Memories of my first day in Navy Bootcamp. Maybe my most vivid memory of any day.
| June 15, 1978|
The whole list of things that I remember from the day I entered the Navy on June 15th, 1978, is remarkable to me. I don't remember much about the corralling of dozens of google eyed boys and a few girls at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Kansas City, except that none of us knew what lay ahead in our military journeys. We had all just finished our final physicals, signed away our lives for the next few years to Uncle Sam and were waiting for transportation to the airport to begin our military service. Oh yeah, and you can't leave the building until it gets here.
My first real memory is being at the airport in Kansas City, waiting to board the flight to Orlando. My mother and girlfriend showed up to see me off. Hank Samora and I were going into bootcamp together and I think his mom and dad showed up too. This was also going to be my first airplane ride, so I was nervous. Hank was a friend from high school that decided to enlist and go to bootcamp with me. He was a muscular kid from a similarly poor household like me and we had been friends for almost two years. He had some native American heritage and was a football and track star in school. I figured if anyone could withstand the rigors of Navy bootcamp, Hank would surely be a top pick.
Arriving at the airport in Orlando was notable because the humidity in Orlando was significant. It was like breathing butter instead of air. Several of us found the rally point for the bus taking us to Recruit Training Command. You knew who the new Sailors were by the small bags, swiveling heads and that "what the heck am I doing here" look on their faces. It wasn't long before the sliding door opened, and this angry looking guy in uniform with a red rope on his shoulder popped through the door announcing that everyone going to Navy bootcamp pile onto the bus outside the door. We looked like cattle heading to the slaughterhouse.
The only thing I remember after boarding the bus was the Sailor announcing that everyone would be searched once we got to the base and anyone caught with drugs in their possession would be immediately brought back to the airport and would have to pay for their own ride back home. On cue, windows dropped, and bags of pot and pills started flying by the windows. If the police had been behind us the bus driver would have been pulled over for littering.
When we got to the base we were all filed out of the bus and told to stand in footprints painted on the concrete. It looked more like we were going to be executed than inducted. It was hot and muggy like I had never felt before. Sweat started forming on the skin and clothes began to cling and become uncomfortable. They told us what was in store for the next few days, told us we were now "United States Sailors and government property!" I still remember the sound of the lawn sprinklers in the distance, keeping the beautifully manicured St. Augustine lawns in top shape.
They finally led us into a room with carrell desks and hard backed chairs, and for the next hour we filled out paperwork, signed even more papers and we inventoried, bagged and tagged everything we had brought with us so we could collect it after we finished training. The only things we got to keep were toiletries that we dropped into our "ditty bag." To clarify, a ditty bag is a cloth bag about the size of a small trash bag with a light cotton rope to cinch the top and throw over your shoulder. This wouldn't be the last time we carried essentials in our ditty bags.
Finally, they lined us up as best they could and walked us to a barracks for the night. By this time, we were all aching to hit the sack so we could be ready for the ominous day ahead. Each of us found a bunk to sleep in, anticipating restful bliss. My buddy Hank spent the next hour in the head with a pair of safety scissors from a sewing kit removing his lush full beard. At this point, morning was only a few hours away and everyone knew the "adventure" was about to begin. First stop tomorrow; breakfast, then off to the barbershop for the fastest haircut known to man and the swim test to top off the morning. Sweet dreams!