolling nightmare, I said that I would not ever get on it again. I thought that the worst was over; little did I know what lied ahead. Later that same night, my buddy wanted to ride the double Ferris Wheel. I spent another twenty-five cents and we got on the huge contraption. Everything was going good and I liked this ride much better than the roller coaster. As we went to the top for the third time, one of the hangers on my buddy's side broke; it took about an hour for them to get all of us down. They gave our twenty-five cents back and as far as they were concerned, all was well but I did not think so and it took many years before I could get on an amusement park ride again. Even now, if you would offer to pay for my ride I would not get on another Ferris Wheel. Overall that was one of my best excursions I took while stationed in California. Later, I was able to travel to Hollywood and visit all the sites around southern California. Listen to me tell this story.

At last we had finished our basic training! The morning that I was to go home on a fifteen day leave, we were standing inspection when the officer got to me he stopped and pulled down my blouse and said that I had to report to the sick bay. After I arrived I was told that I had the measles and I would have to remain in isolation for seven days and that could not go home for another week. I did not get to ship out with my classmates; a week later I took my leave fifteen days, five days going home, five days at home, and five days going back to camp. When I reported back, I was sent to the Navel Ordnance Testing Station in the Mojave dessert at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station(Armitage Field) China Lakes, CA. Listen to me tell this story.
The whole story... Listen as I tell about my basic training.


Betsy Mauney said...

Hey Pawpaw!
Steven, Isaac, and I listened to your story and read the blog together this morning, and it was wonderful! We love to hear about your adventures. I can't wait to hear more about your time in the Navy...and then when you met Granny... :) Now I know why you're such a great host for our Sunday dinners - it all started with life on the farm, home economics class and KP duty!
Love you very much,

Barb said...

Mr. Gurley, I really enjoy reading your blog and adding the podcasts enhances your site. I sure wish I could see a picture of you after traveling on the train with your head out the window ;-) KP duty, guess you showed those city folks a lesson or two about cooking. Barb

Anonymous said...

I just loved reading this story today! I really love hearing about your time at basic training because it seems so exciting! :) Love you!


Christy Pruden said...


I can't believe that you can remember all these wonderful events from your past. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these posts and the comments by everyone. I had a good time visiting yesterday and can't wait until next week to read your blog! I love you!