Remembering D-Day: My World War II Experiences in the Navy
Editor’s Note: Clifford Reeves passed away April 6, 2015 at age 89. The following memoirs were read during his funeral service, a poignant reminder of that “Greatest Generation” of American heroes.
My military experience began at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, and went as follows...
After being logged in and given a serial number that would be our permanent identification number, we were immediately sent to get our first haircut. The barbers were friendly and asked what kind of a cut we would like -- after they ran the clippers down the center of our heads.
Next we were assembled in a large room where we were told to take off all our civilian clothes that we arrived in and put them in a box to send them home in. There we were, naked as a jay bird, when the commanding officer told us to line up for a physical, and I mean physical.
They checked places I didn’t even know I had. After that we were issued our Navy uniforms. From our skivvies right on up to our Navy coat that was called a pea coat. I am still trying to figure out why they called it that. Later on when we were in combat, some got so scared they wet their pants but their pea coats stayed dry. They also gave us a large canvas bag that was called a seabag, to put our clothes in and a much smaller bar bag for our personal gear, such as soap, razor, tooth paste and so on. This they called a dittie bag.
Later that same day we were assigned to our barracks and met the Chief Petty Officer that would transform us from land lubbers to seamen. The first thing he told us was to forget our first names. Everyone was called by their last name and the title “Mr.” was a thing of the past for us, but when you talk to an officer you better remember to say “Mr.” to him or get ready to do extra duty. I know that we were still in the United States, but the language sure became foreign.
The Chief assigned us to bunks that were three high. When he called our names he would say “your bunk is on the starboard side” or “on the port side” of the building. Then he said to put our gear in the lockers that were along the bulkhead, “That’s ‘wall’ to you landlubbers.” The doors became hatches, the ceiling was the overhead, the halls were companion ways. Don’t ask me why but the toilet area was called the “head.”
I thought if I joined the Navy I would not have to march and do close order drills like the army -- makes sense doesn’t it? Wrong! We marched on the drill fields, we marched to the mess hall, we marched to the rifle range and where ever they wanted us to go. I might add that many of the drills were in double time. I don’t know what the hurry was because we always had to stand and wait after arrival.
Those of us who survived boot camp went on to serve in the regular Navy and were placed where ever the greatest need was at the time. I was sent to Norfolk, Virginia for combat training -- you know, climbing walls, running obstacle courses under fire, crawling on your stomach through a muddy field with miles of barbed wire everywhere. (Crawling under barbed wire really teaches you to stay low).