Thursday, November 03, 2011

Navy OCS - 1963

Note: My Navy Officer Candidate School experience was published in the Nov/Dec issue of the “Tin Can Sailor.” It has been modified here for non-Navy readers to better understand the acronyms and slang expressions.

Codington College of Nautical Knowledge is what we kiddingly called OCS (Officer Candidate School) as we studied like never before; all us recent college grads. It was a shock to the system for us college kids and something that had to be tolerated for those among us from the fleet; our group had both.

Class 64-1, consisted of 288 young men; a mix of college grads, enlisted men (mainly Chief Petty Officers who were to become Limited Duty Officers), and a handful of former enlisted personnel who had just graduated from four-year universities. What that meant was that as much as the staff Drill Instructors who were tasked with whipping us into shape in 16 weeks also had some of their enlisted counterparts in our ranks to match wits with. This class would not be easy for the DIs to manipulate since there was too much experience sprinkled in. That was all to our advantage as it turned out.

In 1963, OCS was still using the WWII style two story, wooden living quarters that had big wrap around “weather decks” (a porch) on two sides. Ours consisted of eight, four-man rooms consisting of two bunk beds, four lockers and four study desks made of plywood. We wore Officer Type Uniforms from start to finish, which had only recently changed. Previously, half the training time was spent in dungarees and the other half in OTUs. Oh yes, there were very few mornings that summer that we did not wear P-coats when we assembled for breakfast at 0600; it was that cold. They told us Newport, RI had two seasons: winter and the Fourth of July.

NAVOCS, then, consisted of six classes: Navigation, Operations, Orientation, Weapons, Seamanship, and Engineering. The curriculum was grueling. We memorized everything from the International Phonetic Alphabet to flag hoists; from a star fire shell to Mk. 1 Mod. 2 torpedo; from NSFO to JP-5; from a Corpen turn to screen reorientation using Rum and Coke; we had to know the difference between a compass rose and parallel rulers and of course, how to use them. We spent endless hours plotting courses on big Mercator projection charts. We were force fed the Navy-way in four months.

From a practical standpoint we visited USS The Sullivans (DD 537), USS Wasp (of WWII fame) and USS Wilkinson (DL-5) from time to time when they were alongside the piers at Newport Naval Station. From those visits we learned the difference between a DD, a CVS and a DL. We also, some of us, learned for the first time that there was a characteristic smell of Navy ships, that combination of black oil, recirculated air from spaces above and below the main deck, and the odors of food, coffee and cigarette smoke. Ah yes, an odor I have never forgotten.

Half way through our training, we became the “senior battalion” and rated liberty on Saturday afternoons through Sunday at colors (if our grades warranted it), but the best perk was that we were allowed to frequent the Datum (officer’s club) for Sunday evening chow where we paid $2.50 for their all you can eat “beefeater special.”

The former enlisted sailors among us assumed the leadership positions within our Batt initially, but we “college types” began to venture into the fray as time went on.
We were up at 0530 a.m., ate, did some PT and were in class by 0800 where we stayed until noon. We then resumed studies after lunch from 1300 to 1600. Most afternoons we either played sports, got shots, drilled using WWI vintage Springfield rifles with the firing mechanisms removed. Once we shot targets with .22 caliber hand guns mounted on .45 caliber frames. We swam, we sank the USS Buttercup (a damage control trainer) several times until we finally kept her afloat and we attended Divine Services if that was our custom. We seriously tried to maneuver electronic blips representing ships in the BZ Trainer (which got its name from the Navy term Bravo Zulu meaning well done,) a forerunner of modern day video simulators. Little did we know then that this form of training would catch on. But above all we learned teamwork from Pass In Review on the Grinder (drill field) every Saturday morning, to Field Daying (Navy talk for cleaning) the barracks on Friday nights.

Each evening we had enforced study from 1900 until 2200 when we observed taps, meaning we went to bed at 10:00 p.m. My class had holiday routine three times (other than Sundays) that summer. We observed Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. We learned from our first experience in May not to be caught outside at noon while the fleet saluting battery was rendering a 21 gun salute at the rate of one round a minute. That was a long time to stand at attention and hold a good salute.

About a month before graduation we got orders to our first duty station and it made us realize that we were, in fact, going to the fleet. Some went to large combatants like cruisers or aircraft carriers, anphibs, or shore stations, but the lucky ones (we found out later) drew Destroyers. Tin Cans (slang for destroyer,) we were told, were the way to get on the fast track career path for those with an interest in a Navy career. But those of us who joined the Navy as reserves were only looking forward to commissioning as Ensign and serving three years and moving on.

My orders were to USS F. D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), an aircraft carrier, with a ten-week stop in Philadelphia at the Damage Control Training Center. I was going to be a snipe (in the Engineering Department.) The Rosie was in New York Naval Ship Yard (Brooklyn) and was headed to Mayport, Florida where I would meet her in late December. I was stoked.

We finished our training and were sworn in with our orders in hand and our commissions signed by the Secretary of the Navy. Two months later our Commander in Chief (President Kennedy) was dead and the somber reality of life, death and service set in.

I enjoyed my two years in Roosevelt. I served under some outstanding officers and tried to be the best Division Officer I could for my 180 men serving in Boiler Division. I learned many life lessons.

My Destroyer experience was limited to spending some time in USS Luce (DLG-7) as a Damage Control and Engineering casualty observer. The skipper (Commanding Officer) tried his best to make a destroyer sailor out of me. He invited me up to the bridge on several occasions while I rode Luce for those 10 days. “Take the Con, Mr. Lutz, and see what it is like to drive a good ship,” he joked, but I was intent on fulfilling my three-year obligation and getting on with civilian life. I often have thought what my life would have been like had I accepted orders as Chief Engineer on a Can.

I later returned to NDCTC as a staff instructor just in time for the arrival of our first child. Two years ashore in Philly was another valuable experience, but Vietnam was heating up when I left active duty in 1967 and I never looked back.

What I learned at Codington Point, RI, in Roosevelt, Luce and my tour ashore was no kidding matter and has served me in good stead over the years. Besides, I had a chance to serve our nation with some outstanding people, both officer and enlisted. My Naval service is part of who I am.


Bob kosheff said...

Wow! Brought back lots of memories. I graduated 11/22/63-the day pres Kennedy was shot. Went on to become a "staff puke" a comm watch officer on comseventhflt staff aboard the Oklahoma City out of Yokuska Japan. Followed that with a year at a shore based comm station in Thurso, Scotland. Writing this on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy assassination. Also the day I became a Navy Ensign.

Tom said...

Thanks for your service, Bob...and for visiting Pappy's Blog. You must have bee in the 64-2 class. By late November I was in Philly waiting for Damage Control school to be over when Kennedy was shot. A sad day indeed.

All the best...

Anonymous said...

You should read the new book on Navy OCS: Honor. Courage. Commitment.