The Watch–cont’d

He noticed that the other gun crews were about done with cleaning their stations and most of the spent casings had been thrown overboard.  His gun was ready and he reported that to the Lieutenant.   What time was it?  He glanced at his watch–09:15.   It seemed like he had been out there longer than that.   That meant there was lots of daylight left and he knew the German planes would have already radioed back their position and more planes would be on their way.   Everyone was tense but alert.  They started talking about the last attack.  Albert was happy they hadn’t come at them.  Moose was really nervous.  No more than anyone else but he showed with his jerky movements and clipped comments.    The enemy planes kept coming in and out  of view off on the perimeter of the convoy.  He didn’t think that any of them had been hit yet with the gun fire.  He felt like they were being stalked.

He wondered when he would get this next letter from his wife.  They got mail on a very irregular basis, usually when they were at a port for a few days.  But often it didn’t arrive even then.  He worried about her.  She was young and with his son at home he was concerned if she could keep up with everything.  His son was a big joy for him.   Much more than he realized it would be.   He had been so worried about her during the pregnancy that he hadn’t given that much thought to the son.  He hated that they had to use the charity hospital but they didn’t have the money for anything else.  He promised her they would never be that hard up for money again no matter what it took.  The boy was quiet most of the time except when he cried for his dinner.   He did love holding him, just holding him and checking out all his features.  He didn’t get to do that very much with work and getting ready to leave.  He had joined up right at the time of birth.   It was time to go.  He would have gone sooner but he wanted to be there until the baby came.  Leaving two weeks after the birth was much harder than he imagined.  It was the worry of the unknown.  Strange he was the one going off to war but he was worried about her taking care of herself and his son by herself.   Somehow he was sure he could take care of himself but he was concerned about her.   She came to the train station downtown to see him off.  He was worried even then about her getting back home on the bus with the baby and the gear.  He seemed to require lots of gear.  

That was a very long two-day train ride to the Great Lake’s Station north of Chicago.   It seemed odd to him that he was in the Navy and going to the middle of the country for his training.  He had thought it would be some port on one of the coasts but no, into the heartland.   It wasn’t the official word from anyone but they could tell directions and they were going almost due north and the scuttlebutt was the Great Lakes Station.  As soon as they boarded the train they read them the Articles of War again just like they had done right after they were sworn in.  He wasn’t used to it then but soon got used to the reading at every new port and every time they boarded a new ship.  He figured they wanted them to have no excuses about knowing the rules of war and what was expected of them.  Obeying commanders, the definition of mutiny, cowardice in face of the enemy and punishments for all manner of malfeasance.  He could almost recite them now by heart. 

He wasn’t familiar with any psychological concepts but he understood after a while that the Navy understood what it took to motivate men.  Mostly fear of punishment and an indifference to any differences among men.  Being thrown in with thousands of others at the Great Lakes was a learning experience like no other.  He was amazed at what frightened some men and what they would do with their idle time.  He learned after one day how to avoid trouble and being idle.  He smiled even now thinking about that first couple of days.   He and four others were ordered to go around back and clean the ladder.  They went their but saw nothing but steps.  They decided to sit down and take a smoke break.  It wasn’t their fault if the ladder wasn’t there.  A Chief Petty Office came by and saw them smoking and asked what they thought they were doing.  They told him they couldn’t find the ladder to clean.  He informed them they were sitting on it!   He decided then to learn all those code words.  Having to clean the latrine for 12 hours that night focused his mind.

They all had to swim the length of a pool.  It was snap for him.  He was an excellent swimmer and diver and had even won some local city contests at the Fair Park pool.  Some guys had never learned to swim.   They were given a lesson.  It took about an hour.  Then they were expected to swim the pool.  Time didn’t matter but completing it did.  The Navy wasn’t concerned if you didn’t finish.  They informed the group that anyone who didn’t finish would simply be re-assigned to the next new batch of recruits and they would start their basic training all over again.  It was alright.  They could spend the entire war there going through basic.  When all was said and done only one guy out of his training battalion didn’t make it.   He hadn’t made any effort to draw attention to himself during basic, he just wanted to get it over with and move on.  He did take to seamanship, it seemed to come naturally to him and for some reason he enjoyed all the details and even excelled at the knot- tying lessons for the ropes.  He never realized there were so many ways you could tie a knot.  All the guys in his barracks were asking him for pointers on how to remember to do them because they had to pass that test too or start over.

His reverie was interrupted by the sound of gun fire.  The ship ahead and one in the starboard quarter had opened fire.  He had been given no orders but they had opened up.  He followed the direction of their tracers and quickly saw those angry bees coming in pretty low again.  They were straight line smudges against the pale sky, that meant their were coming head on.  

to be cont’d …



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Filed under Culture, family, history, military history, War

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