I was always impressed with the neat, clean uniforms sailors wore. When I joined the navy, I found out who kept them neat and clean! In boot camp we were issued a galvanized bucket in which to wash a uniform everyday. The wet clothing was hung between a tall vertical pole called the mast and a shorter pole forty feet away with a block and tackle to hoist the company laundry into the wind. To keep everything uniform and military they gave us a memory aid so every sailor would hang his dungaree pants the same direction. We were told: "The ass to the mast and the peter to the pole." How could we make a mistake with that little ditty running through our mind? The galvanized bucket was then hung at the end of our double bunk with a pair of washed socks hung on the rim of the bucket to dry.
We were lined up for inspection, with all our gear laid out on the bunks, when the inspecting officer took a pair of socks off one of the buckets and asked, "Are they clean?" When the recruit started to answer, the officer stuck the socks in the young man's mouth. The officer asked again if the socks were clean. The recruit mumbled an answer. The officer took the socks out of his mouth and said, "What did you say?" The recruit replied, "I don't know sir, they're not my socks."
Recruit graduation ceremonies are special, and we practiced passing in review several times a week during boot camp. As the recruit CPO my job was to whip my saber across my chest and pointing it toward the grandstand give the command, "Eyes right!" as we passed by the dignitaries in attendance. We were practicing one afternoon and it was my company's turn. When I gave the command "Eyes right" the saber flew out of my hand and clanked across the cement grinder. The chief in charge shouted over the loud speaker, "You shit-head, bring them around again!" All of San Diego now knew what my head was made of, and my company was mad because I had just put them last in the chow line. I had to eat humble pie.
Years later it was my duty as an instructor to represent the Service School Command at a recruit graduation. I was in full dress CPO uniform with medals and felt very good about my appearance and the occasion. The sight of that sea of white uniforms with one hundred companies marching in step almost brought tears to my eyes. The "eyes right" incident was just a faded memory and I felt good. I was seated next to a well-dressed woman, and making conversation I said, "Do you have a family member graduating?" She answered, "Yes." She then added she also had another son in the Navy. I said, "You must be very fond of the Navy." She replied, "Not really. I sent you a nice boy, and you sent me back an asshole." This was one of the few times in my life I was speechless.
© 2001 Maurice D. Karst
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