Happy Navy Birthday!

Thirty-seven years ago today I left home and landed in San Diego to start my Navy career. It had to be a bit of the cosmos smiling on me that I happened to arrive on the very day that the Navy also celebrates its Birthday. 

Looking back at it, I was very – very – young, having just turned 18 less than a month before. As I recall, I was the youngest person in our Company (81-944), but it was a chance to get out and become a US Navy sailor, my dream for years.

Basic Training was sometimes an adventure; sometimes scary; sometimes silly.

A few snippets from my recall:

  • Day One at the R&O Building… EMC(SS) Heisey (at that point I had no idea who he was) sitting behind the table asking for volunteers to play in the Drum & Bugle Corps asking me if I “am a beater or a blower?” I had no idea what he was talking about.

  • R&O Outfitting. We were there to get fitted for our first uniforms and this little Phillipino 1st Class was screaming at us. He kept saying that we were going to not get lunch and that we’d better get our “shit together.” Other than that, nobody could understand a word he was shouting. We got our uniforms and lunch.

  • Thanksgiving Day. I had the roving watch for the Division, so for the only time in Basic, I ate dinner without the rest of the Company. I recall it being pleasant as nobody was yelling at us to get moving.

  • The second day I was there, we arrived for chow (lunch) and they had beautiful steaks and potatoes. It was magnificent. Also, there was an Admiral there, talking to us about the Navy Birthday. The next day we were back to Grinder Bird and green eggs. The lesson I learned was that whenever the food was really good, there’s Brass about – watch your ass.

  • The running. I have always liked to run, but I am slow… I can go forever, at a good pace, but for some reason when we went to the final run (2.25 miles, 18 minutes), our pacesetter really took off. I thought I was going to die after the second lap. As we finished that lap, Chief Heisey stopped us on the track and chewed out the pace guy while we stood there with the clock ticking. With a better pace being set, we finished it pretty easily.

  • Gas Chambers, firefighting, all the fun – but super important stuff – was amazing. It would come in handy later.

  • Being a Drill Company, we skipped Service week for drill training. Then we ended up in a four-way tie on Olympics Day, ultimately winning on a tug-o-war playoff. This embarrassed Chief Heisey, because, apparently, Drill Companies are full of “fat asses” who should not be winning Olympics Day. So we got a CC Marching Party outside the Barracks where he went out of his way to point out every person in the companies personal failure to live down to his standards. I can still hear him shout “Billet 11.” My proud and victorious reply, “Dirtbag Bowman, sir!”

  • Being sent to a SEAL Night marching Party because my last name started with “B.” Yep, not enough people were getting their chits pulled or screwing up, so Chief Heisey started to send us to Marching Party on an alphabetical basis. It actually wasn’t that bad. We passed the Marching Party as by that point we were pretty much in great shape. The guys who were early in the training didn’t do so well. My good friend Ken Weil was way down the list, and he was not happy about it. At least he didn’t have to go on SEAL night.

  • Cheating on the eye exam for the Submarine physical. I was scared I would bomb it, so when the Corpsman stepped out for a minute to talk to somebody, I got up and memorized the Eye Chart. I passed. Still can’t see it.

  • Graduation was a blur. Mainly because I went to four of them as a member of the Drum & Bugle Corps. So mine doesn’t particularly stand out in my mind, except for having liberty that night. Having pizza and a real bed at a hotel.

  • The morning we left, Chief Heisy telling us not to call him “Sir” anymore. We were now Sailors, part of the brotherhood and off to the real adventure. For me, it was Submarine School in New London. We left San Diego on Tuesday, December 15th at 0730. It was 75 degrees. Landed in New York City that evening. It was a blizzard…

Happy Birthday, US Navy and Thank you for everything you have done for me!


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