Friday, January 22, 2010

Life Began After Graduation

I graduated from Garfield Hts High school in June of 1963. Many people questioned if that day would ever come for me. My grades were never very good. My prospects for a bright future were pretty much decided by others that there wouldn't be a bright future for me. I was told by many teachers, parents and friends that I was not college material. I was also told by my family and some of their friends that I was anti-social and will probably become a troubled adult. My dad asked me one day what I was going to do. I told him I could work at the White Motor Company like he did for the past 35 years. He killed that idea by telling me that I would come home crabby and dirty and that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between me and a “negro“ (not the exact word). Guess he was describing his view at the time. I then told him I wanted to be a bank teller and he killed that idea by asking me why I would want to grow up to be a “sissy” (not the exact word). As you see, it looked like I was destined to be nothing. I did have an alternative plan in mind, however, which was to join the navy and see the world. I have thought about doing it many times since I was in the ninth grade. I didn’t give it serious thought until several months before my graduation.

Shortly after graduation I decided to visit a navy recruiter. He had an easy sale because I had pretty much already made up my mind. I not only wanted to join the Navy but I also wanted to get as far away from home as possible. At that time there were two locations for navy boot camp. One was at Great Lakes Training Center just north of Chicago and the other in San Diego California. I told the recruiter I would join but only if he agreed to send me to San Diego. I felt this might be the only time I was holding all the cards. He told me it was closed because of a spinal meningitis scare. I said no problem; call me when it’s open again. That meeting pretty much started the ball rolling and it was just a matter of going home to wait it out. I wasn’t really sure if I would ever get called or if they would grant me my request. At the time I don’t think the navy was big on meeting your personal demands.

I spent the summer of 1963 boating and horsing around with about a dozen of my high school friends. We went fishing, hunting, and water skiing
We basically just spent time discussing what we were going to do with ourselves when we grew up. During the day I worked part time delivering dry cleaning for a local business. At night we drank beer and just hung out. August was our standard vacation month. We always traveled somewhere. I went on my last vacation with my parents. We drove to the east coast to visit their life long friends in Dorchester Massachusetts. Visited the very popular knitting mills, the city of Boston and passed by the navy submarine base in New London Connecticut. We then drove up to the port of Gloucester Maine. It was a rather enjoyable trip. I think it was because of the prospects of me doing something significant with my life in the very near future.

A day or so after we returned I got a call from the recruiter. He told me the San Diego base was open again and if I wanted the guarantee of being assigned to the base I must come in immediately to register. The next day I traveled to the Cleveland Federal Building for a preliminary registration, entrance exam and physical. During the exam I was told I had flat feet and had the potential to be rejected by the service. I remember expressing some concern and pleading my case that I wasn’t joining the Army and hoped that this would not prevent me from getting selected. I was planning on boating not marching. Then a medical examiner comes along and writes a big VD in black marker across my chest. Didn’t know exactly what that meant but I was the only one in the group to receive the mark. I figured this was going to be the deal killer for sure. I asked the medical examiner about it. Told him I was a bit concerned about his mark on my chest. I told him it was impossible for me to have a “venereal disease” as I have never ever had sex with anyone. Yes, in the sixties it was possible to be a seventeen year old male virgin. He laughed and said quit your worrying it just looks like you had some kind of damage to the groin as a kid. Sure enough I did. I was pumping up a very steep hill (Granger Road) on my bike and on the down stroke my bicycle chain broke. Big time OUCH! Without going into the excruciating details that is how I got VD written on my chest.

Several days later was told I passed all exams and was to report back to make it official. My dad had to sign for me because I was only seventeen and still considered a minor. He didn’t seem to have any reservations about it. I do remember getting support from both my mother and father that this was probably the right thing for me to do. His main worry was that I was going to start smoking and learn how to swear. He didn't know I already knew how to swear and the smoking was never considered. At that time nobody ever heard of the place called Viet Nam. Joining the service was considered a gutsy honorable thing to do. When you graduated from High school you generally had only a few options. Go to college, get married, get a job that didn't require much skill or join the military and get free training and see the world. It was a no brainer for me. My grades were not good enough for college, I didn't have a steady girl friend to marry and I didn't have a clue on the kind of job I would want. I just knew I needed to get away and do something good.

I took the navy oath of enlistment and my naval service was officially underway. The Enlistment oath was probably the first time I committed to something big and important.

I Douglas Frank Kasunic, do solemnly swear
that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States
against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States
and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to
regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

A group of about twenty five of us paraded out of the Federal building and into a chartered city bus. We were taken to Cleveland Hopkins airport and boarded a united airlines flight to San Diego via Los Angeles. It was my first flight ever and I loved it. It was probably the first flight for all of us recruits. I remember how excited we all were. We talked non stop all the way to California. Every thing that happened that day turned out to be nothing short of awesome. I remember how exciting it was as we were landing in Los Angeles and seeing a great big city all lit up as dusk was approaching. We then quickly boarded another flight to San Diego. A very short flight but also very exciting as we saw the San Diego harbor and wondered what was about to come. The many orange lights that dotted the landscape were impressive, majestic and intriguing. I remember thinking to myself that this is going to be great. I of coarse had no idea what so ever what was is store for us in our new life as United States Navy sailors.

Things rapidly changed the moment we departed the plane. Let’s just say it appeared the party was over. A military officer was there to greet us and quietly escorted us to our waiting grey navy school bus. The moment the bus doors closed. He started screaming orders on how to behave on the bus. He called us names like “little girls” and “sissies” and made it clear that we were in the navy now and have a lot to learn about how things work. No talking was allowed during that 15 minute bus ride to the naval base. Some how the San Diego landscape didn’t seem to have the same appeal it did just a few moments ago. For the first time I was contemplating if this was the right decision. I am sure everyone felt the same way. Some apprehensiveness started to quickly set in. My immediate thought was "guess what? too late now". I signed the papers and took the oath. You're in the navy now and they owned you. It was both scary and exciting. In some strange way the yelling and screaming made me feel relatively comfortable. I was yelled and screamed at for most for my life by my father who appeared to have given up on me long time ago. I saw joining the navy as an opportunity to prove him wrong and at the same time make something of myself. I think I actually enjoyed the barking of orders because for the first time in my life there was a reason for it. I was in the process of being stripped of all civilian beliefs and habits to become transformed into a structured disciplined military sailor. Looking back on this it is exactly what I needed to break free of my past dysfunctional family and start a structured new life that represented honor, commitment and courage.

After arriving at the naval base there was a brief indoctrination. We stood under a big sign that stated the following.

You are now men of the
The tradition of the service
Demands your utmost effort
Give it cheerfully and willingly

We met our company commanding officer. He made some comments that I will never forget. Boys you’re in the navy now and when you leave here you will be men of the United States Navy. Prepared to fight and die for your country if necessary. He made it crystal clear that the next nine weeks will be as close to Hell on earth as you can get. He said everyday by 8:00am you will have accomplished more then most people back home accomplish all day. He also promised us when the training was complete we would think more positively about ourselves then we ever have in our previous pitiful lives. He was right on both accounts. After a quick roll call we were assigned to a temporary barracks as it was approaching midnight. I remember thinking that it seemed like I was in the navy for weeks. In fact it was only fifteen hours. Shortly after we arrived in our barracks, an announcement came over the PA system that lights will be out in five minutes and that we are to get any sleep we can because 5:00AM comes early. It was to be a very busy seventeen hour day tomorrow. I clearly remember when those lights went out the sounds of eighty kids from all over the country spending there first night in the US navy. There was some short quiet laughter, some very quiet foul comments and some crying. Then there was complete silence. The silence told the whole story. I also remember feeling like I was going to throw up. The problem was we were told not to leave our bunks under any circumstances until reveille. I must have talked myself out of it for fear of failing to follow orders on day one. Found myself wondering for the second time if this just might have been a mistake. I also learned very quickly what it felt like to be homesick. I expected it but not on day one. I fell asleep frighten about my future and concerned about not being able to cut it. I was also very excited about the possibilities and proud I made it through day one.

My first reveille came as promised just five hours later at 5:00AM sharp. The trumpet played loudly, the bright lights click on and a mean scary voice was the first thing we heard blasting over the barracks loud speaker. “You have exactly fifteen minutes to make your bunk bed spotless, get cleaned up, dressed and report outside to muster DON’T BE LATE!” This is when we first learned the traditional navy term “hurry up and wait”. The sight of eighty young boys carrying out their first orders of the day was a sight to behold. It was quite chaotic but if I correctly recall, everyone made it on time.

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