A Tale of the Sea and Me (for Sam) – Installment 11

Shenanigans of Officer Candidate School (OCS)

My four months at OCS was not the kind of thing you brag about. Company Quebec had a bunch of misfits that banded together to be just a slight bit unconventional.

Initially, i played an important part, not in the unconventional way, by actually helping my company mates get ready for inspections.

At Castle Heights Military Academy ten years before OCS, Tommy Palmer helped me. Tommy, another town boy cadet was a sophomore when i was a freshman. When one of the early personnel inspections was going to be held the next day, we all sat on the lawn in front of McFadden Gymnasium to shine our shoes, hopefully a spit shine. i was pretty much inept. My spit shine was hazy and spotty. Tommy was considered our champion spit shiner. He sat down beside me with his Kiwi black shoe polish, the top filled with water. He proceeded to show me how, and i emerged, not the champion, but something of a spit shine expert.

When a couple of Company Quebec OCs found out i went to a military academy, they immediately glommed onto me. We had a training session sitting on the deck of our hallway. After that, our shoes were never a problem in personnel inspections.

* * *

But otherwise, Company Quebec didn’t quite match the model of an officer candidate company. Perhaps it started when our liberty service dress khaki and service dress blue uniforms were finally issued. The next weekend’s liberty loomed. With Company LIma, a problem developed.

Every day, a new 4/c OC was selected as the “SLOD”, the acronym for “Section Leader of the Day.” During the week, our SLOD was marching our section to another class. He failed to see a rather uptight lieutenant walking the other way and failed to salute. The lieutenant, intent on teaching our SLOD a lesson, ordered him to to halt the section. As we stood at attention, the Lieutenant proceeded to chew out our SLOD unmercifully. One, if not several of us, recognized what we perceived absurdity in what was occurring. One of us stifled a chuckle. Quite a few more of us reacted by unsuccessfully stifling our muffled chuckles. The lieutenant became even more irate.

He put us on report as a section. We received a weekend of restriction. Thus, our section’s weekends of no liberty was a week later than the other fourth class Officer Candidates. It was not fun watching all of the other OCs head into town on liberty while we were confined to the base. Perhaps it gave us our identity as a company.

* * *

In our classes, i learned a great deal about seamanship, navigation, ship’s engineering, and damage control. i suspect my attitude was shaped by my instructors.

Our seamanship instructor was a Limited Duty Officer (CWO) Boatswain. He gave us a practical, no BS education in deck seamanship. In his introduction to our first class, he informed us, “I want your study guide to be familiar with you.” i lost it.

* * *

Our navigation instructor was what later would be called an E-8, and then called a Quartermaster Senior Chief Petty Officer. i learned a great deal about celestial navigation, piloting, dead reckoning, and charts. But today, i clearly remember our late afternoon class, the senior chief leaning back in his chair in front of the classroom and telling us when we were marching to our evening mess, he would be driving across the Claiborne Pell/Newport Bridge on his way to his home in Jamestown. “When you guys are filing into the mess hall, i will be reaching over to the back seat and pulling out my first of three Narragansett beers on the way home.”

* * *

Company Quebec’s Company Officer was LT Mellon. He was an Aviation LDO and old school Navy. He gave us the only leadership training i can remember us. It seemed almost offhanded. LT Mellon called us together in a lecture room in King Hall. He put on one of the old rolling slide cartoon films matched with an audio tape. The video was about John Paul Jones and how he led the United States Navy in the Revolutionary War. It was pretty hokey to me. At the conclusion of the slide show, LT Mellon gave us that one leadership lesson.

It was short. He bragged about as a division officer on carriers, he was most proud of never sending any of his division personnel to captain’s mast. i thought he must have had an exceptional group of enlisted personnel until he explained he took care of all the bad acts at the division level. Essentially, he told us that the best division officers were the ones who used the old corporeal punishment allowed in “Rocks and Shoals.” i thought it was strange.

* * *

After many years, i don’t recall any other training except for a warning about sexual contact. It was in January with slight snow on the ground when we marched to a WWII wooden barracks and climbed upstairs to a cramped, overheated room. We sat in wooden chairs as the training film began. The black and white, old film began with an obvious fake pilot house of a destroyer escort. the ship was in a dangerous situation on a dark and stormy night. Another ship was nearby when the OOD gave an steering order to the helmsman. The helmsman collapsed. The ship collided with the other ship. Then, the film revealed the helmsman had unprotected sex with a prostitute in a liberty port and had contracted syphilis. The film continued and showed “short arm” inspections, which were to check penises for venereal diseases, stressing how important those inspections were.

A few of our section was gagging. The majority was dead asleep, and i was aghast the training program thought this would be effective for something.

* * *

When our section finally got liberty, it was like letting the dogs out of the pound. After the week long of classes and Friday night athletics, a personnel inspection was held on Saturday morning along with a parade of the OCS battalion. When it was over, we were granted liberty from noon until 2000 Sunday night. We made the best of it.

After exploring the many wonderful places to explore in Newport, Rhode Island, we found the gathering place for Officer Candidates and …women. Think “Officer and a Gentleman” except in Rhode Island, not in Washington, and none of my partners in crime looked like Richard Gere and none of the ladies from Fall River, although attractive, didn’t quite match up to Deborah Winger.

Hurley’s was a what i would call a dance hall. There was a bar (of course), a stage behind the bar, a dance floor, and a large array of tables back of the dance floor. The food was…well actually, i don’t remember the food, but we ate it and liked it. Hurley’s was located across Bellevue Avenue from the Tennis Hall of Fame on a side street. The bands played jazz and Rhythm and Blues, the old kind. i quickly learned Sunday afternoons at Hurley’s was a jam session, and the featured band, both Saturday and Sunday played “My Satin Doll.” The lead singer nailed it. i would have sat there forever listening this woman singing that song. It resonates in my head to this day.

One of our OCs, one of my closest friends there, who shall rename nameless here because i don’t wish to tell any tales that might get him in trouble now, met a woman on our first Saturday night of liberty. They became pretty hot and heavy. But on subsequent dates, she insisted he hooked up one of us with her friend. The friend was not all of that attractive. He was having difficulty with this and a bit desperate. Doc, my roommate, and i came up with a plan.

i agreed to have a date with her, but had to be accompanied by Doc. The story was i was in the German Navy, attending the US OCS, and only spoke German. Doc and i were roommates because Doc spoke German and served as my interpreter. We all met at Hurley’s and found a table for five. When our buddy introduced us, i uttered some gibberish i thought sounded like German mixed with a few actual German words and “ach”s sprinkled in frequently. Doc interpreted. We kept this up a bit more than a half hour. Doc then said the two of us had to go back to the base to meet a German attached to the German UN contingent who was visiting Navy installations.

We left. No one was the wiser (including us especially), and our OC company mate had his date.

* * *

One of our favorite “gags” occurred almost every liberty weekend. Liberty expired at midnight on Saturday and 1700 on Sunday. On Saturday nights, we would stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on our way back to our barracks. We would each get a cup of coffee and order a dozen, jelly-filled donuts to go. When we reported in on our deck in King Hall, we would go to the second deck stairwell at the end of each wing. Just to give us something else to do, a security watch was set on each deck after taps until reveille every night. The Officer Candidate assigned to the watch rotated between the fourth class OCs. Each hour, the security watch would walk through each wing to find nothing (except once). As he entered the first deck stairwell, the three or four of us with our jelly-filled donuts hurled them down on the unsuspecting security watch. We had ducked out of sight before he looked up and scampered to our barrack rooms. The security guard would report in to his post. We guessed he either went to his room to change uniforms or remain on his post to wipe off as much of the jelly, parts of donuts, and the powdered sugar.

We never knew what he did, and we never got caught. We thought it was funny is my only excuse.

* * *

There were several more antics, which will not, and should not be told here. The night before we were to complete the training and be commissioned as ensigns, one more event occurred, which aptly captured what OCS was to us.

We had liberty until midnight on Thursday, February 3, the day before commissioning. Everyone except married OCs and those who had families or friends there to attend the next morning’s ceremony, celebrated with drinks. We all came back to our barracks tipsy and hit the racks.

Sometime around 0200, a fire ignited in the small Navy Exchange Shop on the first deck of King Hall. The security watch finally had a reason for being there. He notified the base fire department. All hell broke loose. They began barking orders over the intercom system very loudly, accompanied by louder alarms clanging. The officer candidates awoke, or most of them. The awake OCs awoke the others. We were ordered to muster in our companies on the drill field in front of King Hall. Nearly everyone of us slept in our skivvies. Not knowing the extent of the fire, we guessed the worst and hurried down the stairwells to our section’s spot on the drill field. A few wise OCs had brought the blankets on their racks, but most of us had only our skivvies as we stood in our formation.

Now, i don’t know how many of you have been to Newport in February, but i can tell you with great assurance, it is cold. It may not snow much being on the seacoast, but it can rival any place in New England with its coldness. i don’t know what the temperature actually was, but there was a 15-20 knot wind blowing off Narragansett Bay that night, enough to make shivering me in my skivvies feel like it was zero degrees Fahrenheit. We stood there for about 45 minutes before we were told it was a small fire in the exchange and had been doused. Shivering, we went back to our racks.

The next day, we went to our commissioning, glad the gym was large enough for the 600 or so of us wouldn’t have to stand outside.

The Adventures of Remo Williams” continues…

2 thoughts on “A Tale of the Sea and Me (for Sam) – Installment 11

  1. Your article really got my attention. I attended Torpedo School Nov. ’51 / Feb. ’52 on Goat Island in Newport, RI. I remember that on some Fri. nights we would flip a coin to see who rode the Ferry to get a bottle and then
    we would watch the Fri. night fights and have a few drinks as it was too cold to go out for Liberty. At least twice we saw the Jamestown Ferry pulled off what we were told was Block Island. At a ship reunion much later I was amazed at how much the area had changed. No more Goat Island and very expensive Condominiums.

    1. i thought i had sent this earlier. Thanks, Phil. i was back in Newport the first of this month, and yes, it has changed. But it has somehow kept its feel. The waterfront has been replaced with lots of tourist attractions, the piers are shops and restaurants, the ships are gone. i got lost on the base. There are no more sailors and bars with fights, and Leo’s First/Last Stop is no longer on the liberty pier. i couldn’t even find the liberty pier. But it remains one of my favorite places of all time. Thanks again.

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