Mea Culpa, I Have Sinned - Part 2
The Navy Years. It's Not A Career, It's An Adventure!
Ray Levasseur (c) 1994, 1997, All rights reserved
Trial By Fire, The Military Years "Hey Chief, if I'm good, can I have a candy bar?"
Dad woke me up at 5 AM on that fateful February morning, "son wake up. It's time to go. You have a train to catch at 7 AM! Your mother put coffee on. Hurry up and shower. We'll be downstairs. So, this was really it, the day. Fear like a huge knot made my stomach ache.
It was beginning to snow heavilly as we left the house. Predictions were 18-24 inches of snow possible. Dad parked in the train depot lot, turned and gave me big hug, and kiss on the cheek, "we're proud of you, today you become a man." He had tears in his eyes, which was a very rare thing for Dad. He stuffed a $20 bill in my coat pocket, "for your first liberty during boot camp." He asked if I wanted him to wait with me until the train came, but I told him I'd be ok. He hugged me again, "you'll be in our prayers." Dad and I were never close, but after his car left the parking lot, I did cry for a minute.
When the train pulled into Boston's North Station, busses were waiting for all military recruits to be taken to the Boston Army Base for final processing prior to our flight to Chicago. At the base there was more poking, prodding and measurments, plus a lot of paperwork, then "swearing in" as property of the United States government. An announcement was made that all Navy recruits heading for Great Lakes Naval Training Center would be bussed to hotels for the evening due to Logan Airport being closed.
Lucky us, got to stay in a hotel at the edge of Boston's Combat Zone (adult entertainment district). I shared a room with 3 other guys that evening. We decided to "do the zone". This was my first time getting drunk....and get drunk I did! We made the rounds of strip peep shows, buying booze to take back to the rooms, plus a few guys chipped in to hire a couple of hookers for the night.
It was all a blur, there were doors connecting three of our rooms that were all open and the guys walked in and out taking their turns with the ladies of the night. In another bed a few guys were scratching each other's sexual itches. WOW! live non-stop porno show. I laid in my bed, too drunk to get sexually aroused, plus too Catholic to want to; I quietly passed out. Boy, is this was military life, I'd make it a career...I would get a rude awakening the next day.
At 7AM there was a loud pounding at our door, "rise and shine boys, all hands heave out and thrice up." I opened the door, facing me was a very big black Chief Petty officer, "c'mon hustle hustle, the bus leaves for Logan in 1 hour. OK pussies, the fun is over, you're in Uncle Sam's Navy now."
I wanted to die! This was the first time I had ever drank and had a hangover straight out of hell. We all bumped into each other, scrambling for the bathroom, gathering belongings, and sharing knowing glances about the prior evening.
The chief yelled from the outside as he walked along the hallway, "c'mon girls hustle, hustle, this ain't no picnic. You don't want to miss your flight girls and be written up as AWOL on your first day....do you?"
We scrambled downstairs to the waiting busses, which whisked us off to Logan Airport. This was the first time I was ever in a large airport, it was also my "first ever" flight in an airplane. The Salvation Army was there and gave us each a little care package, which included a Bible. Being a "sometimes" Catholic I had never read the Bible before.
The flight was uneventful. As I looked below the land was covered with snow all the way to Chicago, which had also gotten socked in by the same blizzard that blanketed Boston. Once the plane landed, more busses were waiting to transport us to Great Lakes Naval Training Center. It must have been 30 below zero with the wind chill factor as the busses entered the base, parked, and we were quickly herded from the Navy gray busses.
Most of boot camp was a blur (thank God), but the first week was filled with medical and other tests, more tests, shots, still more tests, more shots, every imaginable aptitude and psychological test, more shots....and on and on.
Boot Camp was Hell! But due to the off scale scores (or so the Navy shrinks told me) in IQ and aptitudes, I escaped the "grunt" part of Booth Camp. I was allowed to work in the broadcast studio on base and hung out in the radio shack during off hours. I got to spin records on my own recruit show, hand picked for "goodness" by the Chaplain's department; The Cowsills, Mantovani, Mitch Miller; all real drippy stuff. One time I found a neglected Bob Dylan record and got a reprimand for spinning it "on air", and subverting the malleable minds of recruits. "Mea Culpa", I repented and was allowed to continue spinning government sanctioned musical selections. I hungered to hear music I could enjoy. I was cut off from Billboard and other music trade journals while in Boot. This was part of the re-programming process; cut us off from the rest of the planet and feed us only what we needed to see and hear.
I may as well have been on a deep space station at the fringe of the solar system, that's how isolated they kept us. Church of your choice attendance was "mandatory" for all recruits; offering Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish worship services. Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, Tree Huggers and Satanists need not apply. The Catholic chaplain was a kindly, self effacing sort, a Father Mulcahey charactiture. His sermons were filled with love, grace and forgiveness and referred to us as "his boys, entrusted to him by God." He was such a warm fatherly figure I assumed he was a safe source to help get me out of the military. Having always been a strong willed kid, this intense programming and indoctrination was killing me. I was a person, not some disposable asset of the Pentagon. So after my dj shift was over, I grabbed the chaplain for a man to man chat. I was dredging up any excuse I could find for my unsuitability to continue military service. At each turn, his response was, "well my son, many have the same fears as you, it is normal. Everything will change after basic training and you will be a PROUD addition to the fleet."
He kept bringing up my 178 IQ, quick wit, lightning quick learning ability. It seemed I was like a rare gem to the brass and would get beaucoup training after boot, if I just trusted the Lord and was patient. I pulled the trump card, "but Father, I'm a bed wetter (a sure section 8) and feel strongly that I am a HOMOSEXUAL!" If this didn't get my discharge rolling nothing would! He mused over this, smiling his fatherly smile, "Ahhh a homosexual. NO! my son, that's what all the recruits that are bucking for Section 8's claim. I can see that you are not a homosexual (scratch that potential out) ; they would have caught that during pre-induction testing and psychological profiling here. Besides there are NO homosexuals in the Navy; not one!
I completed basic training, as the chaplain assured me I would and got my orders. I wanted assignment to Armed Forces Radio, COmmunications Tech school, but got 15 months of Digital Data Communications and Radar school instead. This would work to my advantage, although at the time I was very disappointed. After 2 weeks of leave I was shuffled off to Memphis, Tennessee first, San Diego to follow. During boot, the chaplain told us it was NOT a sin to miss Mass, it was more important where our heart was. The chaplain's department proclaimed many other liberalized messages; probably from the poisoning of Vatican II. All the sexual sins did remain at the Top 10 of the express train to Hell, But what a relief! actions had to follow thought, and you had to WANNA offend God for it to be rubber stamped as "SIN." I never intended for all my buried lustful feelings to be an affront to God's total goodness, so I was in the clear, "hey God, I had many many impure thoughts, but I didn't mean any offense, OK!"
Soon after settling in at Memphis, I quickly became close friends with two classmates, who I also shared a room with. Timmy was an Irish Catholic boy from South Boston and Goober was a compulsive masturbator, who came from a Tent Revival Baptist family in West Virginia. Goober often got drunk and was picked up by the shore patrol when he took his clothes off in local bars, and/or made a pass at the wrong woman. Timmy was just a plain rowdy Irish boy, who I spent many nights getting drunk with; on and off base, while discussing philosophy and Catholic digma.
Tim and I headed downtown and were stopped by a very happy and gay group of people, who invited us along for a truly "life changing" experience, plus a "FREE" fried chicken dinner. Free food! count me in!
We were just two Catholic boys from Yankee country and this revival stuff seemed totally foreign. Perhaps they were going to give us money, maybe shower us with gifts, maybe even fic us up with dates (where a sailor's mind usually dwelt). The possibilities seemed limitless, so after discussing it between ourselves, agreed this cheery group. as we made our way to a band shell and large tent set up in the park. There was a very animated guy in a polyester suit, racing back and forth across the stage, who called Timmy and I up to witness (witness?) to the gathered throng. The standing ovation was deafening as we made our way up to the microphone. The man warmly shook our hands, "boys boys BOYZ what a joyous day this is, praise the Lord." (the Lord, where does he figure into this?) After dispensing with formalities of where we hailed from, adding his own stab at dang Yankees, he asked us when we first discovered the Lord and were "saved." (saved? huh? what sort of talk is this?) I stepped up first, then Timmy affirming we were two GOOD Catholic boys (wrong answer). A hush fell over the crowd and the preacher went into this rabid, foaming at the mouth tirade about us serving the "beast", "the anti-christ", "repent....r-e-p-e-n-t!" At this point we both freaked and bolted from the band shell with him yelling after us to stop, we cannot escape our foul ways, the Lord would hunt us down and smite us dead, "dead, d-e-a-d, y'all he'ah. Repent of yo s-i-n-s and receive Chrahhhst!" Now some of the flock were chasing us through the park, him still bellowing out over the PA system for the faithful to bring us in to the Lord. There was a swimming pool set up in front of the stage, maybe they'd drown us, maybe our bodies would never be found. This was my first taste of "Southern" hospitality and revival meetings. They could smell a sucker (whoops I mean Sailor) miles upwind who was in need of conversion. Every time Timmy and I or other shipmates hit town, they were always ready to pounce; usually with an invitation for "free food" preceding the sermon. This experience troubled me enough to seek counsel with the Catholic chaplain on base. "So you found the Born Agains...or they found you", chuckling in amusement. "But Father, they said I'm going to hell because I'm Catholic. Is this true?" He gave a diplomatic reply, "NO NO my son, not at all. The Lord calls people through many channels. Some get lost of side tracked along the way. These people mean well, but you can get all the spiritual nourishment right here in the Catholic church." WHAT A RELIEF! I was not headed for Hell after all. After this, Timmy and some of the other guys would sit at the periphery of these revivals and heckle the preacher with loud and drunken "AMEN's" and "PRAISE DE LAWWDD's", which usually resulted in a angry crowd of saved goons chasing us for blocks.
One Saturday a group of us got spirited off the street into the Christian servicemen's center. We got chased off when one of my drunken Marine buddies spray painted "Green Stamps" under the "Jesus Saves" banner. Thus began my, "God can blow it out his ear", phase of my Christian walk. Timmy finished school and shipped out for duty in Hawaii. Two months later I got orders for further training in San Diego. Again I went home on leave and the folks proudly showed me off to all the relatives in my "full dress" (dress?) uniform. At church the priest asked me and other GI's in uniform to stand up for a special blessing, where we got sprinkled with Holy water. It didn't burn any holes in my uniform, so I guess I still belonged to Jesus. All the relatives commented on what a "proud figure" I cut in my dress whites.
My next stop was North Island Air Station in San Diego. This place was de-luxe in comparison to Memphis, Spanish Hacienda style buildings, with a heated Olympic size pool in the center courtyard. Real rooms with just one roommate, who I met that night. Chip was a big blond surfer boy from Hollywood. He had dropped out of UCLA and worked as an administrative assistant in education. Chip and I hit it off right from day one. I asked where he stood on religion. This was another "sore" topic with Chip, whose parents were not church goers, him being a self proclaimed atheist, "don't talk to me about that GOD stuff." He always got angry over any mention of God. Other than that, we got along on all fronts and drank, worked out, sunned, and generally hung out together.
just under the surface. This concludes "Part 1" of a 2-3 part series, "Mea Culpa". Part 2, "Surprises - A Turning Point" will follow when I have time to complete it, pending any complaints or negativity on Part 1.