|BOOT CAMP HOME PAGE|
|MEMORIES OF NTC GREAT LAKES|
This is how it was in the 1950's. Navy boot camp was a place of great stress and confusion
for recruits. I can remember certain events as if they took place yesterday. Of others, I
couldn't testify under oath. And, of course, recruits were not permitted cameras, so I
have no photos. Nevertheless, here are events as I remember them many years later, however
correct or incorrect they may be.
I believe the Navy plans so that recruits arrive at boot camp in the wee small hours of
the night. Consequently, we arrived at NTC Great Lakes, Camp Barry by train from St. Louis
well after midnight. We were all males in those days. Many shouted orders from whom we
assumed to be naval persons of great authority were heard by confused and sleepy recruits,
as we civilian scum newbies were processed. The Navy finally led us, still in civilian
clothes, to barracks and graciously permitted us to sleep from about 3 a.m. until 5:30 a.m.
Following breakfast in a chow hall of uniformed sailors, amongst whom we newly-caught
fish in our civilian clothing felt most inferior, we were "marched" to Medical Processing.
(I say "marched" instead of marched because we civilians could only shamble in a most
unmilitary fashion.) As instructed, we stripped to the buff, and submitted ourselves to
the indignities of medical processing by naval corpsmen and doctors. Among the most
memorable of the processing steps was the infamous "short-arm inspection". Less
embarrassing, but more painful, were the several vaccinations.
Upon donning our clothing again, we were "marched" to Stores, where we were issued a
minimal uniform. As best I can recall, these were dungaree shirts, trousers, socks,
boondockers, towels, blankets, pillowcases, mattress covers, seabag, and perhaps a few
other things. You could always tell the new recruits, in part by the length of their hair,
and in part because the first several times those chambray shirts were washed, they
wrinkled terribly - after that they seemed to calm down and lie flat. At some point we
received "skinhead" haircuts; I don't recall just when. At another point, we were paid a
$10 bill as advance wages. This was the famous "flying-10", because we didn't get to keep
it. Then we were "marched" to the naval exchange, where we exchanged the "flying-10" for
a ditty bag full of toiletries, shoe polish, and the like.
The Navy decided I needed glasses. Naturally, I had no say in the decision. So I was
sidetracked to a holding company while my St. Louis companions went on to recruit training
at Camp Dewey, across the highway. For six long weeks I remained in Camp Barry, daily
detailed to cleaning, standing fire watch on dumpsters, and other bottom-feeder duties. I
finally recieved my glasses, but chose never to wear them. Six weeks to make glasses!!
|OVER THE HILL|
While I was in the holding company, I became aware that on a few occasions certain
individuals attempted escape from the rigors of naval discipline. To attempt escape was
known as "going over the hill". Such individuals were almost invariably caught, and were
typically placed in "Section Eight". As nearly as we knew, Section Eight was a
pseudo-medical, pseudo-brig facility for those whose minds didn't function quite right.
Glasses packed away (I don't know what ever happened to them), I was assigned to a new
group from Minnesota and Wisconsin. Our group was given to QM1 Kamp as Company
Commander, and he marched us, each under the burden of our sea bag, out of Camp Barry, and
across the highway to Camp Dewey. We were Company 54-144 (the 144th company of 1954), and
were assigned to the lower level of the southern half of an old wooden WWII barracks
building. The building layout, as best I remember it, is on the following page. Company
54-145 was assigned the upper level of the southern half of the same building. The
northern half of that building was vacant, a circumstance which will play a role later.
The barracks had not been used for some time. Consequently, the very first thing Petty
Officer Kamp assigned us to do was to bring the barracks up to Navy standards. We soon
found we were expected to do this with only limited tools available. We had to clean
windows with toilet paper and water, but no smears or streaks were permitted. I think I
recall there were rags for dusting. The red linoleum decks had to be scrubbed (we had
water in plenty), then waxed (we had liquid wax), and polished (we had Ki-Yi brushes).
The galvanized trays on the scrub tables had to be polished so as to yield no black
oxidation marks when rubbed. The heads and showers had to be cleaned. There was heated
discussion with Company 54-145 as to whose responsibility the ladder (stairs) to the
second deck was - I don't recall the outcome. As you might expect, Petty Officer Kamp's
first inspection was not rewarding for Company 54-144, but we tried again. I don't recall
how many tries it took, but eventually we met his standards or perhaps he simply gave
Approximately this time we also were issued a khaki guard belt and one pair of worn khaki
leggings, the "boots" which identify a recruit.
|TAPS AND REVILLE|
Each night - I can't remember what time - we would hear Taps played over the base P.A.
system. This was the signal for "lights out", and everyone was supposed to climb into
their rack. Actually, there was usually quite a bit of activity, as recruits tried to
polish shoes, stencil clothing, or accomplish tasks they hadn't time for during the busy
At about 5:30 each morning the base P.A. system would play Reville. Some of us would
lie under the blanket waiting for it and cursing the arrival of the new day. Others of us
would be up early, shaving or showering, trying to get a jump on the day. Time was
At any given time other than during working hours, there would be two watches posted.
The Barracks Watch stood just inside the barracks doorway, prepared to challenge any who
entered other than those who belonged. For example, during the night-time hours an officer
might visit, checking watches. He might require the watchstander to recite his name,
service number, and any of the General Orders of a Sentry, which we had to have memorized.
After Taps there was also a Fire Watch stationed in the sleeping bay. It was his
duty to constantly patrol the barracks building, especially the sleeping area, to warn of
any fire which might occur.
Watchstanders were selected from the company roster on a revolving basis. Each of us
learned to stand watches in this way.
Our first lessons were taught and learned in barracks. This is how one stands to
attention. This is how one stands to parade-rest. This is how one salutes. Who does one
salute? Everyone, even petty officers and chiefs, but especially officers. This is how
one stows gear in a seabag. This is how one stows gear in a locker. No, not like that;
like this. Only authorized items are permitted. Candy is not permitted. Books, excepting
the Bluejacket's Manual, are not permitted. Gear stowed in lockers or displayed for
inspection had to have all the "Irish pennants" tucked in. Irish pennants are loose ends,
things that dangle. And any gear not in it's assigned place was determined to be "gear
adrift", and was subject to the Lucky Bag, equivalent to the "Lost and Found".
Petty Officer Kamp frequently conducted seabag inspections, where each recruit's entire
issue was displayed on a blanket on the deck. If a thing was not folded correctly, or
stenciled correctly, the display might be scattered by Petty Officer Kamp's foot. Items
might have to be rewashed.
We were issued rifles for drill, non-functional but real 1903 Springfields. We each came
to know our own rifle by it's serial number and peculiarities of markings to the wooden
Petty Officer Kamp never resorted to physical contact with recruits, but there was plenty
of verbal abuse to go around.
Three times each day we assembled in order of height in the company street and were marched
to chow. There was a pecking order among companies to get into the chow hall, probably
company seniority. What I do recall is that mealtimes were very serious, there was no
conversation, and you had to eat everything you took. I believe servers took great glee in
serving large quantiities of anything unpalatable, so that you had to eat it, else
one of the hawk-eyed petty officer watchdogs would send you back to do so. I also recall
that there was seldom time to eat one's fill The Navy provided plenty of tasty and
nutritious food, but it was up to the recruit to figure out how to get it eaten.
The Navy calls breakfast "breakfast". The meal taken in the middle of the day is quite
large, and is called "dinner". The evening meal is "supper". Pay attention; there'll be a
Church was held in one of the large drill halls on Sunday morning. You didn't have to go,
but you couldn't get into the chow hall for the excellent Sunday brunch without a church
chit, which was available only if you attended church.
|LEARNING BY ROTE|
There were many lessons to be learned by rote, things we carefully recorded in our
mandatory spiral notebooks, folded them in half, and tucked them into the tops of our
leggings. For example, there were the General Orders for a Sentry. There was the Wig-wag
Flag Code, which allowed us to send messages by waving our arms (and which we never had
occasion to use thereafter). There was the Phonetic Alphabet, which we did use throughout
our Navy careers, but which changed during boot camp - we first learned Able, Baker,
Charlie, Dog, and so forth through Zebra. Just about the time we had that down pat, the
Navy went over to the international system, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, and so forth
through Zulu. So we had one to learn all over again.
When Company 54-144 finally achieved sufficient military bearing to be seen in public
without undue embarrassment, we fell out in the company street with rifles and notebooks,
and were marched to class. The shortest recruit in the company was designated Guide-On and
flag-bearer. He would call cadence. Usually this amounted to something like "Follow your
left-right, your left", but sometimes it was rather more racy, referring to a girl "up on
the hill". There was a Recruit Petty Officer and an Education Petty Officer, both from our
ranks, but these played no major daily role, as did the Guide-On.
Upon nearing a base street, designated Road Guards would run ahead and station themselve as
obstacles to protect the company crossing the street. Cars would halt, as companies had
When we reached the designated classroom building, also typically a WWII wooden building,
we would stack rifles outside in groups of three using the forward sling-swivel, and we
would take seats inside. A typical class involved a senior petty officer showing overhead
transparencies and speaking of naval history, or naval customs, or naval ranks, or some
such. We were usually sleep-deprived, and staying awake in a semi-darkened room
accompanied by the droning voice of an instructor and the fan of the projector was very
difficult. Many recruits were called out for dozing.
There were up-days and down-days. One of the memorable up-days was the day we were issued
serious Navy uniforms. We were given one set of dress blues, a silk neckerchief, two sets
of undress blues, two sets of whites, and a pair of low-cut shoes. We had to try the
uniforms on - probably to see how dreadfully they fit. But it didn't matter, since we
thought we looked pretty spiffy in uniform. Also, the Navy wisely chose uniform sizes
appropriate for the more-physically-fit person who would graduate, not the skinny civilian
who arrived in dead of night.
Those who through good fortune received traditional 13-button pocketless trousers were
looked upon enviously by those of us who received the zippered more-modern trousers with
In later years I had my jumpers tailored so they fit more closely. Recruits always wear
In boot camp, there are no mothers to do laundry. The recruits must make do for
themselves. That's why the Navy furnished galvanized scrub tables in our barracks. So
we scrubbed white hats, chambray shirts, dungaree trousers, guard belts, leggings, socks,
mattress covers, pillow cases, white uniforms - and yes, we even washed our woolen blue
uniforms. Why didn't they shrink? I don't know. We even used Clorox on the white tapes
on the collar and cuffs of the dress blues. We used a lot of Clorox. I don't know how we
got away with it.
Drying was always a problem. When you washed clothes in the evening, you worried whether
they would be dry by morning. The Navy never issued clothes pins, they issued short white
pieces of heavy twine called "clothes-stops". We were taught to use these to tie an
article of clothing to the hanging wire.
In Great Lakes, it rained. We couldn't always hang clothing outside to dry. But we had a
drying room, a room set aside wherein the windows were always closed and the radiators were
always turned on "high". It was really hot in there. Clothing hung there might dry
overnight or might not. While there was heat, there was also wicked high humidity.
Each of us was eventually sent to the Dental Building for examination and any work
necessary. The Navy's philosophy was simple: a tooth not present cannot cause a problem in
the fleet. I don't recall anyone receiving fillings. I myself had either two or three
extractions. The Navy was right - the missing teeth never gave me a moment's problem from
then until now.
The Navy called it Physical Training. We called it Physical Torture. If we didn't do the
16-count or 9-count Manual of Arms properly, Petty Officer Kamp might choose to have us
hold our Springfields out before us at arm's length for an extended time. Or, we might do
push-ups until we simply couldn't do another. To the east of the barracks there was a huge
paved area called the Grinder, where we honed our marching skills and where an obstacle
course was located. I recall one time we went through the obstacle course, and were told
to run back to the beginning - a long way. One of our number (not me, fortunately) could
run no longer, and walked. For this sin, we had to run the obstacle course and do the run
a second time. Part-way through, I absolutely KNEW I was going to die. The recruit who
walked, thereby causing the company to repeat the exercise, suffered retribution by the
company when we returned to barracks. I believe this was part of the Navy's plan.
In the event of inclement weather (perhaps a hail of meteorites or frogs from the sky -
it certainly didn't include so minor an event as a hard rain), there were a couple
of very large drill halls. These were large enough to give a company a good marching
workout without running into walls. Actually, our company became quite good at
close-order drill, and seldom ventured into a drill hall.
We had a wooden picnic table in the barracks sleeping bay. It was common that the Mail
Recruit Petty Officer would distribute mail from this table. Some days we'd receive mail,
and some days not. Mail was always welcome, no matter how short the letter. Some guys got
Dear John letters - bummer!
At about week five or six, each company is required to temporarily cease classroom training
and perform support services for a week. Some might cut grass, others paint. But many of
us were detailed to assist in the galley. We had to arise especially early in the morning
in order to have breakfast prepared when it was wanted. I recall cleaning out trash cans
with a steam lance, nasty work. I recall unwrapping frozen chickens. But I mostly recall
the day the cooks made peach pies, and set them out in an unused mess hall wing to cool.
Several of our company mess cooks decided to pilfer those pies. I got sucked in. We hid
fourteen peach pies in our aprons, and carried them back to the barracks for our comrades
and us to eat. We disposed of the tins in the dumpster. Why didn't we get caught? I don't
know. The cooks must surely have detected the loss, and we were the likely culprits. I
suspect they took pity on us, since if reported the offense would likely have prevented our
As I recall, we worked Monday through Friday, plus half a day Saturday. Sunday was off. I
went to the base library when I was caught up on washing, studying, and suchlike. For some
reason, I was interested to read everything I could about home, the St. Louis area.
There was also a geedunk trailer parked in a vacant lot to the south of the barracks.
Geedunk is the Navy term for unhealthy snack food, upon which the Navy officially frowns.
Very popular with recruits, the geedunk trailer sold ice cream, fruit pies, and probably
other stuff. On Sundays, I would usually get two or three pints of ice cream and a fruit
pie. Hey, I was young, trim, and starved, and could eat as much as I pleased then of
About once a week we would air bedding. This involved stripping each bed and hauling all
the mattresses outside to air. On this one particular day after we had aired bedding, we
were marched to the grinder for drill. While we were there, it began to rain - hard. We
exchanged worried glances, knowing our mattresses were getting wet. When we returned to
barracks, our worst fears were realized - the mattresses were soaked. We knew we would be
found out and punished. Put yourself in our place - realize that the mattresses were Navy
property, we were responsible, and if our sin became known, we might not graduate. We
caucused, and decided to do the right and moral thing - commit additional crime to evade
detection and responsibility. We hauled the wet mattresses into the vacant first level
north end of the barracks building, exchanging them for dry mattresses from the unused
bunks there. Problem solved.
About halfway through boot camp, the Navy allows it's recruits a brief exposure to freedom.
We put on our whites, were inspected, and were instructed to report back aboard by a
certain hour - or else. Much discussion ensued as to where we might go. As is typical of
young sailors, many wished to get drunk and/or tatooed. I was asked where I would go. I
said there were many museums in Chicago that one might see. Laughter. Derision. But when
we'd hired a cab to take us to Chicago, it turned out that four were going with me: Andre
Menard (probably deceased), Flynn Wood, Ronald Opine (deceased), and Lloyd Lagoon. We went
to Shedd Acquarium. As we were approaching, an excited youngster stopped us to say that his
companion had fallen into Lake Michigan, and would surely drown. We hurried to the
waterfront, and saw his head above water about 100 feet out. We vaulted over the retaining
wall, and dropped to a wide concrete ledge bordering the water. One of our number who got
there first - not me - stripped off his jumper and shoes, and dived in. A second recruit
followed. To make a long story short, the youngster was saved, was wrapped in the rescuer's
white jumper, and we commandeered a taxi to take him to the nearest hospital. There the
youngster was pronounced well, but the hospital staff kept him for observation. The taxi
took us to a laundromat, where the wet, dirty whites were laundered and dried, and we
returned to the base well within the time proscribed.
Within a day or so we five received Meritorious Mast from the base commandant, whom I
believe was Captain Letts. In a second unscheduled liberty, a Navy photographer drove us
to the home of the rescued lad, where his family prepared dinner for us.
I wish to make perfectly clear that although I was involved, I was not a principal in the
The rest of the twelve weeks was pretty much more of the same training routine. We fired
weapons, got several haircuts, did some boxing, did a lot of marching, physical training,
and classroom work. I gained weight and put on muscle. At some point company 54-144 came
to realize that QM1 Kamp was being an ogre only because that was his job, and the result of
his insistence on our performance was to our benefit. Consequently, we took up a
collection of considerable money and placed it anonymously on the seat of his car where he
would find it. When we passed in review on Graduation Day, accompanied by the Navy band
playing "Washington Post March" and "Stars and Stripes Forever", we deemed all the hassle
and pain to be worth it.
You'd never recognize Camp Dewey if you went through the Lakes in the '50s. The WWII
barracks are razed and new buildings erected in their place. The grinder is gone. Some of
the streets seem to have been changed or added.
The recruit berthing and training area has been relocated to the south side of Buckley Road.
The current barracks and chow hall are new by comparison, built of brick and mortar.
That's good. I hope the training the recruits receive is what they truly need to maintain
a good Navy.