was raised in a small town in Southern California called Bell Gardens. Back then, it was known as “Billy Goat Acres” because so many residents raised livestock, goats in particular. Many of the people living in Bell Gardens then had homesteaded there during the depression. My dad was an exception. He was born in California in 1910...on a ranch...in Compton. He was a crane operator and my mom, born in Texas, was proud to be a house wife. 1963 was my senior year in high school and even though I had taken college prep courses, I was undecided as to what major I wanted to pursue. At that time, it was common to enter the military instead of going to college upon graduation. I had turned 18 in March and it was mandatory to register for the draft. A couple of buddies of mine were also undecided about college so the three of us made the decision to join the Navy together. I had known Dean for a couple of years but Jim had been my best friend since the 3rd grade. Most guys that enlisted in the military then wanted to go into the Marine Corps but we figured we could get more experience we could carry over to civilian life once we got out the service by going in the Navy.
We went down to our local Navy Recruiter to find out what jobs were available once we enlisted. At that time, the Navy had an aptitude test that, depending on how you scored, showed what jobs you qualified for. Luckily, we scored high enough to be eligible for any of the jobs the Navy had. We learned these jobs were called ratings. So, we browsed through all the brochures describing what ratings there were. I don’t know why we chose the rating of Dental Technician but it seemed like it might be interesting. Since we scored well on the aptitude test, we were guaranteed the class “A” Dental Tech School when we got out of boot camp. We were also in the “Buddy System” which meant we would stay together throughout boot camp.
On July 11th, a month after we graduated, we went to downtown Los Angeles where we were given physicals, filled in all the paperwork and were sworn in. Dean failed the physical and wasn’t accepted at that time. Dean was eventually drafted and almost completed Army boot camp before his medical problem got him discharged. Jim was only 17 at this time so his enlistment was the “Kiddy Cruise” or just over 3 years active duty. It must have taken most of the morning to go through the enlistment process. Once we were sworn in we were told that the boot camp at San Diego was temporarily closed due to an outbreak of spinal meningitis and that we would go to the Great Lakes Recruit Training Center in Illinois instead.
A quick comment about those photos above; Jim and I both thought we’d be clever and got a crew cut style haircut just before we joined thinking we wouldn’t have to get our heads shaved at boot camp…boy were we naive.
From Los Angeles, we were all bused to Lindbergh Field in San Diego for the flight to O’Hare Airport in Chicago with an intermediate stop at Flagstaff, Az. We flew at night in a prop driven aircraft and once we departed Flagstaff, the weather got stormy. It was more than a little unsettling to look out the window and all I could see was rain and the flame coming from the engine exhaust. It was still stormy and just after dawn by the time we arrived at O’Hare. I recall that when we landed, the plane was tilted so that we first touched down on the left wheel, bounced onto the right wheel then finally leveled out on the runway…whew! We were then herded onto buses for the drive to Great Lakes. I had never been west of Arizona until now and was amazed at how green the countryside looked. Southern California is really a desert after all.
It was a hectic reception we received as we were shouted at and made to double time everywhere. We were sorted into companies and Jim and I were placed in Company 275. Our Company Commander was a Chief Machinest Mate by the name of B. A. Galanty, someone I will never forget. Over the first few days we turned in all our civilian items, were issued uniforms (The Navy stopped issuing flat hats the month before so I never got one.), got a haircut…even if you had a nice crew cut… and were assigned to a barracks. I found out later you could always tell which boot camp someone just got out of by their haircut.
It seems that at Great Lakes, they shave your head every time except for the last cut when they only give you a trim whereas at San Diego, only your first cut is a shave and all the rest are trims. The first few weeks we were in older barracks and that was the worst time. One of the first things we learned was the "Great Lakes shuffle". That's where you stand on a couple of wads of steel wool and 'shuffle' your feet around the wood flooring to remove excess wax buildup before rewaxing and buffing the floors. Using an electric buffer for the first time is a story all by itself. We also stood in line...a LOT (a**hole to bellybutton as our Company Commander called it).
I was at boot camp during the summer months so when we didn't wear dungarees, we wore whites. Of course, we did laundry every night by hand. We had no way to iron our uniforms so we would take an empty can of Brasso (they were rectangular then), fill it with hot water and use that to try and remove wrinkles and give a crease. I don't think it really helped much though.
We also learned how to spit shine our shoes
and even our "boondockers". One of the guys showed the rest of
us that by using an old pair of nylons to buff the shoes, it
really brought out the spit shine. Later, I'm sure there were
many mothers, wives or girlfriends that were puzzled when they
got a request to please mail some old nylons.
Once we moved on to more advanced training, we moved to new barracks across the street. Discipline decreased somewhat at this point too. I think the best day I had in boot camp was the fire fighting class. I remember I was the nozzle man and Jim was right behind me. When I went into the mockup of a ships compartment that was set ablaze, I couldn’t understand why I was barely able to control the nozzle to put out the fire. It seems that as Jim and I went into the compartment, everyone else stayed outside and just fed the hose in to us. I weighed 135lbs at the time and was almost lifted off my feet by the pressure in the hose.
We were allowed one 12 hour liberty while we were in this phase of boot camp. Jim and I took the train into Chicago. We didn’t know our way around and of course the train station was probably in the worst part of Chicago. We were also too young to go to a bar so we spent our liberty taking in a movie. We watched “Cleopatra” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. On another occasion, we were selected to attend a football game at Soldier Field. I think this was for Veterans Day. Toward the end of boot camp, I was also allowed to volunteer for “State Flags”. This was for graduation day and we trained to march during the graduation ceremony with each of us carrying a state flag. I believe I carried the flag of the State of New Mexico. The best part was it got me out of a lot of those 16 count manual of arms drills my company had to do.
None too soon, October arrived and we were graduated. Jim and I were no longer Dental Recruits but now Dental Apprentices. We were given 14 days leave after which we were to report to the class “A” Dental Technician School at the San Diego Training Center.
The following items are in pdf format. I hope they bring
back fond memories.