I don’t know what tales are called by soldiers and airmen, but in the Navy stories spun with some grain of truth woven into them were called sea stories.
Like fairy tales that begin with “Once upon a time,” sea stories begin with a phrase that cannot be spoken in church or found on the pages of wholesome family newspapers. A milder phrase is “This ain’t no lie.”
So, this ain’t no lie. The thought of writing a sea story only occurred to me because it is Veterans Day and I’m a veteran. I’m not bragging about it because it wasn’t easy for me to get to a point where I could claim ownership of that title.
I’m embarrassed to say it, but I really didn’t think I would survive my nine-week boot camp. It’s embarrassing because everyone else before me went through 18 weeks. It was gratifying though, that the Navy shortened the length of basic training just for my benefit because honestly, I wasn’t sure I would live through nine weeks. I couldn’t fathom 18. Fathom: that’s one of the few nautical terms I remember after 20 years in the Navy.
Most of my doubt about not surviving boot camp centered around the behavior of my company commander. If not for him, the whole experience could have been more pleasant because truthfully, he was not very nice to me, but he was a good actor, because he was completely convincing when he threatened to drop me from the second story window of the barracks.
I was reasonably sure he wouldn’t actually drop me because the whole incident was over what I considered to be something trivial. All I did was tie my white hat onto the clothes line with a granny knot instead of a square knot — just one wrong twist in the lanyard and the next thing I know I’m hanging out of a window.
I still remember my company commander’s name, but I don’t dare repeat it because he might still be alive, but then again, he might be dead. In either case, I believe he is capable of grabbing me by the throat and leaving me flapping in the breeze — granted, I went to boot camp in San Diego so it was a rather pleasant breeze, blowing in off the ocean.
My company commander always told me I was gullible. That wasn’t exactly the term he used, but the meaning was clear; I was easily duped and although his summation of me might have been true, I was not stupid. It was obvious that from the time the busload of us arrived on Worm Island, he was only reinforcing what he thought of us in the newly formed company.
His opinion, I thought, was a little unfair. It was almost midnight. All of us had been traveling all day, and I’m sure my company commander was a little bit apprehensive over getting his very first company.
There are two places in the Navy where it is never good to be: in a company commander’s first company or a commanding officer’s first ship.
After piling out of the bus and standing in what we all thought was a straight line, we were herded into a barracks where he and several other company commanders yelled and screamed at us for absolutely no reason.
I’ve got to tell you that I don’t like being yelled and screamed at. It hurts my feelings, but somehow, the company commander did not seem to care. The next thing I remember, all of us were duck-walking on our haunches around the barracks like ducks, quacking like ducks, and at certain intervals, shouting in unison that in essence, were all dumb, dirty birds.
So, some weeks later when I was flapping in the breeze from a second-story window, I actually believed he might drop me because he acted like a crazy person.
I had never heard the term “bipolar disorder” before or during boot camp, but looking back, I wonder if that was what was wrong with him. Would he have been kinder and gentler had Prozac been invented before 1972? With proper diet, exercise and medication, he might have truly been more like my mother.
It’s possible, but I doubt it.
OK, I’m going to take a chance and say thank you to Gunner’s Mate Guns First Class David Clayton Thomas, sir, for not dropping me.