It came as a surprise to all who knew me, especially my parents and long-time girlfriend, when I announced that I had joined the Navy. So, on Aug. 3, 1953, I was bound for the U.S. Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland.
I was in charge of a group of five, and we had our heads shaved and were assigned new clothing. We also formed a line in a hallway with medics on each wielding huge hypodermic needles who inoculated us against every disease known to modern medicine.
The afternoon was spent back in the drill hall where an instructor demonstrated how to stencil our clothes. Everything was rush, rush. We loaded our bags into a truck and marched in formation to the barracks. By this time, our inoculations were starting to take effect, and our arms felt like they would fall off! Trudging along in clothes that didn’t fit and new high-top boots that were rubbing blisters was the most miserable experience I had ever felt. Most guys skipped evening chow, and I could hear weeping during the night due to homesickness.
It was not unusual that personality conflicts would arise. These were all virile young men, and I guess it was necessary that a pecking order be established. Such was the case when some minor incident sent one of the stouter/louder of the group into a tirade, and I called him on it. He proceeded to read me my pedigree and invited me outside to settle the matter. He had me by about 40 pounds. Back home, I had spent some time in the Golden Gloves, and I now reasoned if I were to stand a chance against this bully, it would be best if the confrontation took place in my choice of venue supervised by the physical training officer. So, I invited him to the gym. About half of our company went along. The training officer admonished us and tried to talk some sense into us, but we were determined to settle the score. We put on the gloves with the officer acting as referee. About 10 seconds later, my adversary landed a hard blow to my solar plexus that knocked the breath out of me and nearly sent me to the canvas. Somehow I was able to recompose myself and keep away from him. Then I started pecking away. It took about 10 minutes of constant hammering, but I was able to wear him down. His size turned out to be a handicap. Near the end, he dropped his hands, and I came on pretty strong. He finally sunk to his knees, and the referee stopped the fight. Whew! There were no other incidents for the rest of the duration, the barracks was quieter, and we actually became pretty good friends.
There followed a weekend when families came to visit, and then six more weeks of training. This was fun time – fire-fighting, gunnery training, survival training, shipboard training, and then it was over. Families came for graduation, and then we were all shipped off to our duty stations. I’ve always retained a special place in my heart for my time in the Navy. It helped me to become a man.