CHAPTER 1

RECRUIT TRAINING

On the afternoon of September 22, 1932 my dad turned me over to the Navy recruiter at Hannibal, Missouri. We said our good byes. For the first time in my life I left the security of the family nest to be under the authority of the US Navy until October 31, 1956. After serving for 24 years and 39 days I was retired and to be paid $308.88 per month for life along with other retirement benefits.

After completing some paper work, the recruiter took me to a cheap hotel. The room had no bath, air conditioning, phone or any other amenity. I didn't sleep much since I didn't have a watch or any way of knowing what time it was and I was afraid I would oversleep. The recruiter was to pick me early the next morning for the six-hour train ride to St. Louis.

A Navy man picked me up at the St. Louis railroad station and took me to the recruiting center where about 30 others from the area were gathered.

We were then asked to take the oath of office. The recruiter warned, "If you don't want to join the Navy, decide so now. After you take this oath you are in the Navy. You can be put in jail for desertion if you change your mind."

After taking the oath we were free for the afternoon. I took a streetcar out to Forest Park on a sight seeing trip. I had never been to St. Louis before.

In the evening we boarded a train for the overnight trip to Chicago and then to Great Lakes, Ill. about 40 miles north of Chicago. We arrived early in the morning and parked on a siding just outside the U.S. Naval Training Station. We were then bussed to Camp Barry, a World War I recruit training facility. We must have been given something to eat and perhaps had a shower, but the first thing I remember is the trip to the barbershop. In an assembly line procedure the barber made about six passes with his electric clippers and the true shape of our heads was revealed to the world leaving only a small Indian brave like tuft of hair on the front of our head. As some of the men with long beautiful hair eyed the barber as they took their seat he would sometimes run his fingers through their hair and ask, "Do you want to keep this?" If the answer was " yes" , he would say, "Hold out your hands."

Then to the clothing outfitters. From experience the Navy clothiers knew that with regular diet and sleep the average recruit would gain about 8 pounds so this was taken into consideration. The clothing issuer made a quick measure of chest, waist and leg length and called out an (oversize) size to the stocker. We staggered out of the end of the line with 60 to 75 lbs of clothing, a mattress and a canvas hammock. At the next station in the line we were furnished three stencils with the letters of our name in various sizes. At the painting station our name in black or white was stenciled on every piece of clothing including our shoes and socks. Underwear shorts were knee lengths.

Included with the clothing issue was a sea bag. We were taught how to roll each piece of clothing
In a neat roll and tie it with small white braids called clothes stops. It was a great space saver to store all we owned in a small locker or sea bag for moving. There was also a small canvas "ditty" bag for storing toilet articles.

We were given a choice of donating our clothes to charity or having them mailed home.

The next stop was the barracks. For sleeping there were long rows of platforms about 5 feet high and 3 feet wide and 6 feet long called the "poop deck." A couple of feet above this deck, at both ends, were 2-inch iron pipes running the length of the building. These were for stringing up our hammocks. The Navy hammock is a rectangular flat piece of canvas 3 feet by six feet in size. At each end are a half a dozen "grommets", holes with brass rings. A fan shaped net is attached to these holes and a single rope in a ring completes the hanging bed. There is a mattress cover for a sheet and blanket but no pillow. When first strung up the hammock has not stretched to accommodate an individual size and is never successfully mounted the first try. Every recruit has at least a half dozen falls before getting the "hang" of it. Gradually the middle stretches a little and it assumes a cocoon shape. It is only for sleeping on ones back. Trying to shift to one side means being dumped out on deck. We were not issued pajamas--underwear was also for sleeping.

During recruit training sleeping wasn't very sound since every few minutes all night long we would hear a thump as someone fell out of his hammock bounced off the poop deck and fell another 5 feet to the concrete deck.. Was it dangerous? Yes. Many a recruit suffered cuts and bruises. I remember falling out 3 or 4 times.

On board ship hammocks are hung at 7:00 PM and the following morning stowed in the hammock netting at reveille sounded 5:30 AM. Hammocks were used on all older ships simply because of space limitations. The balancing side to developing spine deformation or kidney cramp is that in a rough sea the hammock swings with the ship's motion giving a "rock a bye baby" peaceful sleep.

When reveille sounds a petty officer checks to see that every one responds instantly. He yells out, "Show a leg." Anyone who doesn't is unceremoniously dumped out of his hammock.

According to some the expression "bare a hand" originated during World War I when women served in the Navy. Their recruit training was conducted by male petty officers. At reveille modesty dictated a change in procedure so the petty officer would command, "Bare a hand." This eventually became Navy language and is now "bear a hand" means, "get with it "on the double."

About 230 men were recruited for training at Great Lakes in September 1932. Two companies of 100 each were formed. Thirty sailors, who were the latest arrivals, were left over. I was among them. We were placed in a "drag company" which meant we would have to wait for next month's recruits to arrive before having enough men to begin formal training.

Camp Barry was the isolation camp. In order to prevent spread of infectious diseases all recruits were quarantined for 3 weeks. The thirty of us spent the first month at Camp Barry with no contact with the outside world except for mail. Some Saturday and Sunday afternoon's girls from nearby Waukegan would visit with us through the high wire fence surrounding the Camp.

We did do a few hours of infantry drill each week but for the most part waxed decks, washed windows, polished brass, and dusted the varnished wood work in the old barracks again and again.

By now floors had become decks, walls were bulkheads, and food became chow, We had our dental needs brought up to date and were immunized against every thing except sin.

Among the 30 of us was Ed Goodrick. We became good friends, which continued throughout life and even after he became famous as the compiler of the NIV Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.

After a month of isolation next month's quota of recruits arrived and we were formed into Company 6. Every day consisted of hours of infantry drill on the field at Camp Barry.

Infantry drill is designed to promote instant obedience and engender teamwork. Drill starts out without a rifle but progresses into formations with rifles and bayonets. When the order is given, TO THE REAR, MARCH, the marcher who does not reverse on command will find himself trampled over by riflemen with bayonets fixed.

Infantry drill is the first step in learning discipline then defined as "prompt, cheerful, and complete obedience to all orders received."

This phase of training is the beginning of process in which individual "rights" are taken away and gradually restored as "privileges".

After the seven weeks we moved to the "main side" for advanced training. We were located on
The bank of Lake Michigan. Because of the severe weather we drilled inside the armory. Tan "leggings" were added to keep our bell bottom trousers from flopping and colored semaphore flags were tucked inside. A part of out training was to memorize and speed through the alphabet with our semaphore flags.

Infantry training meant more work later in life. In 1944 I was serving as a Gunnery Instructor at the New Construction Gunners's Mate school in Washington, D.C. The Secretary of the Navy put out an order that all students in Navy Schools would participate in 2 hours of infantry drill per week. Only two of us instructors had the know how so we got the job. I was a little rusty and would occasionally loose track of which company was which. The problem was solved by giving a "to the rear, March" command and then identify the company whose number I had called when they turned around.

When President Roosevelt's body was shipped back to the White House from Warm Springs, Georgia in 1945, servicemen from all branches formed a corridor, "manning the rail' from Union Station to the White House. My company lined the street north of the Capitol Building.

At the end of the war there were endless parades celebrating VE day, VJ day, Admiral Nimitz Day etc. The streetcar tracks on Pennsylvania Avenue were covered with boards. We marched from the Capitol to the reviewing stand at 14th and Pennsylvania. In rehearsal I had a hard time shaping up my company but soon learned that when the bands were playing and crowds cheering and the dignitaries returning our salutes, the men marched with a precision Napoleon's soldiers would have envied.

At the Training Station we had sessions in marlinespike seamanship which consisted of learning how to tie every imaginable knot and splice rope and cable.

Sunday DIVINE SERVICE was compulsory during recruit training. I don't remember hearing much from the Bible. The typical outline of the chaplain's message during the 1930s was a variation of" Every day do something nice, See something nice, and Say something nice" and you have it made with God and man. The senior chaplain, Frank Harry Lash, an Episcopalian. later became chaplain on the USS WEST VIRGINIA (BB 48) In a Bible study he taught he created in me a lasting interest in the book of Philemon. He lived to be more than a hundred and once sent me greetings by a visitor from the U.S Naval Hospital in San Diego.

We also a day at the Rifle range firing into Lake Michigan in the bitter cold. It was my introduction to the military 30-30 Springfield rifle. I had thought the strap hanging underneath was for carrying but was taught it was primarily to lever the rifle butt against the shoulder when firing. Since I had only fired light weapons, I held the rifle rather loosely for my first shot and got spun around with a bruised shoulder from the recoil. I learned the hard way that the weapon must be held so tight it presses the flesh into the bone or severe bruise results.

Our base pay was $21.00 a month less 20 cents a month medical deduction. On my first payday I bought a wristwatch. On the second a camera.

After a month of training on the "main site", we were allowed to leave the base on liberty. I visited Chicago, and Waukegan, Illinois and Racine, Wisconsin with nothing in mind rather than seeing something new.

My first visit to Chicago, the men I was with were a little more experienced in the ways of the world. We went into a "speakeasy" for a drink. I believe I got a 5-cent coke for 50 cents. While we were sitting at the bar a policeman came in. I imagined I was about to go to jail. But he sat down at the bar for his free drink. Although drinking alcoholic drinks was against the law, no attempt was made by the police to enforce it.

One of the stories which went around in those days was about the gangster who was killed and left a wife and three policemen to support.

We were given a week off at Christmas. I rode the Santa Fe train from Chicago to Baring, MO., five miles from Edina. It was great to be with the family. I soon learned that like the water closes around the circle made by a pebble thrown in the water the circle of my friends had closed without me and I was shifting into a new circle. After Christmas our three months of training was completed and the graduation ceremony took place with great pomp and circumstance. Having served in the Navy for 4 months I was promoted to Seaman Second Class. My base pay was now $36.00 per month less the 20 cants a month hospital fee. When President Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, one of his first acts was to cut the pay of all government employees by 15 per cent. My pay was reduced to $30.60 per month..

Upon graduation we were given ten days leave and I again went home to Plevna. Upon returning to Great Lakes we were placed in the OUTGOING UNIT awaiting assignment.

On assignment day we all lined up ten feet from a bulletin board on which the ships and number of men each was to receive was posted. When a whistle blew we were to rush forward and sign our names on the sheet listing the name of the ship we wanted.

The 30 of us in the "drag company" had formed a special friendship and decided we wanted to go to the same ship, our newest battleship, the USS WEST VIRGINIA (BB 48) So we formed a flying wedge and pushed off the other sailors while one of our group signed our names on the sheet. This was to prove providential as Ed Goodrick and I were to go to the same ship.

A few days later we boarded a special train of Pullman cars bound for San Pedro, California.

The only stop we made was in Salt Lake City where we were given a tour of the Mormon Tabernacle.

Almost six months to the day after I joined the Navy I, and my sea bag, with all my possessions in it, was in a 50 foot motor launch ploughing through the waves to my new home for the next ten years, the battleship, USS WEST VIRGINIA.

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James W. Downing
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