In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding continues the story about joining the Navy, his experience at boot camp, and learning what job he’s been assigned.
Well, here we are at firefighting school and the instructors are already waiting for us and there was no messing around. We got all gowned up and ready to fight some fires.
It was interesting because the first building we went into got us ready for the smoke. And, boy, was it smoky. When we came out of this building we were all teary-eyed and hacking.
The next building we went into was actually on fire. We were placed in teams to put out the fire, that was sort of fun, not too much hacking when we came out of there. The fun part was this all took a while. And then it was time for lunch, which we had right there at the school.
Well, we thought it was fun. We did not know what was in store for us after lunch.
Lunch was very good, and they gave us about an hour to eat and allow the food to digest. After lunch, we were gowned up again and given a gas mask, so we knew the gas chamber was next on the agenda. Gowned up and masked, we marched into the gas chamber. Once we were all in the room, they turned on the gas and told us to take the mask off and slowly start heading to the exit door with our mask in our hands.
That was the most unusual feeling all over my body: tingling on my skin, tears pouring out of my eyes, and trying to hold my breath.
Here is the problem as I see it. We are all in this room and the door closes and everybody takes their mask off, then they send us out of the room in a single file. (I think you know where I’m going with this.) The guys that are bringing up the rear stay in the room longer than everybody else and, as you can imagine, I was one of the last guys standing. When I got to the door and took a deep breath of air, I felt much better; although, I was hacking my guts out and most of the guys were throwing up in these big bins. Why eat lunch?
Once we were done getting tortured, we were put back on the bus and sent back to our barracks where we quickly showered and got cleaned up.
When I got to the door and took a deep breath of air, I felt much better; although, I was hacking my guts out and most of the guys were throwing up in these big bins. Why eat lunch?
Our days continued with going to class, and marching, and more marching. Our RPOC, the guy who called cadence and marched us all over the base was summoned to this big drill hall where he competed to be selected to the Navy’s drill team. He was picked, so he left our company to go a separate way in the boot training. I was then promoted to RPOC (recruit petty officer chief) and got to carry a saber (sword) and march the troops and call cadence. I got pretty good at it and even had a few catchy tunes that we would put to marching.
One day was dedicated to Personnel, which was the day that we would be able to tell a Personnel man what job we wanted to do in the Navy. We were up early that day, marched to breakfast, then off to this big drill hall where there were several tables set up and each table had a PN2 or PN1 sitting there to talk to us individually. So, we lined up at these tables that were marked with letters corresponding to our last names.
As the RPOC, I made sure all the guys were lined up and of course I went last. I finally got to sit down and chitchat with a PN1. He asked me what I wanted to do and said, “Give me a few ratings that you would like.” Considering my business background, I told him Disbursing Clerk, Storekeeper, Aviation Storekeeper, and Data Specialist. He asked me what I did for physical work on the outside. I told him I was a grocery clerk and, as of recently, I was a licensed butcher. He then said, “NEXT.” That indicated to me to get up and move on.
I left, scratching my head.
The next couple of weeks went very fast and, before I knew it, the CC was mustering us to let us know that our orders were in and he was going to tell us where we were going next.
At this point of boot camp, our company was still 92 strong and we were all going to make it to graduation. The CC came into the barracks and had us sitting on the floor with him situated in the middle. The first thing he said was that only three of us got “A” schools and the rest were going to the fleet. Going to the fleet, a.k.a. sea duty. Going all over the world and having a girl in every port, I was imagining it then.
The CC read off all the orders for everyone going to sea duty, but I wasn’t one of them, which means I got a school. One guy got Parachute Rigging School, one guy got Electronics Tech School, and I got Hospital Corpsman School across the road from boot camp.
Hospital Corpsman!!!??? Yikes. What the heck is that?
I asked the CC and he said, “You’ll be emptying bed pans and urinals all day.”
I told the CC what had happened to me two weeks before at Personnel and then I asked him if we could speak to that PN1. He told me, “We’ll go down there tomorrow and see what he says.”
The CC was a man of his word and so he and I went to Personnel and went to the PN1 and I asked why he was sending me to Hospital Corpsman School. He told me and the CC that since I was a butcher on the outside I was used to seeing blood and raw meat.
That was that, and no further explanation was coming my way. In other words, get back to your company.
Now, I’m really perplexed and scratching the ole head, because I don’t know what to expect. I knew one thing, There goes my girl in every port.
Finally, graduation day was here and I couldn’t wait to march our company in front of the reviewing stand and use my saber to salute the Commanding Officer.
My Mom and Dad drove all the way up there for the festivities and I couldn’t wait to see them (in Uniform). When the Navy band started playing, I think my chest stuck out about three feet and I grew another foot. They played a lot of marching tunes, but when my company was passing in review the band played “Anchors Aweigh” and I don’t think I had a prouder moment in all my young life. I felt I accomplished so much in that small amount of time.
More moments to come. More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.