The unobtrusive black and white photograph hanging among a menagerie of Navy memorabilia is a treasured memento. Muted evening shadows filtering through the den window, dance across the framed images giving them a lifelike aura that draws my attention. Somewhat melancholy, I ponder the familiar object for a few moments from my chair, then move closer… six decades have passed since it was captured by the simple click of some forgotten cameraman’s shutter. Though somewhat yellowed and torn on one corner, the caption in the bottom margin remains clearly legible:
Recruit Company 238
Company Cdr. E. P. De Cotes, BMC
U.S. Naval Training Center
San Diego, California
29 July 1948
Carefully straightening the simple wooden frame, I gaze warmly on the boyish faces and reminisce of what once was…
There are five rows of young men standing stiffly erect on planked bleachers. In the left foreground is the Company Guide, a black fellow from North Carolina. Alan Brooks, pleasant and well-mannered was assigned to the company from an administrative holding unit. He was a rarity, as it was still an era of few minorities being accepted for enlistment. Although we were all from the segregated South, I recall no racial animosity…in fact; there was more of an appreciative feeling for his uniqueness and contribution in representing the company as our flag-bearer.
The Recruit CPO was Dave Garmney. Dave, a serious type fellow, had ROTC training in college and was several years older than the rest of the company. Why he decided to dropout and enlist I have often wondered? Being enthralled in our first great adventure and the tempo of training, no one really had a chance for “whys” or close friendships. Garmney is standing adjacent to Chief Petty Officer Eaton De Cotes, our God and Company Commander. He is of average height and features, yet cuts an impressive figure in his eight gold-buttoned gabardine uniform. Chief De Cotes was multi-decorated, his heroism stemming from destroyer escort duty in the North Atlantic protecting Allied supply convoys from German U-boats and the Luftwaffe on the infamous “Murmansk Run” to Russia.
Our new Melton-cloth Dress Blues though yet untailored, sparkle in the bright California sun. White hats in every imaginable shape sit at weird angles atop shaved heads. The gentle Pacific breezes skew wrinkled neckerchiefs fresh from the bottom of sea bags. I vividly remember the enormous pride displayed wearing and showing off those new dress uniforms for the first time…
Being over six feet tall I am standing second from the left on the top bleacher tier. I chuckle at my immature features and the salty wings I had attempted to put in my hat. On my right is Jim Dent, a big goofy kid who still had all his baby-fat. At six-five, and 230, he was first squad-leader. During company inspections he would inevitably get anxiety attacks, stiffen, start to wobble, and pass out! I spent twelve-weeks trying to keep his face out of the asphalt…we survived.
Company 238 was formed at the District Recruiting Center, Jacksonville, Florida and sworn-in on the 28th day of June 1948. It was made up of sixty-seven youngsters of various ethnic backgrounds from the State. The Navy’s new experimental recruiting program of the time, offered three-year enlistments to high school graduates, guaranteeing each a service school of their choice if qualified. I was accepted for my first choice, the “Seabees related” Draftsman/Engineering Aide rating.
We were not a “cracker-jack” unit; not a single pennant was won during the three months of training! Yet, we were a solidly knit group and got along well, perhaps because we were all geographically connected. There were no drop outs, every man graduated and went on to technical schools or to the Fleet.
I crossed paths with only one of my fellow recruits in my thirty-year career. I had returned from Vietnam in 1968 to NTC Orlando for duty as Officer in Charge of Construction. My wife’s sister worked at the Orlando Postal Center and often spoke of her associate “Larry” who she was dating. After some twenty years, I recognized Larry Vaughn immediately…he was from St Pete and had gone into Aviation Ordnance. He got out after that enlistment. They later married…both have since passed.
Now for the “it’s a small world” clincher of this brief little mind dump! The year I was promoted to Chief Petty Officer the family and I visited mother in Jacksonville on Christmas leave. I brought her a recent cruise book and a copy of the above mentioned photograph. On opening the gift, she glanced briefly at the picture, started to thumb through the book, hesitated, then quickly brought the photo into focus. In perplexed surprise she gasped, “Well I’ll be diddly damn…Son, that Chief is old “Twinkle-toes De Cotes” himself! I haven’t seen Eaton since back in the twenties! We worked at the Roosevelt Hotel…I was waitressing in the coffee shop and he was a bellman. I think he was kind of sweet on me in those flapper days!” Pausing a moment still holding it at arms length; a distant wistful smile crossed her face, “That little shit could dance your fanny off!”
Mother always had a way with words…