Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Off to California

Navy Recruits in San Diego

I had just reenlisted in the Navy for 4 years for my choice of duty and location. I was accepted for recruiting duty in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This worked out pretty good for me as my new wife was from Minneapolis, and my folks lived in Iowa, so I was going to be close to both families. Besides, the Navy paid me nearly $10,000 to reenlist. A deal I could not pass up. We paid off our bills in Virginia and had money in our pockets to finance our journey across the country.

I had to attend a school in San Diego, California before I could start my job in Minneapolis. The school I was attending was “Enlisted Classification School.” It is where people are trained to become “Classifiers”, or the people who “place the right person in the right job” when they enlist in the Navy. This function used to be completed entirely at the Recruit Training Centers (RTCs) but parts of it were being moved out into the field to the Navy Recruiting Districts (NRDs). It seems that a lot of people were showing up at the RTCs with the promise of being trained in areas they were not qualified for, and as a consequence either had to be discharged, or agree to another job. I was going to be among the first wave of classifiers into the field, But, I digress...

I don’t specifically recall the move from Oceana, Virginia, but do have a vague memory of a large moving truck showing up and several burly men packing all of our earthly belongings into their very large truck. At this point in my life my goods didn’t come close to filling the truck. We had traded in our 1972 Chevy Vega for a Mazda Rx4. It was a sporty car, but short on storage room. We packed the trunk, placed the baby in the back seat and packed “around” her. We had a play pen we were going to use for the baby to sleep in, and tied it to a bike rack to the back of the car. Off we went...

We drove non-stop to Iowa, a 24 hour drive and stayed at my folks for a week. We then journeyed to Minneapolis to stay with her mother for a couple of more weeks. Our plan was to stay with her Mother after we returned from California long enough to get set up in a “government leased” apartment. This was the same as “base housing’ for people stationed in the hinterlands. We left some of our stuff with her mother and headed west. We went through South Dakota, making a vacation of our trip.

I swear, the baby cried from the moment we left Minneapolis, until we reached San Diego. If there was a moment of quiet, I certainly don’t recall it. Oh, the play pen on the bike rack – while initially it seemed like a good idea, in practicality, we had to wash road dirt and bugs off of it every night before it could be used. But, hey, the baby didn’t want to sleep in it anyway.

We stopped at a variety of sites along the way and arrived in San Diego about 5 days after we left Minneapolis. We initially stayed with a friend of mine who I knew from being stationed with him in the fighter squadron in Virginia. He and his wife opened their home to us while we got set up in an apartment. It took about 3 days, and we found a place in Point Loma, CA. It was an upstairs apartment with a great view, and only a mile or 2 from base.

Upon our arrival in California I vowed that I would “fly” the wife and the baby home and drive home by myself. It was bound to be quieter.

We enjoyed the time we spent in California. The first day of my class I looked across the table and there sat a guy I had been trained with 4 years earlier, David. In 1971 during our “Personnelman” class training we competed vigorously for class honors and finished first and second. He was first, I was second. He left San Diego in 1971 and went to the Philippines, and I went to the East Coast. We got caught up over the 4 years since we had last met, and the competition started up where it left off. It was nice to have someone in class who I knew.

My wife, baby and I made a trip to Los Angeles to visit my cousin Tom who at the time was the “token honky” living in Watts. As we drove into his drive way, in large letters was the message, “F**K YOU KAREN”. It seems that the land lady’s daughter’s name was the same as my wife and the message was for the “other’ Karen. I remember the look on Tom’s face when he came out to greet us in the drive way, as the graffiti had been just done sometime during the night. It was the first thing my Karen saw, and Tom was aghast...

He showed us a good time and we toured all around Los Angeles. Karen even made a return trip to try out for a game show. I don’t recall which one, but she had a good time.

As graduation from class drew near, I was determined not to drive back with the family so I bought them airline tickets and flew them back a couple of days early to Des Moines. My friend David, was going to be stationed in St. Louis, so I agreed to drive him there and then I would drive North to Iowa, visit my folks and then on to Minneapolis. About a week before the end of class I dropped Karen and the baby off at the airport. We ran into Dick Van Dyke, a television actor. That was cool.

The last several weeks of class was the “practical” application of what we learned in class, actually doing the classification and interviewing of recruits as they passed through boot camp. David and I excelled at this and we were allowed to graduate early. And, again, he finished first and I finished second.

I now had to pack all of my stuff and David’s stuff into the car. It fit (barely). I left the play pen in the trash. I saw no point to move it again.

We departed for St. Louis about 9:00 AM the day before thanksgiving 1974. We had a cup on the dash and we both put $100 in the cup and used that money for expenses. When it was gone we each put in $100 more and then whatever was left over was mine to keep. We left in uniform (whites) and stopped somewhere in Oklahoma panhandle to change clothes (it was cold). Our intention was to drive non-stop to St. Louis, and we did, by napping as the other one drove.

We stopped at a truck stop somewhere in Oklahoma and had the absolute worst Thanksgiving dinner ever!! We arrived in St. Louis where I dropped David off. He and I would meet yet again in a few years, but that is for another story. After a night in a hotel in St. Louis I headed north to Iowa. The last 4 hours of my trip was in a good old fashion Iowa snow storm – welcome home!!

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