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Fun times in the Navy

February 7, 2013

This is another excerpt from my first book, From Sharecropper’s Son to Tracking Missiles.” The story is about miscellaneous experiences in the Navy.

In 1952, I was attending the Aviation Electronics Technician School at a naval facility near Memphis. My desire when I enlisted was to become an Aviation Radio Operator. The operator rate (AL) had been combined with the technician rate (AT) and all technicians had to learn Morse code, although the qualifying speed was lowered to eight words per minute. Looking back, I am glad the Navy combined the rates because I received excellent training as a technician. The knowledge I learned there served me well the rest of my life.

If a student received low grades in either code or the technical classes, they had to attend night school the following week. A friend and I found out that the night school classes usually taught the test the night before a test, so we began attending night school the night before any test.

As we rode a bus in Memphis one evening, we saw a pretty girl in civilian clothes sitting with another sailor. We began talking to each other in Morse code (dah di dah style) about the pretty girl. Neither she nor the sailor paid us any mind.

The next evening we were at the night school code class when we saw the same pretty girl, wearing a Navy uniform, come into the classroom. The instructor looked up and spoke to her. She walked over to him and said something we could not hear. She then came over and sat down across the table from us and put on a set of headphones.

The class began and she was copying code much better than we could copy. She would look up and smile at us now and then. After class, she introduced herself to us and the three of us went to the Gedunk for beer. Fortunately, we had not gotten vulgar in talking about her on the bus, but she had understood everything we said. She had overheard us say something about attending night school the next night and decided to shake us up, which it did.

We did become friends and sat many evenings in the Gedunk drinking a beer with her. She had attended the same course the year before and was stationed at Memphis at that time. The sailor she happened to be dating the time we saw her on the bus was a student in one of the mechanic classes, so had not understood anything we had said in code.

While in Naval Aviation Electronics School, we had to learn to do troubleshooting of electronics equipment. Normally, several of us attended night school on Thursday night before any exam. The night school instructor always reviewed everything that would be covered on an exam the night before the exam. One tip he gave us about troubleshooting an ART-13 transmitter helped me and also got me in trouble.

One problem the instructors put in the ART-13 was to open a bleeder resistor in the plate circuit of the 813-type electron final tube. The transmitter could not get up to full transmit power. His tip was if we could not get full power, turn the power off and touch the plate cap of the 813-type tube with a screwdriver. If we drew an arc, the bleeder resistor was open. The arc would be caused by the charge on a bank of capacitors. There could also be various other troubleshooting problems and he gave tips to troubleshoot each of them. We would only have to troubleshoot one problem.

When I went in to take the exam, I was assigned to troubleshoot a specific ART-13 transmitter. The first step in our troubleshooting process was to check that all tubes were solid in their sockets, before turning on power. The first tube I touched was loose. I pressed it back into the socket and continued making sure tubes were firmly set in their sockets. As I reached to check that the 813-type tube was firmly set in its socket, I was knocked backwards by a tremendous shock. The capacitor bank had discharged into me. I picked myself up and went back to the equipment.

I remembered what the instructor had told us the night before. That shock told me that the bleeder resistor was open and I had not even turned on the power to do any troubleshooting. The bank of capacitors still had a charge in it from the last time it was on. I wrote up the problem and submitted my answer. I had only been at the set to troubleshoot it for less than five minutes. The instructor took me into a conference room and sat me down. I had no idea what the problem was. An officer, a chief and a couple of other instructors came back into the room with the instructor I had handed my paper to. One of them had been the night school instructor the night before.

They accused me of cheating. They suggested that someone had told me what trouble was in that particular set. I never knew how they thought that could have been done because we came in one door and the ones who had completed the exam had gone out another door. We were never close to each other.

I explained what the night school instructor had told us and exactly what had happened. Since the capacitor bank had discharged into me instead of drawing an arc to a screwdriver, I knew what the problem was. I did not see any reason to do further troubleshooting, since we only had to find the problem, not fix it and there was only supposed to be one problem.

The night school instructor confirmed he had told us the tip about drawing an arc with a screwdriver and all of the instructors agreed that was a good technique. It had even been taught in some of the classes. After conferring a few minutes, I was passed on that exam.

Once, my name was spelled Blackberry for a mid-watch. My name was mispronounced frequently, but had always been spelled correctly. This time, it was misspelled so I decided to make an issue of it since there were no serial numbers on the watch list, only names. I did not get up for mid-watch. About 1:30 a.m., the duty officer showed up. He woke me with a statement, “Blackberry, you were supposed to report for duty at 11:30. Get out of that sack.”

I responded, “I do not have duty, Sir. My name is Blackerby, not Blackberry, Sir. My name is not on the watch list, Sir.” The duty officer checked my ID card against the watch list. He agreed that I was not on the watch list and left.

They never misspelled my name again. The only problem was that every fourth day after that, I was on the watch list. My name was spelled correctly and it was always a mid-watch at the worst location that could be assigned. “I really showed them.” Fortunately, I only had a few weeks before finishing electronics school.

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