Part III


In peacetime, both U.S. Naval Academy and NROTC cadets spent their summer ‘vacations’ afloat on a Naval vessel, usually a capital ship such as a battleship. This practice was modified in wartime, since the Navy’s capital ships were engaged in higher priority tasks than training. Shortly after being called to active duty, our NROTC unit spent two weeks at the U.S. Navy Section Base at Terminal Island, assigning as many cadets as possible to Naval patrol vessels guarding the approaches to Los Angeles Harbor. I was assigned, for one week, along with about a dozen other carets, to the USS AMETHYST, a 150 foot power cruiser, previously a private yacht, but now converted to a Navy coastal patrol vessel, with guns, depth charges, and fire control and communication facilities. For most of us, this was our first experience at sea. We took a lot of good-natured kidding from the regular crew, who pulled all the standard Navy gags on new recruits: sent us looking for Charlie Noble (which was Navy slang for a smoke stack), and left-handed monkey wrenches. I fell for ‘Charlie Noble’ but not the left-handed monkey wrench. Some of us didn’t fare too well with the large sea swells just outside the harbor, and were happy to get back on solid ground. Following the week of sea duty, the next week was spent in various training courses held at the Section Base. This included aircraft and warship recognition studies, simulated firing of anti-aircraft guns against attacking aircraft, and lectures on various related subjects. We were now beginning to feet like real ‘salts.’

We also participated in a day cruise on a large sailing schooner to Catalina Island, where we received indoctrination underway on the basics of sailing. We anchored near the Isthmus for lunch, and afterwards were assembled in the large saloon by the captain, Kenneth Watts (later a well-known local sailmaker), who gave us a lecture on sailing and seamanship. Having just finished lunch, and with the vessel gently rolling at anchor, I was starting to doze off, but still awake enough to hoar captain Watts say,

“Wake that guy up.”

I immediately opened my eyes, looked up, and said,

“Just resting my eyes, sir.”

(Years later, when I was having a cocktail aboard Kenny Watt’s 43 sloop, PROTEGE, while we were both members of Los Angeles Yacht Club, I recalled this incident to him. He said he remembered it, and thought I had a pretty good response to his admonition, but that I didn’t fool him one bit – he knew was at least half asleep.)

Since we were now on active duty, the Navy was responsible for feeding, housing, and paying us. We received the “$21 a day, once a month” authorized for Apprentice Seamen, and Privates First Class in the Army and Marines. We now had a medical doctor and dentist assigned to our Naval Unit. Several rooms in the Library Building had been converted to a Sick Bay and examination area. All of the NROTC cadets were required to take new physical examinations now that we were on active duty. The medical doctor, Capt. Joseph R. Phelps, USN (Retired), had just been ordered back to active duty, but in spite of this, appeared to be enjoying himself. The examination area, formerly a reading area of the library, was located adjacent to, and on the same level as, the main walkway between the Library Building and Rerchoff Hall, and had very heavy traffic of students walking by. It had large windows, not yet curtained or screened, and you could clearly see the students walking by, as they, I am sure, could clearly see anyone in the examination area. Capt. Phelps had us all stripped to our ankles, standing in line for the assembly line examination being carried out by himself and several medical corpsmen as his assistants. One of the NROTC cadets (I think it was Chuck Young), after having been ordered to turn his head to one side, and cough, during the usual hernia examination, complained that girls were walking by and looking in at him. The Captain replied, casually,

“Well, if they’ve seen one before, it won’t make any difference, and if they haven’t, they won’t know what it is – so stop worrying about it.”

The Navy had contracted with most of the fraternity houses and suitable dormitories at UCLA, to provide for Navy housing, and had taken over the Cafe in Kerchoff Hall and converted it into a mess hall for the NROTC and V-12 personnel. The fraternity houses were used to house sailors from the Navy’s V-12 program, a back-up program to the NROTC, requiring less training, but eventually leading to a Navy commission. A large women’s dormitory, at 1020 Glendon Avenue, Westwood Village, was taken over for all the NROTC cadets, and renamed Riney Hall, for a former UCLA NROTC graduate who had been killed earlier in the war. This would be our home until we received our commissions, or were ‘washed out’ and sent to boot camp in San Diego, to be real Apprentice Seamen. Four men were assigned to rooms that previously had been used by one or two women. Each room contained two double bunks, a closet and a wash basin.

We were assigned rooms alphabetically, so my roommates were Howard McCreery, ‘E.J.’ McGovern, and Joseph Bernard McNeill, Jr. I barely knew any of them. During our two weeks training at Terminal Island, I had met and gotten to know Pat Doheny quite we1l. I didn’t know then that Doheny Drive in Beverly Hills was named for his family, who lived there in a chateau-like mansion, named ‘Greystone,’ now a city landmark. Pat was very unenthusiastic about his assigned roommates, but knew Joe McNeill and me, and wanted to be in our room. He approached ‘E.J.’ McGovern, apparently making him a financial offer that he couldn’t refuse. This resulted in ‘E.J.’ and Pat swapping rooms. Somehow the records were changed to reflect this change, and since no one questioned it: it became a fait accompli.

The four of us got along pretty well. I say “pretty well” because with four persons packed into that small room, having to study on our bunks for lack of desks, and with the pressures that were on us, it was a real test of our abilities to get along with each other. All of us had our different personalities. Howard McCreery was very outgoing, a Chemistry major and very smart. He would usually finish his NROTC class exams early and then make a lot of noise exiting the room, to the discouragement of others who were nowhere near being finished. Joe McNeill was the serious, quiet type, who at one time had considered becoming a priest. But he had a good sense of humor. Except for an occasional funny comment or observation, you wouldn’t know he was in the room. Pat Doheny was less serious, also had a good sense of humor, but had less patience than the rest of us. If he didn’t comprehend something he was studying, he was apt to cuss out the author for being so stupid and unclear.

Because of my ham radio experience and proficiency with Morse code, the NROTC staff were happy to assign me the task of teaching the code to the rest of the NROTC cadets. I sat at a desk at the front of the classroom and operated a telegraph key and buzzer, starting out slowly, and gradually increasing speed as the course proceeded. It was the custom during our various NROTC classes that cadets were supposed to be seated first and, when the officer-instructor entered the room, all cadets stood up at attention. Then the officer would say “carry on,” and the cadets would be seated. On the days that we had code practice, which was given at the beginning of a regular class period, I used to time my entrance so that I was the last cadet to enter, and nearly always got all of the cadets to jump to attention as I opened the door and entered. I would say, gruffly, “Carry on,” and then sit down at the officer’s desk and start the code practice session. I devised another way of getting the attention of the class: instead of the “Carry on” bit, as I entered, I would unobtrusively hit the bottom edge of the opening door with the side of the heel of my shoe, making a loud bang, and at the same time, jerking my head back as though it was my nose that struck the door. I would put my hand to my nose and then withdraw it to check for blood. This only worked a few times, in spite of my varying the routine, to add, after checking my nose for blood, in a slow, W.C. Fields’ drawl, “Well, well, imagine that. No damage.”