SAMPSON MOST MODERN NAVAL TRAINING STATION IN THE WORLD
Big Navy City Across Lake Is Described by Robert Shaplen
Staff Correspondent of the New York Herald-Tribune
Sampson, N.Y., --On a 2,500-acre tract along the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, largest of the Finger Lakes in central New York, the United States Navy is operating what is proudly described as the most modern naval training station in the world. Here, in a region ripe with Indian lore, where last year orchards bloomed, cows grazed and summer residents relaxed, thousands of civilians with diversified backgrounds are being transformed each day into fighting men of the fleet and vital Navy specialists.
Sampson is a city in itself, complete with the facilities of an average American community of 35,000 population. A visitor is struck by the sight of a metropolis created out of nothing in a few months, a temporary war-born city made necessary to defeat enemies who have destroyed countless of the world's villages and towns. To live in a station such as this for a week, as this reporter has done, is to see dramatically what war means to a nation in men, machines and money.
Named after the late Rear Admiral William Thomas Sampson, hero of the Battle of Santiago in the Spanish-American War, Sampson was built at a cost of $50,000,000, and the government is spending millions more each month in operating costs. It is primarily a training school for raw recruits, 85 percent of whom at present are drafted men who prefer the Navy to the Army.
Specially Built Rail Depot
From morning to night, these recruits, dressed in old clothes according to instructions, pour out of trains at Sampson's specially constructed railway depot, or from buses, leaving behind their peace-time lives. Two hours later they are wearing the uniforms of blue-jackets and are on their way to an upper or lower bunk in one of Sampson's 110 barracks.
Within ninety days, after constant drilling and a rigorous stringent routine at $50 a month, the recruits become second class seamen, ready either for billets aboard ships or for sixteen additional weeks of specialized training in the Navy's service schools, leading to petty officer ratings. If they go to sea, their education is completed rapidly at first hand, and before long they may go through their baptism of fire in distant waters. Although the normal recruit training program lasts twelve weeks, the demand for men on ships was so great when the war began that in some cases, the course had to be cut to a few weeks. Today it varies.
Run By Navy Veterans
The men who operate Sampson, from Captain Harry A. Badt, U.S.N., the commandant, down to the lowest ranking petty officer, are for the most part veterans of the Navy. Many had had battle experience in this war, dating from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the combined Army-Navy operation on Tokyo from the air, the offensives in North Africa, and even more recent Pacific engagements. Instruction thus based not only on time-honored theory, but on what the Navy has learned so far in global conflict.
When the recruits arrive they file directly into the station's huge reception center and line up on what they are informed is a deck, no longer a floor. Walls cease being walls and become bulkheads. Stairs are ladders and the men are told they have just come aboard. The Navy makes a great point of stressing sea language throughout the course.
As the recruits stands in rows, answering to their names and receiving numbers, the sweeping diversity in types and ages is startlingly revealed. A large number come out of New York City's melting pot. There are boys who look less than seventeen years old, the minimum enlistment age, youths to whom razors will be superfluous for some time to come and who would look more at home playing baseball on corner lots.
Scattering of Older Men
And there are men in their late twenties, with city-wise faces, truck drivers, longshoremen, clerks, varying in size and shape. There are a scattered few over thirty-eight who have enlisted voluntarily although they are above draft age, and somehow one stares a little harder at them than at the others. The average has had from two to four years of high school education.
The Navy immediately feeds each man, since many have not eaten for several hours. They receive a sandwich, some fruit and a glass of milk. Then they start passing through the line.
In charge of reception is Ensign Frank Wright; Lieutenant Commander Francis King is the chief doctor. As each recruit waits for Ensign Wright's squad of yeomen to type out standard forms, he has a chance to observe the various Navy posters pinned on the bulkheads, among them one showing all the German Navy uniforms and insignias, which he is supposed to learn.
The physical examinations are held on the spacious second floor of the center, in rooms and corridors painted a soft, cool sea-green. The tests are performed in a quieting atmosphere, lacking the feverish overtones of the ordinary induction center.
Good By to Civilian Clothes
After passing through the ear, eye, and teeth examinations and having their blood tests, the recruits take off their civilian clothes and put them in boxes, which the Navy sends to their homes. Each man is permitted to keep his toilet articles and personal effects and, at present, his shoes, for use in off-training hours in Sampson's clay soil.
The new arrivals then pass through shower rooms and the examinations continue, ending with psychiatrists firing ten or twelve personal questions at each recruit. A fraction are kept aside for observation on the basis of these queries. Once a man passes this stage, his tension vanishes and he no longer need fear being turned back. He's in the Navy, and the chances are he will see plenty of the world before he gets out.
Clothing, $119.19 worth, is handed out to each new man, who carries it off to the barracks in a mattress cover, forming a huge bundle frequently bigger than the recruit himself, and weighing seventy-five pounds. The Navy spends $2,000,000 a month on clothing alone at Sampson. The most expensive item is a $15.50 pea jacket. A recruit receives about a hundred articles in all, ranging from a whiskbroom and a ditty bag for his personal things to a pair of undress jumpers, blankets, a feather pillow and some black thread for sewing his own gear.
Gets Boots and Dog Tag
He also gets two pairs of leggings - the basis of the term boot - which is what a BlueJacket is called during the indoctrination period When he discards them, it is a sign he has graduated from apprentice seaman to second-class seaman, at $4 a month more. Each man also receives a dog tag, a metal identification disk which bears his name, his service number, his blood type and the date of his tetanus injection,
Trucks and buses now take the new BlueJackets to one of the units of the station, where they will pass nine-tenths of their time during the training period. There are five recruit units, or regiments, at Sampson, all virtually self-sufficient.
In the center of each is a drill field a quarter of a mile long and 200 yards wide. Sampson soil is very sticky, containing 60 percent clay, and surfacing of these fields, covering ninety acres of the station, was a difficult problem. They were prepared with a mixture of five inches of top soil, three-quarters of an inch of sand, and two inches of humus, and were then sodded with grass.
Get Commando Training
Surrounding the spacious drill field are roadways, and the buildings of the unit. There are twenty-two barracks to a regiment, each housing 224 men, or two companies - one on the bottom deck and one topside. Every unit also includes a large drill hall, a mess hall, a vast ship's service building, or recreation hall, two dispensaries, a rifle range, a storehouse, a regimental headquarters and a chief petty officers' building. The capacity of a regiment is 5,000 men.
Separating one unit from another is a series of natural ravines, in which the recruits receive commando training, rushing up and down the sides and over obstacles.
After being assigned to a bunk the recruit sets about marking his clothes with stencils included in his clothing allotment. He gets his clothes fitted a day or two later by the regimental tailor.
At the end of each barrack deck is a drying room, where the BlueJacket hangs out the clothes he launders in a scrub room at the adjacent side. In the center of each deck are tables and benches and lockers. All gear must be neatly arranged on the locker shelves, ready for inspection at a moment's notice. The lockers are about the size of those aboard ships.
Trees to Hoard Nuts
One unfortunate recruit in the barracks I visited had violated the rule that no food be kept in the lockers. He had tried to secrete a bag of shelled peanuts in his ditty bag. When it was discovered the bag tumbled on deck, the nuts scattering, and the embarrassed BlueJacket had to get down on his hands and knees and pick up every nut.
The drill halls are outstanding examples of Sampson construction, each inch of space being utilized. They are 600 feet long and 120 feet wide and resemble the invested hulls of ships. The roofs are of laminated wood and scarcely any steel went into them.
At one end is a swimming pool, 20 by 25 yards. Every recruit must know how to swim. The 20 percent who don't know how when they arrive receive special instructions.
Set into the wall between the pool and the rest of the hall is a motion-picture projector room, and some fifty yards farther down is the rolled-up screen on which movies are seen twice a week.
On the bulkheads of the drill halls are the Navy visual signal flags, a flag and a key word for each letter of the alphabet. During the fourth, fifth and sixth weeks of training, guests are permitted to visit the station, but they are not allowed to wander about; they congregate in the drill hall, sitting alphabetically in groups of chairs, creating a scene similar to a ship dock during a customs inspection. A station guest house will soon be opened.
Hold Religious Services
In the center of the drill hall, set into the side of the building, is an altar, equipped for both Protestant and Catholic services. Special services as well as Jewish services, are held in one of the station's two separate chapels. Every recruit must go to church during the training period. Adjacent to the altar are three confessional rooms.
At the far end of the drill hall is a rigging room, where the BlueJackets squat on the floor amid iron rails known as jackstays to learn the seventeen basic Navy knots.
With all these facilities, the drill hall thus is a bustle of training activity from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day.
Each unit mess hall is 400 feet long and seats 1,700 men at a time. Divided horizontally, one half is the dining room and the other half the kitchen and store rooms. Crews of the regiment are assigned alternately to kitchen duty.
Library Well Stocked
The recruit's haven of luxury is the ship's service building, which would be the envy of men in the average Army camp or most other Navy training centers, if they could see it. It includes a vast library of more than 5,000 books.