It got three of us Oregonians to thinking, thinking about getting some measles of our own: by rubbing our hands over the chest and back of the next man to develop the telltale spots. Fortunately no one snitched on us; in fact there was even considerable admiration for our daring do. Hell, it may as well have been leprosy or Bubonic Plague; whoever heard of Rubella?
It was exactly as the first guy had described. He forgot, however, to mention the fact that we had to swab and wax the floor twice a day. That was not a problem. We managed to suffer the indignity despite our "grave" condition. Actually we enjoyed using a big power buffer for a change instead of doing all the work on our hands and knees. It was fun feeling a bit like a regular human being again for a change, at least for a few days.
Floor waxing is a Navy obsessive compulsion, except on ships where slippery pitching decks are hazardous.
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Polishing brass is another obsession. Even a lowly brass bolt on the head is treated with Never-Dull reverence. It is intended to reflect the same kind of reverence metaphorically upward onto "The Big Brass. Meals in the infirmary were served buffet-style three times a day at a location a couple doors down from the Rubella ward. Hungry patients started lining up early for the next meal, which the mess cooks rolled down the hall from the galley in a stainless steel steam cart. The approaching clatter of the metal steam-cart signaled to us RUBELLA patients that it was time to burst through the ward doors and plod zombie-like down the corridor toward the horrified recruits waiting patiently in line for their chow.
We shamelessly loaded up our trays, all the while feigning terrible agony and then zombied back to our ward. The shine had worn off our caper as well and wind of it must have blown Mister Cisco's way because I now found myself demoted to second place in my squad, behind a fellow named Langford.
I was glad that I had treated him well because he returned the favor and even apologized for the coup, which he wasn't too keen on anyway--not wanting the responsibility. It was dumb luck on his part for being another tall guy, only slightly shorter than myself, and Karma on mine.
We hand-washed our laundry with plain soap and scrub brushes on two long concrete tables on the patio behind the barracks, and then hung it in neat rows attached to clotheslines with short lengths of thin white rope called clothes-stops, which we tied in perfect little square knots.
One granny knot that day and the smudges totaled enough demerits to knock us out of the lead in the "Company of the Week" competition--which was a huge disappointment to one Master Chief Signalman, H. He was our Company Commander--adjutant Mister Cisco's own boss and mentor. Now there was going to be hell to pay. Though none of us recruits was able to find the offending smudges we even doubted their existence it was quite easy to identify the filthy slob who had left them there. A soft-spoken fellow named White was the only black man in the man company.
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His skin wasn't really very dark at all; in fact he was a shade lighter than the company's only Mexican It was and American wouldn't be tagged onto Mexican for two more decades. He was even whiter than some of the white boys.
Most of us didn't even realize that White was black until one of the Texans pointed it out. Not that White was trying to conceal the fact by not announcing on day one, "Hey guys, guess what, I'm a Negro," but Tex hated him anyway for his perceived deceit and angled for a way to get even. Tex was absolutely convinced that White was the dirty-fingered culprit--claimed he had noticed White that morning running his "dirty nigger fingers" along the shirts; he even had a witness.
And that was proof enough for the vigilante group that formed to carry out the punishment. They carried White, who offered no resistance whatsoever out to the patio and shoved him into the Dempster dumpster and then latched the door. One of the vigilantes who had often bragged that before joining the navy he had been a professional boxer almost certainly a total fabrication planted himself in front of the dumpster and defied any of the dissenting "nigger lovers" to free the unfortunate White, who hadn't let out a peep throughout the entire ordeal. The tense standoff lasted several minutes until an indignant Langford big-butted his way through the crowd and stormed right past Joe Palooka who did nothing but stand his ground with his chin out and his hands on his hips.
Langford unlatched the door and invited recruit White to come out. He refused to come out. He was too afraid, maybe too ashamed, or perhaps too angry. We were all ashamed for allowing it happen, even some of the ones who put him in there. Langford stayed by the dumpster after everyone else had dispersed, then he and White had a long talk.
Finally Langford helped White climb out of the dumpster and accompanied him back into the barracks. Nothing more was said of it. In the end it was White who won for our company its one and only honor when he received the top academic award for the entire battalion and with it our one gold star for the guidon. Looked real nifty at the graduation parade—even to the Texans who regarded it as simply another lone star. A good portion of our day-to-day training was dedicated to that final event on Prebble Field, the battalion graduation ceremony and parade, and we drilled for it incessantly.
Forward, houh! Left turn, houh! Right turn, houh! Dig those heels in! Right oblique, houh! To the rear, houh! Present arms. Left shoulder arms! Right shoulder arms! Sixteen count manual, houh! Sometimes thoughts drifted to girlfriends back home or to the airplanes taking off from nearby San Diego airport. Oh to be on one of those babies, going home, leaving this US Navy shit far behind. It was the one thing that seemed to be of particular importance in the boot-camp experience, and we were forced to practice it over and over and over, fine-tuning even the subtlest moves. Our first attempts were Three Stooges slap-stick as Springfield rifles clattered to the pavement.
Marching parties were always held at night, in small groups. Recruits were forced to march in place, for hours sometimes, with the piece held out at arms length. It didn't take long before your arms felt like they were on fire, and then it was you whole body. Some men who broke down and cried and were berated until they got up and continued. No mercy.
None whatsoever. The Company was in fact only two men runners they were called and one prisoner. The first time we saw them was on the footbridge going over to the chow hall. The two runners, wearing shore patrol uniforms, ran on alongside a miserable soul who trotted along with a bucket in one hand and a shovel in the other.
These he used to transfer a pile of sand from one location to another all day long. He wore only skivvies and boots with white sox stained pink from blood wicking up from his ravaged feet. When they passed, Mister Cisco barked the command, "eyes front," forbidding us to look directly at the prisoner. One time in the chow hall they came through with the same prisoner and made him gobble his food while sitting at attention as they screamed in his face the whole time.
They didn't give him more than a minute to eat, before running him back out the door. Mister Cisco warned us that if anyone looked, they would be joining him. The next day we passed the same prisoner with different runners.
He still carried the bucket, but this time it was filled with sand and tied with a piece of rope that sawed into the back of his sunburned neck. We lived in absolute terror of the Company. Any thought of stepping out of line was quickly weighed against the certainty of going straight to that hell on earth. Our days of primary training at Camp Nimitz eventually came to a welcome end early one morning when we packed our sea-bags and marched over to the advanced training side. The ten general orders were now as easy for us to recite as the alphabet is to a seven-year old, and we could throw our pieces through the sixteen-count-manual like we had been born with them.
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Our boondockers sparkled, as did our dress shoes. Recruit Moon had lost so much Twinkie fat that his trousers bunched-up in the back and he was exceedingly proud of the fact that he no longer jiggled like a bowl of Jell-O when he pounded his left foot hard into the pavement. All of us had turned brown in the California sun.
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Most importantly we were given some independence and personal responsibility. Now we could march without Mister Cisco leading us. Stayton had arrived at boot camp with the longest hair and the biggest mouth--talked a lot about surfing and cars.
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Supposedly he'd gone to a military prep school, which was probably the reason he got the prestigious job. He tended to be somewhat dictatorial but he also had to earn our respect, which we gave him sparingly, and so the company became a bit more democratic. We wanted to be the sharpest marching company of all and he thought he could best accomplish that by simply screaming his lungs out.
Well, the same thing that happened to Janice Joplin happened to him--after while his vocal cords broke down and he started quacking like a duck. We couldn't march anywhere without somebody mocking him. We could have stopped on our own I suppose, if we'd wanted to, but instead we just followed his command and plowed right into them.
Soon everybody was steering clear of the dick brains. Mister Cisco, having returned to camp Nimitz to start a brand new company, stopped by one morning to pay us a visit.