My military journey in the U.S. Navy actually began when I was born into a family with a 2nd Class Bosun’s mate as my father. He was a veteran of World War I. Even though he left home for good when I was five, he left his Navy influence with me. He taught me to tie some pretty interesting and some difficult knots, and he also gave me some painting lessons, and for some reason I hate to paint to this day. After he left, Mom and I knocked around a bit moving frequently, and I spent some time in boarding houses for the children of working mothers. Six years later we got word that he had died. He left me with a $3000 bank account and his Social Security until I was 18. As a result of all this moving, by the time I entered high school I was a year behind. I was almost15 when I graduated from middle school. When my mom said we were moving again I said, “I’m not moving anymore `til I finish high school.” I planned on advertising myself as a live in farmhand desiring room and board and a small salary or living allowance, but after a few men answered my ad, my sister and brother-in-law changed my plans and told me to just get a job, and pay them room and board. They gave me an 8×10 cinder-block washroom which was attached to their home and they helped me to find a job in a Mexican restaurant. I was making $0.75/hr and I managed to work 40 hours a week and more in the summer time, all the way through high school without any authorities finding out.

After my sophomore year I got my driver’s license and I was able to get a job in a sheet metal shop for $0.90/hr. I was a maintenance man and stocker. I liked this job better, because I got to work with men, vehicles and Machinery. After high school graduation I still didn’t have enough money to start college, even though I had been accepted to the college of my choice. So, I went to Las Vegas with a friend who promised me a job with his Uncle’s construction company if I would drive him there. When we arrived I found out that my friend didn’t have the right to offer me a job, so I was out of money and sleeping in my car. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t call and ask my sister to send me enough money to get home, and I felt like I had reached the bitter end. I tried to get jobs by answering ads in the newspaper, but each time I was told that because I was 19 it wouldn’t be worth their time and money to train me, because I was draft age. So I sold my beloved 1947 fully loaded Mercury coup and joined the Navy, rather than waiting to be drafted into the Army.

Actually, when I signed up at the Las Vegas Navy Recruiting Station, I thought I would be rejected when I took the physical. My plan was to take my return transportation to the Oakland bus terminal and go home to my sister and get a job to earn money for school. They put me on a bus to Los Angeles where we would take our physicals, be officially inducted, and transported to San Diego Boot Camp. The reason I thought I wouldn’t pass the physical was, when I was a Tween growing up, my mother convinced me that I would not live past 21. She led me to believe that I had Rheumatic Fever, and the doctors erroneously confirmed it. After I severed the apron strings, and went to work for a living. I never had another sick day other than an occasional cold or 24 hour flue. Years later I found out that what I probably had suffered was Mononucleosis. I’m quite sure that was brought on by constant upheaval and irregularity in my diet, and sleeping schedule, plus the stress of constantly moving and changing neighborhood, school, and friends, that could never be friends because I knew we wouldn’t be there all that long. Putting that aside I contemplated my present situation.

I arrived at Boot Camp with the incredulous realization that I had signed away four years of my life; the up side was the fact that as a HSSR (High School Seaman Recruit) I was promised the school of my choice. My life’s goal was to become a forest ranger game manager for the U.S. government. But I also wanted to be a wildlife photographer. I figured those two jobs would go well together. The first to pay the bills and the second as a hobby that one day could become a better paying job, or maybe I could be a famous wildlife photographer comparable to the great wildlife painter John James Audubon. The Navy school system didn’t have a school that could prepare me for wildlife management. Although there were a few fellow recruits in my company that might be comparable to wildlife, and as a recruit Petty Officer in charge of a squad, I did get some valuable experience in that line of work.

In the 13th and last week of our training we were choosing our school. I studied the list carefully. I was excited when I saw Photography school listed, so I checked off the box. When I got up to the clerk who completed our transfer request form, I was told that because I was inducted as a HSSR (seaman recruit) and not HSAR (airman recruit) I could not go to photography school. I thought this was dumb and unjustified policy. I also thought that it could be my punishment for turning down an opportunity they offered me and five other recruits in our battalion. The offer was to volunteer for a new Navy Air Corps recruitment program. They wanted to see if they could train high school recruits to become pilots rather than college recruits. This option would double my enlistment from four years to eight years. They only gave us an hour to make up our minds, and we could not make a phone call. I would have dearly loved to call my brother or my brother-in-law. They were both pilots in WWII. After an agonizing hour I finally decided to turn the opportunity down. The criterion for selection of the qualified recruits was the results of an aptitude test given to all of us immediately after our arrival at our assigned battalion.

At any rate I looked at the other options that were on the list and I found a construction Surveyor’s school. I was not sure what a surveyor did, but I learned from the course description that a construction surveyor laid out lines and set elevations for construction of roads and other structures vital to projects on newly acquired beach heads. That sounded interesting to me but I thought that the construction ratings might be like the airman ratings and I would not be eligible as a seaman recruit. I began to visualize myself as bosun’s mate because that would be the only option open to a seaman who turned down an excellent opportunity to become a Naval Air Pilot. Never-the-less I checked off the box, and got in line again. My form passed the scrutiny of the processing clerk. So when I graduated from Boot Camp I got orders to report to the USNCTB (USN Construction Training Battalion) in Port Hueneme California.

This was my first independent choice in life and it made an incredible difference to me. Surveyor’s school gave me the knowledge and tools I needed to make a very good living and opened up an avenue to obtain professional status in a highly respected field.

After graduation from school, I went to Davisville Rhode Island for six weeks of Marine combat training under a Marine Major who had come up through the ranks from a PFC and was traditionally designated a Mustang by the troops. A lot of folks do not realize that CB’s are also part of the Marine corps. After Davisville, I got orders for a mobile construction battalion, USMCB 6 in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. In Guantanamo we built officer’s base housing, a dispensary and extended an airstrip to accommodate the newer fighter planes, which needed a longer runway to stop on land where there were no arresting cables, for the plane’s tail hook, which were used on aircraft carriers.

I enjoyed the duty in Guantanamo; in my off time I went fishing with fishing pole and also spear gun and skin-diving gear. Liberty in town was off limits because during 1956 and 57 Castro and Batista were fighting, and no one seemed to know whose side we were on.

During this period the USA was in what was designated the `Cold War,’ which was sort of like peacetime except the armed forces were on perpetual alert. The closest MCB6 came to seeing any action was during the Lebanon crises. A month prior to this crisis we were informed of our mob’s involvement. One day a construction battalion admiral called for a dress review of our battalion. After the review the admiral addressed us, and he said, “MCB6 is the only combat ready battalion on the east coast. That is why you men have been selected to provide support for our troops in case this goes into full blown military action.” I remember lying in my bunk that night, knowing that a troop ship was anchored in the harbor waiting to take us to Lebanon; I also thought of the combat training we had received from our marine major, and the times I had been shot or had scored a hit on enemies with the plastic bullets in our weapons. The only times I got shot was when I hesitated when suddenly confronted by an enemy. As I lay there at night I considered my feelings about coming face to face with the enemy. I wondered if I would kill or be killed.

The operation named `Blue Bat’ called up to quell hostilities in Beirut between Christian and Muslim military forces. The U.S. announced that it would intervene to protect regimes it considered threatened by international communism. At one point in the situation Nikita Khrushchev threatened to use nuclear weapons if America intervened. The operation involved approximately 14,000 men, including 8,509 United States Army personnel, a contingent from the 1st Airborne Battle Group, 187th Infantry from the 24th Infantry Division and 5,670 officers and men of the United States Marine Corps They were supported by a fleet of 70 ships and 40,000 sailors. When we were ordered to stand down late in 1957 everyone in our battalion breathed a sigh of relief, except for a few blood and guts cowboys who would rather kill the enemy than build houses and airstrips.

Shortly before the crises I put in a request to go aboard the USS Maury (AGS16) which was one of four of the Navy’s hydrographic survey ships on the East Coast. The Maury was named after the naval officer Matthew Fontaine Maury, who became known as “The Pathfinder of the Seas.” I didn’t know any of these historical facts when I put in my request. I merely wanted to expand my knowledge of surveying. While I attended school at Port Hueneme old Chief Reeves and his 1st class Instructor Rutman both told the class that duty aboard a hydrographic survey ship was reserved for the cream of the crop. They showed us a training video about hydrographic surveying so when the announcement of openings in the crew was tacked on the bulletin board, I jumped at the chance. At the same time, I put in a request for leave. I had been at Guantanamo for 18 months straight and I needed to get home to see my family. At the end of October in 1957 my orders for leave came in, and I went home to California for 30 days. While I was gone I forgot completely about the Maury and hydrographic surveying. I just took 30 days of pure freedom and relaxation with friends and family.

At the end of my leave, I returned to Davisville TAD (temporary additional duty) and assignment. While I was there, I heard about `Operation Deep Freeze.’ MCB1 was going to go down to Antarctica for 18 months and test equipment in subzero weather conditions. This sounded grim, but I was interested, because of extra pay for hazardous duty and my sea-pay would be back. In Antarctica there was very little need or opportunity to spend money, and I figured I could save some money during my last 18 months, so I put in a request for Deep Freeze. The next day I was told to report to the executive officer of MCB1. He told me that they wanted me to go to Antarctica with them. Apparently, because I had advanced from Construction man, to Petty Officer 3rd Class Surveyor, while in Cuba. The operation needed rated surveyors, because we were in short supply. As I walked back to the barracks I felt excited about my new adventure. As soon as I entered the barracks the Master at Arms, informed me that my orders for duty had arrived, and that I would be joining the crew of the Maury. I was shocked. Then I got called up to the office for a phone call. It was the Executive Officer of Deep Freeze. He said he was sorry, but the Maury had priority, because they were working on a top secret job, vital to national defense. This got my imagination going a mile a minute. What could I possibly contribute to national defense?

My orders said I was to Leave Davisville Rhode Island immediately and proceed to Norfolk Virginia to meet and board the Maury. When I came aboard, the ship was just returning from Ascension Island. After I was directed to my sleeping compartment and assigned a Locker and a bunk by the Master at Arms. The locker was too small and so was the bunk. The Navy fixed the locker problem for everyone. We each had another bigger locker for extra stuff, but it was below decks at the 01 level. I unpacked my gear, putting everyday essentials in my compartment locker, and leaving everything else in my sea bag to store below later. I changed into clean work clothes and reported to 2nd lieutenant Roberts, and he gave me a tour of V Division’s working areas. In the drafting room they were busy putting the finishing touches on the final product of their last six month project below the Equator. He showed me the Plotting Shelter above the Bridge, where the raw material was collected and sent to the drafting room and converted to the charts and maps that were used on a National Defense program in International waters. This program was for an early warning system to alert the War Department of ship movements. In December of 1957 when this all took place this information was classified `Top Secret,’ but in the 21st century it’s yester- year’s news. The tour continued to other work areas, the fantail flight deck where the helicopter landed and took off while setting up and supplying beach station equipment vital to offshore operations, the Print Shop where backups of the rough drafts and smooth plots were printed for safe keeping, the Number 2 Hold where beach station gear was kept when not in use, and the Field Equipment Locker where survey instruments were stored when not in use. In the Equipment locker he showed me all the survey instruments. They didn’t have transits; instead they used Theodolites which were capable of turning angles to a decimal of a second. This was amazing. The transits we had learned on only turned angles to an estimated fraction of 20 seconds. I was impressed and could hardly wait to get my hands on one of these incredible instruments.

As we climbed out of the Hold and walked back up to the Drafting Room, Lieutenant Rogers explained to me that the work being done on the way back to Home Port, would be wrapped up and mailed to Hydro in Washington D.C. and V Divisions work would be done, until the next assignment. He also explained that I would be joining the crew while they worked, but I was not to speak unless spoken to. I could observe the work and during breaks in secured areas outside the work area I could ask questions, and during free time I could get more familiar with the crew. After the day shift in the drafting room

The Maury’s home port was the Brooklyn navy yard, and she spent every winter there sometimes tied to the pier, and sometimes in dry dock. While we were in port the crew of V Division serviced and maintained gear and equipment, Cleaned up and maintained our work spaces, and did some practice drills and training classes. We also relieved the Quarter Master Division who stood quarterdeck watches 24/7 while we were deployed. The Quarterdeck at sea was on the bridge with the Officer of the Con, in port it was at the head of the gangway and the Quarter Master on deck was there to guard the gangway, post and retrieve the flag, keep the log, and collect the weather data every hour. The Bosun of the watch piped reveille, taps, chow time, mail call, sickbay, daily clean sweep fore and aft, and the captain on and off, or any dignitaries if they should come aboard during daylight hours. From reveille to taps there was also a messenger of the watch who acted as messenger for private messages and as the assistant to the Quartermaster. He was not armed but the Quarter master, Bosun mate and officer of the deck were. We each had a .45 automatic in a holster, with an ammunition pouch with 4 extra 10 shot magazines strapped to our side. I stood my share of Quartermaster watches, including two each on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, for a shipmate of mine who lived in New York and had a girlfriend in town. It seems the Senior Division Petty Officer. 1st class Crammer, a reservist who no one liked, had it in for my friend McDonald, and got back at him by always giving him as much extra duty as he legally could. Part of this included mid-watch on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. On these special occasions I would always offer and stand-by for McDonald. He paid me back by taking me home with him on Thanksgiving. We both took three days leave and headed out to up-state New York where McDonald lived. This was very nice relief for me from the holiday blues.

Just after Thanksgiving 1958 McDonald and I were surprised to see our Surveyor’s school instructor, Chief Rutman, he had just been made Chief Petty Officer, and he had applied for this choice duty and made it. He was also surprised to see his former students on board. We were glad to see him because now he was the Senior Division Petty Officer, and McDonald was free of Crammer’s harassing tactics. Rutman was also able to tame Crammer down a bit. His three chevrons were trumped by Rutman’s three chevrons and a rocker.

During my 18 month tour aboard the Maury, we made three trips to the Mediterranean, a trip to the North Sea, we surveyed off the west coast of Africa, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. I was glad that the ship never went below the Equator again because I was a member of a very small group of `Pollywogs’ on board, and I saw the photos and heard the stories of the Pollywog’s initiation to Shellback that took place on the cruise before my reporting date.

As 1959 arrived the Maury prepared for the year’s work, we were informed that we were headed once more to the Mediterranean. This time the job would be off the coast of Turkey. The job was to last about seven months, and anyone with less time than that, not planning to reenlist could either extend for the duration of the cruise, or would be assigned Temporary duty ashore. I had six months left, and I didn’t know for sure if I would reenlist or not. I loved the Navy, but I also missed my family, and I wanted a family of my own. My only hesitation was the fact that on the last cruise I had taken the 2nd class petty officer test for the second time, and if I passed it would mean a huge bonus for shipping over. Because I had been sending a monthly allotment home to my mom I hadn’t been able to save any money while I was in the Navy, and the bonus would go a long way toward getting started in college. Crew members had a week to make our personal plan, but I learned that anyone in V division that had at least four months left could stay on and the Navy would send them back to the States for discharge. This took the pressure off.

In early February we went on a short shakedown cruise to Guantanamo Bay Cuba. While we were there the surveyors in V Division got out of shipboard drills which were boring and redundant. We were barracked on board with the enlisted Navel air-force men. Our assignment was to locate more precisely the towers on their bombing range that were used to determine the accuracy of their bombing runs. We were triangulating to the towers and this gave me the chance to train on one of those beautiful Theodolites, I was in surveyor’s heaven. On my off time I found out that there was a CB battalion stationed at Windmill beach, which was my first assignment after Boot Camp. I took a couple of my buddies out for a visit. Chief Rutman let us use the Jeep. I had to promise not to drink. We had a good time, and it brought back some fond memories of fishing and skin diving.

After the shakedown the Maury returned to home port for a few adjustments and repairs, and then we shoved off for the Mediterranean. As soon as we were underway and beyond the 12 mile limit we began preliminary work for our project. An hour on the way, as usual the helicopter arrived with the coordinates necessary for constructing the boat charts for the project. We used this data to construct the outlines, survey lines and cross check lines, within the area of interest.

I realized that this would quite possibly be my last crossing of the Atlantic in a ship like the Maury, and I spent my free time time when it was clear, on deck in awe of the beauty and power of the ocean. When we were completely out of sight of land, the raw power and fierceness of the wind and waves was mesmerizing. This power could best be felt when lying in my bunk at night, and feeling the waves heave the ship’s bow, where our quarters were the closest to, up what seemed like eight or ten feet. Considering my estimation of the size of the Maury, four hundred feet long, forty feet wide and about ninety feet from keel to flying bridge, all made out of very stout steel, I felt in awe of the tremendous power of each individual wave. I also marveled at the vast expanse of the mighty Atlantic and realized that this was only one of seven seas on the earth. I will never forget this humbling experience.

Oh God, thy sea is so vast, and my ship is so small” (Unknown).

For this the last job I would participated in, The US Government negotiated an agreement with Turkey allowing a Survey crew ashore to search for and recover all the geodetic monuments that had been destroyed during WWII. In exchange for these survey services Turkey gave us the right to do our hydrographic surveying within its International waters. We had six beach stations for the hydrographic control system, so as soon as we had them set up and online we moved to the central beach station support camp and from there we planned to run our monument recovery work. Chief Rutman picked me and an unrated survey striker to work with him ashore looking for and reestablishing monuments. We also had an extra Turkish liaison officer to serve as an interpreter for us as we sought local information from villagers. This was way before GPS so we needed directions from the people. All facets of this work was very precise because these monuments were used to locate national and even international boundaries. The tolerance for this work was as limited as was humanly possible, without the aid of modern day electronic gear. This experience was invaluable to me as it gave me a leg up over other applicants that I was competing with in the labor pools of civilian life.

When the remainder of my enlistment was down to two months, we received a radio message that I was being replaced in the shore party, and that I should be prepared to return to the ship on the next scheduled supply day with all my personal gear in preparation for separation from the ship’s company and return to stateside for discharge.

When the helicopter landed near Base Camp I was waiting and ready to fly back to the ship. As soon as I got aboard, the ship, I packed the rest of my gear and sent everything I didn’t need for the next month or so home to my sister. Just before I left the ship, I checked the bulletin board and was surprised to see that I had made my 2nd Class Petty Officer rate. I went up to the drafting room and asked the duty officer what my options were. He said it was to late to change my orders, but if I didn’t find what I wanted in civilian life, I could ship over, and not lose my new rate or the bonus as long as I did it before the six month grace period expired.

My orders gave me thirty days to return to the continental limits of the U.S. and that left me thirty days to muster out. I was back to Norfolk in three days in spite of getting bumped in Athens by a soldier going on emergency leave. In Norfolk I found myself doing Shore Patrol, which I hated, but it was only twice. I got my final papers of separation in a week and a half and was home over a month early.

I found a very good job, and my career went from good, to better, to excellent and I was able to retire early, with two very good pensions and Social security thirty-four years after my Navel journey’s completion. I loved the experience, and it prepared me for an even more rewarding experience in which I fulfilled most of my ambitions, and am able to continue my quest until I report to the Great Commander in Chief in the sky.

About bmwillson1936

I was born with writer's DNA, but it receded to the depths of my soul when I encountered the bitter facts of life.Much later after five decades of living I was assigned by my employer to write legal conveyances of land documents, and this drew out my natural love of words and putting ideas into the paper prison. Thus began my quest for publication.The road was long and bumpy, with occasional pitfalls, but I'm staying on until I can no longer put words on the paper that make any sense or serve no valid purpose. Here's to rebirth and the celebration of writing
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  1. agarrabrant says:

    Thanks for sharing the story of your service. My father was always reluctant and took most of his tales with him.


    • It’s sad how some of these vetrens of wars are so reluctant to share, even with their families. My father was a world War I
      veteran and he never once spoke about his experiences. I never saw any action, but I wanted my posterity to know who I am and what I did.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. agarrabrant says:

    I guess it runs in the family. My grandfather was in the first mountain division in WWII. In 1994, I was planning a conference in the Czech Republic and mentioned to him that I was going to be in Budapest, Hungary for a few days. He said, “Budapest is a beatiful city, or at least it was when I was there.”
    “When was that?”, I asked.
    “July of 1942.” He said.
    “But Grandpa, Hungary was allied with the Nazi’s in 1942.”
    “Yes, they were. That’s what we were there to talk to them about.”
    “Wow! That sounds like a story. Tell me about it?”
    “Son, I’d really rather not. In fact, I’m not sure that I even can.”

    Try as I might, he never told me any more about his military service. I know German was spoken in his home growing up and I know that he remained in europe after the war until 1952 serving as a WO4. I also know that following his military service he served as a military design laison with Ratheon on the development of the Hawk Missle system among others. What I do not know is what he was doing in Axis Europe in the Summer of ’42!


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