Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Farragut--Fever Valley

Thousands of rosy-cheeked young men in the early 1940's, and later, remember that first day arriving at a Navy Training Camp (boot camp) and as they climbed out of a "cattle car" we're greeted by shouts of  "You"ll be sorry!"  Thus began their transformation from "civilian" to a sad-sack "boot".

Most every action after that involved standing in line with a group of other guys while something was done for you or to you.  After being assigned a bunk in a barracks, a line was formed by us to get an armload of Navy clothing that might fit reasonably close.  I reluctantly gave up those brown wing-tip shoes to be replaced with a very plain pair of black ones that were a part of my life until I mustered out of the  Navy many months later.

Then came the line to be administered by a guy laughingly referred to as a barber.  No finesse.  They peeled us with clippers until we all looked like fresh laid hen fruit.  Gone was the long hair and curly locks that mother loved.  We should have cried but we were all so ugly, everyone had a good laugh instead.

Not so funny were the long lines in the gyms where we stood, buck naked while  corpmen popped a needle in the arms on both sides.  In a few cases, a blood vessel was hit and the red stuff dripped down the arm.  And, a couple of times I saw guys walk on with a needle hanging in the arm.  This causes a fainting reaction in some men whose bodies could be heard hitting the deck as they passed out. It was more apt to happen to the bigger fellows in the line.  Some of those meds tended to make us feel a bit ill temporarily.

Since we were Navy with most of us being assigned to ships, swimming and diving lessons were part of the training.  The buildings and pools were heated which was good since the outside air in northern Idaho in the Fall and Winter can be quite cold--like freezing.  The swimming and diving was easy for me as I learned to swim when I was six years old and had always been around water.  But for some who had never been associated with swimming pools, lakes or rivers, this part of the training was arduous.  Even though it was scary for some, learning to swim was a must and they did learn!  Diving was a bit of cake for me but they wouldn't let me dive head first.  No fun at all.  The heighth of the dive board was probably only 20 feet but it looked like fifty from up on the board.  We were required to cup our genitals and jump in feet first.  Made sense.  Jump off a sinking large boat that had been torpedoed or bombed ocould mean lots of debris in the water that could break a neck during a head first dive.

Too often, after a swim in a heated building and pool, we were taken out into the cold air to march around the grinder, a large marching field and track.  No wonder some of us got sick but more on that later.  Farragut was named Fever Valley for good reason.

As we neared the end of our boot training,  we were given more freedom such as going to the PX (store and recreation) area.  We were able to buy gedunk (ice cream) and pokey bait (candy) and other sundries.  Near graduation we studs started thinking ahead.  I don't know how I was selected but I ended up being the person to purchase the condoms for a group.  The other guys were all chicken. I placed an order for two dozen with a young female clerk and when she returned she said,"here you are--Casanova!"  Blushing madly, I tried to sink into the deck.

Upon graduation we were all given ten days delayed orders after which we were to move on to our destined assignments or to return to Farragut for further training.  I had planned on hitch hiking to get to my home town and girlfriend in Portland, Oregon but before I could get on the road, I became very ill and sought the comfort of a tavern in a nearby  Idaho town.  While in there I pulled the arm lever of a gambling machine and won ten dollars on the first pull.  That purchased me a bus ticket to go home.  My mother picked me up at the bus depot and took me home to a welcome bed.

Sick or not, the next day I hopped into my Chevy and drove to see my girlfriend, Grace.  After much smooching and hugging Grace looked at my arm, rubbed it, and asked, "What are all those splotches on your arm?"  Further investigation showed I had them on my belly and chest, also.  I didn't know what it was but I was sick enough I let my mother take me to the Naval Sick Bay (clinic) in downtown Portland the next day. One look and they popped me into a room to be quarantined for two weeks.  Scarlet Fever.  End of a fun leave time for me.  Grace managed to sneak up to a window in the clinic a couple of times to visit with me and we couldn't touch but we could breathe all over each other.

Grace  must  have had a strong constitution because she never caught that bug from me and even accepted me still as a boyfriend, scales and all, after I received an extension on my boot leave.  

Almost seventy years later she still keeps a close motherly eye on my epidermis and other parts.