Capstan September 1943 Notre Dame Midshipmen Class Three
1943 Class Three US Navy Midshipmen of Notre Dame Yearbook. Contains photographs of the instructors, administrative and execuitve staff and class members.
ON THE thirty-first day of May, Anno Domini Nineteen hundred and forty-three, observant citizens of the thriving municipality of South Bend, Indiana, may have noticed open trucks, crammed to the bursting point with the flower of American young-manhood, steaming at standard speed towards the verdant campus of the University of Notre Dame.
Class Number Three was reporting for duty.
Truckload after truckload of embryonic ensigns was disgorged upon the greensward, and there the future officers sat, wearied by long train trips from Florida, from California, from North Dakota and South Carolina. There they sat for about five minutes, that is; at the end of which time they were called to attention by an Officer. It was a long, long time before they sat at their ease again.
The Officer gave them a little talk. "You are the lowest form of animal life in the Navy", he said. "Some day you may, by hard word and diligent application, attain the rank of Midshipman; which rank is not much better than your present one. Until that time, however, keep your insignificance constantly in mind."
Then he divided them alphabetically and sent them to their various halls "on the double".
In the ensuing weeks they were destined to hear many repetitions of that harsh phrase, "on the double", and to learn that, while in Navy, they had to run at top speed to wherever they were going, and then stand in line for half an hour or so when they got there.
First they stood in line to turn in their orders and be assigned to their billets; then they stood in line to draw their bedding; and then they stood in a gigantic line at the stadium to draw their uniforms. Loud were the lamentations as they tried to force size 3 crew hats down over their skulls, or to roll up endless trousers legs. "Don't worry, it'll shrink when it's been washed a few times," said a Supply Officer to an unfortunate seaman whose T-shirt was draped around him like a 1903 bathing suit. "Don't worry, it'll stretch after you've worn it a while," said the Supply Officer to another poor wretch, whose T-shirt was slowly strangling him to death.
When they had all been uniformed, they were herded into the already familiar "column of threes" and marched to their halls; a melancholy horde, with trousers legs dragging on the ground, sleeves dangling to knees, hats perched precariously on the uttermost pinnacles of heads, and a miscellaneous assortment of raincoats, civilian clothes, and athletic shoes falling out of laundry bags at ten-second intervals.
It is said that one man got a perfect fit in every detail of his uniform; the lucky fellow was a 4-F civilian who, while standing around watching the proceedings, had been herded into line by a zealous Officer. The error was soon discovered, and he was set free two weeks later.
Thus the first day passed; in the succeeding days of Indoctrination the luckless Apprentice Seaman of Class Number Three were so rushed around, so hurried and buffeted and chased from one end of the campus to the other, that they found it impossible to distinguish one day from the next, if anyone had asked them what the date was, they couldn't have told him. So confused did they become that it sometimes seemed to them as though Reveille sounded in the middle of the night. But out of this welter of hurry and confusion certain prominences protruded, and made lasting impressions on the innocent and permeable minds of the apprentice seamen.
There was the Physical Examination, wherein one encountered the attractive piece of leg art pasted on the x-ray machine in such a manner that the x-rayee had to twist himself into the required contortionist's posture in order to feast his eyes on the masterpiece. And the amiable Pharmacist's Mate who stuck an implement as big as a tire pump, and much sharper, into bare arms; drew out a pint or two of blood, and then said, "Tsk, tsk, too bad; we'll have to try again."
Also in the Medical Department were the frequent "shots", which brought protection from tetanus, typhoid, yellow fever, smallpox, and lost statical stability. The Pharmacists' Mates seemed to be engaging in a friendly competition to see which one could make the most punctures per minute. One foolhardy A.S. stopped to scratch himself, and was pierced eleven times before he got moving again. On the first shot-day, when two shots and a smallpox vaccination were given, the mates successfully employed an automatic recoil system. Two of them stood facing each other; when a victim came between them, one stabbed him in the left arm; the victim naturally recoiled to the right, and in so doing, was impaled on the other needle, which was held in the battery position by the other mate.
Calisthenics, morning and afternoon. Many an A.S., roused at 0550 and knowing that he could look forward to nothing but fifteen minutes of jumping-jacks, knee-bends, and push-ups, meditated wistfully upon suicide, like Hamlet; and, more resolute than the melancholy Dane, was prevented from shooting himself only by Article 61 in the regulations of the school, which prodently makes "possession or discharging of unauthorized firearms" a class A offense.
If the morning sessions were bad, those of the afternoons were worse. The tender-hearted powers that-be saw that all seamen were well limbered up by two hours of close-order drill before the exercise period: but, strangely enough, this limbering up did not seem to help much.
After half an hour of imitating the violent twistings and jumpings of the Chief on the platform—a tireless machine with lungs of leather, a torso of steel, and arms and legs of Grade A rubber—the panting and groaning A.S. got as a reward sarcastic comments from some Officer, who would say, "Come on, mister, where do you think you are, at a lawn party? Get on the ball, or I'll run you around this field till 1800!" Although he was in the last stages of exhaustion, the A.S. always felt that if he had a baseball bat in his hands, he could muster up enough strength to clip the Officer a good one on the head with it.
EXECUTIVE DRILL. During the course of many dusty hours on the drill fields, the seamen gradually learned to perform an- "about face" without tripping and falling down; and to march in reasonably straight lines for reasonably long intervals. As their feet moved mechanically beneath them, their minds wandered far away to the South Pacific, and they pictured themselves at the helm of a P.T. boat, racing across the blue water straight towards a doomed enemy battleship, while suntanned maidens stood on the white sands of a nearby beach and excitedly cheered them on in Polynesian. But just before the deadly torpedo struck home, they were abruptly awakened by a rude shock; their errant minds returned to the dusty drill field, and they realized that "to the rear, march" had been given, and they had collided violently with the wheeling man in front of them. And then, of course, up sauntered the Officer with a vinegar face and snarled out his "Well, mister, just what do you think you're doing? Wake up and get those commands, or I'll have you polishing brightwork every Saturday for the rest of your life." Never had the blue Pacific, the white sands, and the brown-skinned beauties seemed so far away.
WATCH. Sooner or later they all had watches. As Roving Watch they, in the dead of night, patrolled the boggy shores of the lake, carrying a nightstick and a ponderous searchlight, and desperately clubbing to death with the former im plement the squadrons of mosquitoes which were attracted by the beams of the latter.
As Security Watch they sat, again in the dead of night, at the desks in the passageways, and propped their eyes open with their fingers, and at the prescribed intervals sleep-walked on Routine Inspections, and printed a faltering "All Secure" in the logs.
As Mates of the Deck and Assistant Mates of the Deck they feverishly studied the Fire Bill, trying to master it before an Officer came to quiz them. At five minute intervals they paced along the passageways, bellowing "Now Hear This !—" (followed by some routine announcement, which everybody already knew by heart; the important announcements somehow were never heard, or else were heard ten minutes after the announced event had taken place).
Once in a while, if their post happened to be on the fourth deck, far from any Officer, they emitted a "Now Hear This!" of their own, as, for example, "Now Hear This! Uniform of the day is crew hat, shoulder boards, and drill shoes! Carry Bowditch!," or, "Now Hear This! There will be no calisthenics this morning! Breakfast will be served to all hands in their bunks!"
They made Routine Inspections of all rooms, and left slips of paper reading "dirty sink", "dirty baseboards," "dusty bed frames", or simply (the work of an anonymous genius whose post was on a fourth deck) "Cleanliness is next to Godliness".
And around 2400 they roused Seaman J. P. Jones of room 606 from his slumbers and told him that he had forgotten to log in, and must report to the battalion office immediately.
There were two bright moments during ,the twenty-four hours of duty of these mates and assistant mates: one came as they were about to be relieved; the other, as they sat at their desks at dawn and watched the mob of half-asleep seamen stream past them down the ladders and out to the parade ground for morning calisthenics.
On Saturdays, Inspection. Standing in motionless ranks for several hours (it seemed), while a terrifying display of stripes—enough to equip a whole army of ensigns—moved slowly down the lines, throwing piercing glances from heads to feet and back again. As the dreadful stripes drew near to him, each horror-stricken seaman sucked in another cubic centimeter of air, expanding his chest to its extreme limit, and held his breath. If perchance some of the stripes halted in front of him in order to survey him more carefully, he had to keep holding his breath, although his eyes were ready to pop out. Every Saturday the breath-holding record of the world must have been broken at least four or five times; it is a pity that there was no one present to act as timer.
After this ordeal, another which was just as bad: Room Inspection. The cry would go out, "Now Hear This! Inspecting party on board; all hands stand by! Absolute silence will be maintained during inspection!" In every room, the two occupants came to parade rest. The one who was Room Captain and would get the demerits if anything went wrong, was twitching nervously; his room-mate, who had nothing to worry about this week, was the picture of nonchalance.
Bangs and clatters were heard at the other end of the passageway, as the Inspecting Party pulled open steel locker doors and peered inside. The banging and clattering drew nearer. The nervous Room Captain glanced everywhere in the room, to make sure that all was shipshape. A towel was hanging slightly askew; he tiptoed swiftly over and straightened it.
The tap had leaked, and there was water in the wash-bowl; he inched over to it and dried it with his handkerchief. (The bangs and clatterings were much closer now). He glided back to his starting point and fell into parade rest again, with a sigh of relief; everything was ready now.
But then he happened to glance at the deck, and there lay a piece of white string, which had magically escaped the furious swabbings and scrubbings of the night before, and which now stood out like a battleship in a bathtub. Should he go over and pick it up? If he didn't, he'd get a count for Dirty Deck; if he did, and was caught before he got back to parade rest, he'd get five demerits.
The bangs and clatterings were very close now; you could even hear the voices of the Inspecting Officers as they said "Dirty medicine cabinet", "Windows not squared," "Bunks improperly -made," etc., etc.
After a moment of indecision, the Room Captain could stand it no longer. He stepped forward; the deck squeaked loudly under his feet. He swiftly bent over to pick up the string, and just then in came—no; it's all over now; let's give it the happy ending, and say that he got back to parade rest just in the nick of time, and that it was someone else who was cleaning dummy rifles in the Drill Hall on the following Saturday afternoon.
After the Inspection ordeals came blessed relief in the form of Liberty; and the members of Class Three coursed through the town, their natural high spirits elevated even further by moderate doses of the heartening elixirs provided at Sweeney's. Surrounded by throngs of admiring young ladies at the Service Men's Center, The Country Club, The Indiana Club, and other centers of festive merriment, the dazzled seamen forgot the dreary routine of the week and became again the stalwart heroes of the P.T. boat; and the glorious delusion lasted until the late bell for calisthenics rang on Monday morning.
Ultimately Indoctrination came to an end, and Apprentice Seamen were transformed into. Midshipmen, those hybrid creatures who are "officers in a qualified sense", as Naval Regulations tactfully put it. At the beginning of the regular term some changes were made.
Competitive sports and The Commando Course (that crowning example of man's inhumanity to man) took the place of afternoon calisthenics; the number of executive drill periods was reduced; shoulder boards and golden anchors blossomed on new Palm Beach uniforms; payday rolled around every once in a while, and Midshipmen were kindly permitted to look at and even to feel their money before it was confiscated by courteous tailors and laundrymen; and Navigation, Ordnance, Seamanship, and Damage Control now loomed horribly in the foreground. They had been bad enough during Indoctrination; now they were impossible.
Tons of information were shoveled into skulls already loaded far beyond the Plimsoll mark for South Bend in summer; trees bloomed luxuriantly every week, and the monster Restricted Probation reached out and snatched many a Midshipman just as the poor wretch was running for the bus station. But in the distance, like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow; commissions were glimmering; and the Midshipmen kept plugging away, although they knew that by all rights they should have gone to an asylum weeks ago.
Tough as the regular terms were, it was Indoctrination which was the real test. It was in those three short weeks that civilians took the icy plunge, and came out Navy men; it was then that the Navy was inoculated into them, like a tetanus shot. It was a strong and a sudden dose, but that was unavoidable.
Later, when those who survived the inoculation looked back on the first three weeks, they realized that in spite of the apparently aimless hustle, the travelogues at the Drill Hall, the incessant marching, the ironclad routine, the rigorous discipline, all of which seemed so unreasonable to a civilian—that, in spite of all this, a great deal had been accomplished in a very short time; and that they had learned three valuable lessons, which would profit them all their lives: first, to make the best possible use of every minute; second, to be in the right place at the right time; third, to keep their mouths shut and do what they were ordered to do, no matter how unjust they felt the orders to be, or how impossible the tasks assigned.