Monday, August 22, 2005

The Summer of 72 - America

Here is a short story from "Junction: County Road 197 (mild adventure for the armchair ruralist). The book is available to read online at from a link at Chumuckla.Net Here is a little of how it felt to come back to the ship after a brief shore leave:

Soldiers and sailors throughout the land struggled to reach their units.

Crowds pressed them and jostled them in large cities and small towns. Sometimes people spit on them. Sometimes people threw rocks. It was common to receive an unkind, vulgar gesture from the natives. In some areas, they were simply shunned. People pretended they did not exist.

The uniforms were a dead giveaway. These soldiers were tools of U.S. military imperialism. They were not welcome. The times were troublesome. It was a dangerous country for American servicemen.

In peril, the young soldiers and sailors pressed on to join up with their comrades.

Some anticipated the hostilities. They camouflaged their appearance with civilian attire. They hoped to blend in with the nation's populace. Often as not, civilian clothes were merely a temporary ruse; the short hair, the innocent youth, and the green sea-bags were telltale identification. They were marked military targets.

Small battles took place. One-on-one encounters between an intellectual pacifist and the kid in uniform. The intellectual, who was probably a student of defunct world cultures returning to school after a weekend of revelry, sincerely tried to spark the ideal of pacifism in the young gladiator's heart.

Self-anointed moralists chastised the evil sailor, who was armed only with a comb, a cigarette lighter, dog tags, and his heavy (very heavy) sea-bag. " Warmonger!"

In crowded transportation terminals, the boy soldier was accosted by young religious devotees clothed in saffron robes. The youthful saffron inductees lectured the innocent military inductee about the evils of war. They asked for a donation to help the cause of peace. The soldier donated a dime. Later, another tribe espoused world peace. He donated a nickel. By the third time the poor soldier was asked for a donation to promote universal peace, his vote came down decidedly in favor of war.
Were it not for a generally silent but sympathetic underground network of people who cared, many American soldiers and sailors might have been lost before they could rejoin their units.

This was America in 1972.

I recall the summer of 1972. The USS O'Callahan crew returned to their ship. Sailors rebounded from their final shore leave. One pink seaman apprentice, with a smattering of adolescent whiskers standing defiantly at attention between the mountainous pimples on his cheeks, marched aboard with a Bible under his arm. It was newly purchased from a street vendor hawking the imitation leather-bound Book. The sailor had paid an extra twenty dollars to have his mother's name embossed on the cover in imitation gold. Others struggled aboard with the odor of a distillery clinging to the air about them.

The captain ordered the bow line cast off. He ordered the engine back one third. The ship's horn sounded one long blast, followed by three short blasts. We backed into the San Diego Harbor.

The O'Callahan steamed past Point Loma and made for open sea. Most were apprehensive, but the apprehension was tempered with a sense of adventure. We steamed west to join the 7th Fleet and do battle with an enemy. It felt good to be among our own kind, having passed through a nation of hostile strangers.

It was an odd time to be in uniform.

Years have healed the animosity among fellow Americans in those times. Today, there is a healthy respect for people in uniform.
That is as it should be.
(From Vic Campbell - at the time, a very green ensign and far from the familiar herds of cattle and crops of soybeans and peanuts in the Florida Panhandle).

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Sailor's Story (a gunner)



Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class William E. Scroggins

Commissioned 13 July 1968
Decommissioned 20 November 1988


In 1968 I reached my 18th birthday on January the 8th. At about 11 or 12 years of age I had acquired an intense interest in the sea and ships of all types. By my 18th birthday I had read everything I could get my hands on about the sea and seafaring. I had read all the classic sea novels, Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”, Rudyard Kipling’s “Captains Courageous”, Jack London’s “The Sea Wolf”, Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast”, Robert Louis Stephenson’s “Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped”, and all of C.S. Forrester’s Horatio Hornblower saga. I did not like high school and wasn’t doing well in my studies, my interest lying primarily with things nautical. I decided to quit high school and on January 24, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the recruiting station in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. I was sent to the old AAFES building (Army & Air Force Examination Station) in Dallas, Texas. There I was tested, given a medical examination and sworn in to the United States Navy as a Seaman Recruit (E-1). About 10 or 12 of us flew that night to San Diego, California. This was my first time to be away from home, so I was scared to death!

We were met at Lindbergh Field in San Diego by a Marine corporal. At first he was very cordial and politely asked us to follow him outside to the front entrance of the airport terminal. There we found another group of newly arrived recruits. On arriving outside the Marine had a sudden personality change and began screaming at us and made us stand in the formation with the other group at parade rest. He told us to keep our mouths shut and eyes straight ahead. Some of the group didn’t know what parade rest was and had to be shown. I had taken ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) in high school and was familiar with military drill. The Marine corporal caught the guy standing next to me chewing gum. He made this guy spit the gum into his hand and stuck it on the end of his nose! We stood in front of the airport in formation for about two hours, our group growing larger as planes arrived from all over the country. A Navy bus finally arrived and we were loaded aboard and transported to the Recruit Training Center, U.S. Naval Station, San Diego, California. We arrived there at about 2230 (11:30 P.M.). We got off the bus and were led into an asphalt covered courtyard in the middle of a barracks quadrangle. The entrance to this courtyard had a sign on an archway which said, “WELCOME ABOARD! YOU ARE NOW MEN OF THE UNITED STATES NAVY.” Inside the courtyard on the asphalt were painted yellow footprints which had black numbers in the middle. We were told to pick out a set of footprints and stand on them. The number that was painted on the footprints was used as a muster number for us for the next couple of days....... (Bill continues his story in a later post and includes his life aboard USS O'Callahan ... Come back later for more installments!)