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Memories of Navy Bootcamp in 1951

February 8, 2013

We were sent to Camp Elliott in the desert for the first four weeks of training. It was extremely hot during the day and cold at night. We were drilled from early morning until evening. We attended many classes on Navy history and traditions, regulations and other needed subjects. We did not have any liberty trips into San Diego during those four weeks at Camp Elliott.

A couple of us surprised most of the company by making top grades on every exam we were given. This created a situation later at final exam time.

We carried 1903 Springfield rifles during training but used M1 rifles for actual firing on the rifle range. I qualified very high on the rifle range because Dad had taught me well.

After four weeks, we were moved back to the base at San Diego for the remaining eight weeks. We became eligible for liberty in town on the weekends, but had to be back on base at night. On Sunday, we had to attend church service or go to a reading room during the time of church service and get a signed slip that we had attended church or the reading room. Without the signed slip, we could not get a pass to go to town.

Part of the time, I attended Mormon services with a friend and we could go to town earlier because Mormon services were at 8:30 a.m. I even attended early Catholic Mass once at 7 a.m. I had never been to a Catholic service and I wanted to see what it was about. That time I got my liberty pass very early.

The best thing I saw in San Diego was the Zoo. I think I spent every Saturday afternoon at the Zoo. It was a wonderful place. Every time I have ever been to San Diego, I have gone to the zoo. I went to the beach once, but was not impressed.

We had a television room in one building where we could watch some TV. I had only seen TV once or twice before going in the Navy. If the room was full of people, we had to wait a turn until someone left.

We washed our clothes each evening by hand. We had a wooden table with a concrete scrubbing surface with running water and a bucket. We used bar soap and a Kiwi brush to scrub our clothing clean. We then tied our clothes, neat and precisely spaced, between two lines that were about two feet apart.

The lines were hoisted aloft like on a ship’s mast after all of us had our clothes tied on. The next morning, we would march out under the lines when we left the barracks area. In the evening, the lines were lowered so we could retrieve our dry clothes and repeat the process with what we had worn that day.

I remember one afternoon as we marched back into the barracks area about 1600 hours or 4 p.m., we had to wait because Hollywood was filming Sailor Beware, a movie with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The scene was to be as if the lines were being hoisted and Jerry Lewis had tied himself to the lines and was hoisted up with them. That scene was not in the final movie.

We had to stand at ease, but still in ranks, until the filming was completed and the Hollywood crew moved out before we could march on into our barracks area.

Another time we had to stand at ease was when we were scheduled for more shots. They were filming another scene of the Martin and Lewis movie where shots were involved. Again, we were about 200 yards from the filming.

Once when we were going through line to receive shots shortly before I got to the front of the line, a medic shouted, “Grab that man, the needle broke.” Two or three recruits keeled over who had just had shots, but none of them were the one with the broken needle in his arm.

Life was definitely different in the military during the 1950s. It was nothing like what my children and grandchildren experienced in the military.

One incident that comes to mind was a man in boot camp who smelled bad. He did not take a shower every day, as the rest of us did. In fact, he probably only took a shower about once a week and he stunk. Talking to him did not do anything. This was in August, 1951 at Camp Elliott, in the desert near San Diego.

One evening a group of guys dragged him into the shower and gave him a Kiwi bath. They scrubbed his skin with a Kiwi laundry brush. He spent overnight in sick bay before returning to the company. No one was punished. The man made a point of showering every night after that.

Today, that could not happen.

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