Quartermaster School

Finally I was shipped to Newport, Rhode Island for three months at the Quartermaster School. Here, we learned the essential tools of our trade; all about charts (not “maps” ever in the Navy) and how to care for them and keep them up to date from the “Notice to Mariners.” We learned about compasses, magnetic variation and deviation, course plotting, and a bit about celestial navigation. We learned how to signal using Morse code and blinker lights, with semaphore flags, and with flag hoists. We learned a lot more about Naval tradition, the proper way to fly the National Ensign and the Union Jack. We learned to use a range finder, a pelorus, and a plotting board; and we learned to identify airplanes; at least we learned to identify American, British, and German planes. We never got to the Japanese planes. We could calculate the time of sunrise and sunset, take a noon sight, etc. We had both “book learning” with written tests, and practical training on mocked-up ship’s bridges. We were also learning how to speak “Navy-talk” which involves a mixture of salty expressions with numerous four-letter words!

Our Company had a “Drill Sergeant” who had spent 6 years in the Marines before joining the Navy proper (the Marine Corps is part of the Navy). He made us slog through the sand-dunes and the boondocks outside of Newport, and he also taught us how to march “Marine Style.” Every Saturday morning the entire base had a competitive inspection and marching review. After the first few weeks, our Company won the marching competition week after week. We lifted our arms and legs higher, we slapped our sides harder and we had our own distinctive “parade rest” position. Our Drill Sergeant, at the proper moment, while standing in front of the reviewing stand, would yell out “By the half-ass—Parade Rest!” He was good for our morale, and he did a fine job.

At QM school there were no bunks; we learned how to sleep in hammocks. Each night we would “sling” our hammocks between two strong pipe rails about five feet above the “deck” (never the floor), and about 12 feet apart. Ropes connecting the hammock to the rail were pulled very tight so that the hammock was quite flat, with little sag. Our sea-bags and smaller “ditty-bags” were also hung from the rails. A third rail, above the hammocks, was used to swing up into the “sack.”

While at the QM school we were asked for volunteers for the submarine service; and not having learned my lesson, I volunteered. We were put through a battery of tests for swimming, holding breath, submarine escape, etc. However, it turned out (fortunately) that I was too tall for the submarine service.

During the three months at Newport we had no leave, but did get Saturday liberty starting at noon, every other week. There wasn’t all that much to do in Newport. Consequently we tended to visit bars where we were welcome. As a result, I learned to like beer—I can still remember the taste of my first glass!

Because it was OK to return from liberty after “lights-out,” we would normally sling the hammocks for those who were not yet back in the barracks. We learned which guys would be apt to drink too much, and would hang buckets from their hammocks. Also, there were a few obnoxious members of our group; and on occasion their hammocks would be slung for them, but would be attached to the rails with weak string. When said obnoxious member returned to the dark barracks, and swung up into his hammock, the string would break with proper effect!

One week-end Mom, Dad, and Anne drove up to see me for a couple of hours. Another weekend, three of my high-school buddies, who had now graduated from High School, came up to Newport and we spent the afternoon together. And I wrote a few letters to Collie—and she answered them!

When we completed our three-month stint, we were duly graduated. The top half of the class were promoted to “Third Class Quartermasters” (QM3/c). The rest were promoted to “Seaman First Class”; and we all had a raise in pay. Right after graduation, our orders were posted on the bulletin board. Almost everyone got 10–14 days leave, and assignment to some temporary, shore-based, duty. However, the top four men in our company, and I was number 1, were assigned, without any leave, to destroyers! We were all shipped, post haste, to Norfolk, VA, where crews were being assembled for four new destroyers; one of us to each ship. I, now QM3/c, was assigned to the U.S.S Newcomb, DD586. (continued)