Hallelujah – As I wrote this chapter I reflected not only on Thanksgiving Day in 1969, but my entire life. At the moment Bon Jovi seems appropriate.
Perhaps it was because he was in such great physical condition, but Philip began recovering quickly and within a couple of days he is watching television at the dormitory while I am off to wax and buff floors. He razzes me about that in a “Phillip Long” kind of way that even makes me laugh. I am just glad he is getting up and around.
The one thing that isn’t recovering is his spirit about the Navy. When we went in Phillip’s attitude was a 10. When we were first called “maggots” I think it dropped to about an 8 where it stayed throughout basic. Now it was down to no more than a 7 and while mine wasn’t a whole lot higher, I dared not show it because I knew if I did his would plummet. I felt if we could just get through this school and headed to sea it would be “Anchors Away” and all would be well, but the stress of sitting at a manual typewriter with a set of headphones plugged into a socket porting Morse code into your ears for eight hours a day is enough to depress anyone after four weeks. This setback meant Phillip would be looking at least one more week of copying code before testing and maybe two. I am hoping he can get it done in one for purely selfish reasons. I am sick of buffing floors and want to move on to the more advanced textbook training.
Phillip had taken almost his entire check with him to Mexico so we were also facing a month of extreme financial hardship and that didn’t help his attitude either. He refused to call Owen or Twyla, his parents, because they were already under a great burden dealing with problems back home with Paul, his brother, and it didn’t matter if he was on his death-bed he would not ask them for help. I was not so proud. I got on the phone and called my Mom. I told her pretty much the truth about what had happened except my story was closer to what I had told the school commanding office. She would have been worried sick if I had told her we had been in Mexico. Within a few days $100 arrives. Combined with the $40 I still had Phillip and me could make it the rest of the month. He was grateful.
Not one time did he ever blame me for leaving him. We actually argued one time about it being the other way around. He said it was his fault for not leaving when I wanted to. I said I shouldn’t have left. We ended up laughing. We took some of the money that had just come in and went off base for Thanksgiving. He really didn’t want to. They would have a great meal on base for free, but I wanted to get him away from anything “Navy” for a few hours. It had nothing to do with food. It had to do with trying to help his spirit heal. Maybe getting away from anything military for an afternoon would be good for him and by Thanksgiving day Phillip had recovered to the point the only way you would know he had been seriously injured a week and a half before were the blue bruises that remained on parts of his face, but he was walking without pain and otherwise seemed fine.
I talked him into leaving the base. He wanted to know where we were going. I asked him if he was paying. He said he couldn’t (which I knew) and I said “Then just enjoy. It’s on me.” We got in the taxi. I told the driver “Sea World.”
Instead of boring old turkey and dressing with giblet gravy and cranberry sauce at the base we had a much better Thanksgiving feast . . . hot dogs with mustard and relish while watching the killer whale and dolphins perform. It was a great afternoon and it served it’s purpose. Phillip never had a clue what was going on in my mind, but I saw his attitude improve a little and any improvement at all was vital at this critical point in our careers.
That night as Thanksgiving day came to an end I realized Phillip and I were starting to love each other more and more. I guess that is what buddies do. I was thankful we had each other. I know he was too.
I talked Phillip into making a voluntary appearance at school roll call the following morning even though he wasn’t scheduled for his next appearance until Monday. My logic was that if he went in Friday it would look good to the school commander. He also might be able to request a “mulligan” opportunity to take the test on Tuesday and if he happened to pass I would be able to “stop buffing floors.” He nearly rolled in the floor when I said that and every laugh I got out of him about anything Navy was golden at this point.
He worked all day Friday and all day Monday copying code at 30 words per minute in practice, but when Tuesday came he had too many errors and failed. He came close which gave us both confidence he would pass the following week. He was as discouraged about having to listen to code and type for another week as I was . . . knowing I was going to spend another week buffing floors, but the end was in sight and we would soon be getting down to textbook study where we could work better together in the dorm.
Later that week as I was taking a smoke break (a habit I had picked up since joining the Navy) I am sitting on a bench outside one of the buildings M Division (M stands for maintenance) had assigned me to when a beautiful long-haired black cat comes up to me and starts purring and rubbing up against my leg. Stray animals were very uncommon on NTC so I knew this animal belonged to someone . . . probably someone important. I soon made a friend and we spent about 15 minutes enjoying each others company before I had to say goodbye and get back to work.
Within minutes of returning to work I am sneezing, my eyes are watering, and it is apparent I am having an allergic reaction to the cat. I didn’t consider it a big deal, but in order to get some relief and also in order to get away from buffing floors for a little while I reported to the petty officer in charge of maintenance I need to go to sick call and get some medicine.
I made it over to the infirmary and after about a thirty minute wait they ask me a lot of questions that almost had me wishing I hadn’t gone in. I didn’t know it was going to take 12 pages of paperwork to get two allergy pills. They listened to my chest and told me I had some wheezing and asked if I had ever had asthma. I told them when I was really young I was supposed to have had, but I didn’t really remember it. There actually had been a couple of episodes later on in life, but after what I had just been through with the paperwork I just wanted to get out of there and didn’t bring it up. They gave me the medication I wanted and an inhaler and I was released to go back to work.
When I got back to the building I looked for the cat to give him a playful talking to about what he had just put me through, but I didn’t see him. The day ended and I got back to the dorm to hear Phillip relate how some guy at school had gotten a “Dear John” letter that day at mail call and took a leap off the smoke deck on the third floor.
I told Phillip about the black cat and how I would have to be on a gurney before I ever went to sick call again. He said he would have to remember that. I reminded him he was on a gurney the last time he went to the base medical facility. He laughed. That’s what I wanted.
The following week he passes his test. I still have to report to M Division Wednesday because someone is slow in getting my transfer processed, but by Thursday I am ready to start technical training. Phillip seems in much better spirits. Getting the code portion of the school behind him was a major accomplishment. There had been a time I don’t think he believed he would ever be able to do it.
We go downtown that weekend and Phillip is considering getting his first tattoo. We are looking at the designs in the window and he picks out one of a Navy anchor. Above the anchor it says U.S.N. and then below it says “Never Again”
“Come on Long. The last thing you want when you get on ship is a tattoo like that.”
He laughed. He knew I was right.
Christmas is now only two and a half weeks away. I feel like things are going better than they ever have since we came in. Nothing is going to stop us now.
Then, I get called to the school commander’s office where I am handed a formal military document.
I have been ordered to appear under the authority of Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in dress uniform for a Captain’s Mast to take place on approximately the 15th of Dec. (The paper did not say to be there approximately. I just don’t remember the exact date) I am then informed that until the outcome of my Captain’s Mast is known I am being temporarily suspended from school and reassigned to M Division.
Think of a Captain’s Mast as the military equivalent of a Grand Jury with the power to sentence. They can either elevate a charge to a Court Marshall or sentence up to certain level’s themselves without elevating to a Court Marshall. It is normally presided over by the commanding officer of a ship or base and in the case of NTC that would be a Rear Admiral.
Suddenly going to military jail is my biggest worry, not buffing floors in M Division.
- The Graduate was Hot! KOMA was King!
- In the Navy – We Want You as a New Recruit
- Basic Training – First Abandonment
- To the Girl Who Loved Me
- A Cantina in Mexico – Second Abandonment
- Vanished In Tijuana – Fear and Panic
- Phillip Needs Help – We Can’t Tell the Truth
- Thanksgiving Day – A Time for Healing <- You are Here
- The Captain’s Mast of Seaman Apprentice Webster
- Conclusion – Too Much Living to Do