Noilly Prattle: Looking Back: 2 - join the Navy and see the world

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Looking Back: 2 - join the Navy and see the world

            My response to the restlessness and the push and tug of growing up and striking out from the bosom of the family (in view of the fact that we still had a military draft and not being particularly interested in carrying a rifle and slogging through mud and very much interested in “seeing the world”) was to enlist in the USNavy after graduating from high school in 1959. I was seventeen, feeling confined by small town life, restless, wanting to break out of my cocoon and, as I saw it, spread my wings, literally, on my first flight from Boston in a TWA airliner headed for Chicago and the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. It felt like I had truly “slipped the surly bonds of Earth” as John Gillespie had described it in his poem High Flight.

        Of course, the Post Office posters and the recruiter's enlistment pitch turned out to be somewhat different from the reality of life in the military. Thus did I become, on the one hand, addicted to the lure and fascination of faraway places and, on the other, disenchanted with the regimentation of military life.

my dog tags - the nick is for inserting the
tag between your front teeth in case of death
        As a sailor I was something of a rebel with a cause—getting through my hitch with my independence of thought reasonably intact. It grew increasingly clear to me that I was being conditioned to be a faceless cog in a machine, a number on a dog tag where thought and opinion were discouraged while adherence to strict rules and regulations were demanded. Furthermore, as time passed and I became more familiar with the guys around me, I developed the strong impression that many re-ups (career sailors), far from being fierce warriors, were really dependent type personalities who needed to be told what to do and when to do it. I also began to realize that I liked to write (thanks to a snotty ROTC wonder Ensign who demanded that I write an essay about driving carefully after I had been invoved in a traffic accident that wasn't my fault). I think that what I considered his arbitrary treatment of me as if I were  a juvenile delinquent contributed to my determination not to submit to the unquestioning obedience required of a good soldier. In short, I was not and could never be a real soldier—and I knew it.

        But I got around. And I also got a tattoo either in Milwaukee or Chicago, I don't remember which. It was the de rigeur thing to do on our first day of liberty from Great Lakes. You were supposed to brag later how you got drunk and laid and so out of your head that the supposed pain of the tattoo needle didn't bother you a bit. Well, in fact, full disclosure, there was no getting laid and I wasn't even drunk when I got the tat. Everybody invariably asks: "Did it hurt?" No. It stung like a series of mosquito bites, but it took a couple weeks to heal the scabs.  

       I was assigned to four ships in three years, sailed the Atlantic and Caribbean. Memorable [both for positive and negative reasons] ports included my stateside homeports: Norfolk, Virginia, Key West, Florida and Jacksonville, Florida. Overseas ports included Hamilton, Bermuda, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Charlotte Amalie, Virgin Islands and Funchal, Madeira off the coast of Morocco in North Africa.

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

love it….and look at that young soldier's face, aglow, I would say!!

Noilly Prattle said...

:-) Ya, I think I must have been home on leave at the time, beween assignments--probably 18-years-old. Imagine that, over 50 years ago!