Skip Navigation Links

Boot Camp

Submitted by Albin Johnson - May 08, 2007

Captain Alb and his daughter and grandchildren.
Every week our Los Angeles Times newspaper pays homage to those casualties of the conflict in Iraq. I am retired and live in San Clemente, California. Our home is only a few miles from Camp Pendleton, the "west coast" Boot Camp for newly enlisted Marines. I can always tell when graduation nears by the distinct distant rumbling of live ammunition, the big stuff being discharged, along with the noise of helicopters hovering overhead. Soon another group of kids, mostly teenagers will become "gung-ho" Marines ready for deployment in near and faraway countries. I admit I say a little "mantra" for this generation to find "Safe harbors" as they go forth during these unfortunate trying times.

My family has had its group of service personnel. My Great Grandfather, my Father, 3 Cousins, 1 Nephew, my Brother-in-Law, my wife's Father and Uncle, as well as all the Boys from my 1948 H.S.Graduation Class and all but one from my Wife H.S. Class. I rather imagine each and every one of these young men felt they were helping to make America safer for future generations. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was quoted as saying, "I hate war!" Yet hundreds of thousands of GI's and civilians perished during the 1940's. Looking back, I didn't care much for War either!

My service story began in February of 1951 at Great Lakes in Boot Camp Navy style, which is much the same as todays, which usually means the tough talk, rigorous exercise, and discipline. Those we "Salts" called Gyrenes and Jarheads have the added stress of "UNITY" epitomized by the words, Whoha, Gung-ho and Semper Fi. They train as a unit and serve as a unit during their enlistment.

All male Navy recruits will first have their hair cut very short. The joke was that those pampered locks would be used to feather their pillows. Navy speak or lingo starts with issuing the bedding and clothing. The wool uniforms were dress blues and undressed blues complete with 13 buttoned fly. There were white cotton jumpers and trousers, dungarees, black shoes and socks, skivvies, hankies, ditty and sea bags, Pea Coat, white hats, watch cap, flat hat, towels and wash cloths, pillow and case. Blankets and a fitted sheet lovingly referred to as a "Fart sack." Now you know where the adage "swears like a sailor" came from.

The next 12 or so weeks were spent forming up on a cold wintry "grinder", exercising, "giving 5", listening to OOD's (orders of the day) and dismissal for meals, instructions, lectures, do's and don'ts, muster roll call, More do's and don'ts and more classes which included the swimming pool survival test, use of a gas mask, a touch of rifle and pistol firing, Naval history, ship structure and handling, letters to and from home, how to work in unity, follow orders and respect and obey the Chiefs, Warrant Officers, JG's and those few precious Waves that we saw in the mess hall. Like a Christmas kid, if we were good we had a family visit on base, a Liberty for a late night off base, and a stage show. In my case, I spent many "warm" hours in the barracks office typing as I had a 30 word per minute talent needed to fill out the ever present official forms. Free time was used to write lonely love letters to girlfriends and family and washing our clothes in a "bucket" in the laundry room. The drying room gave us a chance to thaw out our frozen hands and feet.

Instructive reading meant answering questions in the Blue Jacket Manual we were issued. We checked the Binnacle List as we Pogy Bait were warned not to go AWOL or AOL if and when we might be given a "Liberty" for excelling in some phase of instruction. The Shore Patrol, who could make a career Mustang cry, lectured us on Navy etiquette and if we pollywogs, crossed the line, scuttlebutt had it, few sinners ever returned!

Lectures, and study acquainted us with Navy Jargon that was historic and is still used aboard ship. We heard about, and observed ladder wells, hatches, bright work, knee knockers, latrines, fan tails, Irish pennants, official pennants and flags, standing watch, 5 and dimes, close order drill, Bos'ums and their pipes, painters and those who paint, lines, and screws, official logs, how to handle a back stay, scuppers, chain lockers, the chief, the crew, close quarters, and I do mean CLOSE QUARTERS for those lucky enough to serve aboard ship. I never saw a ship founder or filed a fubar, fussed with a becket, rode in the Captain's Gig, signed the official log, never cried "Avast ye Maties," but Iearned damned well how to properly salute when, where, and with a smile. I kept my shoes with a proper shine, my hair short, I cleaned, pressed and stored my uniforms in the Navy style and only on leave did I cock or shape wings onto my White Hat.

Naval boot camp, graduates will scatter to the 4 corners of Earth to be trained as specialists or remain seamen and future Petty Officers stationed aboard ship. Previous test scores will provide candidates the opportunity to "Strike" for a choice station or school for advanced training. I chose deployment to a new Seabee Construction Battalion . I was sent West to California and for the next 3 months learned construction the Navy way, incidentally, several instructors were Marine enlisted men. After graduation, I was ordered to Quonset Point Rhode Island and became a Plank Owner along with about 600 other members of newly formed Mobile Construction Battalion 8. Overseas duty was for 6 months and I spent time in French Morocco and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a carpenter, as well as 1 ½ years as a draftsman at the Office of the Commander of Construction Battalions Atlantic Fleet Headquarters, Davisville, RI I am very proud that I spent those 4 years in the service and I hold in high regard any young man or woman who chooses to enlist. I only hope and pray that their time and sacrifices not be used to further political whims or their names appear sadly on the obit page of my LA Times.

I am enclosing this picture to verify that once, when much younger, I was the Captain, Chief and First Mate of a fine rented Sail Boat. The crew were my Daughter and my Grandchildren.