Monthly Archives: July 2014

Post 100 – Thank You

Today’s post is, shockingly, number 100. To mark this milestone, I have little to say other than to thank all of you who have read, and hopefully enjoyed my little stories. And of course hope that you will continue to do so.

As I record the memories of my earlier years, more occur to me, so there will be more to come. And I have barely touched on my time in the Navy.

But to begin a new century (?) of postings, Number 101 will introduce a new category, “Home Again – The Later Sixties”. I hope you will enjoy multi-part saga of my return to the world.

Once again, thanks to all of you for taking a look.


Scouting: Part Two – Camp Blackhawk

As Boy Scouts, our circle of activities widened. We still had regular meetings and gatherings of course, but we did other stuff too; like a day in the woods identifying various shrubs (like poison ivy) and trees, and such, as well as learning to build a fire, and what knots were useful and how to tie them.

There were extended adventures as well. One fine, if more than a bit rainy, summer weekend we camped with several other scout troops along the Fox River at Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles, IL.

I also spent about ten days at a place called Camp Blackhawk, which I heard once was somewhere in Michigan. (Muskegan County, I much later learned. I knew at the time it seemed an awfully long way from home). We did the usual things; ate our meals in the communal mess hall, swam and rowed boats on the rather nice lake, and slept in semi-permanent tent structures, which held bunks for about 10 boys each.

The camp counselors were guys a few years older than we were, and each an “expert” at one of the various activities in which we participated. The counselors stayed in cabins scattered about the lakeside woods near the venues which they supervised; woodcraft, archery, boating, and the like. Even a small rifle range. The cabins in which the counselors stayed all had names; usually puns on the names of movies popular at the time (i.e. “Paintin’ Place”).

On the first day, while taking our initial tour, the rifle range caught my attention. When we were introduced to the counselor overseeing the range, he asked the group if anyone were interested in competing with him — best score for five shots with a .22 rifle. The bet was a quarter, and he would supply the ammunition (which probably meant that it was the camp’s ammo).

No one stepped forward, except finally one. Me. A quarter was a fair portion of the money with which I had been supplied — with the stern instruction to spend it wisely — and the of the rest of the guys all eagerly told me what a fool I was, and that I couldn’t possibly win. But I went forward anyway.

So down I went to the shooting counter and we took turns firing at the target. When 10 shots were expended we walked to the paper targets to learn the results. I discovered that, surprise!, I had lost — and badly. Actually, my shots weren’t that bad, but he was an ace.

I handed over my quarter and received a large number of “I told you so’s” from my new friends. But that was okay, I got to shoot five rounds and to be center of attention for 15 minutes or so, and it only cost me a quarter. I still believe it was money well spent.

The time passed and we cycled through the various activities by day, rowed boats and had water fights after dinner, and generally had lots of fun. And I learned a few things as well, including the theretofore unknown joy of apple butter on breakfast toast. Surprisingly, I won an award on the archery range; an activity in which I had little real interest. But I accepted the award proudly nonetheless. And still have it.

The last day we packed up our stuff and were off on the long bus ride back to Aurora; happy to be going home, but sad to be leaving. A sign, I guess, that we’d had pretty good time.


Scouting: Part One – Cub Scouts

After the grueling climb up the Cub Scout hierarchy — Wolf, Bear, and the never fully understood status of Webelos — the transition to being a Boy Scout was major. I’d reached the big time; well on the way to being grown-up. Or so it seemed at the moment.

The girls had long since graduated from Brownies to Girl Scouts; a fact which caused us boys to be both resentful and a bit jealous. Of course what we didn’t know at the time was that girls do, in fact, mature sooner. At around age 7 or 8 they begin to have deep thoughts — having a wedding to start planning, a life to organize, and Elvis, or Frankie Avalon, or Paul McCartney to fantasize about. We boys on the other hand would mostly remain boys to some degree for the next 15 or 20 years; occasionally longer. In the order of things important, deep thoughts can often consist of who the Bears are playing next Sunday. But I digress.

The overt paramilitary nature of Cub Scouting, and later Boy Scouting, was lost on us as many of the organized aspects of our lives tended, in those days, to socialize us in preparation for the conformity of the military experience.

Also, remember that we, the charter member baby boomers, grew up in the immediate aftermath of World War II, which we acted out in our play on a regular basis. So the uniforms and regimentation, disciplines, and codes of honor, were not necessarily outside the mainstream of daily life.

The less than patient waiting to get older notwithstanding, Cub Scouts was fun. The weekly den meetings at someone’s house usually provided something interesting in the area of arts and/or crafts – and yes, helped us to learn about working as a team. The Den Mothers worked hard at organizing stuff for us to do, and I recall, quite vividly, one meeting which focused on knights and castles of the middle-ages. We each made a shield of cardboard and painted it with a brightly colored crest. It was this single event, I believe, which sparked the interest in medieval times which is still in me; the Teutonic Knights, King Arthur and his table, The White Queen, and the Black Prince, and so on.

The monthly gathering of the entire Pack, in the Bardwell School Gymnasium, complete with uniforms, ceremony, occasional awards and promotions — and a potluck supper supplied by our moms — was a looked forward to event. There was a theme to each meeting, as I recall, and although there wasn’t then a President’s Day in February, we did combine and celebrate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington as a single event. One year, before the February monthly meeting got started, I was assigned, along with some other Cubs, to attach maraschino cherries to branches, creating small cherry trees which served as centerpieces for the tables of the supper, thus honoring our first president.

But, despite all the fun, Cub Scouts was just a warm-up for the main event. Despite how slowly time seemed to grind forward it did pass, and soon enough we become Boy Scouts; eligible for even grander adventures.

Inventory at Thor Power Tool Company – A Lesson Learned

Biding my time until I reported to the Navy, my next job, in September of 1964, was a temporary employment; helping to perform the annual physical inventory at Thor Power Tool Company, where my father was a longtime employee.

This was an era when companies counted the labor cost of producing individual component parts as an important measure in the overall cost of their products, and produced large quantities of parts, and partial assemblies, on the notion that producing in quantity reduced the cost of each individual item and would thus maintain warehouses and stock rooms full of such, waiting to be used.

The annual “Physical Inventory” was important because the government charges a tax on the value of held inventories. So everything had to be accurately counted and recorded; a task both daunting, and mind numbingly boring for those, such as I, who were hired to do so.

I had decided that because of the nature of the work, and because the  pay for any given day’s work was not all that much, taking a day off was not that great a penalty. But I knew my father would certainly not approve.

My dad and I rode together to and from work in the aging, but still sound, 50 Plymouth. On one of those days we walked from the parking lot on Claim Street to, and through, the front door of the old building, as usual. As he continued on to the department in which he worked, I reversed course and walked right back to the car; having decided via a rationale which made sense to me at the time that I just wasn’t going into work that day.

Instead I drove to the West Side, where a friend lived. We then picked up another friend and had a really fun day — made more so, I’m sure, by the fact that I was not in some dim warehouse, counting hundreds of small, oily, half completed parts.

Just before 3:30 pm I returned, re-parked the car and waited for my dad. Getting into the car he glanced at the dashboard noting the odometer, or the gas gauge, or something. He then dryly commented that he hoped that I had had a good day, seeing as how I hadn’t been at work. He said no more about the matter, but it made me feel pretty low nonetheless. Lesson learned, I never tried to fool him again.

Boating on Hampton Roads

Having been plucked by a passing Chief Petty Officer from the menial tasks of keeping the Norfolk Naval Station’s Receiving Center shipshape, I would now spend my days serving as a boat engineer. I still had to clean, of course, but these activities would now be at the end of each day, and limited to a single boat. This chore would also be shared by one of my two crewmates.

The typical Navy small boat crew was a three-man team. The Coxwain, who drove the boat, was “In Charge” in all ways. He was almost certainly a boatswain’s mate, and always of Petty Officer rank (comparable to a noncommissioned officer in the Army). Rounding out the crew were the “Bow Hook”, an unrated Seaman of the deck force, who handled lines (ropes) at the front end of the boat, and the Engineer; usually a Fireman — like myself — and ideally an Engineman striker. The boat engineer not only handled lines at the aft end of the boat, but was responsible for all things related to the boat’s propulsion system – mainly, the engine.

In the old days, this included actual operation (shifting, forward or reverse, and setting the throttle) as required. This would be done in response to signals given by the Coxwain via a very loud bell, conveniently located very close to the Engineer’s ear. In the more “modern” times in which I served, the engine was controlled solely by the Coxwain. So for the rest of the crew each journey was mostly just a boat ride.

The task which the chief had in mind for me was as engineer on a LCVP – Landing Craft-Vehicle-Personnel in Navy parlance; the World War II era landing craft developed to deliver troops to a beach via its drop-down bow ramp (see Saving Private Ryan). The more peaceful pursuits in which I participated were to deliver various goods and items – some senior officer’s car, perhaps — and occasionally personnel, around the Hampton Roads area, the expansive waterway formed by the confluence of several large rivers as they debauch into the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean.

We thus spent our days plying the waters between the naval station, the D & S (Destroyer and Submarine) Piers just up the Elizabeth upriver, and to Newport News, across Hampton Roads on the James River. Occasionally, longer missions took us to the shipyard in Portsmouth, or to the Fleet Amphibious Base at Little Creek, VA, beyond the Bay Bridge near Cape Henry, where the Bay meets the Atlantic.

This turned out to be easy duty, and a great deal of fun. Alas, as I settled in, looking forward to another couple of weeks before the Tutuila returned, I and several others from the receiving station were suddenly assigned to temporary duty aboard the USS Vulcan, a massive repair ship docked, more or less permanently, at Pier 5. The good times were over. At least for a while.


The Receiving Station

Dutifully arriving at Norfolk in the spring of 1965, and having no ship to report to, I was temporarily housed at the Receiving Station of the massive naval facility. This barracks like building was comfortable, by military standards, and quite clean. This latter was the logical result of the fact that temporary residents there had little to actually do. The Navy, and those who have authority over those of lower rank — like me — are great believers in the notion that “idle hands are the devil’s tools”. So we cleaned, all day and everyday; or so it seemed.

A couple of days after my arrival I was swabbing (mopping) the deck (linoleum floor) in the lounge area when a Chief Petty Officer spotted me, and noted my “Engineman” striker badge on the “Undress” white uniform in which I toiled. He asked me if I were a qualified boat engineer. As I began to tell the chief that I wasn’t quite sure of the specific responsibilities…, he interrupted me saying that if I “had that striker badge, I had damn well better be a qualified boat engineer”. And so, as of that moment, I was a qualified boat engineer. This led to many more interesting activities than mopping the floor.


First Airplane Ride(s)

I graduated from the US Navy’s Class A Engineman and spent a part of my post-school leave with family friends in Pittsburgh, PA. When the leave ended and it was time to re-join the Navy, the Forkin family drove me to the Pittsburgh airport. As could be done in those days they walked me to the gate and sat with me until it was time to board. This was all a new experience for me, as this would be my very first ride on an airplane of any sort; and this would be a jet, — perhaps a very early version of the venerable 727 — which added greatly to my excitement.

The plane left on time, with me aboard; my nose pressed firmly against the window. About an hour later I reattached my nose to the window as we began our descent and landed at National Airport at Washington DC.

At DC I learned the procedure for changing planes, and waited patiently for the flight to Norfolk, VA. My second-ever flight offered what was, in those days, a somewhat more typical air travel experience. The Piedmont Airlines flight to Norfolk was on an aging DC-3, and at boarding time I walked to and up the steps, entered the twin-engine “tail dragger” and walked uphill to my seat.

And once again we were off, and yes my nose was to the window. My complete enjoyment of taking off and landing in aircraft large and small is still with me — although any other pleasure I might have experienced in air travel in these modern times has all but totally faded away.

The trip from National Airport – actually across the Potomac River in Arlington, VA — to Norfolk took longer than my previous flight, as most of the time was spent taking off and landing (good for me), as we stopped at both Richmond, VA and Newport News, VA before lifting off and almost immediately descending on the other side of Hampton Roads at Norfolk.

It was, by now, late on a Sunday evening, and full dark. After a bus ride to the naval station, I discovered that the ship to which I was assigned was off somewhere (the Caribbean, it turned out), doing something important (????), and would not return for a few weeks.

I was directed to the “Receiving Station” — a warehouse for temporary orphans like myself — where I stayed a for a few days before being bounced around a bit while awaiting the return of my new home, USS Tutuila (ARG-4).