From pulpit to pier.
Two recent high school graduates, 17 years old, standing in front of J.J. Newberry's on Ford Street contemplating their future.
Gerry and I were like brothers ever since that fist fight we greeted each other with in our freshman year. We were inseparable. On the football field he played left guard and I, right, pulling, guard. We were both linebackers on defense. On the wrestling team he wrestled at 135 lbs, and I weighed in at 165. They called us the two crazy Frenchman. We were comparable academically too; solid C students.
Jerry wanted to be a nurse, but like me his academic performance was a deterrent to his getting accepted into nursing school. We had two schools of nursing in our city; one at the state psychiatric hospital, which accepted male applicants, and a school at the general hospital, run by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, which accepted only female applicants. I've forgotten whether or not he applied to any schools of nursing other than State, but regardless he was adrift at this juncture in his life.
rel: "So, man, whatcha gonna do?"
Jer: "I'm gonna join the Marines."
rel: "Hmmm, I thought you wanted to be a nurse?"
Jer: "I'll be a medic."
rel: "Jer, just so you know, the Marines are a part of the Navy and they use the Navy medics, hospital corpsman. Why don't you come in the Navy with me. We could do the buddy plan. I'll talk to Mr. Pearson the recruiter in my reserve unit and I'm sure he'll be able to work something out for us."
Jer: " I'm not joining that rinky-dink, weekend warrior group you're in. No way man!"
rel: "What if I go regular Navy? Would you join up then?"
rel: "Come on, we'll go down to the reserve center and see what Pearson has to say."
I'm pretty sure this was on a Monday, the 12th of August, 1963. We walked the three blocks down to the reserve center and approached Mr. Pearson. He was a petty officer 1st class, but I've forgotten what his specialty rating was. He was an accountant in the civilian world so probably Personnel, or yeoman.
Pearson explained the hospital corpsman program to Gerry and Gerry thought that fit the bill for him, so Jim took him to another room to do all the paper work to join and to take some tests.
When he came back we worked on the paper work to discharge me from the reserves and enlist me in the regular Navy. My discharge would take effect on the 14th after I was sworn in to the regular Navy at the NRS (Navy recruiting station) In Albany, NY.
We hightailed it home to break the news to our parents that we'd joined the Navy and we were leaving Wednesday for the recruiting station in Albany. In addition, since I'd already been issued a full navy wardrobe, I also had to pack my seabag. My mother was shocked speechless! Oh, I'm sure she had plenty to say, but the die was cast and there was no turning back. I asked her to call the Seminary and tell them I'd changed my mind. And so it was that my bosom buddy and I boarded the Greyhound bus in front of Joey's shoe repair shop, on Ford St., early on the morning of Wednesday the 14th of August, 1963, bound for Great Lakes Naval Training Center with an intermittent stop in Albany NY. I think my dad and both of Gerry's parents came to see us off.
Does anything ever run exactly according to plan? Of course not. After we arrive at the Navy recruiting Center in Albany and start the processing the first SNAFU presents itself. Because I had this reserve/regular, discharge/enlist deal, some how the fact that I already had a seabag full of navy issue uniforms also presented a problem. The up shot of this was that I had to stay over a night in Albany and Gerry left that evening. This would put us in different recruit companies at Great lakes which was not the buddy plan we'd signed up for but I'm sure you've heard horror stories about recruiters and their promises. This was actually a minor glitch and in retrospect was probably a good thing We saw each other quite a bit and being in different companies forced us to reach out and make new friends. Truth be known though, I never saw or heard from any of the 77 members of my company: 377, 1st regiment, 13th battalion after graduation.
I arrived on 16 August, 1963 at USNTC,GLKS,ILL., RECRUIT TRAINING:
Next: Boot camp