Navy Boot Camp
Note: Even though these events took place some sixty-five years ago, the author of this piece is now a good Christian man and does not want anyone recognizing individuals he may have written something negative about (even though they may be true); therefore, the names given below have been changed. If you read this and think you recognize Assistant Company Commander Reinhardt or LT JG Richardson, you don’t; the author changed names and a few pertinent facts just enough to make any identification highly improbable.
Many of the young sailors who served aboard the USS Tracer did their boot camp training at either the Recruit Training Center at San Diego, CA, or the Recruit Training Center at Great Lakes, IL. The author did his basic at the San Diego Naval Training Center in Southern California. Within the new Navy, there are many myths about the old days, one of which being, “During the 40s, 50s, and 60s, they would beat the hell outta guys in boot camp.” Not exactly true. The Navy of the early 1960s… my Navy… was essentially my father’s WWII Navy. The ships were pretty much the same, the customs, the uniforms, and the regulations. However, things certainly have changed, and from what I see and read now, the Navy of 2021 is not the WWII Navy.
Boot Camp: Almost the first words naive young men heard when arriving at San Diego in the early ’60s and coming under the authority of their first Petty Officer was, “You Dumb-Ass” or perhaps, “You stupid Bastards.” Suddenly your name wasn’t Joe Jones or Bob Smith… it was Stupid Dumb-Ass or sometimes “Dumb Bastard”! For twelve weeks, you hardly heard a kind word. Actual physical beatings didn’t occur; at least around witnesses, they didn’t occur. But there was mental abuse every day. The object seemed to be to keep you afraid, very afraid. Remember, this was during the days when the draft was still in effect; so, when I joined the Navy after getting out of high school, I realized I would be drafted sometime soon, and being drafted meant going into the Army for at least two years, or, one could choose to go into the Navy for four years. My father had served in WWII aboard a heavy cruiser; his ship had participated in every major battle in the Pacific during the years 1943 and 1944. My mother had always said to me, “At least in the Navy, you get three hot meals a day, and you aren’t living in a hole in the mud.”
I chose to join the Navy.
So, I found myself in Company 159 (not the actual number) in 1961. Petty Officer First-Class Miller was our Company Commander. Miller was a Gunner’s Mate and personified what a real sailor should look and act like to my mind. He was tough, but everyone believed he was fair (perhaps we were all suffering from a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome?) However, Gunner Miller had an Assistant Company Commander a Boatswain’s Mate First-Class named Reinhardt who (in my opinion) probably was a sadist.
My Navy career begins.
Most notable among my memories of Navy boot camp is 4013!!! Company 4013 was the scrounge company. For twelve weeks, every time you screwed up, you heard about 4013. You saw them at mealtimes sitting alone at a separate table being screamed at by their petty officers. 4013, the unclean members of the Navy who had one foot on a banana peel and the other on a general discharge. In those days, we believed that if we were discharged from the Navy with anything other than an honorable discharge, we were doomed to a life where we would be unable to get a job, and people would look at us like we had some terrible disease, which is exactly how we looked at the members of 4013. For the entire 12 weeks of boot camp, the threat of the Scrounge Company was held over you like the sword of Demosthenes.
During my entire time in Company 159 (Non de Plume company designation for purposes of non recognition) , I never actually saw Assistant Company Commander Reinhardt beat anyone up, but he did take more than one young boot off into a separate room, and what happened there no one ever found out. I remember asking a guy who had screwed up and had been taken into the backroom by Reinhardt what happened? The guy looked at me, all the color draining from his face, then somewhat agitated, he insisted nervously while looking about that nothing had happened. Needless to say… I didn’t believe him, still retaining images of rubber hoses in the back of my mind.
What were typical punishments when you screwed something up? Well, say, for example, you failed barrack’s inspection. If that happened, Miller enjoyed punishing the entire Company for the mistakes of one man. Therefore the Company might be taken out on the parade ground and required to run laps around the grounds with their Springfield rifles above their heads. However, not just above their heads, but with the Springfield resting upon their heads. Every time you ran forward, the rifle would kind of bounce up and down and crack you on top of the head. This fun activity would continue for around an hour. Another typical punishment would be to do push-ups until your arms ached, and anyone not keeping up went off with petty officer Reinhardt for his special kind of exercise punishment. Or one of my personal favorites… Everyone would be lined up by squads and ordered to hold their Springfield out in front of them. As time went by, your arms got tired, and the Springfield would begin to slip down a bit. You would grunt, sweat, and lean backward, using all your strength to push that rifle up to shoulder height while Miller and Reinhardt milled about yelling in your ear, “Come on, you stupid Mother F**ker! Get that piece up!”
Speaking of fond memories… We had a Division Officer named Richardson… LT JG Richardson. A memory of an individual I despised for a decade. What a pompous little Marionette. I have always suspected he was Petty Officer Reinhardt’s illegitimate stepson. One of the worst punishments I remember witnessing was a boot who had cursed at a petty officer. His punishment was to be upfront of the morning muster for breakfast. Every morning every Company in the Division would march up in order, in front of the podium in front of the Division Headquarters’ building, and the recruit chief-petty-officer of each Company would request permission of the petty officer in charge for his Company to go to morning chow. There would be perhaps ten companies lined up, and the whole procedure would take some time. This particular morning the recruit being punished stood in front of all the assembled companies with his hat turned inside out, and each time a company would march up and ask permission to go to chow. The recruit in question was required to dip a large brush in a pail of soapy water, brush his mouth briskly with the soapy brush and shout, “I AM A FILTHY MOUTHED RECRUIT!”.
Another punishment I witnessed was… We had a chubby guy in our Company who failed personnel inspection (which usually meant you had a little brown spot on the inside of your undershirt). Richardson loved to find little brown spots on the inside of undershirts; it seemed to be his thing. The chubby guy who failed inspection was forced to stand naked in the center of the barracks in a large metal trashcan filled with soap and water in which all his undershorts and shirts had been dumped. The chubby boot had to bend over in the trashcan and wash his whites with a scrub brush, and adding to this poor guy’s humiliation was another recruit named Pitts. You see… Company 159 was blessed with a Recruit Petty Officer named Pitts, a frog-faced (in my opinion) thug from Steubenville, Ohio. Pitts would walk up every so often, call the guy a foul name, and shout in his ear for him to hurry up. The poor guy was humiliated this way for a couple of hours.
Every week after marching everywhere and doing push-ups and setups practically every day and struggling with climbing ropes and such, you were required to take a classroom test. The punishment for failing the test was you would be set back one week and required to repeat that week’s training all over again. If you were in week seven of boot camp, you had to go back to a company just entering week seven and do it all over again, then pass the test. However, the worst thing was before you got to another company, you would go to 4013 and wait for reassignment. You would go into the Company with the SCROUNGES!
But all good things come to an end, and after twelve weeks, I was out of boot camp and back home for two weeks before going on to my first land base assignment. And for the next three years doing everything in my power to be the least military person I could be and still follow the rules. And that’s one of my fondest memories of the 1960’s Navy; for the first twelve weeks, you were forced to be all military all the time, and then for the four years after that, you attempted every day to be as non-military as you could while still coloring between the lines.
And this was the enlisted man’s Navy of the 1960s.
From what I read about the Navy of recent memory—at least up until 2020—the things that differ from the Navy of the 1960s exist because of Political Correctness. No one had ever heard of Political Correctness in 1960; however, the deliberate libels about a Racist Navy are garbage. There were approximately 150 sailors (officers and crew) on the Tracer, perhaps seven or eight of whom were African American. This would mean (roughly) the numbers of African Americans mirrored the number of African Americans in the population. The only act of Racism I observed in my four years in the Navy was in boot camp. We had a guy in our Company from Arkansas who cursed at a fellow recruit by using the “N” word. The next day the guy from Arkansas was in Company 4013, and the black guy graduated with our Company twelve weeks later. I’m sure there were incidents of Racism in the Navy back then, but most were insignificant.
The photo above (on the right)shows an aerial view of the Great Lakes Naval training Center in the 1950’s. Great Lakes has been sending young sailors to the fleet for around one hundred years. During the 1960’s there were two training centers churning out recruits but San Diego is now in mothballs an only the Great Lakes Center remains in operation. Enjoy!