A Tale of the Sea and Me (For Sam) – Installment 9

i was to report to the Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island on September 15, 1967. The first airplane i ever made me think i might have been better off taking the bus. i had a connection, i think it was in Philadelphia for our final leg to Providence, and then a bus ride to Newport. The last leg’s passengers were largely young men headed where i was.

That’s when the storm hit. We bounced around in the middle of the thunder and lightning. Several times, the aircraft dropped seemingly forever. Prospective officer candidates were using up those airsick bags like they were peanuts. We began our approach into Providence it seemed like fifty times, only to climb back up, turn, and try again.

Finally, we landed and loaded onto the bus to Naval Base, Newport. The ride was uneventful. Arriving, the first class OCs acting as DI’s ordered us off the bus. We hurriedly gathered into the sorriest formation i ever saw and marched (sic) into the barber shop line. i had fallen into line behind this one guy who, i later learned, had driven his car up and parked it in the lot available for OCs.

He was noticeable as the line slimmed down toward the four chairs. The barbers were almost croaking with delight as the long haired candidates sat in their chairs. The razors hummed and the OCs left the chair shorn down to the scalp. When this guy in front of me gets there, the barbers were obviously upset. He had shaved his head the day before. Their joy at whacking it off was lost. i chuckled under my breath as i sat in the chair. My shearing wasn’t quite so bad after watching this guy flummox the barbers.

From there, we were ushered to the uniform supply line where the storekeepers piled uniforms of all kinds into our arms until we could barely see over them. Then the faux DIs had us running in formation, or moving as fast as we could while trying to keep all of the uniforms, shoes, and covers in our possession. We were marched to the drill field in front of King Hall, an impressive new building for berthing Officer Candidates. i later found out it was a huge improvement over the World War II wooden barracks that had been previously used as OC barracks.

i was assigned to Company Lima. The DI’s marched us up to the fourth floor to the wing for 4/c OCs. i filed into my stateroom and introduced myself to the guy who would be my roommate for the next four months. He was the guy who showed up with his shorn head. It was Doc Jarden, a recent Duke graduate from Philadelphia. With what little time we had, we hit it off. Doc would have a significant impact on my life, although i didn’t realize it yet.

The DIs kept us running. It was good to hit the rack at taps. The DIs decided to continue to pursue the harassment. With taps on their shoe heels, they marched up and down the passageway outside of our rooms, clicking their heels to keep us awake. It didn’t work for Doc and me.

The next morning, a rumor came that one of the new OC’s on the third deck had needed to go to the head in the middle of the night. The rumor was he was so afraid of the DIs, he dared not leave his room, and crapped in his towel. i never had the rumor verified, but i still believe it happened.

One Drill Instructor, this first class Officer Candidate was particularly disliked by the new OCs. He was a NESEP. i don’t remember what the acronym actually was, but NESEPs were enlisted sailors who had performed well enough to be awarded a college scholarship. They remained enlisted while attending college and went through OCS in two summers, not like us. He apparently believed he truly was superior and delighted in harassing us at every turn. Our dress uniforms had to be tailored to fit (they claimed), which meant no liberty on the weekends for the first month. That meant more time at the mercy of the DIs.

We had been run to the limit during the first two weeks and were stressed out. But over the weekend, i had the opportunity to call my friend and teammate on the Castle Heights football team. John Sweatt had preceded me through OCS and was the Main Propulsion Assistant the USS Basilone (DD 824), home ported in Newport.

On Tuesday of the following week, the DIs ordered a room inspection right after the evening mess. Doc and i flanked the entry to our room at attention, as did the other 4th/OCs as our menace began his inspection at the first room

A stir occurred at the end of the hall. LTJG John Sweatt, in his service dress blue uniform, emerged from the stairwell. If possible the OCs stood a stiffer attention as he passed. When John reached us, he motioned us into our room. He sat on the bed and motioned for us to sit down as well and we all lit up our cigarettes. i was thinking what a great release his coming was to me, and how he was taking off from his precious liberty to do so. We chatted.

The dreaded DI emerged from the first room and saw we were not at our position of attention by the door. Although he demanded strict adherence for wearing our covers correctly, he had his on the back of his head as he entered the room, ready to give Doc and i hell. He stopped, startled to see a LTJG with us. He snapped to attention and looked like an idiot as he tried to decide whether he should pull his hat down to the correct position and then salute or salute and then pull his cover down. His right arm bounced back and forth for a few seconds before John directed him to leave us alone and proceed on his room inspection.

Not only was John’s visit a momentary escape from the rigid discipline, it gave Doc and i a reality check, and the silliness of the regimen dished out to us made it much more bearable. John passed away in 1921. He had retired as a commander with his last operational tour as executive officer of the USS Samuel Gompers (AD 37), the same path i followed several years later on the USS Yosemite (AD 19).

i will always be grateful to John for his visit and his mentoring.

The shenanigans at OCS will continue…

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