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“A Letter From U.S. Naval Training Station Sampson, New York”
U. S. NAVAL TRAINING STATION SAMPSON. NEW YORK
"Stand by to give way together!"
As this order booms from. a loudspeaker system onhe docks, several hundred of us thousands of recruits at the U. S. Naval Training Station here at Sampson, New York, poise our oars in readiness to carry out the commands that will send our whale boats across the waters of Lake Seneca.
"Give way together."
Hundreds of oars dip in unison and as our craft head toward the gently sloping hills that come down to meet the opposite shore we are off on our first tour of duty afloat as bluejackets in Uncle Sam's Navy.
Behind us in the drill halls and on the parade grounds that form a part of the Regimental Areas of the second largest and most modern Naval Training Station in the world lie several weeks of intense work at close order drill, long hours of instruction in swimming, "Judo" tactics, seamanship and Naval Courtesy, and seemingly endless days on mess and work details.
Before us, as our boats head inshore, lie still more weeks of physical hardening, instruction in small arms and gunnery, ship's nomenclature, watch standing, marlinspike seamanship and studies that will condition us to take our places as fighting men with the fleet.
Throughout our training here we learn to live with other men and become more useful members of society. From the day we arrive as somewhat bedraggled civilians until the day we leave as trim, determined sailors ready to continue our training at Service Schools or, to take our places as Seamen Second Class, with the fleet, we are filled with a fighting spirit that will enable us to bring this war to a victorious conclusion.
When we came aboard "Sampson", we were a more or less unhappy lot. The trip, on a crowded troop train, was not conducive to high spirits, but the good natured taunts of welcoming "salts" who had been through the mill just a few days before, added humor to the situation.
"You'll be sorry," they warned gleefully. "You'll be sorry."
And, though I hate to admit it, I think that for a while we were a little sorry, because standing in line, filling out various and sundry forms, undergoing a rigid physical examination and receiving the first three of the several immunizing "shots" that are administered to us during our stay here proved a tiring process. Then, too, shedding our civilian clothing for the last time made us feel that we were losing our contact with the outside world.
However, when at the successful conclusion of our physical examination a friendly Pharmacist's Mate led us to one side with the comment, "You're in, brother," we took heart and felt good all over.. We had made the grade.
Here at Sampson) which is a good three hundred miles from the nearest salt water, it's a little hard, at first, to realize that the Navy is really going to make sailors of us. Within a short while, though, the fact becomes apparent, because we start to follow ship routine as soon as we hit the barracks.
"When you joined the Navy, you wanted to fight America's enemies right away," our Regimental Commander told us in a welcoming lecture. "That's because you are red blooded Americans. But fighting a war is not merely rolling up your sleeves and saying, "Let me at 'em.' You must know how to fight along-side of your fellow Americans; you must learn to fight as a team. You must learn how to use the weapons you are going to fight with, and above all, you must learn how to take care of yourself."
And that's just what we set about to do as we started our training by learning how to wash our own clothes, make up our own bunks and keep our clothing and gear in order.
Each barracks, to us, is a ship, and those of us who live in it are the crew. We are told that the structure, which houses more than two hundred of us in orderly rows of double deck bunks, is as important to the government as any small ship afloat. Therefore, we are responsible for its safety, and must stand watches aboard it the same as we would aboard ship.
The Security Watch guards the front door, head, dormitory, rear door and other spots where danger of fire or sabotage exists.
"And don't think that danger of sabotage does not exist here," we are warned. "Somebody might get aboard and cause a lot of trouble. It's your job to prevent any such possibility."
So, guided by our general orders and by whatever special orders are issued by the Regimental Commander, we carry on just as if we were in a combat zone.
Reveille is sounded at 0545 (5:45 a.m. to you land-lubbers). That means hit the deck—and hit it fast. The day of turning off the alarm clock just to gain another forty winks has gone by. Yes—it's hit the deck—and get ready to do a hard day's work—a day's work that includes, among other things, plenty of close order drill. Close order drill is just another term for marching. We'll probably do very little marching aboard ship-but drill of this nature accustoms us to following commands quickly. Furthermore, it enables our officers to get us from one spot to another in an orderly fashion.
So, it's "Hep, two, three, four. To the rear—Harch, Hep, two, three, four. By the right flank Harch," and "Company Halt!" Hour after hour, day after day, we march back and forth, across and around our Regimental Drill Field, a quarter mile by two hundred yard plot of grass that is surrounded by barracks, drill hall, mess hall and Ship's Service Store. At first, we were a pretty clumsy, ragged looking bunch of fellows, and the cadence of our marching feet didn't correspond very well with the count that was being called by apprentice petty officers who were selected to help the Company Commander, a Chief Petty Officer, maintain discipline. Within a week or two, though, we march like veterans, and the tramp of feet is even as we carry out commands with snap and precision.
Calisthenics and other types of drill designed to strengthen us for the duties that lie ahead take up a good deal of our time. The Manual of Arms and Butts Manual are more interesting, in a way, than some others, because in these phases of our work we acquire the feel of a rifle.
At the command "Right shoulder—arms" we carry our pieces from. their order arms position to their resting places on our right shoulders. Then, at the command, "Present—arms," we bring them to the prescribed position in front of us. "Parade Rest", "Port Arms", and other orders are given us in swift sequence with a view to quickening our wits. "Come on. Sailor, clown on your belly. Dig your heels into the deck. Now, start firing—quick. That Jap isn't going to wait for you to fire first." Our instructor in the use of small arms seems impatient as he comments on the manner in which we drop from an "Off Hand" to a prone position at the sound of simulated machine gun fire.
"Remember. Five rounds is all you have in your rifle. Don't fire any more," he warns.
Thus, in a realistic manner, do we get instruction in the use of rifles as we fire "dry", bringing the target into the sights of our pieces.
Earlier instruction in classrooms had made us familiar with our arms) and we had learned to adjust the slings which help us to fire more accurately. Later, on the same day, we fired the pieces with live ammunition, endeavoring to get a good score.
We are going to be sailors. Therefore, subjects which deal with the sea prove most interesting to all of us.
Marlinspike Seamanship, Deck Seamanship, Boat Drill, Ship's Nomenclature, and kindred instruction, find us intent on learning all that we can.
Classes in these subjects are usually conducted by Chief Petty Officers who are veterans of past wars, and by others who have been seasoned by more recent campaigns in the Coral Sea, in the North Atlantic, and at other points. Through them we begin to learn something of boats and ships, how they operate and the various duties we will have to perform when we finally go to sea.
It doesn't take us long to find out that there's more to a ship than we had ever imagined. Take, for instance, the subject of anchors which is a part of our course in Deck Seamanship. Anchors, from the lay point of view, are nothing more than two pronged affairs that are cast overside when the captain of a ship wishes to keep his craft in one place.
Actually, bringing a ship to anchor is an art that requires a great deal of knowledge. When and how to lower, where to anchor and other operations are involved.
Marlinspike Seamanship, which deals with tying knots, is taught to us in the Rigging Loft of our Drill Hall. Here, with the aid of Jack Stays, we learn how to tie the eighteen basic knots we must know in order to graduate from Recruit Training. Included among them are the simple over-hand knot with which all of us have been familiar since early boyhood, the square knot, a simple affair, and the Longshoreman's Bend. Some of the others are figure eight, clove hitch, single becket bend, double becket bend, marline hitch, round turn and two half hitches, cat's paw, bowline and anchors bend.
The Rigging Loft serves as a classroom for other subjects, too, for located in it are the binnacle, compass, diagrams of battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers and cruisers. Other charts, cutaways and models serve to give us a clear picture of what our future work will be like.
Swimming, introduced during World World I as compulsory training in the Navy by President Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, is a sport in which non-swimmers indulge very frequently, for they must be able to navigate fifty yards of deep water before they graduate.
Instruction is given in a large pool which is built at one end of the drill hall. Here, under the guidance of experts, we go through the floundering stage in shallow water, progressing to deeper water, and finally to diving and jumping off high boards.
Instruction in life saving, going over the side in life jackets and improvising life saving equipment by letting air into our hats or trousers' legs, are only a part of the course which will enable us to save our own lives and the lives of others in the event of disaster at sea.
We aren't going to be Commandos in any sense of the word, but, should the occasion arise, we are going to be capable of taking care of ourselves. The Navy is making dead sure of this point, and to emphasize the fact has established a course of instruction in hand-to-hand combat, otherwise known as "Judo". At this point in our training we become two-fisted, slugging, though wily, fighters, taught to counter every trick that the Jap or Hun. has in his bag—plus a few that he hasn't yet learned. This stage of our Navy career starts easily enough with a series of lectures. Chief specialists, some of whom are professional wrestlers, tell us about the various holds and demonstrate their effectiveness.
"It's kill or be killed," they inform us in the first lecture. "You aren't a bunch of kids any more, so from here in we're going to treat you as men—men who are going to have to take it." The instruction periods in this phase of our training cover four major topics. They are: a description of the vital points of the body—points where it is possible through the application of pressure to disable or kill a man,—body locks as applied from both front and rear, how to lead prisoners, and defense against knives and pistols. Worked in. is information concerning the most effective ways of applying kicks and various and sundry methods of strangling attackers. The training in this field is very broad and covers techniques picked up by our Marines in struggles with the Japs, the best tricks taken from Yank Levy's repertoire, and the most useful of those employed by our own Commandos.
Tying in with our "Judo" is the workout that we get on the Commando Run which is somewhat more than half a mile long. Running at top speed, we first hit a maze of upright logs through which we must weave in high gear. Then we slip and slide down a fifty-foot ravine where we hit a cargo net which hang from the top of a bridge. It's up and over this and down the other side, where we must jump over series of logs that are set in our paths. Beyond are six or eight three-foot hurdles which we must take in stride before coming to a six-foot wall over which we climb. A ladder, stretched horizontally across a body of water, must be taken hand over hand—or else it's in the "drink" for the fellow who doesn't make it. Before reaching the final stretch, we have to climb up a slippery, precipitous clay bank. The home stretch is a hundred yards of level track alone which we sprint to reach the final goal. ***************************
They call it "K. P." (Kitchen Police) in the Army. We call it mess detail in the Navy, however, and every recruit is assigned to it for a "week as part of his training. During this period we take turns at many of the tasks involved in preparing and serving food to the five thousand recruits who eat each of their meals in the Mess Hall.
Part of our time is spent in swabbing the decks, while at another time we may be assigned to the spud locker. Peeling potatoes ain't what it used to be, I'll admit, because we have machines that make a fairly good job of it. The only trouble is that they haven't devised a method for cutting the eyes out and it's our job to perform this task.
In addition, we stand a trick at serving and another at washing dishes.
It's usually a fourteen-hour day on this duty, and the chances are that we gripe about it once in a while.
On the other hand, it gives us an opportunity to learn just how our "chow" is prepared. We had wondered about that, because the food here is so good.
Breakfast, for example, might consist of fruit, scrambled eggs, cereal, coffee and bread and butter, while lunch boasts soup, roast veal, potatoes, fresh vegetables, gravy, salad, milk, bread and butter and pie for dessert. Supper the same day might be soup, baked ham, potatoes, string beans, salad, cocoa, bread and butter, and ice cream and cake for dessert.
Serving on mess detail gives us an insight into the problems involved in feeding such a large group. The huge galley, with its modern equipment, is always kept spotlessly clean, and the numerous refrigerators, in which are stored the perishable articles, are cleared out daily.
The Navy offers many worth-while opportunities for specialized training. Not only will this training fit us to perform our duties more efficiently, but it will prepare us to take up well-paying work once we return to civilian life.
Among the many Service Schools scattered throughout the country are those offering training which will lead to ratings as Radio Operators, Machinist's Mates, Yeomen, Aviation Machinist's Mates, Cooks and Bakers, Dental Technicians, Parachute Riggers and Storekeepers.
Here, at Sampson, we are given a number of aptitude tests to determine our ability to handle any of these jobs. These tests are in mathematics, English, spelling, radio ability, mechanical ability and general intelligence.
After the tests, a squad of forty interviewers give work lectures in which the various jobs, and the requirements for each are described. Men with a background in music, we are told, will make out well at sound school because they have an acute sense of hearing which will help them to distinguish between various signals.
Following the lectures, we are given an opportunity to talk to a vocational guidance expert who, taking into consideration our educational and occupational background, assigns us as nearly as possible to the type of duty we most desire.
It's not all work and sweat here, though, for we have a very fine entertainment program which is conducted by the Welfare and Recreation Department.
With Sullivan Auditorium, a theatre of modern design boasting a seating capacity of 2,000, as the point from which emanate most of our recreational activities, we are offered diversion for nearly every evening of the week.
While Sullivan is the spot where all feature attractions, such as the latest movies, USO and road shows are given, a great deal of fun is provided within our own areas. "Happy Hours", which take place at least one night each week within our own unit, provide a novel form of amusement. During these affairs amateur entertainers from our own companies take a hand and provide us with trumpet solos, piano solos, and other acts, while a portion of the Station Band provides proper atmosphere.
Until you've attended a "Happy Hour", you haven't seen anything, for here is as good a place as any to see how quickly we have acquired a true sense of loyalty.
When a performer from Company 301, for example, mounts the stage in the center of the Drill Hall, members of his own company give him a good hand.
If he's a good performer, the applause accorded his act is tremendous. If he's nervous or if his act isn't quite up to par, the roof comes off the building and the applause lasts until he returns to render an encore. The applause is genuinely friendly with a total absence of jeering. We really try to put the fellow at ease and give him another chance.
If you are looking for morale—here's where you'll find it to the nth degree—for each of us takes extreme pride in our own company, our own battalion and our own unit. In addition to "Happy Hours", Welfare and Recreation sponsor smokers and such athletic activities as boxing and wrestling—so that none of us ever has to suffer an idle moment. Welfare and Recreation are indebted, though, to Ship's Service, for it is this department that provides a large portion of the funds that make possible the
facilities for these activities.
Ship's Service, incidentally, operates the tailor shop, cobbler shop, laundry, and other services that are made available to us here at Sampson, services that are as numerous as any found in our largest cities. Ship's Service Stores, of which there are nine, dot the 2000-acre tract that is Sampson. All of them are of modern design and house, in addition to the stores, themselves, bowling alleys, the equal of which are hard to find anywhere, cafeterias, barber shops, libraries and other facilities.
Stocked, and sold to us at very moderate prices, are candy, jewelry, tobacco products, stationery, toilet articles, and many goods that are handled by the biggest and best department stores.
We spend a good deal of our off time at Ship's Service. In a sense, it plays the same role in our lives that the old-time country store did in the lives of rural folk of a bygone era, for here we gather to discuss events of the day, bowl a few strings, play the "Juke Box" and, at times, jive with one another.
United States sailors take their religion seriously, and the Navy has provided ample facilities for worship here at Sampson. There are twenty-two chaplains on the station, twelve of whom are Protestant, nine Catholic, and one Jewish.
Two chapels, one Protestant and the other Catholic, provide facilities for some of the services, but our Drill Halls are generally used for the purpose, each being equipped with an altar.
The Chaplains, in addition to conducting morning and special services, help us with our personal problems. Whenever we find ourselves troubled spiritually, or whenever up against obstacles that seem insurmountable, we find the Chaplain a sympathetic listener and confidant who will "go to bat" for us.
Sampson, which is named after Rear Admiral William Thomas Sampson, hero of the Battle of Santiago in the Spanish-American War, is a large community. As a matter of fact, it is a city within itself, boasting a population larger than many of the surrounding cities.
Rising over night from the farm land along the eastern shore of forty-two-mile long Seneca Lake, the Station now has the same facilities as any large community and functions in somewhat the same manner. Well-paved roads connect the various units and bus lines provide transportation to distant portions of the base.
Built at a cost of $50,000,000, the station has a modern lighting system, sewage-disposal system and several miles of water main. In addition, a fire department, up-to-date in every respect, stands alert to answer every alarm.
A 1,500 -bed hospital, which is one of the finest in the country, is equipped with the latest surgical instruments, X-Ray facilities and other mechanical aids to surgery and medicine. Furthermore, dispensaries are located in each of the units throughout the area. Dental facilities, too, are abundant.
The Station has its own law enforcement agency which operates under the Provost Marshal. Shore Patrol, Seaman Guards, Civilian Police and the Legal Department, which is maintained to help us with our legal problems and to assist in the orderly process of law, all come under his direction.
Captain Harry A. Badt, U. S. N., Commandant of the Station, took over his present tour of duty after having served his country in the Navy ashore and afloat.
Prior to coming here, Captain Badt had charge of the organization of three new Naval Training Stations, then under construction at Sampson, Bainbridge, Maryland, and Farragut, Idaho.
A graduate of the Naval Academy in the class of 1908, Captain Badt served six and a half years at sea before he took a post-graduate course in engineering at the Academy, and later received his Master of Science Engineering degree from Columbia University.
He took his first full command afloat as Commanding Officer of the destroyer U.S.S. Simpson, operating in European waters. From there he alternated between duty afloat and ashore, with such shore assignments as Executive Officer of the Electrical Engineering Department at the Naval Academy; Chief of Staff, Mine Force, U. S. Fleet; Director of Navy Recruiting; Director of Enlisted Personnel; and was later assigned to the Navy War College.
His most recent command afloat was as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Tuscaloosa, from 1938 to 1940, during which time he cruised more than 70,000 miles.
Our Executive Officer, Captain William B. Coleman, entered the Naval Service during World War I and became a Reserve Officer. So thoroughly did he apply himself that he was able to qualify by competitive examination for a permanent commission in the regular Navy. He has since become one of the youngest men to have been selected for the rank of Captain.
From 1919 to 1926, Captain Coleman was on destroyer duty and later was assigned to the battleship California, then to the light cruiser U.S.S. Richmond, and his first full command was as Commanding Officer of the destroyer U. S. S. King in 1935.
From 1939 to 1941 he was commanding officer of the U. S. S. Bushnell. From January, 1941, to July, 1942, he was Executive Officer of the U. S. S. Portland, which saw considerable action in the Pacific.
Captain Coleman's shore assignments include the Twelfth Naval District Headquarters; Aide to the Commandant, Fifteenth Naval District, and a tour at the Naval Training Station, San Diego, California.
Commander John M. Melsaac, USN, Recruit Training Officer, who has charge of setting up and supervising training activities, was assigned to this Station from action in the Pacific.
So, we were going to be sorry?
Well, maybe, but not for long. Right now we're filled with pride to think that we are going to play an active part in this war. Working shoulder to shoulder with men from all walks of life, preparing to take part in the most important job any of us has ever undertaken, has been an experience that we wouldn't swap for anything in the world.
The first command we obeyed on duty afloat was:
"Stand by to give way together!"
It won't be long before many of us will be answering to:
"Man your battle stations!"
When that order is given we'll all be in there pitching—pitching to bring the four freedoms to a world that has been trampled on by ruthless aggressors. And when we do man our battle stations, we'll be doing it with the same spirit that we applauded our mates at "Happy Hour"—and doing our job more efficiently because of the fine basic training that we received here.