Friday, June 30, 2006

November 14 - 25 1954

Dear Folks

Though I really can’t afford the time, I can’t let such an “important occasion” as my twenty-first birthday go by without any comment.

I don’t know what I expected—what sort of metamorphosis or symbiosis would take place—perhaps I didn’t at all. The day passed, as do most days around here, frantically & without distinction--I took in a movie (White Christmas—Bing Crosby, Rosemary Cloony, etc.) which was very good & proceeded to make me briefly very homesick. Homesickness is something that does me no good, so I never let it bother me (with exceptions such as the above).

Your caterpillar son is still a caterpillar—but I’m still hoping.

Tomorrow the First Lord of the British Admiralty is arriving—perhaps with the Queen Mother, which is just scuttlebutt so far, but it is possible.

Enough for now—I’ll write more when I get the chance—I just had to say something on my 21st birthday—Goodnight, sweet Prince—may flights of angles guide thee to thy rest….

This letter was begun, obviously, on November 14. It is now November 24—Thanksgiving. I’ve never eaten Thanksgiving dinner off a metal tray before, & I can’t say as I would care to make it a regular holiday habit. I’ve got the menu, which I’ll bring home with me—we had shrimp cocktail, ham, turkey, potatoes, fruit cake, mince meat pie, etc. It was quite good, considering.

Well, as of today, my military career has lasted exactly three months, one week, & four days.

By changing civilians into soldiers, sailors, & NavCads, they have been very effective & methodical to try & root out any traces of individuality one may have, the end result being a well oiled machine that has all the freedom of a Mark VIII computer, if not the intelligence.

Ann Zubas said to me before I left “Don’t let them change you” & I assured her no-one could. However, they’re trying their best. I must say I don’t care for it—at all. I may not have been perfect, but darn it, I liked me that way. Now I don’t know what I am. I only hope you can recognize me.

Well, it won’t be long now—only three weeks or so. And I don’t mind saying I’ll be mighty glad to get home. Only two more finals to take—I’m right on the borderline in one of them (Principles of Flight); I hope I pass it.

Florida weather isn’t bad, but I have nothing to compare it with, so I can’t tell if it’s warm or not. Usually in the morning it is cool enough for a jacket, but it warms up in the afternoon so that you can run around in shirt sleeves (though it isn’t hot by a long shot).

Did I ever tell you our daily routine? Probably, but I’ll tell you again. Reveille is at 0530; everyone hops out of bed the minute it sounds,. Because you can never tell when the RDO (Regimental Duty Officer—a Captain (marine) or Lieutenant (Navy usually) may come around, & if he catches anyone in bed, they go on report; which means twenty demerits and four hours on the grinder. Up, wash, & get dressed in P.T. outfits (khaki shorts, blue & gold reversible shirt; sweat gear is of thick grey cotton material (I think it’s cotton)—this is worn over the shorts & shirt, naturally). Beds have to be made by 0600—as I seldom sleep under my sheets anyway this doesn’t take me too long. The room has to be cleaned every day before morning formation (0630); swept, dusted, brass polished, sink & mirrors cleaned, waste basket emptied, etc. You can see why I haven’t eaten breakfast since I moved into the Fourth Battalion. At 0625 the five minute warning for formation goes down, & we all muster on the grinder. Two days a week they hold inspections, where you must stand like automatons while class & regimental student officers go up & down each rank, straightening hats (the caps must not have “dips” in them, but must be highly starched so that they don’t sag) & putting various people on report for not having brass polished, shoe laces dirty, shoes not shined, collar anchors on upside down (the loops on the anchors must be pointed up), etc.

After formation we “run the gauntlet” as I call it. Only the Fourth Battalion does it, & it is really pointless. Each section marches between two rows of the class officers, while said officers yell at everyone (“Straighten up there;” “Leshock, get in step;” “Crummy looking section;” “Third man second rank wipe that grin off your face.”). Since 34 is now the senior class, we stop after running the gauntlet & help jeer at the other sections. Then the class officers come & join the ranks & we march to P.T., which is about four blocks away. Sometimes we walk along the edge of the bay, in back of the hangers. After P.T., at about 0840, we go to the Regimental Armory & draw swords, to practice for our graduation. When we get our swords, we march all the way back to the Batt, & after practice we march back to the Armory (which is in Batt I), put away our swords, & march back to the Batt. By now it’s 0940. We go in, take off our clothes (in the hall so that we don’t get lint all over our floor), take a shower, get into the ‘uniform of the day’ (”Clean starched khakis, low cut brown shoes, field scarves (ties)…”) & are allowed to study until 1030, when we march to chow. This is when we get our mail; by the way, I’m now 34H’s mailman.

At 1120, we muster outside Batt I, across the street from the mess hall, & march to classes, which start at 1130. Whenever an instructor enters the room, everyone must snap to attention & remain there until told to be seated by the instructor.

Classes are over at 1600 (4:00—just subtract 12 from any hour over 12 & you’ve got the right time). Then, at 1615 we have band practice. This lasts until 1800; we eat supper, back to the Batt or to band study hall & study till 2115. Taps at 2200.

Well, enough for now—I’ll write tomorrow or so (can’t remember what I haven’t told dad—next time).

By now

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Friday, November 6, 1954

Dear Folks

And so another Friday sinks slowly behind the horizon, leaving your humble son two weeks behind, but not much the wiser. Took my Nav. Test again today—missed passing by one point. So I went before the Academic Director again (he’s getting to be a familiar face in my routine); was given the chance for an immediate re-exam, which I took. The final returns aren’t all in yet, but it looks like I’ll be spending another week in Navigation. And next time, I’m afraid I’ve "had the course" as we say. It seems that the Powers-That-Be are being urged by the Powers-Above-Them to put the screws on anyone with a low average. It is one of those perennial crusades wherein many heads will roll to appease the angry gods. They dislike losing as many planes as they have been lately, they claim, to low academic averages in Pre-Flight. Pilots they don’t mind losing, but planes are expensive.

(The above paragraph is what might be called the softening up process before the final blow falls. If you see me coming home in a blue bell-bottomed sailor suit and a white hat, you won’t be too surprised.)

Called tonite to make reservations for Rockford. God, I could practically walk home in the time it’s going to take me to fly—a four hour layover in Atlanta & two hours in Chicago. I’ll get into Rockford about 8:20 Saturday morning, Dec. 18. You will meet me at the airport, won’t you; or should I take a cab home?

Happy news hour—a guy in our class (Charlie company) got his neck broken today in wrestling! The cold wind of misfortune seems to be blowing strongly around here, getting uncomfortably close to yours truly. As you may have guessed in the twenty-odd years of our acquaintance, I am one of those unfortunate people who is classified as "accident prone" (scientifically proven that some individuals are actually more likely to have accidents than others). Also unfortunately, many of the accidents are of a "permanent " nature. You’ve heard of the old trick question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? I’ll be something of a living example of this should something happen—what happens when something that wants to kill someone meets someone who refuses to die? Sorry—I seem to be ranging on the rim of morbidity lately. Well, it isn’t morbidity—it’s realism.

Enclosed is a cut-out of the base paper showing some of our beloved sergeants. I have had every one of them except the one in picture 5. These photographs are really quite remarkable—I’ve always been under the impression that ghouls, werewolves, vampires, & sergeants do not photograph. Picture 1 shows my two buddies, sergeants Calahan & Jones enjoying their favorite pastime—chewing some poor devil to shreds. Picture 2 was taken in the Batt Watch Office where I wrote that letter at 3 a.m. or so. The sergeant at the left is the one I dumped a water fire-extinguisher on.

Well, I’d better close now—tomorrow is a full working day, & I’ve got to get to work, & bed.
I’ll write more later.

Till Then, I am

P..S. I don’t have access to a projector to view my films. I use the old "unravel & squint" technique.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Wednesday, November 3, 1954

Dear Folks

Just read your letter & thought I’d better take some time off to answer it right away. First of all, poppa, don’t get shook. I’d like to play a little game with you called "Simple Mathematics for Fathers of Struggling Navcads." Now—we get $50 every 16 days—that figures out to be about $2.85 a day (and believe me, we earn every penny of it). Laundry averages about $1.25 per day (you’ve got to get everything washed after its first wearing—a clean outfit every day). That neatly cuts my daily wages down to $1.60 per day. Figure in other little items (.50 a day for personal stuff—shoe laces, food, etc.). Now we’re left with $1.19 per day clear. (AAAAAALMOST!) Then we throw out $10 for one picture, $7 for another, $4 for a band party, etc. See what I mean? Also, Christmas is coming up. Sure, I could have paid my own way home--& gotten you both a penny stick of bubble gum hand-wrapped in some old newspaper.

My "trip" to Pensacola (distance five miles) was fabulous, & I spent gobs of money on two shows and a room at the YMCA so that I could sleep Sunday morning (a shocking extravagance, I will admit).

And if you are under the fond illusion that I am going to spend the four day Thanksgiving holiday cooped up in this scenic spot, you can think again. It’s like you going down to work on a Sunday, just to sit by your machine & twiddle your thumbs.

In conclusion, I shall sum up my case thusly—I’m not saving money hand over fist because I haven’t got it to save; secondly, I feel that on those very rare moments when they let me out of the grist mill, I like to stretch my legs (just for a moment, though).

Now, about my "extra administrative time" fiasco—don’t worry, it happens to the best of NavCads. Most of my instructors have spent several of their happiest Pre-Flight days in extra-time classes. First, you go to the Academic director, who automatically gives you a week or two. Then, if you flunk again, you go before the Speedy Board, which can give you two weeks more; finally, you go before the Admiral who, if he wants, can keep you here till 1997, or till you pass.
Clear? Good.

The suitcase arrived—at least it’s in Pensacola. They can’t deliver it to the base (afraid of smuggled A-bombs & Russian spies, evidently). So I have to go down & pick it up. However, we’ll be working for the next three Saturdays to make up for Thanksgiving.

Sorry, mom, if I sounded "quite cynical"—but that’s just the way I am. By the way, be sure you keep track of all my letters—not just the sweetness-&-light parts.

Well, I think I’d better get over to supper & then to some more "extra instruction" (eight hours a day & two hours a night—fun?!?!?!).

Enough now—I’ll write more later. Also sorry if I sounded gruesome last time, but I still have a nasty habit of feeling things.

Bye now

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Monday, November 1, 1954

Dear Folks

This isn’t going to be a pleasant letter—at least not the first part of it—mainly because it deals with a very unpleasant subject.

In class 25, which graduated about four weeks ago, I got to know several guys; one of them our platoon leader—a quiet guy from California named Franson. He was Norwegian & reminded me vaguely of Zane.

Today, at Corey Field, he & his instructor were taking off—Franson was at the controls. Something happened & he got "shook" as we say; he pulled the nose up sharply—it began to stall—he got more nervous & pulled back on the stick as hard as he could….

The instructor is still alive--Franson resembled a department store dummy that had been hit by a truck.

Death comes in many forms, & is unpleasant in any of them—it can be remote, where someone dies in some futile little war in a nameless country; or it can be personal—like Uncle Buck. Franson was a third type—a vague mixture of the two others. He was no great friend, & yet again, he wasn’t a statistic in the newspapers.

Everyone, I am told, has an intense desire to live—that is one habit or trait I have acquired, & is very deep-rooted. Truthfully, I don’t see how the world could get along without me.
The guy across the hall is playing bop, & I loathe bop! To me, music is something you can hum or whistle; bop is like a surrealistic painting done by a lunatic.

Sorry if I sound morbid—I didn’t mean to, but I get "shook" when it comes to things like that. Death, like life, is also very real, & I suppose I must learn to accept that idea.

Tomorrow, no doubt, on the commanding officer’s desk at Corey will be five or six letters requesting permission to D.O.R. (Drop On Request). It always happens when a serious accident occurs.

The command is always very unhappy when someone is inconsiderate enough to go & kill themselves; especially around the holidays; for then guys get to thinking about their families & girls & things, & decide that two years of rough Navy life is better than five months of glory that will end in flames at the end of a runway.

Don’t worry, dad; I’m not considering DORing—but should I ever, it won’t be because I disliked the idea of dying—rather that I loved life more (a paraphrase from "Julius Caesar"—Act II, Scene V; I think). Anyhow, which would you rather have—a dead hero or a live nobody?
Well, now if I’ve made everyone perfectly miserable, I feel a bit better. And I’m not discouraged—just a wee bit suspicious of the workings of this old world. Cheer up—I have.



P.S. Remember how I used to be when I was smaller; get all broke up any time I’d see a dead cat or dog? Well, I’ve put on the hardened shell of growing up; but I think I leak a little here & there….

Monday, June 26, 2006

Friday, October 29, 1954

Dear Folks

Well, here it is Friday night again; the “Bloody Ninth” is over, and I am to be listed as one of those missing in action. I was last seen going down on the slanting decks of the U.S.S. Navigation.

As a result, I went today before the Academic Director, along with about ten other members of my class. I was granted one week of extra instruction, at the end of which I shall take another test and, if I pass it, be placed in the ranks of Class 34. Extra instruction means, in this case, eight hours a day of navigation for five days, to be given in the Black Hole of Pensacola—a windowless, airless room in Building 633 for village idiots like myself.

I really don’t mind going back except for the fact that I’ll feel bad about leaving good old 33 Dog. That and the week farther away my wings will be placed. I won’t be moving from Batt II until late next week, at any rate.

I’m quite proud of myself as far as P.T. goes, though. This morning I swam one mile, which is no mean accomplishment, I can assure you.

Tomorrow I have a 24 hour pass, which will be spent in Pensacola. If I can afford it, I’ll get a room in town tomorrow night & sleep all day Sunday. Also tomorrow I’ve got to check on my plane reservation & see about that other picture.

Speaking of pictures—I’m glad you liked the one I already sent. You said last night that you thought I’d changed—I have.

Actually, my life—the old one—ended abruptly the morning I stood on the porch & said goodbye. I don’t even surprise myself anymore—I have, for instance, grown accustomed to picking wee beasties out of my food & continue eating—with much less gusto, I’ll admit, but the mere fact that I do it would have revolted the old me no end. However, when I come home, don’t attempt to flavor my food with such delicacies. I rather miss the old me—the new one is too blasé (spelling?)—I’m no longer quite the wide-eyed little boy I used to be; it has its advantages and disadvantages, I suppose, just as everything else.

I have come to the conclusion that whatever life is—it’s real; & this is quite disillusioning to an old romanticist like myself. When you learn that your fairy castles are made of cold stone & that the roof leaks & the fairy princess has a lousy temper & the prince charming is allergic to horses, things just lose some of their sparkle.

The reason for this lengthy & perhaps confusing dissertation can be traced to a trait of mine (& I consider it a good one) to be able to be put into a mood by music—I used to do it at school all the time—if I wanted a studying mood, I’d play one kind of music; if I wanted to be silly or happy, I’d play another. Well, the guy across the hall has a phonograph & has been playing Ravel’s “Bolero” (another record I want) & other, more reflective music.

Besides, I like to ramble on every now & then, just for kicks. Trouble is, the only one who understands me is me. Oh, well….

Got back another (the other) roll of film—it turned out even better than I’d expected. There are only three or four spots ruined by the sun, & the others are excellent, if I must say so myself. You should see me when I take pictures—I’ll wander around something for five minutes sometimes before I take a picture of it, looking for what I think is the best angle. Still think I should have been a photographer. The shot of the sign “vehicles prohibited…” was a little off. That sign is right in back of where I live, & it shows the “grinder.” It was taken Saturday afternoon, & you can see the poor souls who got demerits marching them off. The building at the very far end of the grinder is Indoctrination. Unfortunately, the camera acts as a sort of telescope-in-reverse, & things I take fairly close up look far away. The shot of the waterfront & the “Fish at your own risk” sign is supposed to show a passing schooner, but it looks small on the film. Sure, I have no doubts that they would send the film home if I asked them, but I want to see it, too, & I don’t want to wait till Xmas .

Well, I’d better sign off now. By the way I didn’t get a letter today!

Till next time, I am

As Always


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sunday, October 24, 1954

Dear Folks

The time is approximately 2:25 a.m. on a pleasant Sunday morning. I am sitting in the BSOOD’s (Battalion Student Officer of the Day’s) office with my tongue stuck out, staring at the reflection of the overhead fluorescent tubes mirrored in the glass desk top. I’ve just finished eating two unbuttered bologna sandwiches (brought in earlier this evening by an RMESS (Regimental Messenger). The sandwiches were washed down with a small carton of milk from a newly-installed vending machine.

I went to bed at 7:30 last night, & got up at 11:00; I don’t know how much more sleep I’ll be able to get today—I go off watch at 4:00 a.m., & come back on at noon. Because Monday is a test day, I really ought to be doing all sorts of studying, but somehow, at 2:30 in the morning, my heart just isn’t in it.

Today, in the three hours I had free Band practice from 8-10, Extra Academic Instruction from 10-12, lunch till 1, on duty at 4. I took another roll of film. I most certainly hope they come out better than the last ones. This time I took pictures of all sorts (2) of airplanes, the two corrugated-iron hangers around which I’ve run about 30 times, a few scattered bits of flora, a passing schooner, the Monterey (again—this time I didn’t go aboard), a destroyer, & some odd looking ship I’d never seen before. Some porpoises were playing just off the edge of one of the slips (wharf or dock) but I didn’t get a chance to photograph them. Oh, yes, I also got about five feet of a blue jay in a palm tree, which will be very pretty if it turns out. And then there is about two feet of some friends (the one on the left is from Chicago & came in when I did—Jim Oakey) & about three inches of me. If I ever get a splicer when I get home I’ll have a production that will put Cecil B. Demille to shame. Also I got a shot or two of what I usually have to go through Saturday afternoons—"extra military instruction." (I especially hope those shots turned out, though they don’t last long.)

Called last night & made reservations on the Dec 17th plane (7:45 p.m.) to Chicago. Round trip will cost me $95.00, & I’ve got to have it in by December 3rd. So the sooner you can get it down to me, the better it will be—as I said, there will be 825 cadets scrambling to get home that night, & so I’d best get my "order" in soon.

Speaking of the carrier (as I was about two minutes ago), we will be going out on a trip on it a week from Wed. or Thurs. That ought to be fun. I want to buy some fore film for that occasion. (HINT)

Band got "St. Louis Blues March" & "Alexander’s Ragtime Band" today—they sound good, though the "Blues" is awfully hard. It is the exact arrangement that we have at home, so just listen to it & you’ll know what we sound like…well, maybe not quite that good, but almost.
Well, I guess I’ve just about talked myself out for now. Regards to Grandpa, & kiss Stormy for me.

Till later



P.S. Are you saving my letters like a good little girl, mother. Also, thanks for the stamps, but I could still use some more. Poppa could try pushing a pen a little more frequently.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Oct.15, 1954 (finished Friday, Oct. 22, 1954)

Dear Folks

It is now about 8:45 p.m. on Friday night, & I think I will go to bed—it will be the safest place for me. Tonite has been one of "those" nights; any blue smudges you may notice on the paper are from the stenciling ink I have all over my fingers. It got there when I tried to get the ink I spilled all over the table. In my frantic attempts to blot it up & make sure it wouldn’t stain the table, I rubbed some of the paint off the tabletop. I have a legitimate excuse, though—it was all caused by this darned ringing in my ears, which sounds like a cricket convention in an Iowa field some warm summer night.

The cause of all this trouble was our jaunt this afternoon to the pistol range. The trusting souls who put loaded revolvers into the hands of that group of trigger-happy NavCads were far more naive than sensible. I guess we didn’t do so bad, though. We each fired forty rounds at a ten-inch square target fifty feet in front of us. I hit it a grand total of sixteen times, & haven’t been able to hear ever since. Of course, today being Friday, there was the inevitable parade; this one being a special affair complete with Admiral, top brass, & instructors. If you have ever tried playing a clarinet when you can’t even hear the rest of the band, you can get a vague idea of what it was like.

Yesterday afternoon, or morning rather, I started my very first airplane engine. Unfortunately, the engine was not attached to an airplane at the time. Early (7:00) in the morning we were trundled onto a station bus & driven a mile or two (a real treat—we usually march) to what they call the Test Stand. It is a long, narrow building divided into about seven partitions. Two of these are classrooms, & the other five are engine rooms. These engine rooms are open on both sides of the building; an engine is mounted on the east side of the room, divided by a strong wire fencing. On the west side is a small, partitioned control room. First of all, you go to the classroom, where you’re briefed on starting the engine: Battery switch on, Throttle ½ to ¾ inches forward, Mixture Control lever on Full Rich, Pitch adjuster in High; check wobble pump—emergency hand fuel pump. Prime engine with three or four strokes of primer valve; get all clear signal, & turn on the ignition switch. When the engine starts running, watch your oil pressure gage—you must have at least 40 lbs pressure in 30 seconds. When oil pressure is up to 50 lbs., set pitch in low (pitch is the angle of the propeller as it turns). Push throttle up till you get 1000 R.P.M., pull it back to 600-700 R.P.M. & make an ignition safety check (to make sure your electrical system is working properly). Increase R.P.M. to 1000 again, watch cylinder head temperature gage for temperature of 100 & oil pressure of 40. Check fuel system (to make sure you’ve got gas in both tanks). Increase throttle to 1800 R.P.M., & make a pitch check, move from low pitch to high….Well, you can see how it goes.

Speaking of going, almost a week has elapsed since I began this letter—I’ve started the engine once more & played with it three times—loads of fun.

Just returned to the Bat after seeing "Rear Window" to receive the cheery news that a cadet was killed today in boxing class: jolly good sport, boxing. He fought this afternoon, put his gloves away, passed out, & died early tonight. I imagine his parents will be very happy that he joined the program.

Thus far, I have survived ten weeks of Navy life; only five more to go. Tomorrow I have an MOD (Mate of the Deck) watch from 12 midnight till 4 a.m., & Sunday from 12 noon till 4 p.m. I go on duty tomorrow afternoon at 4:30 and just sit around till 12.

Next week is what is affectionately known as "The Bloody Ninth". It is our ninth week of study, & all final exams are held. That means I have a Navigation phase quiz (given once a week) on Monday, a Naval Orientation final also on Monday, an Engines phase quiz on Monday or Tuesday, & an Engines Final on Wed. or Thurs. I don’t know when our Aerology final is.
Bought some film at the Gedunk (Navy Exchange—whey they ever call it Gedunk I’ll never know) tonite & I’ll take it tomorrow. Did you see the other yet? If not, get hot & see them—that’s what I took them for, you know; not to sit around & gather dust. Or, you can hold them till I get home, & I’ll give you a narrated tour.

Took my 40 minute, ½ mile swim today (fully clothed) & almost didn’t make it. My legs have a nasty habit of getting cramps in them about ten minutes before the period ends.

Did I tell you I’m planning on going to Atlanta for Thanksgiving? Whether I do or not depends on several things: a) if I can afford it; b) how long a liberty we have, & c) whether I can afford it.
Hear tell there isn’t going to be an Armistice Day anymore—it’s to be changed to Veteran’s Day (I like Armistice Day better). Wore my dress blues last weekend on liberty—they really look good—in this Naval District, we wear white cap-covers with our blues, but in Rockford’s district, I’ll have to wear my blue cover.

Please send some (a lot of) three cent stamps—I’ll try to scrape up enough to mail the picture tomorrow. I was really overwhelmed at your generosity--$5 whole dollars, all my very own (film is $3.25). This morning I plunked out $3.95 for laundry, so don’t ask me where all my money goes. I got the brownies a long time ago & ate them at once—they were very good, but crumbly. Enclosed (maybe, if I remember it) is a letter the band received from the Admiral--& to get a letter from a real live Admiral is really an accomplishment. We received the music to St. Louis Blues March today, & will play it tomorrow.

Well, I’d better close now. Write soon (I haven’t gotten a letter in two days—take that back—got one from Ann Margason yesterday.)

So long for now



HEADQUARTERS ne2:403:gba
PENSACOLA, FLORIDA 14 October 1954
From: Chief of Naval Air Basic Training
To: Commanding Officer, U.S. Naval School, Pre-Flight
Subj.: Letter of Appreciation

The Chief of Naval Air Basic Training was most pleased with the quick and timely formation of the Naval Aviation Cadet Band and the fine performance on the evening of 9 October 1954 at the Camp Lejeune-Goshawks football game.

It is realized that only five days lapsed from the time the band instruments were received at this command and the band made its first public appearance. Ensign L.G. Barnes and members of the band are to be commended for devoting much of their free time to practice and in providing excellent entertainment not only for the personnel of this command and civilians from the local area, but for the guests of the Secretary of Defense who were aboard for a visit in a Joint Civilian Orientation Conference.

/s/ D. Harris

Friday, June 23, 2006

Wednesday, October13, 1954

Dear Folks

Today we saw a movie in P.T. on "How to Survive in the Tundra" (semi-arctic regions). It was one of those "how to survive on a broken compass & old fish heads" things. I thought it was terrifically funny (though it wasn’t supposed to be). Of course there were, among the six marooned men, several familiar characters. There was a George Washington Carver who could whip up a tasty dish out of a bunch of rock lichen; a Daniel Boone type, who could (& did) trap everything from a lemming (a glorified field mouse—they are delicious) to a caribou which, unfortunately, they missed—they had set up an ingenious device with two twigs & a 90-lb piece of sod, but the caribou outsmarted them (not a difficult task, I assure you); and, of course, there was the General-All-Around-Genius who could make more things out of one lousy parachute than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio. This latter genius also, in his spare time, made a dandy kite (out of the parachute, of course) for attracting airplanes—I expected at any moment to see him attach a key to it & discover electricity, but he never got around to it.

Now, to answer dad’s questions—I want just my one suitcase, so that when I come home Xmas I’ll have something larger than my duffle bag to pack my things in. Send them (or rather it) any time you want, just so it’s fairly soon. Yes, the band instruments are furnished, & I hope to stay on after moving to Corry or Whiting (which I’ll do on or about Nov. 26).

I surely am glad I joined the band! I told you, I think, all about what we may get to do.
November 20 we are going to the Duke-South Carolina game (the Duke-Georgia Tech game would be too soon for us to be ready). We will all be flown to Durham, North Carolina for it. Last Saturday night we played for the Admiral at a football game, & he liked us so well he’s planned a "surprise" for us (which, it is rumored, may be a trip to the Army-Navy game!). Miami is still pending. Nov. 11 we’re to lead a parade in Pensacola. Four days before Xmas vacation, if all goes well, we will be flown to New York City to appear on "Toast of the Town"; then we’ll fly home from there if we want. God, I’d give my life’s blood to get to New York for four days!!

Haven’t been doing much of anything lately except study—haven’t even gone to a show in two weeks! Saturday morning we have band practice, but Saturday afternoon I hope to get downtown to pick up my picture. I hope you like it—it will have to be hung as it is too large to put atop the record cabinet.

Did the movies come? Have you looked at them yet? The large blank space at the beginning is where I had written "Welcome to Florida" in the white sand, but it was evidently too bright.
Well, I’d better close for now. I would appreciate your sending some money for new film. (Note—this is the first time I’ve ever written home for money! I’ve gotten $15 from you all the time I’ve been her, & that’s pretty inexpensive if you ask me).

I’ll try to write more this weekend. Till then I am

As Always


P.S. The paper is coming regularly now—thanks. Did you get any of Chicago’s floods?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

October 2, 1954

Dear Folks

This letter was begun on Thursday, & much of the "news" in it will probably be long-past history by the time it is completed. I just went down (this is four hours later) & signed another demerit slip & noticed my handwriting was shaky. That’s what P.T. & military drill will do for you.

People have a habit of looking forward to their tomorrows with mixed & varying emotions. My particular tomorrow is viewed with a vague dread & a too-conspicuous nothingness. The reason is fairly obvious—at least to me. All week in P.T. we have been having boxing. As you probably know by this time, I have a natural, deep-seated aversion to anything that might cause the slightest physical discomfort (which includes most sports—a trait for which dad has never completely forgiven me—and especially fighting). I suppose it all goes back to my broken leg & appendicitis bouts & my various trips to the hospital; from which I’ve developed an intense desire to keep from being hurt. Well, anyhow, tomorrow we’ve got to box competitively, & I’m not wild about the idea.

Now don’t get me wrong—I’m not discouraged or anything like that—& I’ll box (one does a lot of things in the service that wouldn’t be dreamed of in civilian life), but I won’t like it.

However, tomorrows have a habit of becoming today with exacting regularity; my "tomorrow" has come & is now almost gone. I had my boxing class, & I didn’t like it, but I did it. Happily, I did not come out the bloody & battered mess I had envisioned myself—many of my classmates weren’t as lucky. We marched to P.T. with twenty-eight men, & returned with twenty-three.

You know (if you will permit me to get philosophical for a moment) I have always been irritated by the relativity of time. Take this letter, for an example; 36 hours have passed since I started it—yet to you reading it, only five (or less) minutes have gone by. Between two paragraphs are twenty-four hours of worry, & yet they are only two seconds apart on paper. Oh, well.

Monday is moving day for the battalion—I’ve told you before that everyone has been placing odds on whether a hurricane (or any strong wind) would take it down before a fire did. It is one of those cases where you hurry up & repair one wing while the rest of the building sags in the middle, & then repair the middle while both wings sag. Finally, I guess they got tired of stumbling over cadets all the time, & so they’re going to move us down the street two blocks (away from everything) while they patch up this place. Then we’ll move back.

Do you realize that next week is the 8th week in this hellhole? Pre-flight is already half over (thank God)! Just been thinking, though—we’ll start flying just about in the middle of winter—& it gets mighty cold way up there.

Enclosed is a picture of the Monterey & a little bit of the dock portion of the base. In the background is a little destroyer escort. The helicopters were fluttering over our heads during Friday’s parade & everyone in the parade was far more interested in watching them than in standing at parade-rest.

As far as getting any news down here is concerned, I hadn’t even known there was a flood in British Honduras; &, should the South secede tomorrow, the only knowledge I would have of it would be on hearing the guns of Fort Barrancas opening fire on the U.S. fleet.

Well, I think I’d better close now & do some studying. If you would arrange it, mom, I’d like to get the Rockford paper down here—I think they might have special rates for servicemen.

Till later, I am

As Always,


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

September 28, 1954

Dear Folks—

Today I got the opportunity to play the role of a daring adventurer one always reads & hears about, when I went clamoring about the ruins of Fort Barrancas, one of the three Spanish forts in existence in America. It was first built in the early 1700s by the Spaniards to guard the entrance to Pensacola Bay. Subsequently, it has been held &/or razed at various times by various foreign powers and, most recently, by the Confederate States of America. It is a real "movie-type" fort, complete with a moat & rusty cannon all over the place. It stands atop & in a hill which I’m sure must have been man-made, as Florida is very hard put for hills. The elevation of the station here is approximately eight or nine feet above sea level (Rockford is 834 or somewhere along in there); the first breastwork of the fort, or rather the moat, is at an elevation of seventeen feet. Even on top of the fort there is a large mound of earth, which if located elsewhere than in Florida would appear that the fort had been carved out of the hill—here, however, it looks like the hill was built around the fort.

How the cannon ever fired anything for a distance of more than three feet is a mystery to me; and how they could possibly hit anything with those iron bowling balls completely escapes me. There are two major types of cannon, one of which intrigued me; the majority were the regulation 18th-century type, but the other looks more like a witches’ brewing kettle tipped slightly to one side. One of these monstrosities must have weighed two tons & seemed practically immobile. No wonder it was captured so often

I’m going to take some pictures of it, if the sun ever comes out long enough. I don’t know why, but it blazes like mad during the week & hides behind the clouds on weekends.

On my wanderings along the beach before I stumbled on the fort (which is about a half-mile to a mile from the barracks & set back about two blocks from the water) I had a nodding acquaintance with two crabs & a jellyfish (approximate diameter—l ½ inches). One of the crabs was a plain old brown one which some sailors had managed to chase on shore. The other was white, almost the color of the sand, & practically scared the wits out of me when it went scurrying for the water a few feet ahead of me. It went charging along sideways on its rear claws & at the same time was reared up with its two front snappers up, ready to snap off a toe if I got in its way.

Yesterday was my last day of swimming for a while, & they celebrated the event by making us swim for forty minutes. About ten minutes before we stopped, I got terrific cramps in my calves & couldn’t move my legs on the last laps—I just floated on my back & went about with my arms. They still hurt me today.

This morning, I went to a "sub-swimming" class to try to pass on underwater swimming test I hadn’t passed before. I didn’t pass it today, either. I can’t hold my breath under water.
Well, tempus fudget as it always does, & two days—one really—have gone by. It is now Sunday night—I have just put down a fascinating little text entitled "Aerology for Naval Aviators." Then, between sentences, I toddled out to my "cleaning detail."

Unfortunately, the weekends just aren’t long enough. Today turned out pretty well after all, & I got to take all the movies. I sure hope they turn out good—I got a bunch of shots of Florida flora (no fauna this time), took you on a guided tour of Fort Barrancas, showed you where I live (Bat. II), where I used to live (Indoctrination). Then, as a crowning glory, I take you to the waterfront, where we see a destroyer (the first one I’ve ever seen); and then "TA-DA!!" we go on board an aircraft carrier!! I got the biggest charge out of that—I guess I’m still just the same little boy who used to love to go & watch the trains come in—only this time it’s ships.

Well, I’ve got so very much to do & so very little time to do it, I must close now. Until later, I am

As Always,


P.S. A couple of the guys’ parents have come down to see them—I keep hoping for a grey & white Oldsmobile. Ah, well….

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

September 19, 1955 Started at 6.35 p.m.

Dear Folks-

I have a very few minutes before I must begin "hitting the books" again, so I’ll take this time to write you. I didn’t get a chance to write Friday night & here it is Sunday already. The week goes too slowly, & the weekends go too fast.

Before I forget, there is one thing I neglected to mention about New Orleans that I thought was odd—almost every single-unit house is narrow, one-storied, & has three floor-length windows & a door, which is usually on the left side. Most of these also all have shutters which are generally closed. And they invariably all have pillared porches.

This week in P.T. we’ve been having swimming, as I may have mentioned. Friday we all jumped off a twelve-foot platform into twenty feet of water. It was so much fun I sneaked back in line & jumped again. We also got a chance to see the "Dilbert Dunker" in action. At the far end of the pool there is a steep ramp made of what appear to be two railroad ties or I beams. About twelve or fifteen feet up is the "Dunker." It is an actual airplane cockpit, cut off just in back of the engine. It sits atop the ramp, with pulleys keeping it up. I’ll bet you can’t guess what it’s for, so I’ll tell you.. A few weeks before graduating, you get all dressed up in flight gear, which includes parachute & all accessories; you climb up & get in the cockpit. They strap you in, as in a real flight. Then when you’re all nice & cozy, they pull a lever which releases the dunker & you go roaring down the ramp to smash into twenty feet of water. To make things interesting, when it hits the water, it overturns. Now all you have to do is get out of there. They give you one minute & then they come under & get you. Doesn’t it sound like jolly-good, all-around, rip-snorting fun? I can hardly wait (but I’ll try).

Today I wandered over to the Survival Training Building, which is just ahead of the swimming pool. In front of the building is a crashed Corsair. Inside are all sorts of Survival exhibits, from one-man life rafts to an entire PBY (large water-plane). The building is literally built around this plane; one half is inside & the other is out (it is the oddest effect from the outside—the building runs right down the middle of the airplane). The plane is cut away so that you can see its entire interior—they have dummies at the controls & at the various stations throughout the plane.
There are exhibits for survival in the sea, in the arctic, & in the jungle. Attached to the building is a greenhouse, wherein grow as many jungle plants & trees as they can fit in, including two banana trees. And out in back, in a large cage, is a six-foot alligator named Herman.

I really wish you could come down & see this place. Which reminds me—I’m going to have a devil of a time getting home Xmas—for one thing, I don’t know when I’ll be getting off, & for another, I don’t know where I’ll be. By December, I should be through with pre-flight (I hope, I hope, I hope) & when pre-flight is completed, they send you to any one of five bases located between here & Mobile, Ala. And I’ll have to have reservations ahead of time, because around Xmas everything that moves, crawls, or flies will be jammed with servicemen.

Well, it seems as how this is my week to be room captain, a nasty job with entails cleaning up everyone else’s mess. If anything is wrong in the room, no matter who did it, the room captain is put on report.

So, with your kind permission, I shall answer the call of the doorknobs. Until next time I am
As Always


P.S. Enclosed is a hymn the NavCad choir sings in church every Sunday. It is much prettier with the music, but I though you might like it, so I tore it out of the hymnal and am sending it home.

Undated and unknown: part of a letter? Just notes to me?

One instance I always remember about this time—It was a favorite pastime of the kids in my neighborhood to lay in the back yard & look up at the clouds. There is nothing so wonderful as a child’s imagination—it is relatively "untouched by human hands", and possesses a true magic; nothing is impossible. The clouds are elephants and ships and trees and dog—anything. One afternoon, all the other kids were called in to lunch—I stayed in the yard, watching the clouds..
To the Northeast was a large, billowy cloud. Suddenly, the cloud split down the middle & parted.
There in the center of the rift, surrounded by blue sky and the broken cloud, was a face. I can still see it—I am positive I did not imagine it, & it could not possibly have been part of the cloud.
He, whoever it was, had a black curly beard, & very rosy cheeks—his eyes, I think, were blue—he was smiling. He wasn’t looking in my direction; his gaze was to the Southwest—slowly his eyes moved, & at last he looked directly down on me. I can never forget—he stopped smiling; the cloud came together, & he was gone.

Monday, June 19, 2006

September 11, 1954

Dear Folks

This is the first opportunity I have had in a week to write, so I shall start a letter, not knowing if I will get to finish or not. Before I forget it—if I don’t get put back, I will graduate in December—about the seventh or eighth or somewhere around there.

There is so very much to tell that I don’t know where to begin—I think I’ll start with yesterday & work my way back to anything I missed about New Orleans plus my journalistic outlooks on "the old South."

To begin, I’d better explain that though today is Saturday, we had to go to class to make up for last Monday; we don’t have P.T. today, though—thank God!

Yesterday, at 11:30 (we start at 7:00), we were marched back from Building 633, the academic building, & were told on arriving back at Bat II that we had to go at once to Building 625, the Dispensary, for shots. So back we went, past 633 for about a block, & stood in line for our shots. Now, as you know, I am not overly joyed at the thought of needles, in any way, shape, or form. As long as I don’t look at them, I’m all right. So there I stood, staring at the ceiling or out the window, trying not to appear obvious, while those directly ahead of me were injected. Then it was my turn. A Wave gave me a shot in my left arm, which didn’t hurt too badly; & then a sailor plunged another one into my right arm. I was afraid he was going straight through.

Well, we then came back to Bat II & changed into our P.T. gear. As we were late for P.T., we had to double-time all the way to Bldg. 45 (a reconverted hanger) with rifles, a distance of about five blocks. Of course, one of our exercises was to run twice around the two hangers.

Comes the afternoon, & I got to march in my first parade. Every Friday a class graduates, & all the cadets (825) hold competitive drill. It is a long & tedious affair, through the entire length of which you must stand at Parade Rest. So there we stood, one hundred men of our section (Dog), in the blazing sun (which, fortunately, would be cast over by a cloud every so often). I said one hundred men at Parade Rest (which isn’t as stiff as Attention, but just as grueling)—I should have said ninety-nine; Pete Roberts (who used to room with me in Indoctrination) was casually surveying the countryside while everyone else stood rigidly with eyes front. After about twenty minutes, everyone was sweating like mad, & the guy next to me began weaving back & forth. A Sergeant came up & told him to stand up straight, which he did. In about two minutes, he was weaving again. The sergeant saw he was sick & told him to squat down; our section leader, in the row ahead & five men to the right, fell forward like a tree, flat on his face. They hauled both of them away, & we went on standing at Parade Rest. Several men were sick last night & today, but no more collapsed during the parade. As I always say, life may not be much fun around here, but it certainly is never dull.

I dread P.T.. It is my personal hell on earth. The thing I really loathe are push-ups. I simply cannot do them (the average during a P.T. period is forty). We have been marching back & forth to P.T. with rifles lately, which is a minor torture in itself. To keep going, I write Mental letters—it may sound odd, but it helps.

Monday we get to run the obstacle course again—then we begin swimming class. I have tacked a huge mental note in the back of my mind—it is one of those framed, embroidered expressions like Grandma has on her walls ("Be it ever so humble---", etc.) Mine says "ALL THIS, TOO, SHALL PASS."

Every morning at 6:35 we muster out in back of the Bat. to march to classes. We carry all of our books in our book-bags, which resemble large briefcases. In the main hall entranceway of Bldg. 633, they have a huge (about 20 feet) plastic aircraft carrier model, which is an exact replica of the Essex. You can see every room, compartment, & passageway in it. It stands in a giant glass case, & when I leave Pensacola, I intend to take it with me—I’ll put it in the basement of my new house.

If you would care to see something hilariously funny, you should stand in 633 while classes are changing. Everyone marches from one class to another, in columns of two. You march at a half-step; eyes straight ahead, book-bags in your right hand. The effect is that of little tin wind-up soldiers, & Chinese coolies with rickshaws. And the halls are filled with them--some going one way & some going another. And all you hear is "shuffle-shuffle-shuffle-shuffle." Then, supposing you were marching down the right side of the hall, & your classroom was on the left. The column halts when the first two men come abreast of the door; you wait until the way is clear, & then you "left-step", which is just what it says—the whole column marches sideways until they get to the other side of the corridor. I never get tired of watching. Oh, by the way, there is a picture of the U.S.S. Rockford hanging on one of the corridor walls.

I never sleep with a pillow anymore. Every day we have a room inspection, & the beds must be made just so. Therefore, everyone sleeps on top of the sheets to keep them from getting too messed up. I put my pillow carefully on the dresser every night so as not to get it wrinkled.
Well, enough personal life—now to get back to my tour.

I’ve met a very interesting character down south. His name is Jim Crow. He is a barefooted little girl, an old man in coveralls, a well-dressed man in a business suit. I had a nodding acquaintance with him the first day I arrived in Pensacola & rode a city bus. A sign says "WHITE seat from front to rear of coach—colored eat from rear to front of coach—Florida Law." He is so quiet at times, you are scarcely aware he exists. At other times, he is a vicious, despicable animal.

As I said, at times you aren’t even aware he is around, until suddenly it dawns on you that he is conspicuous in his absence. It came to me in a drugstore, when two well-dressed women came to the fountain. Though there were plenty of empty seats, they stood at the end of the counter and asked for two milkshakes, which the counterman made & gave to them in covered paper cartons. They disappeared then—I don’t know where they went, but they were gone.

It was then I began noticing—the bus, trains, & plane depots with their "Colored Waiting Room", the restaurants, the theaters ("Colored Entrance" via an outside fire escape to the balcony), the "For Colored Only" taverns (in the slum parts of town, of course). It is most apparent, however, on the transportation systems.

Coming back to downtown New Orleans from the amusement park, Pontchatrain Beach, I was almost the only person on the bus as it started back from the end of its run. I sat, as I usually do, about even with the back door. The silver hand-rails along the back of each seat, I noticed, had two holes drilled in the top. I gave it no notice until six Negro teen-aged boys got on the bus. They came to the rear & picked up a wooden sign from the back seat & placed it on the hand rail of the seat across from me. It said "For Colored Only."

On the bus from Mobile to Pensacola, I sat alone in a seat for two while five Negroes stood in the aisles. A mother & three small children got on the bus; the kids were cute as only colored children can be. One was a little girl about three, in bare feet, carrying a huge handbag. She came grinning down the aisle with her two brothers, who were carrying large bags of groceries. After a few minutes, the little girl, who hadn’t yet learned that Negroes must stand if whites sit, started to crawl up onto the seat next to me. The mother scolded her & started to pull her off the seat, but I said if she wanted to sit there, she was perfectly welcome to. The mother was evidently surprised, & said "thank you," & the little girl sat clutching the handbag & grinned at me as the bus roared on….

Back in Pensacola, a Negro Marine was the only colored person on the bus back to the base. He sat in one of the side seats like we have at home. Five or six white kids, about ten to fifteen, got on & stood clustered up around the back door. There were a lot of empty seats—the side seat opposite the Marine, & the entire back seat. The bus driver stopped the bus & said "Would you colored folks mind sitting in the back so these people can sit down."

I pity the Negro sailors, marines & Navcads stationed here. They can live with use, eat with us, & sleep with us, but they cannot ride a public bus with us.

Your Loving Boy-Child


Sunday, June 18, 2006

September 4 (?) 1954

Dear Folks -

I broke my old long-standing rule of never taking sightseeing busses; New Orleans being an exception in that I figured that if I didn’t take a tour, I couldn’t possibly see all the things I wanted—also, I didn’t know what to look for or where to go to find it. It was really very interesting. This card, or rather the picture on the back is the only place we didn’t go.

I’m sending you a recording I made at the local amusement park. I got a big kick today in a dept. store when two kids asked if I was a general.

Spent the day roaming around—bumped into quite a few NavCads—none I knew though.

Unfortunately, the Mardi Gras crowds had rather thinned out by the time I got here (Mardi Gras is in February). Canal St., so named because it supposedly has a canal under it is billed as the widest main street in the world. It doesn’t have many (or hardly any) dept. stores; mostly just large shops. All the men’s stores are on one side of the street, & all the women’s are on the other Also, streets change names here. On one side is the "old city" with French & Spanish names, & on the other side it’s American.

The local cemeteries are fascinating. Ninety-five percent of all the dead are buried above ground; the five percent exceptions being the Jewish, who don’t permit it, & those in "potters field" who can’t afford to "rent" a vault. The way things go down here is—you rent a space from the church for $5 a year. Conditions around here completely decompose a body with one year & a day. At the end of that time, the old body’s remains are pushed back into a hole at the end of the vault, & it’s all ready for a new one.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Some of these things have sunk three feet into the ground..
In Jackson park there are real live banana trees with real bananas. On one side of the park is The Cabildo, where the papers were signed giving the U.S. the Louisiana territory. The park is flanked by America’s first apartment buildings, built to keep people from moving out of the old city into the new. All the buildings are built as close to the street as possible for some reason, with beautiful patios on the inside. The cathedral is very pretty, being all wood on the inside. First time I’d ever been in a Catholic church. Beautiful stained glass windows & paintings on the ceilings.

At the moment of writing this, I am sitting in the Union Depot, waiting to get the heck out of this place. I plan to go to Mobile, if I ever get there. Well, I’m here—by bus, not train. I walked back to town & got the next bus out. I’m awfully sorry I couldn’t afford to buy you some better souvenirs than these little cards, but…

And here I am back in Pensacola, just before going to P.T. class. God! How I loathe that class. Talk about Hell on Earth. We do pushups—that is, everybody else does pushups. After just so many my arms won’t lift me off the floor. And tomorrow I’ve got to go through that Step Test again. I don’t know what they’ll do if I flunk it again. I’ll probably end up in the regular Navy.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

September 1, 1954

Dear Folks—

Today is Sept. 1, 1954. It is a memorable date for two reasons. The main one is that today is the day the flies came to Pensacola. It seems they have been up in the swamps somewhere, breeding with mosquitoes. This afternoon they descended in force upon us while we were, appropriately, dressed in nothing but our PT shorts & shirts. Naturally, they would wait until we were standing at attention; one drew blood, which trickled down my leg.

Up until today, the local fly population has been conspicuous in its absence. I can’t recall seeing any at all since I’ve been down here. Of course, I hadn’t given it too much thought previously, my mind being occupied with other things than the absence of our little winged friends.

The animal (or rather insect) population around here is fortunately sparse. But one variety is present in abundance. What they lack in quality they more than make up for in quantity. These little beasties are to be found under, around, in, over, & on food in the mess hall. If sold by the pound, they would bring someone a tidy profit. But there doesn’t see, to be much of a market for cockroaches this season. ----- I got paid today! Hooray!!

For the past two days we have been engaged in PT class in doing two solid hours of calisthenics. Not of the old "1-2-3" variety. We also then must run around two hangers (two large hangers) twice in a figure 8.

Sept.. 3, 1954. I mentioned running—today we have to run three miles to an obstacle course! I only hope I make it. And after we complete the obstacle course, we must run back again. Then we get haircuts & then we can go on liberty.

(Later) Got your letter today & one yesterday—Me? Discouraged? Don’t be silly—I think the whole thing is hysterically funny (with the emphasis on hysterical). I especially enjoy little things like we did today. We ran out to the obstacle course as I said we were going to. It is located roughly three miles from anywhere, near a bay (across which can be seen a town—it may be Pensacola, but is more likely Washington, DC) . The average time for the obstacle course is 1 minute & 36 seconds. The ground is sand, which makes running almost impossible. Two men start out at a time, at twenty-second intervals. You run about fifty feet, jump over (you may use your hands) a five foot fence—about seventy-five feet from that is a maze accommodating two men—for each man there is only one way in & one way out. About two hundred feet from the maze is a twenty-foot-long ladder-wall over which you must climb; fifty feet from that is a series of five log-fence-like obstructions; under one, over the next, under the next, etc. Then comes a large low place under which you’ve got to crawl., Next comes two comparatively short hurdles (3 ft.). Now there is a clear curve, which brings you back in the direction you started; it goes slightly down-hill for about three hundred feet. At the bottom is a twelve-foot water hole (you’re supposed to jump over it, but by this time you’re lucky if you get within six feet of the outer edge). Now you’re almost back—only two more obstructions. As it is uphill, there are two straight stretches with a step-like effect to climb over (or crawl, as the case may be) A hundred foot stretch, and you’re through.

Your little boy fell flat on his face after crossing the finish line & was almost sick. At that I fared better than a lot of guys, some of whom really got sick. I made it in 207 seconds—the average for our class being 206. It is days like this that make me wish I were dead & not in Uncle Sam’s Navy. Don’t get me wrong, though—I’m not discouraged—just tired.

On the way back we walked—no one was in any condition to run, & I, to keep moving, made minute observations of the local flora & fauna. I shall never again be able to sit through a movie short in which the glories & virtues of Florida plant life is extolled.

Well, enough of that. My uniforms—I was issued three of them. Tropical, Blues & Greens. Also I got (earlier last week) six khaki shirts & four khaki pants. In addition to these, my entire wardrobe consists of two khaki fore-&-aft (overseas) caps, one bridge cap (something vaguely like dad’s old sheriff’s office hat) with four different covers (blue, khaki, white, & tropical).

Tropicals, incidentally, are almost the same color as khaki, only lighter & of a lighter material. They are the kind with the shoulder-boards. I had my picture taken in it the other day—if they turn out good (which I doubt) I’ll order a big one. My blue is for winter. It is heavy Navy blue with all the shiny buttons. I only hope I’m in the program long enough to wear it home for Xmas
I should, providing I don’t get dropped out, be through with pre-flight in early December. I wish you could come down if I graduate, but I won’t get my wings for another 14 months.

Well, enough of everything for now. I’ll send you a card from New Orleans (if I ever get there).
So long for now



P.S. I also got two pairs of shoes (black & brown) which must glisten in the sun. Kiss Stormy for me & don’t forget to send my camera (loaded).

Friday, June 16, 2006

Saturday, August 28, 1954

Dear Folks

Today we moved into our new "home"—Bat. II, a large, yellow building with all the general appearances, both inside & out, of blowing away the first time a strong wind comes along. In one of our orientation books at Indoctrination, there was a short history of the city of Pensacola I thought was quite interesting, if I can remember it….Pensacola was the first city in America—even before St. Augustine, founded about seven years before by 2000 French (or Spanish) settlers. After two years & a hurricane which blew away the settlement, discord among the people forced them to abandon the place: thus St. Augustine gets all the honors. Well, after a few years it was resettled by the French, who were bombed out by the Spanish fleet, which took over until they were driven out by the French, who lost it to the English, etc. etc. Add to this five or six periodic hurricanes which neatly wiped everything away, & you have the very colorful, if somewhat checkered, history of Pensacola. I’ve been sitting here ever since we first arrived at Indoctrination wishing for a hurricane. I should imagine it would really liven things up.

We won’t even be allowed to go to the movie tonight or tomorrow because we haven’t gotten our tropical uniforms back from the tailors’ yet. When I come home, if I’m still a NavCad, I hope to wear our blues, which are really sharp. We were issued three sets of uniforms—khaki, tropicals, & blues. The khakis are exactly like the army & marines, the only difference being that we wear anchors on our shirt collars & on our hats instead of a world-&-anchor like the marines; also we wear black ties—the marines wear khaki-colored ties.

Florida has the weirdest looking trees I have ever seen—the leaves resemble those found on rubber plants. I’ll try to enclose one, if it will fit, to show you what I mean. One thing I’ve noticed about trees down here—they are all comparatively short---they aren’t big & bushy like the trees at home. Of course that’s just the trees on the base here. Also. they are the greenest trees I’ve ever seen

Yesterday (Friday) we were issued books & a leather book bag. I’m afraid I’m going to have a devil of a time with navigation—everyone says that is the toughest subject here. And if I live through Physical Training I’ll be surprised. One day last week the sergeant got mad at me, as usual, & had me do fifty push-ups on the quarterdeck. I did about twenty & then couldn’t even get myself off the floor—I just laid there till he told me I could get up. (There were other guys besides myself doing them, so it wasn’t just a personal grudge against me.) For two days after that I could hardly lift my arms & when I did I couldn’t control my hands too well.

Next Tuesday, in P.T., we must take what is called, technically, the "Step Test" (it is called other things by those who have taken it). It consists, as far as I can tell, of stepping up & down (floor to chair or something), in time, for five minutes. Then you must do 47 pushups & a few chin-ups. You have to do this or else! So if I come home for Christmas in a blue sailor suit, don’t be surprised.

We won’t get another leave between this Christmas & next, either. Well, enough for now.
See you in four months & eighteen days



Thursday, June 15, 2006

August 25,1954

Dear Folks

This will be a very short letter, I’m afraid. This week will be the hardest we’ll have (or rather, "we’ve had") Today we marched for two hours—the sergeant bawled me out four times, grabbed me by the back of the neck once, & twisted my thumb once when I had it extended when it shouldn’t have been.

For dad’s question as to how far Mobile is, it’s 50 miles.

August 27, 1954

Dear Folks:

I don’t remember when I started this letter, but here it is Friday. We had inspection today, & your loving son went down with all hands, colors flying. It seems that the raincoat is hung in back of the pants, not in front. Therefore, "These men (my locker partner & I) are not ready for inspection." The moral of this little tale is that I am now the proud possessor of at least five demerits & am cordially invited to spend one or more hours on the "Grinder" (affectionate name for the drill field).

Tomorrow we move to Battalion II, which will, I gather, be our home till we graduate. We will all be very sorry to leave our kind, considerate Sergeants Calahan & Jones behind. I told you over the phone of my experiences with these two lovable gentlemen. One day last week, while marching our usual two hours in the outdoor blast furnace called Florida, I wasn’t up to my usual miserable par. Among the Sergeant (Calahan)’s other comments to me were "Lad," (a name he calls everyone—Jones calls us "son"), "if you don’t keep that damn thumb of yours in, I’m going to break it off." (This he punctuated by twisting it half out of its socket). "Put your feet together, lad, you remind me of Charlie Chaplin", & finally "You’re all f----e d up today, aren’t you, boy?" The language employed by Marine sergeants isn’t always, I’m afraid, of the Tea-time-in-the-parlor caliber.

Somewhere in Pensacola there is a very rich man who is getting richer every day. He owns a laundry, which is being supported for the greatest part by innocent NavCads. It has been estimated, & this is a conservative estimate, that the average NavCad spends approximately $20 a month on cleaning bills. Granted, the prices are reasonable, but every day almost everything must be sent to be cleaned.

Dad asked me the other night if I liked it—that is a very hard question to answer. It’s like when the dentist fills your tooth full of Novocain & then asks If you like the drilling—you can’t feel a thing, but you don’t like the principle of it.

I don’t know what life in Bat. II will be like, but I can only hope it will be an improvement over this.

The other day we had a lecture (one of many) on what was expected of us, & how we are graded. They grade 38% on academic work, 28% on military skills (mine are nil) & 44% on Physical Training, at which I am miserable. Those percentages may not be exact, but they’re approximate. So I can expect to be dropped at any time.

I won’t be too terribly unhappy, ‘cause two years is better than four any day.

Well, I have about five letters to write, so I’d better do it while I have the chance.

Don’t forget what I said about notifying the Red Cross in case of emergency! It’s the only way I can get an emergency leave. I hope I never have to have one, but if so, do it right.

Write soon, & I’ll see you at Xmas.

Bye now



P.S. Oh, Mother, dear…it’s NAVAL, not NAVEL.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

August 22, 1954

Dear Folks—

Currently I am being featured in Technicolor—glorious red. Went swimming in the Gulf yesterday & today—it’s like swimming in one huge gargle glass—that’s exactly what it tastes like. It is nice & warm, though. When I got out of the water the first day & came back to the room, I bent down to put on my pants & about three gallons of water ran out of my nose! The beaches are all white sand; the one we go to is about ¾ mile away—they have an "officers’" & "enlisted men’s" beaches, which are only separated by a rope on the sand & in the water (on the bottom). The sand is white & turns red further inland. I like to just lie in the water & float with the waves. As I neglected to bring a suit, I use my P(hysical) T(raining) shorts.

The Officer’s Club is located just a little back from the beach—it makes any country club I’ve ever seen look sick. It looks like something from "Gone With the Wind".
Today is Sunday & the only meal I’ve had all day is breakfast—they don’t serve dinner till 4:00, & no supper. Went to the show this afternoon & saw Marlon Brando in "On the
Waterfront" which started at 3:00. So….

Next week is going to be very rough; probably won’t even have time to breathe. Took some tests yesterday—one they put us in a room (sound-proof) & had us sit at desks with regulation airplane earphones. Then they turned on the four huge amplifiers & sixteen smaller ones at the front of the room to simulate an AT6 flying at 18,000 ft. with the cockpit open. Then someone spoke over the earphones & we had to mark down what we heard.

I sure will be glad when next week is over—then we move to our new barracks, which is about six blocks from everywhere. Start saving your money & talk to your bosses about taking a week off—if I ever graduate (in about 18 months)—& come down to Florida.

Well, I’d better cut if off now & write more later when I get a chance.

Did I tell you I get a 72 hour pass over Labor Day Weekend, I hope—I’m going to New Orleans, I think. ( I am not going to sit around here, that’s for sure!)

So long for now. Write soon.

See you soon (Xmas)


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

18 August, 1954

Dear Mom & Dad

Well, here I am, as I said in the post card. I would appreciate it, mom, if you would type these letters up or keep them so I can have a record of them when I get out.

My watch is broken—I sweat so much the crystal fogged up & the watch stopped. It started again today, but when I went to wind it, the knob just turned, but it didn’t wind. I’ll see if there’s someplace around here I can have it fixed. (It’s on now, Wednesday night)

So far, I’ve spent $2.90 for 4 towels (white) & two laundry bags, & 55 cents for a haircut. You should see; everyone looks like they’ve gone through the Ford Dearborn massacre & came out second-best. My eyelashes are longer than the hair left on the top of my head.

I’ve been told that, while in training, we only get off once a year--& that’s at Christmas. I think you should come down here & spend Christmas. Although from all I’ve seen of this balmy Florida weather, they can have it. It gets so hot—not really much hotter than Rockford, I suppose, but it’s so humid that the sweat just pours off everyone. Fortunately, I don’t sweat much, but it’s mighty uncomfortable just the same.

We’re right on the Gulf of Mexico, or awfully close to it. From my window I can see it, if it is the Gulf. In fact, it’s only about a block away. It must be a bay or something, because there is land on the other side.

A bunch of advanced NavCads are marching by my window with rifles. They wear khaki shorts & blue T-shirts. Evidently a new group comes in every week—mine is 33-54. Did I tell you about the buildings? If not, I will—they’re two story, red brick, Southern Colonial with huge, screened-in white porches. I’m in Building 624, which is used for inductions. In a week or two, we’ll move to other barracks. We have the corner room—one side is a porch-side, the other an outside. This gives us plenty of ventilation & its wonderful sleeping, what little sleeping we do.

Someone around here has a distorted sense of humor. Reveille is at 5:30, & by 5:32 you’ve got to be up, dressed, washed, have your bed made, & be standing in formation in the "quarterdeck" (main lobby of the building). You figure it out! The answer is rather apparent—it can’t be done. So we get up at 5:00. And if I hear dad laughing, I’ll kill him! By the time I come home, I’ll be 21 & if I want to sleep till 4:00 p.m. I will & just try to get me up before that.

My legs are killing me! I can’t even keep my balance when I first get up from a chair; stairways ("ladders") are almost impossible. After meals, you are given fifteen minutes or so to "rest"—but you can’t lay down. "PROCEDURE FOR CARE OF YOUR ROOM…..7: Cadets are not allowed to lay on bunks between the hours of 0530 and 2115 (9:15 p.m.). After 2115 cadets may get into their bunks."

So far today we’ve mopped, swept & dusted the entire barracks twice. Oh for some more procedure—you want to go someplace (the only place we can go is to the P.X., & then only between 4:00 & 5:00 ). You go to the MOD’s (Master of the Deck) office, which is down the passageway & in the main section of the building. You stand at attention in the doorway & knock three times with your right hand, which is at your side while knocking. The MOD says "come in" (it’s an open doorway & he’s seen you all the time, but that’s the way it goes). You walk in, keeping your eyes on the wall to the right & above the MOD’s head, & stop one step from the desk. You say "Cadet Margason, F R., 33-54 requesting permission to go tot he P.X." He says "Permission granted" & you step forward with your right foot, keeping your left in place. You sign out with your right hand, leaving your left at your side. Then you say "Thank you, sir," take one step backward, do an about face, & leave. (You’ve got to sign in, too.). Well, enough Navy life for now. Write soon.


P.S. I haven’t saluted anybody yet! My address is:
NavCad F. R. Margason U.S.N.R.
Class 33-54
U.S. Naval School, Pre-Flight
NAS, Pensacola, Fla.

Monday, June 12, 2006

August 17, 1954

Life at the Pensacola Naval Air Base begins officially at 5:30 a.m. At that time reveille sounds. At 5:32, everyone must report to the "quarterdeck," the main hall of the building. At that time, you must be dressed, shaved, and had your bed made and room cleaned. As you may guess, this is a trifle difficult. Therefore, everyone gets up at 5:00. Now, as there are almost no alarm clocks, and no way of being awakened, I keep waking up every ten minutes, wondering if it’s 5:00 yet. It isn’t.

After climbing out of bed, washing, making up your bed, and the various & sundry other duties, reveille is sounded by a trumpeter whose closest acquaintance with a musical instrument must have been when he played second triangle in his kindergarten rhythm band. At 5:32 you are informed by the P.A. system that you have exactly twenty seconds to report to the "quarterdeck". Twenty-one seconds and you must go back and try again.

We (myself and two others from Chicago) reported to Pensacola at "2144" (9:44) last night. My first impressions of Florida were (1) it’s hot, (2) a sign on a Pensacola city bus: "WHITE seat from front to rear of coach. COLORED seat from rear to front of coach."

The base at Pensacola is huge—we’re so far from the airstrip (there are four or five scattered around) that we very seldom hear the planes. About forty other cadets came in the same night.
The old army adage of "hurry up & wait" certainly is applicable to the Navy Air corps. You don’t walk; you run—and when you’re not running, you’re marching.

The morning began with calisthenics—about fifteen minutes of deep-knee bends and other amusing little exercises, to get the day off to a good start. After calisthenics, we marched back to the dorm (all the buildings, by the way, have numbers—Navcad Induction was 624), located just across the street from the hanger in front of which we went through our ritual. The sun was out in full force, and everyone had miniature Mississippi’s coursing their ways down our faces, necks, bodies, and even running slowly down the inside of our legs. The heat was so great that my watch crystal fogged and the watch stopped soon after. I noticed this morning that it is running again, but will not wind.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

August 10, 1954

I have no intention of beginning every other entry with "Up early and to the office…." The first few entries probably needn’t be dated at all, as they shall be taken up with the preliminaries and backgrounds, however sketchy. I am living, at this writing, at 2012 Hutchins Avenue in Rockford, Illinois. It is a two-story, flat-roofed frame building with two-tone siding (bottom half, tarnish-white, top half green). My family is composed of my father, Frank, my mother, Odrae, and our Boxer dog, Stormy (pedigree name: "Storm of Dracrest"). It isn’t a fancy home, and was once a grocery store (which accounts for the flat roof) before being remodeled into two apartments.

You may wonder how I can be so certain, as my manner indicates, that this work will be published. That is very simple—I’m not. However, if it isn’t published, no one will be the wiser, and no one will miss it. If it is published, it will be read, and so to the reader, if any, I address my remarks.

August 14, 1954

My career in the Navy has now officially begun. Yesterday, August 13 (Friday the 13th—typical of my luck), I reported to Glenview Naval Air Station. I had to get up at 5:00 a.m., which I dreaded, and my parents drove me to Glenview, which is some 86 miles from Rockford. I have not yet been sworn in, though my enlistment started yesterday.

August 15, 1954

Tomorrow I must report back to Glenview ( I had the week-end off). I’ll be sworn in and flown by Delta Air Lines to Pensacola, Florida.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Before there was Dorien Grey, there was Roger Margason, who had led a long and rather interesting life before Dorien ever emerged, full-grown and fully developed, from Roger's mind. Dorien, being non-corporeal, can be and is anything he wants to be, including all those things Roger has always wanted to be and never was.

Dorien, like Oscar Wilde's fictional character from whom he took his name, is ageless; Roger, regrettably, is not--a fact he deeply resents.

Long before Dorien emerged and became a writer, Roger already considered himself one. and when he entered the United States Navy as a Naval Aviation Cadet in August of 1954 (yes, children, there was a 1954) he had already been writing for years. This blog will follow Roger's adventures as a NavCad, including the rigors of learning to fly, then as a regular sailor on an 8 month deployment to the Mediterranean aboard the now-scrapped aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ticonderoga (CVA-14). It was an interesting time, and we hope you'll join (and stay with) Roger as we travel back through time to a world of long ago.

So please meet 20 year old Roger Margason, who even then was conscious that he was writing to you.

Let's start at the beginning:

August 9, 1954

Having, in my sophomore year at Northern Illinois State Teachers College, studied with no little interest the Diary of Samuel Pepys (pronounced "Peeps" though I’ll never know why) and similar works, I have decided to write my own, somewhat modernized, journal. I differ from Mr. Pepys in many ways; one being that I am writing this journal, or diary, with the object of its eventual publication in mind.

I am, at the start of this modest work, twenty years old; the date is August 9th, 1954. On August 13, 1954, I shall, I hope, enter the United States Navy for 4 years, wherein I hope to become a pilot.

I plan to make this journal as revealing and honest as possible (it is far easier to make confessions to one’s future than to one’s present), and the reader must bear with my frequent ramblings. I intend to present, not to my own day, but to some future age, a complete picture of myself, my life, and my world. To the future this journal is hopefully dedicated.