I wasn’t sure I could really spin the story I intended off Sydney’s photo. I resumed my hunt and found the year-book-like pub they sold us at the end of boot camp (Probably cost two-weeks’ pay, but worth it now). I thought maybe I’d stuck the photo in that book. Well, I did not find the picture of me, but I a lot of other pictures that swept memories free of cobwebs and dust. One was of our recruit company commander. He was a chief petty officer, and had been a merchant mariner in World War II. (I was in boot camp in 1959).
I remember being at some communal activity, probably scrubbing whites, on the concrete tables they had outside our barracks, with a personal scrub brush and a shared bucket of suds, when somebody said they found out our company commander had been in the merchant marine. “In the merchant marine, they are not real sailors,” the fellow said. Even as boot camp boots, we had to find a life form lower than we were.
A few days later we found out he’d had three ships torpedoed out from under him, and he told us when he went to hell, the devil was not going to put him in fire, rather the horned dude was going to stick him in North Atlantic sea water at a temperature of twenty degrees Fahrenheit. We also came to believe that he, at five foot four and one hundred twenty pounds, could have licked any one of us including the six-footer pluses we had. I always thought of him Brer Fox’s cousin from the tough side of town. He’d have gone in the briar patch and come back out scratched, ripped, and bleeding but holding Brer Bunny by the ears, and saying with a lopsided grin, “Glad you could come to dinner.”
Our company commander made a big impression on me the day I locked my key in my locker, and had to tell him. He brought the bolt cutter and snipped my lock. Then he said, “Turn around.” I did and he kneed me in the butt and lifted me a foot off the ground. I was five-six when I went into boot camp, but five-six and three quarters when I left.
Over my time in the Nav, I met a number of people who entered the service via a merchant marine academy, and they were all real sailors.
This whole experience, looking for a particular photo, brings to mind the story in the Bible of the widow who loses a penny and tears her house apart, and when she finds it, she is overjoyed, sets up a go-fund-me page, and throws a big block party to celebrate finding her penny.
I wonder how one sets up a go-fund-me page. I’m sure Mr. Google knows.