2. Receiving & Outfitting
Approaching the San Diego airport, Lindbergh Field, provided a view of what was to me an exotic landscape, stuccoed houses and other buildings with terra cotta ornamentation and red tile roofs, palm trees everywhere and, behind many of the houses, blue ovals, rectangles or kidney shapes – swimming pools.
As the 20-some of us headed for the Naval Training Center came down the steps from the plane we became the property of a burly sailor who herded us across the tarmac to a gray Navy bus. As he read off our names from a clipboard, we answered and boarded.
The sailor’s demeanor suggested he was less than impressed with his passengers. We would quickly learn that we were held in disdain by almost everyone in Recruit Training Command. Like all the contingents of new recruits, or “boots,” who had come before us, and all those to follow, we were a sorry gaggle of scruffy civilian punks who showed little promise of being able “to cut it.”
The bus delivered us to a large, rambling building with a sign that identified it as R&O (receiving and outfitting). A larger sign read
WECOME ABOARD. YOU ARE NOW MEN OF
THE UNITED STATES NAVY. THE TRADITIONS OF THE
SERVICE DEMAND YOUR UTMOST EFFORT. GIVE IT
CHEERFULLY AND WILLINGLY.
A lengthy orientation lecture introduced a few hundred new recruits (our busload was only one of many shuttle runs from the airport and train depot that day) to the first of the many rules that would govern our existence for the next ten weeks, plus a few days. These included such things as how, whom and when to salute, how to address our superiors (everyone but our fellow recruits), and so on. It was made plain to us that the ladder didn’t have any rungs lower than the one we occupied. At the conclusion we were called out in groups of 70-plus and each group was assigned a company number.
I and the other men from the Seattle plane became part of Recruit Company 56-309, along with 25 or 30 men from the South, mostly Georgia and Alabama, about 20 from other states, including several Californians, and a few Guamanians. Very quickly the recruits from the Northwest and those from the South formed opposing camps. Unfortunately for the Northwesterners, the Company Commander (CC) who introduced himself to his new charges was a Boatswain’s Mate (pronounced Bosun’s Mate) First Class from Virginia. He had about 17 years in the Navy, mostly aboard battleships, and a couple rows of World War II ribbons on his chest.
One of the first items of business in the new company was the appointing of recruits who would be RCPO (Recruit Chief Petty Officer), APO1 (Assistant Petty Officer First Class), Company Clerk, Squad Leaders and Guide-On (the man who carried the company flag when we marched). The man chosen by the CC as RCPO was a bronzed blonde from Florida, where he had been a lifeguard and gigolo. He was a few years older than most of us. All the others given petty authority were also from the South, with the exception of a Guamanian as Guide-On. The CC seemed to have a soft spot for the Guamanians. The lone black recruit in the company, on the other hand, was not so favored. More about him directly.
We spent the first couple of days getting received and outfitted. Outfitting included: recruit haircuts (One inch on top and 1/4 inch on the sides and back. Not a big deal for those who had arrived with crew cuts, but many of us lost our carefully coiffed DA [duck’s ass] hairdos); an initial issue of clothing; a scratchy wool blanket; a small pillow and two mattress covers (commonly known as “fart sacks”) and a canvas seabag to carry it all in, the sailor’s version of a suitcase.
Receiving involved physical and dental exams, more rigorous than those at the induction centers and again including “turn and cough” and “bend and spread.” Then came the gauntlet of hospital corpsmen with hypodermic needles. Some athletic-looking young men, among others, turned pale at the sight of all those needles and, once in a while, one would actually faint.
Our final business at R&O was boxing up the civilian clothing we had arrived in for shipment home — we wouldn’t be needing that stuff for a while — and stenciling our names and service numbers on everything we’d been issued, even our underwear and socks. (Sometime in the 1960s service numbers were phased out and replaced by Social Security numbers but, for some reason, I can still remember my service number 50 years later.)
With these tasks completed, we had been stripped of civilian trappings on the outside and were ready to begin the process of being remade internally. It was not to be a painless process, but then it was not intended to be.