It was Christmas of 1973 and I was a brand new Navy recruit getting my training at the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Florida. I was seventeen years of age and it was my first, but not last, Christmas away from family.
As I've mentioned before, while growing up, my family moved around the country because my father worked for a large construction company. The company built large bridges and dams which usually were completed in less than 2 years after which we would move to the next project. Moving as often as we did could have been devastating to my education and that of my brother and sister. When arriving in a new area, my parents would search out the best rental house by the quality of the town, neighborhood and school system. Sometimes the best house would be quite a distance away from the construction project. This would require my father to drive more than an hour to work each morning and evening. As anyone who has worked construction knows, the work hours are from "can see to can't" which meant leaving home well before daylight and arriving back home after dark. Apparently my parents were very good at choosing the quality school systems since I met all of the requirements for high school graduation at the end of my junior year. It sure helped that the last school was on the trimester system which divided the school year into 3 separate portions. Three classes were taught per day per trimester which equaled to 9 classes per year. Many students met all requirements before the end of their senior year. The school system gave three options to those of us who wanted to leave school early. Our graduation date would still be in the spring but we could leave school at the end of any trimester after attaining our graduation requirements as long as we 1) attended college full time, 2) worked at a job for a minimum of 40 hours per week or 3) enlist in the military. One guy made up his own option and chose jail, I'm not sure if he got his diploma or not, but that is another story. :).
I was tired of school and although I had a job, I didn't want to do that job as a career so I chose option number 3 and enlisted in the military. Even at that age, I wanted to see new things and not be tied down to one place for long periods of time. That meant joining the Navy, getting stationed aboard ship and see the world. The official Navy commercial on TV at that time was "Be Something Special, U.S. Navy". The unofficial commercial the recruiters were using was "Join the Navy and Ride a WAVE." I won't explain the impact on impressible young men of that saying. :).
I wanted to leave school after the fist trimester which meant I needed to enlist by the end of November. The official date was November 27, 1973. It never crossed my mind when I enlisted that I would be spending Christmas in boot camp. I'm sure my mother probably mentioned it, but at that time, it went in one ear and out the other. For boot camp, I was sent to the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Florida and wouldn't you know it, that was the same base the WAVES took their basic training. Initially I thought the recruiter may have known what he was talking about, but later learned he didn't.
Back then it took about a week for enough recruits to arrive to form a company of 75 men. By the time we finished boot camp, we were down to 40 men thanks to our rough and tough company commander. He was a short but stocky Boatswain's Mate 1st class and was capable of frightening the crap out of everyone. Sometimes men were discharged or more commonly, they were put behind a week due to poor performance. A lot of times, we never saw them leave. We would wake up in the morning or arrive back to the barracks after chow and their rack (bed) and locker would be empty. My company number was 309 which meant we were the 309th company formed in the year 1973. It was our bad luck that Company 308 was the last company that qualified for Christmas leave which left me and my company as well as all others after us on base for the holidays. The good news was that our company was the "senior" company on base during the holidays and that meant we were the senior male company who attended the New Year Eve party with the senior female company. That again is a story for another time. It seems like there are more and more of those "stories for another time" but that other time never comes.
You do a lot of exercises in boot camp. It was not unusual to have jumping jacks counted into the high 100's and into the 1,000's. To start the exercise, the the command was like "Jumping Jacks, 500, Hut". The first part of that command was the type of exercise, the second was the amount and "hut" meant begin. Usually, there were rounds of exercise immediately after waking up to Reveille which was broadcast over the loud speakers. It didn't take recruits long to learn you better wake up before reveille so you could hit the head (go to the bathroom) before exercises. Exercising with a full bladder is not fun and probably unhealthy. After the first week, everyone would be awake while laying in their racks waiting for reveille to sound.
Anyway, this post was suppose to be about Christmas in Boot Camp. So, Christmas Day, 1973. Our company commander had told us the previous day that he would be spending Christmas Day with his family and friends but we would be confined to the barracks except for meals. He also informed us that there would only be one company commander in charge of 6 companies on Christmas Day and that we better not screw up while he was gone or we would pay for it the next day. During evening meal on Christmas Eve, word was spreading among all the companies that reveille would not be sounded on Christmas Day and that everyone could sleep in. It sounded too good to be true, but since everyone was saying it, it must be true, uh? On Christmas morning, we were all awake as usual and waiting for reveille to sound. It didn't. The time came and went without a peep. Alright then, lets roll over and go back to sleep. BAM, the door to the barracks was thrown open and slamed against the wall. A metal garbage can was thrown on floor between the racks with a loud bang. There was our company commander banging the garbage can lid on the walls and everything else as he walked to the middle of the barracks. He was screaming at the top of his lungs and I can remember those words clearly. He was yelling...... "What do you think this is, Christmas???" Of course by then, all of us had jumped out of our racks and were standing at attention. While still banging the lid against everything near him, he quickly turned back towards the door, stopped banging the lid, spun around to look at us and then there was complete silence. Time froze for a while as we all wondered what would happen next. After what seemed a long time, but was probably only a few seconds, he issued his command. "Jumping Jacks,,,,,,,,FOREVER,,,,,,,,hut". He tossed the garbage can lid on the floor, turned, and left the barracks. We started doing the jumping jacks. I don't remember how many we did that morning, but I know it was record setting and only about half of us made it to the end. After a while, the door opened again with a bang. The Company Commander walked in and yelled,,,,, "What the hell are you exercising for, don't you boots know it's Christmas Day?????" He left again and we didn't see him until the next morning. The incident was never mentioned by him. He acted as if it had never occurred and no one was brave enough to ask him about it. It just added to the mystique of this man being crazy. :). Looking back, it wouldn't be surprisingly to find out that every company on base went through the same thing.
So, this Christmas Day, if you are enjoying the day with family and friends, remember those that are not as fortunate. Remember the military men and women who are defending our great country and her allies and were not granted leave. Remember the police on duty who are protecting and serving, the airline pilots and flight attendants who are flying people home for the holidays, the cooks and waitresses who serve up holiday food, the truckers on the road trying to get home in time for Christmas, the doctors and nurses who are on duty, the hospital patients and their families who have the misfortune to being in the hospital or nursing homes during the holidays, the highway workers who risk their lives to keep the roads open for holiday travelers.
Remember the ones who are lost inside themselves for they are the ones who truly don't have anyone.
I wish everyone a Merry, Merry Christmas. May you have a peaceful and enjoyable day wherever you will be and whatever you will be doing.
Christ is the reason for the season.
|Christmas Tree at The Wall
(picture borrowed from internet article about the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fun)
Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.