Every now and then, for no particular rhyme or reason, I find myself being drawn back to the letters I wrote my parents as a young man in the U.S. Navy. I usually look for as close to the current day and month as I can get, and I am, however immodestly, always delighted with what I find, and that I am still, in many ways, the young man I was when I sat down to write.
On August 27, 1954, I had been in the Navy less than two weeks. Everything was new, and exciting, and the world was filled with possibilities and promise. While even at the time I was writing these letters, I had the future in mind, I often wonder just what the then-Roger would think if, rather than my going back in time to join him, he could somehow come forward in time to meet the Roger he became.
But while time moves in only one direction, we can leave sharp images of who and what we once were.
So, come along with me on a stroll to this very date, fifty-seven years ago.
August 27, 1954
I don’t remember when I started this letter, but here it is Friday. We had inspection today, and your loving son went down with all hands, colors flying. It seems that the raincoat is hung in back of the pants, not in front. Therefore, “These men (my locker partner and I) are not ready for inspection.” The moral of this little tale is that I am now the proud possessor of at least five demerits and am cordially invited to spend one or more hours on the “Grinder” (affectionate name for the drill field).
Tomorrow we move to Battalion II, which will, I gather, be our home till we graduate. We will all be very sorry to leave our kind, considerate Sergeants Calahan and Jones behind. I told you over the phone of my experiences with these two lovable gentlemen. One day last week, while marching our usual two hours in the outdoor blast furnace called Florida, I wasn’t up to my usual miserable par. Among the Sergeant (Calahan)’s other comments to me were “Lad,” (a name he calls everyone—Jones calls us “son”), “if you don’t keep that damn thumb of yours in, I’m going to break it off.” (This he punctuated by twisting it half out of its socket). “Put your feet together, lad, you remind me of Charlie Chaplin”, and finally “You’re all f----ed up today, aren’t you, boy?” The language employed by Marine sergeants isn’t always, I’m afraid, of the Tea-time-in-the-parlor caliber.
Somewhere in Pensacola there is a very rich man who is getting richer every day. He owns a laundry, which is being supported for the greatest part by innocent NavCads. It has been estimated, and this is a conservative estimate, that the average NavCad spends approximately $20 a month on cleaning bills. Granted, the prices are reasonable, but every day almost everything must be sent to be cleaned.
Dad asked me the other night if I liked it—that is a very hard question to answer. It’s like when the dentist fills your tooth full of Novocain and then asks If you like the drilling—you can’t feel a thing, but you don’t like the principle of it.
I don’t know what life in Bat. II will be like, but I can only hope it will be an improvement over this.
The other day we had a lecture (one of many) on what was expected of us, and how we are graded. They grade 38% on academic work, 28% on military skills (mine are nil) and 44% on Physical Training, at which I am miserable. Those percentages may not be exact, but they’re approximate. So I can expect to be dropped at any time.
I won’t be too terribly unhappy, ‘cause two years is better than four any day.
Well, I have about five letters to write, so I’d better do it while I have the chance.
Don’t forget what I said about notifying the Red Cross in case of emergency! It’s the only way I can get an emergency leave. I hope I never have to have one, but if so, do it right.
Write soon, and I’ll see you at Xmas.
P.S. Oh, Mother, dear…it’s NAVAL, not NAVEL.
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