A lunch today with a bunch of friends, most of which are 60's ex-military, prompted my words that follow. My narrative came about as a result a lunch table controversy as to the proper name of the US Naval Training Center's Disciplinary Company, some said 40XX, I maintained it was Company 4013. It seems my memory is correct as confirmed by Dalton Phillips story below.  

Dalton really captured the Navy Boot Camp experience for me…I arrived there on 5 July, 1957, a mere 17 1/2 years old recruit, on a "Kiddy Cruise", with the US Navy guaranteeing to release me prior to my 21st birthday. Why the Navy? Mostly because I was going too get drafted at 18 to 18 1/2 and 2 years in the Army was not for me.

There were three (3) {Make that four} horrific things that could happen in Navy Boot Camp:
1.Getting sent to 4013 K, the disciplinary company, double pieces(rifles) for your Manual of Arms drills, wash your entire sea bag every night: They were really trying to break these guys. As we read in the enclosed article, "He was finally set back and sent to the scrounge company, the dreaded 4013 Kilo." The Chief (E-7) running Company 4013 at the time was a colored guy. If you happened to be colored and got sent to 4013, the Chief would take you in the back room and beat the crap out of you for being a disgrace to the colored race.
2. The second horrible thing was to be "set back"…meaning you'd start boot camp all over again.
3. There was also a pschyo company…guys on the way out.
4. The infamous (Thankfully fictitious) "square needle in the left nut" injection.

The other thing that stands out about Boot Camp in sunny San Diego, on the Bay, it was bloody cold at night and the barracks had screens, no windows. It was also blistering hot in the day, and most of us had lost the first or second layer skin on our noses by week 2. 

We were issued a Fart Sack (Mattress Cover) and one MFing blanket. Lots of guys got sick within a matter of days…probably the tight quarters, and that damp air, and the ever so omnipresent scent of treated sewage. Reveille was at 5:00 AM, a Night Stick rotated with fervor around the interior of a ribbed garbage can. "Drop your cocks and grab your socks! was the first thing were heard every morning  After a quick shaven shower and shine, we were marched out of the barracks and lined up for chow on the Grinder, in the dark of course. You could practically skate across the "clams" people were coughing up. And if you got too sick to engage in routine Boot Camp duties, and you were sent to Sick Bay, and God forbid if you were admitted, they worked you ass off, polishing floors, cleaning brass "brightwork"…there was no lounging in a hospital bed until taps. If you were deathly ill, you went over to the Naval Hospital, Balboa. I did go to Sick Bay for pneumonia…I "cured myself" in record time, fearing I would be set back, and spend even more time in that hell. Going to the hospital was a certain "set back" incident.

But when you were feeling good, knew how to march (about 4 hours a day sometimes), marching wasn't that bad. "Dress right, dress!" This command made certain we were all properly lined up geometrically. Right oblique, hut! To the rear, hut! By the right flank, hut! To the rear, hut! After a while, in response to these robotic commands, we moved as one…I guess that was the idea.

After the first 5 or so weeks of Basic, I went across the bridge to the other side of USNTC  to Company 4009, the Choir Company. I had taken a test for the billet, had to read some passages in Latin (5 years of Latin with no grade higher than a "D" prepared me for this, along with mandatory Catholic School choir). Once in 4009,  we were issued a permanent "walking chit", which means we could go anywhere we wanted (except out the front gate of the USNTC.) We no longer had to march in formation. We were immune from Teddy Red Board dicks that would lurk about looking for any excuse to write you up. We took classes in any order we wanted, just needed to get signed off. There was also a Drum and Bugle Company, called Beat and Blow. They screwed off too and had the same privileges we had.

Me, just as many others, were always looking for a racket. At my first duty station after boot camp, temporary (TDY) waiting to get into a crowded SONAR school, the US Naval Ordnance Unit where we tested torpedoes at sea 40 miles off of Key West, I got a Govt. Drivers License and became a Duty Driver, a racket indeed. This is how I got out of "Fire Watch" during my 6 months in Sonar School, in Key West FL. "Fire Watch" was four hours of walking around in the dark on the look out for fires, that never happened. At Naval Ordnance Unit, riding around on 63 ft and 72 ft. Torpedo Recovery Boats (TRBs) all day, being issued a free box lunch daily, and going form dungarees to swimming suits once we left Key West Harbor, talk about sweet duty. They treated all of us SONAR School candidate pretty special. 

Once in SONAR school, it was all work and no play, well not exactly*. Class, just as everything in the Navy was on a 1.0 to 4.0 scale. If you dropped below a 3.0 average, you went to mandatory night school. If you dropped below 2.5, you were booted out of school and they looked for the worst possible duty for you…let's say as a "Deck Ape" on a Cruiser or aircraft carrier. Deck Apes really worked hard. They were the first up in the AM,  before reveille, for a nice deck scrubbing and a fresh water wash down, called a "Clean sweep down fore and aft." 

*They did throw us a party, don't know the reason, all the beer you could drink, free. By the end of the day, the Shore Patrol SP (The Navy's version of MPs) were loading the passed out drunks into the back of stake bed trucks and taking us back to our barracks, my first "black out" as I recall. Note the SP's were on temporary assignment, it could be for a day or two. The Navy had to permanent police as the Army does…thus the prickititis that is seen in the MPs, rarely is displayed by the Shore Patrol. If you are drunk in the gutter, they can relate…that may have been there a few days earlier. I never had SP duty.

In the Navy, in the late 50's, once you made enlisted Non-Commissioned Officer (E-4), you never worked again, just walked around the ship all day bull shitting with other NCO's, and drinking a lot of coffee. Your day was organized around the various coffee pots on the ship. Work, (Except for the Deck Apes) if you can call it that, started about 8:30 to 9:00 AM, after we were read the Plan of the Day. You knocked off for chow at 11:30 AM…back on the "job" at 1:00 PM, after a snooze in the sack…only to knock off about 4:00 PM. While at sea you'd pick up a 4 hour "watch" every 3 days…sitting in a SONAR shack, listening to jazz on our highly sophisticated AMPEX 2 track sound system (We converted it to an entertainment system; why record submarine noise, when you can convert a 33 1/3 LP to high fidelity audio tape; there was no stereo at the time so the 2nd channel could be used to lay down another track of jazz.) , with the gain on the SONAR turned all the way down so we wouldn't detect anything, whales, porpoise, Russian submarines, now that wasn't a bad watch. We also had a trip switch on the passageway to the SONAR stack…it would signal us that a visitor was on the way, probably our Division Officer was coming down to spy on us…AMPEX off, gain back up, my we were vigilant for a few minutes.

3 years, 5 months and 10 days and a Good Conduct Medal (No Captain's Mast (Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, aka the UCMJ and no Court Martials), and made E-5 in 3 years 4 months. I thought about staying in, but civilian life beckoned, and all that it promised. Too young for Korea, too old for Viet Nam, talk about timing! Had I had gone to college out of high school, and made it through in 4 years, I would have graduated in 1962. Had I accepted a commission, my service would have lasted through 1966….I could have made Vietnam. Man I would loved to have been a Riverine "Brown Water" sailor as depicted in Apocalypse Now. Those boats were run by 1st Class (E-6) and sometimes Chief's (E-7). In closing, once I was out of the Navy, after 2 - 3 months of civilian life, I admit to thoughts about shipping over…re-enlisting. You had a 3 month window to come back to the fold and maintain your rank….about that time, fortunately, the ladies were becoming more plentiful and listening to my "sea stories", and I found a good paying part time job, school was going OK…never looked back. Those 3 years, 5 months and 10 days in the US Navy provided me with opportunities to learn lots of skills and get involved into success feedback. If you mastered a task, generally you were recognized for it. And at the same time, not having to sail "In Harms Way" was a hell of a bonus. In retrospect, Riverine boating may have looked good on paper, but by God people were shooting at these sailors. They say, timing is everything! And for the most part, I had one hell of a good time!

And thanks to Dalton Phillips for digging up some nearly fossilized memories. And never forget, a good "Sea Story" always starts with, "This is no shit."



The Company Commander of the infamous Scrounge Company 4013K when I was in Navy Boot Camp  was supposedly a black Chief, aptly named "Choker" Thomas. According to the skuttlebutt - he was one mean SOB. He had several E-6's working as assistants under him. I had to go to their barracks one time during Service Week - as part of a working party delivering cleaning supplies. Most of them were out of the barracks but there was one kid out back at the scrub table. His whole seabag was laid out on the table and he was scrubbing it all by hand, piece by piece. There were big amplified bull horn speakers rigged up around the scrub table - maybe six or eight of them. A big burley first class petty officer stood at the head of the scrub table, holding a microphone. He was calling out cadence for this kid to scrub by " ONE ... TWO ... THREE " and it was amplified through those big speakers, one of which was situated right by the kids ear. You could hear it from a mile away. Later, after I retired from the Navy -  I worked with a retired Navy LT who was several years older than me. He was a black guy, a mustang who worked his way up through the ranks. I found out that he had served as a Company Commander at the San Diego Boot Camp when he was a young Chief Petty Officer during that time frame. Apparently his tour of duty as a Boot Camp Company Commander helped earn his commission. I was wondering if he was the  "Choker" Thomas of Company 4013. I asked him about it and he just brushed it off - neither confirming or denying it. When I knew him, we called him "T.J." He was a nice guy in the smooth talking Cab Callaway style - my wife said he looked like a "zoot suiter" and he got a big chuckle out of that. He was then in his early sixties - still in excellent physical condition. He was a jogger and he always participated in our local marathon every year - from start to finish. 

In reality - Choker Thomas probably never existed in real life. But many stories were told about him at the San Diego Navy Boot Camp while I was there in 1964.