Monday, September 19, 2005

Another boat story

I posted a boat story before, at least I think I did, have to look back and see what I talked about back then. First some background info.

I was in the Navy back in ’68-72. Since I get seasick really easily, and don’t really like to be out on the water, I joined the aviation wing. Why did I join the Navy? Well, I dropped out of college, and back in 1968 if you did not have a good reason for a referral you were drafted and sent to that muddy place called Viet Nam. (Makes me feel really old explaining this stuff, but who remembers the draft?). Since I knew I did not like walking through the mud getting shot at I looked for other alternatives. The Navy and the Air Force seemed the best bets – better chance of not being where the bullets were coming at you.

I had a cousin in the Air Force. He loaded bombs on B-52s. He was stationed at one of the air bases in Texas. Nice place, two guys to a room, civilians to do your laundry and clean up. More like a job than the military. But he loaded bombs. And the planes that he loaded, for some unknown reason, flew far across the Pacific and eventually, after some mid air refuelings, dropped them on that green jungle with all the mud. So the planes were dropping bombs in a combat zone, and my cousin in Texas was getting a combat pay bonus for loading bombs on planes that flew over there. I didn’t know all the details at the time, or I might have gone Air Force.

But my father was in the Navy during his big one, WW2. Lots of picture books around the house. So I figured the Navy always had a clean bed, always had a hot meal, and if I could get on a big enough boat I wouldn’t be shot at during my war. My eyes were bad, but I liked photography – was majoring in Photo Illustration in college. The Navy branch that had photographers was the aviation group. The recruiter could not promise a specific job, but I was able to sign up for aviation, which only had twelve or so ratings. Figured that was better than joining generally and perhaps getting anything.

If you joined the military back then you ended up taking a lot of tests during boot camp, and at the end the magic computers in Washington (or wherever they were) would match your scores with openings and assign you a rate. You then went to school for specific training, and had your job assigned. If you joined the army or marines there was about a 95% chance of becoming a ‘grunt’, and being trained in rifles and such, and sent over to get shot at. The Navy had over a hundred ratings – a ‘rating’ is a specific job type, such as ship engine mechanic, cook, medic, computer tech, and so on. The aviation group only had twelve rates; various airplane maintenance work, such as jet engine mechanic, radio tech, parachute folder, and photographer. I figured a one in twelve shot at photographer was better than a one in a hundred, so I went aviation.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending how you look at it, I did very well in my math tests. So I was assigned to the aviation electronics group, not photography. After boot camp in Great Lakes (from freezing Rochester to freezing Illinois) I was sent to aviation A school in Memphis, Tennessee. Ah, springtime in Memphis. The first two weeks all new arrivals got to work in the mess hall. I washed pots from 5am to 7pm. It was tornado season, so every morning at 1 am we were awoken and moved to the storm shelter area to sit for an hour until the threat passed. Then back for a few hours sleep and up before dark to wash the morning meal pots.

Then four months of electronics class. There were about thirty Navy and three Marines in my class. I did well, was at the top of the class and thus could pick my further training. Got a lot of grief from the Marines - being top of the class for a Navy guy was not as big a thing as for a Marine. For a Marine it evidently meant a lot to have the first in class mark in your record. At that time there were two main choices, radio or radar. Now both are rolled into the same rating, but were separate back then. I picked radar and fire control systems. Another three months of classes in that area. It was a close finish, but again I was top in the class, and supposedly was able to pick what assignment I wanted. I asked for fighters on the west coast, figuring on getting a Phantom (F-4) squadron and thus moving to a Pacific cruise on a carrier and being able to get a back seat ride once in a while. No way did I want transports in Memphis, or worse the Chicago area. I did get the west coast; California, but an attack (bomber) squadron. A-7 aircraft at NAS Lemoore, California.

Nobody in Memphis could tell me where Lemoore was. You got two weeks leave after training, and fortunately the AAA was able to give me a driving map to California and I found that Lemoore was right in the center of the big valley. For transportation the Navy got me on an Air Force plane from New Jersey out to the San Francisco area, then a commercial flight down to Fresno. I left New Jersey on Thanksgiving weekend, during a small snowstorm. The storm was bad in the Midwest, and our plane had to stop at some air base to wait for the winds to stop. I got to spend the night on the Air Force, and found that while the Navy had big open barracks for dozens of guys, the Air Force had more like college dorm rooms, with two guys to a room and a bathroom shared between two rooms. With civilians cooking and cleaning. Nice. There were two Air Force captains on our flight, and rather than continue on the next day they each had a smaller plane, each got a Cesna Citation to take them on to wherever they were going. Must be even better to be an officer.

On to San Francisco, and a bus ticket over to SFO. A flight down to Fresno, a phone call to the base, and somebody drove out to pick me up. It was about thirty miles from Fresno out to the base in Lemoore. The driver stopped along the way and snitched oranges from a grove along side the road. Right away I realized there was more to the US than snow and freezing winters, and figured I was done with the northeast.

At Lemoore I started with three more months of school, learning about the radar and weapons systems on the A-7 Corsair II. It was a big base, out in the middle of nowhere. We always said we were right in the middle. Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, halfway between the ocean and the mountains. But nothing right there. That’s how I describe Kansas, right in the middle – halfway between the Atlantic and the Pacific, halfway between Mexico and Canada, but not much there. Sorry, Kansas, maybe there is, but I haven’t spent much time there, and Dorothy and Toto seemed to want to leave.

But on to the boat story.

Wow, after all the background I don’t even remember what direction I was going. OK, two pages in Word is enough for now. Better post this before the boss comes around and asks what I am working on. So the boat story will come later.

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