But another was soon to begin.
As I mentioned, I had enlisted in the Navy and shortly after I returned from my voyage, I received notification to report to 90 Church Street in Manhattan, to be inducted. On the appointed date in March, 1951, I joined hundreds of other young men in filling out voluminous forms and questionnaires, followed by physical examinations where we were poked and prodded and given numerous shots. We were finally assembled in a large room where we raised our right hands and swore allegiance to the United States of America and promised to serve her to the best of our ability. After that, we were loaded onto busses and we began a long, hard trek up to the Naval Boot Camp at Newport, Rhode Island, to begin my Naval career.
After my brief stint aboard the cruise ship, I was anxious to embark on a four year journey aboard some mighty naval warship, calling in at exotic ports around the globe. Truth be told, I never spent a day aboard a ship during my entire four year enlistment (with the exception of a one day visit to my friend, Vinnie, aboard his ship, the cruiser, USS Newport News, when it called into Naples, Italy, while I was stationed there.) The strangest thing about that was when I was ready to be discharged at the end of my enlistment, I had to appear before a Personnel Officer to listen to a re-enlistment spiel. He told me that if I re-enlisted, I would be guaranteed a shore duty post because I had four years of sea duty on my record. I asked him if he had the right records in front of him; that I had never been at sea. He said that the first two years, when I was attached to an aviation squadron in Maryland, counted as sea duty. And, my two years of overseas duty counted as sea duty. I had joined the Navy with the intention of going to sea. Go figure. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
I managed to endure the eight weeks of Boot Camp and I quickly learned that there is the right way AND the Navy way of doing things. And, if I wanted to survive for the next four years, I had better do things the Navy way. I had desperately wanted to be a photographer in the Navy.
I explained to him about my background in photography and requested assignment to a Navy Photo School. He said that the Navy wasn't assigning anyone to schools from Boot Camp. When I got to my next assignment, I should make the request and with my background, I would probably get it. Yeah, right! I remember asking the salty old Chief Petty Officer who signed me up when I enlisted, what were the chances of getting into photography in the Navy. His answer..."We don't promise nuttin'." That's what I got. "Nuttin'."
When I got to my next duty station, after Boot Camp, I was assigned to a Naval Aviation squadron called VX-4, at the Naval Air Test Center in Patuxent River, MD. (Years later, the astronauts would train here.) The "V" in VX-4 stood for heavier than air. (There were still lighter than air craft [blimps] still in service at the time.) The "X" stood for experimental. My squadron was experimenting with airborne radar and were the precursors of today's AWACs airborne early warning and command and control aircraft.
Back then we were flying B-17s which were the famed but venerable Flying Fortresses of World War II.
Eventually the squadron was was re-commissioned as VF-1. an airborne early warning squadron and the B-17's were replaced with Lockheed Constellations. These modern planes were the same ones used by the airlines, but were reconfigured as flying radar stations. They also sported big radar domes on top of the plane.
Naturally, as soon as I reported for duty, I was called before the ever-present Personnel Officer to be interviewed about my duties. I, of course, requested assignment to photo school. Guess what I was told? "All requests for Navy schools are being taken at Boot Camp. Ya shudda requested it then." The Navy Way, again. I begged and pleaded and told him of my background in photography. I was told that the squadron had one slot for a Photographer's Mate and they already had three. But, he agreed to let me work as a photographer's apprentice, known in naval parlance as striking for a photographer's rating. The rating would become permanent when I advanced to a petty officer' s rank. At the time, I was a lowly Airman Second Class. However, should they ever need a mechanic or a cook, or anything else, I could be yanked out of my job, unless I made the petty officer status. With that incentive, I studied and as soon as I was eligible, I took the test for Photographer's Mate Third Class (the sought after petty officer's rank) and I made it, assuring for myself, a career as a Navy Photographer.
The squadron had little work for photographers so all of their photo people were assigned to the Naval Air Station Photo Lab. It was a large unit and did photo work for large numbers of units, such as my VX-4. It was a great learning opportunity and I was able to work in a variety of photographic specialties, learning as I went. I learned how to take photos of tiny, hairline cracks inside the jet tubes of aircraft engines, using a huge 11 by 14 inch studio camera. I learned to shoot aerial photos and motion picture, as well.
I flew with my squadron, several times a month and was eligible for partial flight pay (and, as I said earlier, it counted as sea duty. Jeeez!)
While the work was interesting, life on the sprawling air base wasn't so great. It was way out in the boonies. It was a two hour bus ride to the nearest city, which was Washington, DC. Most weekends I went home on Liberty. I couldn't afford to fly or take the train, so I would pay a few bucks to some swabbie who owned a car and who was heading to NY. This was before all of today's bridges and highways were built and it would take 8 hours to get there on Friday, after work, and another 8 to get back on Sunday. Most times we would get back just in time for morning muster on Monday and I would have to work all day on no sleep.
I met Joyce Clark within my first year there. She was a WAVE. That's what women in the Navy were called. Army women were WAACs. They really weren't considered sailors or soldiers and mostly held clerical jobs. Not like today where women in the service fly planes, command ships and participate in combat roles.
Joyce was a lovely young woman from Virginia. We dated for most of the time that I was stationed in Maryland. It was great having a girlfriend on the base and we would walk to the PX in the evening for a soda or go to the base movie. Sometimes we would go off the base to one of the many honky-tonks that flourish around military bases.
My flying with VX-4 was confined mostly to training missions and we flew over the Maryland and Virginia countryside and over Chesapeake Bay, teaching our pilots how to fly the plane and the radar techies how to operate their instruments. I practiced making aerial photos with a variety of aerial cameras. That got stale after months and months of the same routine so I was delighted when I was called over to the squadron to talk with the Executive Officer. He told me that two planes from the squadron were going to embark on a training mission in the Arctic and I was going along to document the operation. I won't bore you with that tale, although it was truly a great adventure. We flew in several hops that eventually took us over the North Pole, itself. We operated out of Thule, Greenland, a US Air Force Base well above the Arctic Circle that was hacked out of the polar ice cap. It was cold. So cold that the 16 mm movie camera that I was using would stop working because the movie film got too stiff from the sub-zero temperatures to make the loop through the shutter mechanism. I stopped at the Air Force Photo Lab to see what they did in such cases.
"Nothing," I was told. They said that it was so cold that their cheeks would freeze to the metal backs of their cameras until they had special rubber shields made for them.
Sometimes they would return to their lab only to find that the 4 by 5 sheet films they used in their cameras would be split in half from the cold. As bad as Patuxent River, MD was, it was Paradise compared to Thule, Greenland.
I still wanted a transfer out of there, though. I applied, once again, for Navy Photo School and my application was accepted at the Navy Motion Picture School in Jacksonville, FL. But, there was a waiting list and my name wouldn't come up for months.
Shortly before my name was to be called, I was once again called to the Squadron's Executive Officer. This time they were taking one of their new Constellation aircraft on a goodwill tour of South America. Hey, I'd been there. Remember my job aboard the cruise ship. So, I said, "Sure."
I was told that I'd have to remove my name from the list of applicants to the photo school. I thought about it for a bit, and agreed. I had to get a passport for this trip. (I had never gotten a new one after my first passport was stolen in Bahia, Brazil.) I made all of my preparations, packing cameras, film and uniforms. I received my passport and was ready to go.
A week before the trip was to commence, I got another order to see the Executive Officer. He told me that I had been bumped from the crew manifest. They needed another electronic techie on the plane so there was no room for a photographer.
DAMN! I was furious. I demanded to be placed back on the list for photo school, only to be told that my name would go to the bottom of the list and it might be a year before I was called. Trying to remember that I, a lowly enlisted swabbie, was talking with a Commander in the USN, I all but screamed at the XO. I told him that I wanted out of this chicken outfit, NOW! I reminded him that Navy regulations call for enlisted personnel to spend two years of a four year enlistment at one duty station and then they were transferred to another for the next two years. I thought it would be my opportunity to go to sea. Alas, the XO said that those regulations weren't carved in stone, and because the squadron now had no other photographers but me, I could count on spending the rest of my enlistment right there with them.
Without waiting to be dismissed, I threw him as snappy a salute as I could muster, turned on my heel and stormed out of his office. When I calmed down, I knew that I couldn't fight the Navy and resolved to make things as comfortable as possible. I went home on Liberty that weekend and bought a two year old Mercury car and brought my civilian clothes back to the base. I might have to play sailor while on duty, but I could look and act like a civilian on off-duty hours. Two weeks later I was called over to the squadron and was handed a set of orders. I was being transferred.
And so begins another adventure.