Monday, November 09, 2015

Taken the first week of OCS
in anticipation of making it
through the 18 weeks.
Early Navy years…

I flew into Newport, RI on 19 May 1963. I was ready. It was a Sunday and we were to report the  next day. The recruiting office in Pittsburgh had set up our transportation and accommodations. There were two other guys flying with me, one from Pitt and the other from Duquesne. As it turned out, our names were alphabetically close, K, L, M. We not only were in the same company of 24 men, we were roommates.

Navy OCS in 1963 was straight out of  WWII with wood barracks...which were also like our classrooms: two story structures with porches (we called them weather decks) surrounding them on both stories. Right across the bay, a nest of Navy ships including the carrier USS Essex.  This would be home for the next 18 weeks.

I will spare my readers  details except to say that there were a couple of remarkable items that I will share. First, my class was small, as classes go; about 280 of us. The mix was about one third former enlisted who were seeking a commission after either going to college some place or direct commission because they were E-7 (Chief Petty Officer) or above. Another third were professionals (lawyers, civil engineers, pharmacists, supply types, medical specialists, but not doctors or dentists, and those heading to nuclear power school, etc.) The final third were guys like grads, some recent and some who had been out for a while. We would be the “ship drivers” or eligible for command at sea. It was an older, more experienced group who were really, really smart. As a result the academics were more competitive, but the military side was less “chicken” than it might have been if we were all recent grads. The old salts referred to us, albeit affectionately, as “college girls.”   We had alums from most of the Ivy League schools and major universities from around the country. So I did not feel badly that I ended  in the middle of the class academically.

The other item was that by chance I ran into a former fraternity brother who was going to Navy Justice School to become the legal officer of his squadron. He was a pilot and already in for two years. Fast forward two and a half years and he was shot down over North Vietnam and was a POW for over 7 years. I remember him stopping our section coming over to me and getting into my face saying, “Lutz, what the hell are you doing here?” He was a Lt(jg)...big stuff to us. He retired after 30 years as a Captain. We are still in touch today.

On 20 September 1963 I flew home in my Navy blues with orders in hand headed for the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) with a ten week stop in Philadelphia for Damage Control and Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) defense school. The stop over was significant because Philly was just two hours from Joe and Shirley, Greg, Jane and now Carolyn. They were now in Gettysburg in a new, much more spacious house.

As that fall progressed, I made the trip from Philly to Gettysburg every weekend...a couple of those weeks Aleene came over from Indiana by bus...just couldn’t keep us apart. On one particular weekend, I was getting in my car after class on a Friday to drive to Gettysburg to meet Aleene. It was her 20th birthday the day before (November 21). As I was pulling my things together we got the news that Kennedy had been killed. That didn’t change our plans, but I recall spending most of the time together glued to the TV as the news covered the event with little interruption for other programming. It was November 22, 1963.

Greg was 8, Jane 6 and Carolyn just 4 months old. We got to reconnect once again. J&S would get the kids ready for bed and take off for the evening and allow us love birds to be alone. Jane says they would sneak out of bed and look down stairs  to see if we were kissing. We probably were.

We had it good. Aleene’s folks did not hassel her at all about our get togethers for she was, after all, visiting her aunt and uncle. We had been dating for over two years at this point.

The week after Kennedy’s assassination was the Army-Navy game which he had been scheduled to be played  in Philadelphia. I scored some tickets from the USO and got a chance to see Roger Staubach play the last game of his junior year. This was the year he won the Heisman.

I took leave and flew home after the final week of class. It would be the last chance to see Aleene. Back then, active duty military could fly standby for half fare if you were in uniform. It was not uncommon to score a first-class ticket for half price of coach. This was before the airlines were deregulated and planes were rarely full.
The week before Christmas, we said good-bye. I flew back to Philly, picked up my car and started driving south. I was due onboard Roosevelt when she reached Mayport, Florida on 22 December. Rosie had been in the shipyard in Brooklyn, New York since June. I made one trip from Philly to the yard to see her one week. A sailor in my DC class was stationed on Roosevelt and he showed me the way. She was enroute to Mayport when I was doing my travel, so I got to meet her when she got into her home port.

Roosevelt was a big ship, almost 1,000 feet long and 60 feet from the waterline to the flight deck. When she came sailing in the St. John’s River I was parked on the pier and my heart was racing, I am sure. I was smart enough to let the ship tie up and sailors disembark so that I would not be caught in the mass of bodies. By the time I reported aboard nobody seemed to care about a new ensign...but the fact remained...where was I going to sleep?

Post card circa 1963

It just so happened that the OOD (Officer of the Deck) was a Lt.Cdr (the person in charge of things in port) whom I had met in Philly. He was going to catapult school and was going aboard as the Cat Officer. He was an aviator...nice guy, who befriended me when he heard I was going to Rosie. I learned then the Navy is a small community and you never know who you might run in to.

Cdr Shuman left Rosie about the time I did in 1965 and joined a squadron headed to Vietnam. He was shot down in 1967 and spent five years in the “Hanoi Hilton” with my fraternity brother Wendell Alcorn whom I have already mentioned twice in this and other blogs. Small community, indeed.

Roosevelt was the new Navy to me. It was Christmas leave time and the ship had been in the yards for 9 months. Things were so laid back I just came and went as I pleased...I had no room, no job, no boss...just a vague attachment to the Engineering Department because I had been through Damage Control School. All that changed in a week or so. People started returning and I got assigned permanently to a room and to a job.

But this is about my family life not Navy details.

Shortly after New Years, we got underway for the Caribbean for what is called Underway Training. We were in and out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba….just when Castro shut the water off to the base there. Gitmo, as it is called, is a beautiful spot. The Officer’s Club is built on a bluff overlooking the ocean...just like you would imagine a stately antebellum plantation home might look. It was my first exposure to both life at sea, exotic ports (San Juan, Montego Bay, Culebra) and aviators..

I was the junior person/watch stander in the department, so I had to wait my turn for leave when we got back in mid-March. We were headed to the Med for nine months the end of April. The plan was for me to leave my car with Joe and Shirley while I was overseas. I had to get it from Florida to Gettysburg, so I drove 20 hours non-stop in early April just to see Aleene. This time, after a stop over in Gettysburg, I flew to New Castle to see Mother and my sweetie-pie.

Mom had sold the house, barn and three acres to Mr. Rentz (New Castle News). So when I got there, the carpets were rolled up and Jim and Dave were getting the garage with tractor and other farm items ready for sale later in the month. In that atmosphere on April 13, 1964 Aleene and I sat alone in the living room of the old house and I asked her to marry me. (We had been ring shopping the previous day. I was not about to try to pick one out on the fly.) Her answer is still etched in my memory: “You know I will.”

My car was already in Gettysburg so I hopped a flight in Pittsburgh and flew back to Jacksonville...taking with me the excitement of a new adventure and a heavy heart...leaving my true love behind.

From the first of May until mid October it was all Navy, all the time. Suddenly, things changed. One of the blades of our number one (we had four) fell off. Significant because those props weigh 20 tons and once out of balance, they shake the beejeebers out of the ship. So we locked the shaft that prop was on and headed for New York and the drydock at Bayonne, NJ. We were scheduled to be in dry dock seven days. It took a week to ship a suitable prop by rail from Bremerton, Washington to Bayonne.

The ship was put on 72 hour port and starboard liberty...meaning...half the ship could be gone for three days, then the other half could be gone...I got the second liberty so there was time to know who...for yet another hook-up in Gettysburg. I flew to Harrisburg where I met Shirley driving my car and together we went to the bus station in Gettysburg to pick up Aleene. It was there we put the finishing touches on our wedding.

By mail we had agreed to get married during her semester break in January. I had set the wheels in motion to ensure I could get two weeks leave at that time. It was not difficult because I was fully qualified by this time to take watches for others during the the Holiday season. Our wedding date was set for Saturday, January 23, 1965.

During the summer Aleene (now betrothed) got my car from Joe and Shirley so she could have it for her student teaching. So we had wheels in New Castle ready to go.

I got home on January 20...just in time to get a marriage license three days before our wedding. Much to my pleasant surprise Aleene and her mom had the wedding all planned and ready to go. On Friday evening we had rehearsal at Faith Baptist Church in Harlansburg. Brother Dave was the marrying preacher, Joe was my best man, Brother Jim sang and our vocal instructor/church organist, Edwin Lewis played. Aleene’s two brothers were ushers.

Faith Baptist was a very small church...intimate is perhaps is a better term. It was candle-lit and beautiful...Joe, Dave and I held hands outside the door of the sanctuary and had a prayer...very moving and, well, it must have blessed our marriage….

First "selfie" with my 35 mm
in a HoJo in Northern Florida

We took a week to drive to Florida for our honeymoon…but in the end, with great sadness, I put her on a plane to fly home...I went to sea.

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