Tom’s Tales – Navy Years

Since I gave up my college career and it was during the Vietnam Conflict/War my classification was changed and I figured I would join the Navy (like my father.) Thus starts Tom’s Tales – Navy Years. The recruiter seemed more interested in “Tea Dances” at a local joint, but I got enlisted and off the draft list. Which pleased my mother. I went from Memphis to San Diego for boot camp. I wasn’t sure why San Diego rather than the Great Lakes center, but of course, I didn’t argue the point.

Boot Camp

Boot camp went as well as can be expected. I wasn’t in the greatest shape, but hours on the “Grinder” helped me complete the physical training. In between testing, we had training to teach about the Navy’s way of doing things. Like which is the correct ladder (stairs) to go up and which is the correct one to go down. All done on the U.S.S Neversails. We also got a taste of tear gas. You went into the chamber with your mask on and after the gas got going good you had to take the mask off. We had to stay in there for a specified time (it seemed like hours) and then you could exit. The last one out got extra rations (or something.)

The First Class Bosun’s Mate Petty Officer training us looked like Steve McQueen in the movie Pebbles. The PO 1st Class said he didn’t like shore duty. I think he gave up on us the last few weeks as a Seaman (lower rank) was put in charge. I got a taste of Navy “intelligence” when after one inspection on the grinder, I was sent to a “Captain’s Mast”. The Lieutenant in charge berated us as we were unfit to live, especially in his Navy. My infraction was skin peel on my ear (from being out in the San Diego sun.) We survived that because we were “boots” and couldn’t go any lower in rank.

Training after Boot Camp

 The testing revealed I qualified to be a Radio Man, Helicopter Pilot, or Corpsman (did I mention this was during Vietnam?) I quickly decided to go to Radio Man school. Later they gave me the chance to go to electronics school (if I agreed to add two years to my enlistment.) That sounded better than listening to Morse Code all day, so I agreed. My Navy Years are underway. During my Electronics training, we were approached to see if we wanted to get trained on “secret” equipment. I agreed to extend my Navy “career” and went across the USA to Norfolk Virginia. I flunked out of the training for one type of Cryptographic gear, but after a layover, I completed another piece of equipment. The equipment secured telephone communications between the two sites.

Duty Stations after Training

I was sent to a base near Cheltenham Maryland. We controlled an 84-foot diameter dish antenna. We aimed the antenna towards the moon. The project was called Transmission Relay Ship to Shore Communications (TRSSCOM.) It was good duty if you didn’t mind strange hours (ever try to follow the moon at night?)  Most nights it was calm for us but you could tell when the ship we were connected to started losing communications. They were in a storm or rough weather that affected the pitch and roll of the ship. Another time things got interesting was when the U.S. Pueblo was taken by North Korea. There was classified gear on that ship. We were “Communications Technicians” and had Top Secret clearances.

In order to get the clearance, the FBI investigates your background. My father told me some of the neighbors were curious as to why the FBI was investigating me.

At the end of the U.S.A.

I went across the USA and ended up on an island called Adak. I spent a lifetime the year I spent on Adak. If you look at a map of Alaska and follow the islands all the way to Russia, you will find the tiny dot called Adak. After landing on what seemed to be too short a runway heading into a mountain, we were shuttled up a road that seemed to have an extreme drop-off to the sea. We were apart for the main part of the Navy station. The Security Group (that’s me) was isolated from the main air station. After I got settled in, I was informed that the piece of equipment I was trained on wasn’t on the island. They didn’t want to lose the billet (manpower), so I was “at large”.

That is when I was sent to Zeto Point. It was pretty quiet duty with an occasional whiteout. I got to ride in a Snowcat to the site from the barracks once or twice. There was said to be some nuclear testing on one of the islands to see what would happen. Earthquakes were common, and we got used to them. The only way we knew there was one was to look at the large club hanging in the recreation room to see if it was swinging. There was a Tsunami alert once or twice, but we were young and ignored them. I imagine they take the alerts more seriously now.

Then Japan

I was given a reprieve from Adak and sent to Kamiseya Japan. Near the Atsugi Naval Air Station, The largest city nearby was Yokohama, for reference (and liberty.) Much better duty and environment. My main duty there was to perform preventative maintenance on the antenna field. I also had two Japanese technicians who repaired radio receivers. That usually left time for a little R & R which was entirely different from Adak The lush greenery in Japan was a major change from the tundra and the Adak “national forest” ( which was the lone tree in the area.)

Tom's Tales Navy Years

After a while there I met Sadako, a Japanese girl named Sadako (who later became my wife.) I had a Toyota car and we toured a lot of Japan in it. Mount Fuji has six or seven lakes around it and we often camped near one of the lakes. one evening a group of Japanese truck drivers had a bonfire made of old tires. No environmental concern there, I guess. We saw the Buddha in Kami Kura and some of the Shinto shrines in other areas of Japan. It was amazing the difference between the Shrine areas and the city, where pollution was taken for granted. People did have their own yards that were more in line with the Shrines.

Sushi or Not?

Being from the South, I wasn’t exposed to eating raw fish. I wasn’t much of a fisherman then and am still not one. It was a while and after a few beers, I got up enough nerve to try Sushi with raw fish. It didn’t make me sick, so I became a regular customer.

We still go to the Japanese store here in Las Vegas and get Sushi every once in a while. Sadako (my wife) doesn’t like most of the “Japanese” restaurants around here because they don’t use “Sushi Rice”. According to her, there is a process of adding rice wine vinegar and sugar to the rice to make “Sushi Rice”. And don’t even think about going to an “all the sushi you can eat” restaurant unless you just like rice from the cooker. We also went to a Korean Restaurant where you ordered your meal and cooked it at the table. It became a favorite of ours, as well as one or two of my friends. Again, nothing we have found in Las Vegas compares to it.

I was released from the Navy while in Japan and returned to the United States and went through San Francisco. That is about it for now. I may try to find my slides from Japan and see if I can scan them to add some pictures here. There may be more to come, but I am signing off for now…

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