“Life is an Adventure”
by Bill Owens SM3/c
As noted earlier I accomplished one of my important goals at that summer’s end by being sworn into the Navy on Sept.11th 1944. I’m not really sure whether my driving force was patriotism, for adventure or for glory. Probably all three!
Glory had begun to be ruled out when the war in Europe wound down and Germany surrendered while I was still in Signalman school at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois but the battle was still raging in the South Pacific and a slim chance remained I could still become a hero.
Prior to Signal School each recruit was required to complete (at the time) twelve weeks of basic training called “boot camp” (named after the putties one had to wear to distinguish their lowly position.
My age and physical condition served me well in living through the hell administered by the training personnel ( many in my view at the time may have had serious mental problems). The biggest problem I faced was keeping up with my laundry and staying awake on watch. Time as usual passed and after taking various tests I asked for and was assigned to Signal School where it required another twelve weeks of study to graduate. My request for this training was motivated by a seminar held by a Signalman who explained that this rating was one of the best as far as he was concerned. The benefits listed included being “top side” at all times, and as part of the communication division being in a good position to know what was going on as opposed to being un-rated where much of the time was spent chipping and painting decks or sweating it out on one chore or another. ( He was wrong about chipping decks however as I chipped enough paint to cover a house.)
It was a good choice for me and twelve weeks later having advanced one notch I was given orders to ship out for sea duty. To my surprise because I guess I had applied myself I graduated fourth in my class. I had progressed well and felt quite elated with my fortune so far. I did have what some considered a ‘flaw” in my character (started early in youth) that related to my apparent need to in some eyes to “shoot off my mouth”.
An illustration of this perverse (at least in the Navy) habit and its consequences follows in a letter I was asked to send by the daughter of the man who became my direct boss and worst enemy describing humorous contacts with her father while in service (I’m sure she regretted asking for it later as I never heard from her again) related to my time aboard our ship with her dad.
Since fifty years had passed I had grown mellowed and forgiving and was able to look back with amusement on the series of events that took place on the “Chilton” APA38 Comtransron17 while this particular boss was in command.
I first met G in June 1945 when I was assigned to the Chilton after completing signal school at Great Lakes Naval Training school just North of Chicago Illinois.
As a cocky, loudmouth know it all of Seventeen ( to understate my position ) I did not make a very good first impression on your Dad who probably to this day is a dedicated serious minded person. As a matter of fact I probably made a rotten last impression as well.
If You think because of the way this relationship started that things might not go smoothly for me going forward you are..... absolutely right! I might have so frustrated G in his dealings with me that he gave up any ideas of staying in the Navy and becoming a "Flag Officer." ( Lucky for you all! ) Examples follow:
Assigned by the boss ( you know who ) to clean Fifteen or Twenty swabs. ( Mops outside the Navy ) I was shown how after tying one onto a line and dragging it in the ships wake on the fantail just how it was done. After my instructor had left (Joe Perinnelli Sm2c)and I cleaned Two or Three I reasoned that the Navy would not like me to dope off and make this an all day job so I tied on the remaining Seventeen or Eighteen in one large group, secured one end to the life line tossed them over the side..... and guess what.. “no more swabs”... I had not yet mastered the art of fabricating a good lie to cover myself so I added one more foot to the rope that might hang me and Five or Ten notches to your fathers blood pressure.
After (at least in G’s eyes) untold numbers of events such as described above I was banished along with a radarman (whose activity must have paralleled mine) to the spud locker in the galley to peel enough potatoes each meal to feed the two hundred hungry sailors we had aboard. We both felt really degraded and humbled to the degree this punishment might have restrained our buoyant spirits except after studying the situation we realized this might be a birds nest on the ground. Why? Our job was to fetch several hundred pounds of potatoes from the food locker, place the potatoes in buffeting machines until most of the skins were off and then using paring knives remove the rest of the skin and the eyes and dump them into large steam cookers for further preparation.
This process consumed enough time that we could barely finish our chore for one meal and the next one was upon us. Ingenuity to the rescue....By increasing the number of potatoes we put into the machine as well as the time they spent there we were able to cut our on the job effort( at least of having to be in attendance at the spud locker) to a fraction of the time needed to do it the old way. Our biggest fear of course was that the cooks would notice the size of the potatoes we delivered to them. Or we would run out of potatoes. Neither of these things happened but our happy days ended ( at least mine ) when one day as I lay on a coiled hawser (while potatoes tumbled) up on the bow reading something to improve my mind I glanced up at the signal bridge and guess who was looking down at me with a pair of field glasses. Your right! What was the result of being detected? ... well....
Moving right along to my next assignment I found myself doing what I considered one of the worst jobs in the Navy. It's called the scullery. My job in this position was to receive the dirty tin mess plates from the guys, tap the leftovers out into a G.I. can, place the tin tray on a rack and run the rack through a very hot steam machine.( I estimate the temperature in our work area was about 140 degrees,) About the time a clean-up after one meal was complete it was time to get at it again. This torture may have worked on me except I think I was spared further duty when we loaded troops. The troops believe it or not volunteered for this type of duty to escape the boredom of having nothing to do. (this of course was a state I worked diligently however unsuccessfully to realize. )
Looking back over the years and at the time I spent aboard the Chilton sometimes with fondness sometimes not, I came to the conclusion that the association between G and myself was a mutually beneficial experience. It looks like Two hard heads found their own paths to a successful and happy life.