by Lynn Forshee
The train trip to California was quite exciting at first and then boredom set in. The scenery was great, first time I had seen anything like that. The food in the dining car which we paid for with chits was a welcome relief from the Navy chow. We got off in a few places to stretch our legs and buy a candy bar or something and when time permitted we walked around a bit a short way from the station. I did recall that in the movies they often referred to porters as “george”. The first time I called one George I felt he was going to throw me off the train. Sure was sensitive.
The trip took the best part of three days and I still recall the aroma of getting off in San Diego and the way the air felt. This coming out of a Chicago lakeshore winter, pack the pea coat in the bottom of the sea bag and forget it. The station where we got off was right on Broadway, not very far from the Navy pier where we were to board the “Nickel Snatcher” for North Island Naval Air Station. Broadway being the main drag in San Diego. Now we had a new aroma, the ocean, the nickel snatcher, so named for the 5 cent fare soon deposited us at the dock and we carried our gear up to our assigned barracks, barracks, man it was all concrete, Spanish style architecture and the compound was a rectangle, two story dorms with bunks so too, store the hammocks away. Our dorm was across from the mess hall and to the left end was the administration building, to the right was sick bay and the dental offices, I’ll address this subject in more depth later on. There was a large swimming pool at that end of the compound also.
Classes continued in firearms, along with our reason for being there which was Aviation Radio School, Morse code, theory of AC and DC circuits, electric motors, batteries and many related subjects plus typing and of course printing the code as we copied it by hand, I have lost all ability to write longhand because of that.
There was a luncheon truck that would stop at the school which was right down near the dock and I found the ham and cheese sandwiches and chocolate milk to be quite a treat. On one occasion we saw Martha Raye and some other stars walking by the classroom as they were filming a Navy movie on location there. Class broke up quite quickly. Another day class was out due to a mishap in the air over North Island, some marines had been parachuting out of a DC3 and one man had fouled his chute on the tail and was being drug around in the sky for quite some time. Finally a couple of Chiefs who were APs (aviation pilots, enlisted men) jumped into a Stearman open cockpit, 2 place plane and went up. After a few tries they managed to pull up under the man in the tangled chute who was dangling head down. The rear seat man pulled him down and quickly cut the shroud lines on his chute holding his head and shoulders in the cockpit thereby saving his life. It was rumored that the two heroes, McCandlass was one, can’t recall the other, were given a medal and afterwards court martialed for taking the plane without permission or possibly against orders. Never knew for sure how much truth was involved though as by this time in my short career I had learned that “scuttlebut” was all too common in the service. Scuttlebut so named because that is where you heard most of it, the scuttlebut being the water fountain.
At liberty call there were the usual money lenders waiting by the door, “five for ten payday” was heard quite often and that is what it was, 100 percent interest. I tried to hold my libertys down to what I could afford but I did splurge one Friday night. At inspection that morning the Captain came down the line and stopped after passing me, turned around and came back, gave me the eye up and down and apparently had the impression that they had given me far too much material in my uniform. In most places the uniform as issued was sacred and not to be messed with. After a few seconds he advised me that there was a place just off Broadway called “MAX the naval tailors”. That night I made a beeline straight for good old Max and told him that I didn’t know what he wanted but that the captain had sent me. Well, I’ll tell you it was a bit lighter than when I last saw it. The jumper no longer tied under the arm pits to blouse over to just below my waist. No blouse at all, it just ended at the waist and was so tight I had to wriggle into it. Now the pants were a bit different also. They too were snug and I think he used a lot of the material he cut out to enlarge the bottoms, real bell bottoms, man was I a cool dude. Little did I know that upon reported to my next assignment I would be told that dress blues were to be regulation as issued. Yup, a different captain from a different navy. Well, I outsmarted them, I had two sets of dress blues after that.
San Diego was really quite pleasant, warm days with excellent tanning possibilities and cool nights making for good sleeping and a blanket felt good, that is if you had one. I went down to the enclosure behind the dorm to retrieve my blanket after washing and drying. Guess what, someone had drawn “midnight smallstores” on me. Well, Johnny said, I told you how to work it, so I went down and returned with 2 blankets. Now, lets get back to the dental situation, I had my teeth worked on before I enlisted in order to make sure nothing held me back and was assured they were in fine shape, ditto in boot camp and now more ditto. A dentist named Frates worked me over twice a week and at the last sitting, he said “open wide” and he stood back and looked at my mouth and said, sailor, that is the worst job I have ever done” that after literally burning the inside of my cheeks from drilling so fast he got the teeth hot enough to do that, I departed with no small reading of his pedigree and mention of his maternal parent. All under my breath of course.
Weekends were quite welcome with trips to Balboa Park Zoo and out to beach for the roller coaster etc. One weekend I got a hop in one of the PBYs which were stationed there and another time I checked out a sailboat and a young instructor took me out in the bay. He gave me the thumbs up so that I could now check one out and go solo. The days at North Island were drawing to a close and Johnny and I were sent to the Submarine base just a short way from there while awaiting transportation to our next assignment which was to be Bombing Squadron Five. We were looking forward to this with much anticipation but also hated the thought of leaving the sub base as the food was really great. The captain himself would dress in dungarees for a disguise and go through the chow line and if something wasn’t right, you could hear him all over the chow hall. If captain Mack asked for a little more meat or wasn’t given his choice of potatoes, woe to that unlucky mess cook.
I did have the opportunity to visit Hank Bergman of Britt who was with an Army unit over across the bay at Point Loma. We were laughing at a fellow with a kingsize hangover and an equally king size tattoo. Of course I hid my small anchor on my left forearm which was a memento of Chicago.