In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding tells the story about joining the Navy and his experience at boot camp.
Before we were marched to the barracks, we were taken to a building where there were pay phones so we could call home to let our folks know that we arrived safe and sound to Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
That first night in a barracks on the top bunk was a very lonesome one. This was the first time I had been away from home alone ever and I was a little homesick and nervous not knowing what to expect in the morning. The next morning, we went to breakfast in columns of two and marched (well, somewhat marched) to the chow hall. When we entered the building, there was a smell of sausage, bacon, and eggs, also the odor of hot water and soap. It wasn’t a very pleasing odor and not very appealing to my stomach. Some of the sailors who were in there working told us the chow was better on the other side (whatever that meant).
The first day was filled with lots of processing, haircuts, clothing issue, taking more written tests, and moving into a temporary barracks. That pretty much consumed the whole day and we were told that the next day would be all medical. Lunch and dinner was more of the same foods, not very appetizing at all. I was getting over my feeling of being homesick because we were all in the same boat.
The second day, we were marched to the medical building where we went through in single file, stopping at different stations for various testing.
Dental was the very first stop. We had to chew a red-colored pill and then we had to brush all the pinkish stain off the teeth and brush and brush, that was the most I ever brushed my teeth in my whole life. Once we had the stain removed from our teeth, then we went in to see the dentist. They checked our teeth out real well, made records of it, and just sent us on to the next station.
Next station was blood draw. There seemed to be a hold up at this station and I quickly found out why.
Next station was blood draw. There seemed to be a hold up at this station and I quickly found out why. Lots of these guys, myself included, never had their blood drawn before and they were watching the needle going into their vein and when they saw the blood coming out they got dizzy and passed out. Picture this, a long hallway with guys sitting down all along the wall and as pale as sheets. This was working on my mind and I started getting dizzy before I got to the guy doing the drawing. They told me to take a seat before I could get my blood drawn, and then when they thought I was okay they drew my blood. I got dizzy again and again they made me sit against the wall. This reaction is known as psychosomatic—your mind tells you this is bad and you’re going to go down, and then you go down. This didn’t happen to me again after that time.
Next station was eye testing. Believe me, mentally, I was not ready for a vision test and, of course, I failed the eye test. My vision has always been 20/20 in both eyes, but after the blood thing my vision was off to say the least. The whole problem here is that nobody listened to me when I told them there was nothing wrong with my vision and that the failing of the eye test was due to dizziness. I was told, as were others, that I would be placed in a holding company until my glasses were delivered. There was quite a few of us in this position and so they made a whole company of us, we called ourselves the medical rejects, all ninety-two of us.
They had us working in groups of ten and transported us all over the base doing odd jobs—cleaning streets, cleaning buildings, and painting down on the beach. “BEACH?” you ask. Yes, down along the shore of Lake Michigan there was some sand, picnic tables, and shelters over the tables, and that is what we were painting. This went on for a week and we saw no one at the beach because, in April at Great Lakes, Illinois, it is still winter there, it is downright COLD!!!
We all got our medical issues taken care of and we met this fellow with two stripes on his sleeve, said he was an assistant company commander and we were going to the “other side” to meet our new company commander (CC) and get settled in our barracks where we will call home for the next ten weeks. We then were placed in formation columns of six and approximately fifteen guys in a column and then he started marching us to the other side and we looked bad with our marching. I knew a little about marching from our physical education teacher in high school Mr. Jim Conner who devoted several months of his class time to military-style marching. I got pretty good at it and I knew our company was going to need lots of work!
We finally got to the other side and moved into the barracks and we stood by a set of bunk beds and stood at attention awaiting the CC. The fellow with two stripes kept walking up and down the middle of the barracks raising his voice at us. Hell, he was hollering at us!
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.