I was the Master at Arms in my Bootcamp Company at this time back in 1973.
Bootcamp in San Diego CA. At the NTC (Naval Training Command). Where I first came across Bill Brandon – but that’s another story – which I covered here.
Being the Master at Arms meant that my job was to police the barracks with my early-early-early morning crew of about 15 or so (this was a long time ago) to go get chow (breakfast) early-early-early somewhere around dark-thirty – before the rest of the Company awoke – so that my crew would clean the barracks (home away from home) while the rest of the company got chow at the mess hall (dining facilities) at the NTC – before they would go off and do bootcamp things.
I can’t tell you what they did – because I was never with them. I was back at the barracks.
We were on Worm Island – where one spent the first half of bootcamp before getting off that “island” and moving to where-I-don’t-remember.
I was back at the barracks awaiting The Daily Inspection.
Inspections where I was often asked to crawl under each row of racks (beds) and pop up after wiping the deck (floor) clean under 75 racks (beds) to demonstrate how clean the deck (floor) was or wasn’t. If it wasn’t clean we were given demerits to run off each evening – running laps with rifles held overhead on the grinder (parade ground) before lights-off (beddy-bye time) to catch some zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzs (sleep).
The work my crew did or didn’t do meant we either ran laps each evening, or we didn’t.
Of course a Company could get demerits for a whole range of offenses – such as having a piece of lint in your pocket – thanks to the laundry service combined with one’s inability to remove it before an Inspection. We were punished as a group, as a team, as a Company.
All 74 (or whatever number we had). Count ’em. This is number that remained after we started…
Rewards were simply the absence of punishments. All very temporary – those Rewards – because if a Company went without demerits for too long – that simply meant the inspectors weren’t looking hard enough – and they would triple their efforts.
All in the name of team building, you understand. Roger? Roger that.
That black kid is behind me in this photo above. I forget his name. But he is central to my story as he taught me a very useful, valuable lesson – a lesson that paid off BIG TIME for me when I got to my ship a couple of months later.
I’ll get to that lesson when I get to it.
Back in September 2019 another friend from my Navy experience, a black kid (we were all kids back then) came to visit me here in North Carolina and spent a few days with me.
We had re-connected the prior month after not having any contact since October 1975 when I got out of the Navy and went home right after a hernia operation – and he was on Leave when I left.
We had been sure that he would be back before I was to be released from Balboa Naval Hospital – but I had talked the doctors into letting me out a couple of days early – and my brother who had been in San Diego killing time, waiting on me – staying with some of my shipmates who had an apartment – drove me and my motorcycle back to Lawrence KS in his pickup truck with a camper – to restart my life as a civilian.
I finally found him, Mike, online after years of searching every once-in-a-while. He lives in Houston.
Here we are, Mike and me, on the Blue Ridge Parkway after visiting Mount Mitchell (the tallest peak each of the Mississippi River in all of North America) on our way to Asheville NC (the garden spot in all of NC from my limited/Yankee perspective) to dine at Curate – a tapas restaurant that my wife and I favor when in Asheville. I bought his dinner.
Like Austin TX, Asheville is weird – in a good way.
Mike and I went to Bootcamp Part 2 – as if Part 1 wasn’t enough.
All of the A-Schools we signed up for were full – even though our test scores before entering theoretically enabled us to pick where we wanted to go and we’d go there. Unless it was booked – the lying Navy recruiters with quotas to fill – neglected to mention. So we went to Part 2 – another 2.5 weeks of more Bootcamp fun.
The 1st black kid – another officer in my company – ranking just below me as a squad leader – as I was one of the top 3 – not the top – but near the top – introduced me to Mike right after we had learned who was leaving NTC and who was staying, by saying, “He’s cool.”
I understood the coded language immediately.
For an instance from weeks earlier popped immediately into my head, where someone on the early-early-too-damn-early crew had called the 1st back kid, who was on that crew with me, “boy.”
His response was memorable, “There’s only two kinds of boys. Cowboys … and White Boys.”
I laughed so hard – doubling over (maybe you had to have been there for weeks and weeks).
And then I punished the hell out of the one name-calling kid severely, with the worst tasks on the early-early-too-damn-early crew that we had.
He complained in front of everyone and I let him have it verbally again, that if I ever heard his racist bullshit again – he’d be sorrier than he was at the moment. But I said it all in “sailor talk.” Mixed with language perhaps that I had learned working construction for 7 of my last 8 summers. Salty, as they say.
And I went on and on. Saying things that I couldn’t tell Gary DePaul in his Podcast where I told another tale from my time in the USN. This story is NSFW. And I was being deliberately demonstrative.
So when Black Kid #1 told Black Kid #2 that this White Boy was “cool” – I knew where that all came from.
So I went to Bootcamp Part 2 – another 2.5 weeks of hell – if you know what I mean – and if you didn’t go to bootcamp yourself – you can only imagine. Mike and I served as officers in that 2nd Bootcamp Company as well. Where we bonded.
Then we went our ways – temporarily – Mike to the USS Okinawa and I back to KC for some Leave. And after 10 days of Leave I too went to the USS Okinawa where I joined the Deck Force. And Mike and I decided to get an apartment in Long Beach where our ship was in dry dock, and a very miserable place to be during working hours, and even worse on our own free time.
After a month or so in the Deck Force I was ordered to see my Division Officer – the day after he had threatened me for insubordination – and I had threatened him and his career right back, by saying, “Sure, sir, send me to Captain’s Mast. I’m sure he’d like to hear all about this Petty Officer who has shown up at 7 am each day, totally drunk, for over a month. And no one seems to want to address it.”
So I was sure I was about to have the BOOM lowered, as in the mast, matey … but just figuratively.
He had my personnel records in front of him and he wanted to discuss my college experience and my classes in Radio-TV-Film at KU – the University of Kansas, where’d I’d gone to school for 3 semesters before running out of funds. My VW engine blew just before starting that 3rd semester taking some of my limited funds – leading me to drop out after that 3rd semester, losing my school deferment, and I ended up being drafted with my draft number a lowly 84 … out of 366.
Yeah. 366. It was a Leap Year – that year of my birth – as one of my grade school friends had a 366 as his draft number and called me that evening to brag.
So my father heard that I’d gotten that Draft Notice, and he talked me into joining the Navy – along with a recruiter by his side who knew all the lies to tell a kid holding his Draft Notice.
After an awkward exchange, my Division Officer told me that I was being considered for DINFOS – the A-School for Journalists – one of my choices back in bootcamp that was too full for me to attend. I think he was happy to see me go – after the exchange from the day before. DINFOS where many famous people had gone – including Adrian Cronauer – who was played by Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam.
After more awkward talk, he sent me straightaway to see the Department head who chit-chatted with me before sending me off to see the MAA (Master At Arms) on the ship – otherwise known as The Sherriff – on a US Naval Warship.
So I ran the gauntlet and arrived in the MAA office – where Mike worked as the MAA’s Yeoman. The MAA told me that he was considering recommending me to the XO (Executive Officer), to attend DINFOS – the Department of Defense Information School – in the NE suburbs of Indianapolis for both the Print and Broadcast Journalism schools.
Near the end of THAT conversation the MAA told me that I owed everything to Mike who had been bold enough to speak up when he had overheard the MAA talking with the XO about a new CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) System, and they didn’t want to take just anyone that the school might send them.
Mike had said, “Sir, excuse me, sir. But you might consider sending Seaman Apprentice Wallace, as he already has Radio-TV-Film courses from the University of Kansas.”
So I went next to see the XO – 2nd in command of the ship – who decided to send me off to DINFOS for reasons that I explain in the Podcast I did with friend and colleague Gary DePaul that we recorded in early January 2021 and that Gary posted on February 2nd – here.
Months after getting back to the ship after my A-School, when the Captain of the USS Okinawa said to me, after watching me work at running the XO’s CCTV one day, “Son, you have the best job on my ship,” I simply nodded and said, “Sir, yes sir.” Because the Old Man was right. Maybe that’s why he was The Captain. ;)
I had been taken off the Deck Force – and having one of the worst jobs on the ship – to having THE BEST JOB on a ship with 600 sailors and 2400 Marines.
And I owe it all to that one moment – because I laughed out loud – before lol was a thing – when I first heard the phrase, “There’s only two kinds of boys. Cowboys … and White Boys.”
I still chuckle when I think back on that scene from bootcamp, 48 years ago.
But again, maybe you just had to have been there – for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks ….
These are some of my thoughts during the middle of this year’s Black History Month.
And how I owe that one black kid, whose name neither Mike nor I can remember, although I remember him very clearly and what he taught me. And what Mike taught me.
To be bold. And stand up for people.
Because Karma is watching.