A group of us got orders in early October to report to the Naval Training Station, San Diego. Six of us in two cars drove it in five days. On the way, we stopped at the Grand Canyon for a night. The cowboys and gals who worked there took us down to a place they went to outside the park. It turned out the owner of the place was an ex-Navy man. He was so glad to see us sailors he closed up the place and we had one great party. I woke up at 5Am after two hours sleep and there was 5″ of snow on the ground, and lots coming down. I got everyone up and we drove out to get down to Williams and lower elevation, as we had no chains, we made it. From there we headed for San Diego via Indio along the west shore of the Salton Sea and up the Banner Grade to Julian, which we reached about 8PM. The grade in those days was tortuous for cars. Indians mostly occupied the town at that time. We stopped at what looked like a restaurant but it was dark. I saw a light in the rear, knocked, and got an Indian to open up and feed us. He had steaks, and I’ll tell you they sure hit the spot after our all-day trip. Got to San Diego about 11PM and checked into the Army-Navy YMCA.
The next day we reported for duty, and immediately assigned as assistant company commanders. After taking one company through, we became regular company commanders. Not to boast but we won our share of best company pennants. We use to hang out at the Tower Bowl, Grant Hotel and El Cortez. Since the evenings were cool, we “slick arms” use to carry our topcoat over our right arm to cover where hash marks would normally be worn. Since at that time we had Chief Boatswain Mate insignia, hash marks would have been on your right arm. Chiefs were split into right arm and left arm ratings in those days. Those connected with topside duties were right arm, others left arm. Our regimental training officer was the former skipper of the gunboat “PANAY” that was sunk by Japanese on Yangtze River in 1937, cannot think of his name now.
On Pearl Harbor Day, a gang of us chiefs took a charter fishing boat out to the Coronado Inlands, and fished all day. We had no radio and didn’t know the war had started. We saw the aircraft carrier SARATOGA steaming at high speed and zigzagging that after noon heading for port. When we started back, as we approached Point Loma, a Coast Guard patrol boat stopped us, boarded, lined us up and checked for identification. When they told us war had started we were dumbfounded, they directed us to return immediately to our command. We noticed on the way back from Coronado that many lights were out in San Diego. We got off the boat at Broadway where there were thousands of people.
The SARATOGA was at North Island loading out sailors, Marines, ammo, etc. Boots with only three weeks in the Navy were loaded aboard. The SARATOGA sailed the next morning and made Pearl in 72 hours. Captain Gearing had us all. in the station movie hall telling us that we were going to have to form a Naval Brigade to help the Marines defend the border, as rumors were flying around that the Japanese were due to lend in Baja. I can recall us going through infantry and landing force tactics with officers holding the Landing Force Manual and telling us what to do. About a week later, I got orders to take a 500-man draft to San Francisco and deliver them at the pier in Oakland where Treasure Island officers would get them out to various ships in San Francisco Bay. On the way, I had to march them into the Harvey House restaurant at Los Angeles Santa Fe station. Being a troop train, we highballed it up there.
I had a few night watches patrolling the area where the present Admiral Kidd Club is located; the chiefs ate in the CPO mess that is now the commissary store. To teach boots sentry duty, they carried a Springfield rifle and patrolled behind their barracks. The night duty chiefs would make the rounds checking up on them. Once in awhile you would find one asleep, we never put them on report, which was a most serious offense. Instead, we would get a bucket of cold water, a big dishpan and ladle and a flashlight. One chief would throw the water on the sentry while the other banged the pan and flashed the light into the startled sentry’s eyes. At same time, we yelled, “the ship is sinking”, “abandon ship.” Well, you will not believe those kids would, in some cases, start swimming right on the pavement. That cured them and kept their record clear. Sailors who didn’t clean up after scrubbing clothes would have to carry their wash bucket with wet clothes in it on the end of their rifle all day. Others who looked up at aircraft passing overhead while being lectured to, would lie on their back and point their rifles at planes passing overhead for an hour or so. This was anti-aircraft duty.
Right after Pearl Harbor, the Navy requisitioned all the buildings in Balboa Park for billeting naval personnel. Four of us Chiefs assigned to each of the Hospitality cottages that now represent various countries. They had no heat in them so it was very cold in winter and rainy days.
to be continued…