Chapter 1

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

The temperature near Caledonia was hovering around 5 or 10 above and I found myself wondering what I was doing eating a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and some sticky beef and noodles from a mess kitt.  Of course if you didn’t slow down cutting cedars for posts you could strip to the waist and work up an appetite for this type food.  A couple of weeks ago I was in CCC camp 1720 at Bancroft, Iowa where I had worked up all the way from axe and saw man, through the blasting crew, small CAT operator to driving the gas and diesel truck to service the heavy equipment.  At least in the winter I could get into the cab now and then to warm up.  Well, they had noted my interest in Ham radio and asked me to take a transfer to Caledonia Minnesota to teach a class in radio/electronics.

I had in the back of my mind toying with the idea of joining the U.S. Navy but at this time, December 1940, it was not all that easy to get in.  The physical was quite stiff, (and I had a hernia received in falling off the back porch on a tricycle at age 4) and then there was a written exam of 100 questions plus some background checks, etc.  I finally hitchhiked to Mason City and took the exams and thanks to having some dental work done earlier, I did pass.

Of course I did not have the blessings of my mother and she was like most, reluctant to see me go for 6 years.  After receiving my notice of acceptance I reported to the Post Office building in Mason City at the recruiting office with a small group of others where we got our bus tickets to Des Moines.  We stayed in a hotel in Des Moines the night of January 2, 1941.  We reported to the recruiting office there the morning of the 3rd and were sworn in and began our trip to the U.S.  Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, Illinois.

We did visit a bit among ourselves and I learned that twin brothers Richard and Robert Leaman, Weiner, Jake Basgall who I knew from the CCC camp in Bancroft and some others were from the Mason City area.

Upon arriving in Great Lakes we were given a meal, marched to the clothing depot and issued our clothing.  This was more than welcome because I had not worn heavy enough clothes for the wind off  Lake Michigan in January.  We were assigned a large dormitory and were instructed on the care and use of a hammock.  Then after changing into the winter blues we marched to sick bay and were given blood tests and a shot.  They were sterilizing the blood withdrawal needles with a bunsen burner and they grabbed one from the hot end of the line which of course let a little puff of smoke rise from my arm upon insertion, whatta ya know, the guy behind me saw it and promptly fainted.  We were then marched to the barber shop and shorn like lambs.

The first night I pulled guard duty and was on shift at reville with instructions to yell as loud as I could to assure that everyone was awake.  Upon shouting they began rolling out of their hammocks and one man in particular literally rolled out, striking his head on the hardwood floor.  He was taken to the base hospital and I was later informed that he had died.

One of the endless rites of the Navy was the morning inspection at muster.  It was with great difficulty that I got ready for this first morning formation.  I say this because someone had stolen my razor and blades (GI issue) from my ditty bag.  I performed the rest of my toilet, didn’t have to worry about the hair, I had left it on the floor of the barber shop but upon standing in the cold for inspection I was told by Chief Martin who was our Company 3 commander that I needed a shave and was ordered to go and get a razor and stand in from the company in the cold and dry shave.  Now someone else was short a razor and I was to learn that the disappearance of such things was almost routine.

Picture to come Apprentice Seaman Lynn R. Forshee
(The white hat covers a nearly bald head)
Boot Camp, U.S. Naval Training Station
Great Lakes, Illinois.  January, 1941
Company 3
Chief Gunners Mate P.J. Martin, Company Commander

There were hours of close order drill, manual of arms with a rifle which if you made a big boo-boo you were required to sleep with the rifle in your hammock.

I soon found out you did  not need a calendar to know the day of the week as you could go by the menu.  Sea Gull for dinner, Sunday.  Baked beans and a bar of soap with syrup on it, Saturday morning and so on ad infinitum.

We had all the usual, knot tying, swimming classes, first aid, ship nomenclature so that we would not embarrass ourselves upon going aboard the first ship and talking about the walls, floor, ceiling doorways, etc.  It was from now on the bulkhead, deck, overhead and the hatchway.  Of course there was times when we could relax at the end of the day, Friday night was a Smoker of which I still have a hand bill proclaiming me as the great Fire Eater which got me out of the more physical exhibitions such as boxing, I had already lost a chip from a front tooth to boxing.  There was one fellow in particular with whom I became very good friends, John Anthony Kasselman who was one of the most accomplished Piano players I had known.  Johnny would have to hear a piece once, then he would sit down and put in his own variations, even to playing with an orange on the keyboard.  We took the Ell into Chicago a couple of times and roamed around North Clark a bit.  On one occasion I visited a school chum and sister of my good friends from Longville, Minnesota high school who was a nanny in Chicago.  Lola Englehart and at this writing two of her brothers I ran with were killed in the war and Ray, died of a heart attack.  I did have one leave which allowed me to return to Britt briefly and I remember Jennie leaving church upon hearing the steam whistle of the train and coming to the depot to see me off.

Finally it was time for us to test out for the trade schools some of us had applied for.  I was planning on going to Jacksonville Florida as I had scored a perfect on a 100 question test on mechanics and the internal combustion engine.  Mechanics and science was my forte and I had received first place in the all pupil testing for Iowa in high school and had 3rd place in Biology winning a trip to the university at Iowa City where I had met people who made arrangements for me to apply for a scholarship but of course that was all down the tube by now.

Johnny Kasselman and I had become quite close by this time and he wanted me to accompany him when he took the Morse code test to be a radio operator.  I went in with him and he and I were the only ones in the room that knew the code, the only requirement was to copy the dots and dashes while we were setting down the message.  Naturally we passed and as we set our sea bags in the hall the next day for marking for our destination we were bidding each other good bye and whatta ya know, they stenciled both our sea bags with “RADIO SCHOOL, U.S. NAVAL AIR STATION”  North Island, San Diego, CA.

Copyright ©2004-2007 Lynn R. Forshee.  All rights reserved.