What Navy Boot Camp Was Really Like for Me
Author during Boot Camp in 1967
From June of 1967 until January of 1971, I served on active duty in the U.S. Navy. For me, the most challenging part of my time serving was boot camp training during the summer of 1967. During nine weeks following three days of processing, I transformed from a civilian into a member of the military. I learned how to swim, fight fires, shoot a rifle, and I became acquainted with basic naval seamanship.
Joining the Navy
Until I received an army draft induction notice around the middle of November of 1966, joining the U.S. Navy was the last thing on my mind. However, confronted with the possibility of going into the army right before Christmas or volunteering for the navy or air force, I chose the navy because chances were slim that I would be expected to fight in Vietnam.
I was a student at the University of Michigan when I received my draft induction notice. Since I was entitled to a 1S military deferment until the end of the school year in May of 1967, I had time to enlist in the navy.
During the break between semesters right before Christmas, I signed up for the Navy at a recruiting station in Racine, Wisconsin, which was about 25 miles away from my home. A lot of young men were enlisting in the navy at that time to avoid the draft, so I had to get on a waiting list and enter the navy on a 120-day delay program. The earliest I could be sworn into the navy was on February 15, 1967. After being on inactive reserve status for 120 days, I would begin boot camp or basic training on June 15.
Transitioning from Civilian to Naval Life
On the morning of June 15, my dad drove me down to the military induction center in Milwaukee. After a parting handshake, I was left on my own and away to a new stage of life.
I remember signing a few forms and then being bussed with four of five other Wisconsinites to the train station for a short ride down to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Great Lakes is located next to Lake Michigan, between North Chicago and Waukegan. It would be the site of my boot camp training for the next nine weeks.
After about a 45-minute ride, we detrained and were met by Navy personnel from Great Lakes. They quickly collected us and arriving recruits from other areas into a formation and marched us to the transient barracks on base.
The barracks were an old and wooden World War II-type of vintage. For the remainder of that day and night, we quartered there. Navy personnel who were constantly watching us barked commands. It seemed like we always had to get in line and hurry up and wait. When it started to rain in the afternoon, we were all issued ponchos while standing outside.
June 16 Processing
On the morning of the sixteenth, most of us in the transient barracks found out that we would be members of Company 266. The first order of business was going to the base barber to get very close haircuts. Some of the recruits with almost shoulder-length hair just about cried when they lost their locks and looked at the buzz cuts. My hair was already cut short, so it was no big deal to me.
Following the haircuts, we were marched over to medical and dental personnel for check-ups. We were also given a bunch of immunizations via needles in a gun.
The final business of the day entailed going to the quartermaster and drawing our clothing allowance, which was deposited into individual sea bags. Our military uniform included two pairs of dungarees, two blue work shirts, white undershirts, sets of skivvies, pairs of navy blue socks, one pair of black dress shoes, one pair of black working boots, white and black belts, a blue work jacket, peacoat, raincoat, watch cap, a neckerchief, and two or three white covers. We also drew a sewing kit, stationery, stencils, markers, envelopes, pens, shaving gear, Bluejackets Manual, and two pairs of white leggings. Before drawing our military issue, we were also measured by tailors for our dress white and dress blue uniforms.
After filling our sea bags, our company of about 60 recruits was marched to a cluster of barracks in a two or three-floor modern building. Our living area for the next nine weeks was in an open bay with bunk beds along both sides.
After finding our bunks and getting settled, it was necessary to stencil our identifying information onto all of our issued clothing. Under the guidance and orders of a senior petty officer, we were instructed regarding where on each item of clothing we were expected to stencil our names and service numbers. We also had to take our needles and spools of thread and use them to hem up the cuffs of our dungarees. After stenciling our peacoats, they were all deposited into a pile on the deck for rolling so that they would easily fit in seabags.
Before taps and lights out at around 2100 on that day, we were assigned to a watch schedule to guard the aft and front ladders (stairs) of the deck (floor.)
June 17 Processing
After reveille at around 0430, we marched to the galley for breakfast following shaving and getting dressed. Our uniform for that day was a pair of dungarees, a blue work shirt, leggings, work boots, and a cover.
After a short time that was allotted for boxing up our civilian clothes and shipping them to our home addresses, we marched to the testing center to sit for two or three hours. To aid the Navy in assigning recruits to suitable occupational specialties, we had to take a bevy of tests. The tests included English language and math competency, mechanical aptitude, a sonar tone test, hearing Morse code, and an artificial language test.
For an hour following lunch, we all reported to the Natatorium for the first swimming test. Since I disliked the water and couldn't swim, the swimming test was terrifying. I had to go up into a tower and onto a diving board ten feet above the water that was ten feet deep. In response to a command, I then had to jump feet first with my arms crossed over my chest into the water. After surfacing, I started thrashing in the water. Before my head went under the water, a long pole was extended for me to grab so I could be fished out of the water. Having been identified as a non-swimmer, I had to report later for swimming instructions.
Next, we were issued M1 rifles to be used for marching and doing exercises in the form of a 96 count manual of arms. The 96 count manual consisted of doing exercises together in precision with the M1. Besides using the rifle for present arms, right and left shoulder arms, and parade rest, we exercised by putting the rifle over our heads and to both sides of our bodies.
After the first 96-count manual practice and dinner, we returned to the barracks to set up our daily living routine. We were assigned to different platoons and given various duties in the barracks. While other platoons were responsible for cleaning the head (lavatory), windows, and company commander's office, our platoon had to sweep and mop the deck and all ladders.
Following taking showers in a common open area, it was time to wash our uniforms. This was done by putting them on concrete slabs and using stiff brushes with soap for cleaning. Our washed uniforms were then either hung outside when the weather was good or put into a drying room when there was rain.
During the last 30-45 minutes of the day before taps or lights out at 2100, we were expected to study our Bluejackets Manual and memorize the 11 general orders of a sentry. There was also time to shine shoes, polish belt buckles, and write letters home.
Overview of Navy Boot Camp Training
After three days of processing and transitioning from civilian to military life, I began nine weeks of a formal Navy boot camp or recruit basic training on or around June 19, 1967. These nine weeks were divided into the first five weeks of learning basic navy seamanship recruit facts, one service week, and four weeks of recruit advanced training.
Overview of Navy Boot Camp
First Five Weeks of Boot Camp
Our training days lasted from reveille or wake up between 0430 and 0500 until taps or lights out at 2100 or 2130.
After a quick trip to the head to eliminate our bodily wastes and shave, we quickly made our racks (beds) and then put on our working uniform which consisted of a blue work shirt, dungarees, belt, boots with leggings, and a cover. Often we were ordered to carry our raincoats folded and attached to our lower backs with a belt.
Following a trip to the galley (chow hall,) we assembled on a parade ground for colors and personnel inspection. (PI) Our company commander would usually walk past each recruit and observe whether he was suitably dressed and well-shaven. If a recruit did not pass the inspection, he would be punished by having to wash his seabag (all of his working clothes) that evening.
Our next activity was going to classes to learn basic navy seamanship. When we weren't in class, we were marching and exercising with an M1 rifle doing the 96-count manual.
Naval seamanship R-Facts or recruit facts were presented in lectures on different topics by senior petty officers. Talks were on such subjects as U.S. Navy history, officer and enlisted ranks and ratings, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ,) navy ships, conduct on liberty, and saluting. We carried notebooks tucked into our leggings and had to make entries for each lecture because we were later tested. If a recruit failed his R-Fact tests, he would be set back in his training. Each day we had three of four 30-45 minute lectures.
During non-class time, we had to march all over the base with M1 rifles usually on our left shoulders. We practiced maneuvers in a formation such as to the left flank, to the right flank, and reverse march. Our company's formation had about five columns totaling 60 recruits. It was led by a recruit petty officer chief or RPOC who would march next to our company commander.
When we did the 96-count manual, we had to follow a 96 count sequence of holding our rifle out to the left and right, over our heads, and down to our feet in addition to other exercising maneuvers.
In the evening after chow in the galley, we returned to our barracks. We were assigned to different squads for cleaning duties. After finishing this duty at a set time every day, we proceeded to shower and wash our clothes for the next day. The remaining time before lights out was reserved for writing letters back home, shining boots and belt buckles, and reviewing our R-Facts and general orders of a sentry.
We were all on a Sentry watch schedule for guarding the two doors to our deck. During a two-hour assigned watch standing at parade rest with an M1 rifle, we were approached and challenged on the hour by a Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD.) At the first sight of the JOOD approaching, watchstanders had to say, "Halt, who goes there?" A response would be "JOOD." The watchstander would then say, "Advance and be recognized." At this point when identifying the JOOD, the watchstander would salute and give a greeting. The JOOD would then ask for the recitation of one of the 11 orders of a sentry.
At the start of our third week of boot camp on Sunday, July 2, we were all bussed into downtown Chicago to form a human flag at Soldier Field. Outfitted in a dress white uniform, each member of our company held up either a blue or red placard to form part of a stripe of the flag with thousands of other recruits.
During the last week in July, our company began its service week. In this interval between our basic and advanced training, we had to attend to various duties on base. The members of my squad or platoon were assigned to work in the galley from approximately 0430 until 1830 Monday through Saturday. I was assigned to the serving line. In addition to filling the recruits' trays with food entries, I had to clean up the kitchen, food service counters, and tables, stools, and deck in the galley.
Since I had not yet passed my first basic swimming test, I was ordered to report to the Natatorium every afternoon for one or two hours of lessons. After two or three days of practice, I was finally able to pass the test by jumping off of a tower into ten feet of water, swimming on my back for 50 yards, and then floating on my back for five minutes.
One of the treats of service week was being able to go the geedunk (snack bar or soda fountain) to smoke, drink coke, and listen to the jukebox. It was during these geedunk breaks that I acquired the habit of smoking which I had for 28 years before finally quitting in 1995.
At the end of the service week, we were also given our first 12-hour liberty. We were authorized to spend it in either Milwaukee or Chicago. Mom and dad who lived only 60 miles away in southeastern Wisconsin picked me up at the base late on a Sunday morning. After returning home for lunch, we visited Uncle Dick before going to the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee. There I met a fellow recruit from my company. Having parted from my parents, I accompanied my mate back to the base before our liberty ended at 2000.
Last Four Weeks of Advanced Recruit Training
During the last four weeks of boot camp, we were now into our advanced recruit training. In addition to attending classes, marching, and performing the 96-Count Manual, we had four special activities. They included advanced swimming tests, going to the rifle range, firefighting, and completing a PT obstacle course.
The first swimming test was doing the breaststroke across the width of the pool. A second one was unusual in that we used a pair of dungarees as a flotation device. Our specific test was to hold dungarees spread out and then thrust them into the water as we jumped off the side of the pool. Upon hitting the water, the legs of the dungarees inflated and they were then used as a flotation device to aid us getting across the pool.
On one afternoon, we practiced firing a .22 long rifle at the shooting range. I had never fired a gun or rifle before and it showed with the lack of marks on the target. While at the shooting range, we also observed an instructor firing a .45 caliber handgun.
During one of our last two weeks of boot camp, our company fought fires one afternoon. As a team, we manned hoses to extinguish a simulated ship fire. We also entered a smokehouse with gas masks.
Surprisingly, the PT obstacle course was quite easy. I remember climbing a low wall, swinging from ropes, and crawling through a culvert. There was no running involved in this test or throughout our whole boot camp.
Shortly before the end of our ninth week and graduation, we received our "dog tags" and orders to our next duty station. The "dog tags" were small metal plates on a chain inscribed with our names and military service numbers. We were instructed to wear them around our necks at all times.
One afternoon, the company commander called us together and announced our next duty stations. Some of my company mates received orders to training schools in such fields as sonar, manual Morse, aviation mechanics, and clerical duties. A few others got orders to report to ships for on the job training. The company commander thought my orders were strange because I was to report to Monterey, California, for Chinese Mandarin training at the Defense Language Institute. I undoubtedly had done very well on the artificial language aptitude test and the Navy needed to train Chinese linguists at that time.
Company Recruits Remembered
After 50 years, I have forgotten the names of almost all of the recruits who were with me in Company 266. There are, however, four recruits that still stand out. They are Frank T, "Alabama," "B," and Don P. The significance of each one is now related.
Frank T was initially assigned to Company 266 around June 16. Unfortunately, Frank who was young and very shy could not follow directions and seemed lost in his new Navy environment. The result was that he was set back for remedial training after a few days in our company. I heard that Frank eventually adjusted to recruit life and received orders to Hospital Corpsman School after graduation.
"Alabama" was another recruit who was set back in his training. He joined our company during the fifth week of training because he had been unable to pass R-Fact tests in his previous company. "Alabama" was excellent as a recruit in marching and doing the 96-Count Manual. He just couldn't pass written tests.
Our company commander decided that the only way "Alabama" could pass his R-Fact tests and eventually graduate was if he was told the answers during tests. Since all of our tests were multiple-choice, recruits would give him the correct answers with pencil signals. A pencil held vertical would answer "a." if held horizontal it would answer "b," and so forth.
Company 266 recruit petty officer "B" made the unwise decision of doing things against the well-being of our company. The result was that our company recruit petty officer chief and others threw a blanket party for "B." I was invited but did not participate because I never understood what "B" had done.
Our blanket party was held in the barracks during the middle of the night. According to my buddy Don who attended it, a blanket was placed over "B" while he was sleeping. As "B" and the blanket were held down by about six recruits, other recruits beat on "B's" body with their fists or "dog tags." "B" was bruised badly and instructed to tell the company commander that he fell down the stairs if he wanted to avoid another blanket party.
Finally, how can I forget my closest recruit buddy, Don P? Don was from Wisconsin like me. We were always together during breaks, and he was the one who got me hooked on smoking during boot camp.
Graduation and Out-processing
In all sincerity, I remember nothing about my graduation. I do recall that the day after graduation we were given another 12-hour liberty. After getting on a train, we went to Chicago and spent the afternoon in Old Town. The next day was a date that we all looked forward to. After packing our sea bags the night before, we reported early in the morning to an out-processing center. The wait seemed like an eternity, but finally, I had a sealed envelope with orders to my next duty station.
Don and I boarded the train together and took it to Milwaukee. I then walked to the Greyhound Bus Terminal and purchased a ticket for Burlington. After waiting for an hour or two at the bus station, I boarded my bus and immediately fell asleep during the ride. Fortunately, a passenger woke me up as we got into Burlington. My dad picked me up and I had two weeks of leave before leaving for California.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2017 Paul Richard Kuehn