Chapter Three: Brutality
The serious brutality got underway on Monday morning. Abused again as dick heads, motherfuckers, assholes, pussies, cock suckers, and some other cute terms used by the lumpen classes, he scrambled down the ladder of the barracks to fall in. Earnest shivered in the early morning San Diego fog and cold on the April morning. After chow, the squadron was marched across the bridge by a petty officer to the other side of NTC, the Naval Training Center. At one point, they were ordered to halt in front of the small wooden buildings on the base.
“Who can play in a musical instrument?” they were asked. One recruit came forward. He would be tried out to see if he was good for a Navy band unit. The rest of the squadron was ordered to march on.
The first stop was the Navy barber shop. Recruits were ordered to stand at parade rest awaiting their turn at being sheared. The depersonalization process was beginning. The deeper dehumanization would be carried forward in subsequent exercises.
Earnest was ushered in and sat in one of the three barber chairs. It took only a few seconds to buzz off his hair with a pair of clippers, set to the shortest possible length. He double timed it back to join the others who had just been sheared. He felt the morning cold more intensely with the absence of his hair.
When the last of the sheep had been shorn seriously and silently, they were ordered to march on in the cold early morning fog. They were marched to the Navy swimming pool and issued a pair of Navy swim trunks. They were told to suit up.
“Everyone off the diving board,” came the order. “Up the ladder motherfuckers!” Earnest joined the line. This was the moment of truth. He knew that he could not swim at all. But it was off the deep end. He had taken a swimming class in the university, but never had the time to spend in the pool to actually learn to swim.
He climbed onto the diving board and took the leap off as another guy surfaced and swam away. Earnest splashed down and floundered in the cold water. An attendant at the side of the pool extended a long pole in his direction.
“Do I havta pull ya fat ass outa there. Grab the pole, motherfucker,” he barked, gleeful to find another recruit that he could abuse. Here, Earnest was segregated with a few others who had flunked the swimming test. He was starting out his career in the Navy as a failure in more ways than one. He was branded with the designation “non-swimmer” and slated for the learner’s unit. They would have to learn a minimal amount of swimming before being sent to a new company. The non-swimmers were left back while the others proceeded with the morning routine.
A swimming instructor appeared. There were six in the non-swimmers group. It was a relief in a way. How much brutality could be administered in a swimming class? Besides, the instructor seemed more human. Strict but human. He could not teach them to swim through fear and brutality. The main objective was to teach them to swim around the pool on their back.
Earnest had done this before in swimming class, but had now lost the ability. The non-swimmers were ordered to double-time to the pool every morning. They would spend the day learning with a break for lunch at the Navy enlisted mess hall. It was actually enjoyable for Earnest, in spite of the stigma which attached to him.
After four days, he swam around the perimeter of the pool on his back. He had accomplished something. He was declared a “swimmer” and given a small card that said he had passed the swimming test. Of course, with such minimal skills, he would never have been able to survive in the ocean, but what did the military care? Even those who were far more competent swimmers might also perish in a heavy sea. It was good enough for government work. Good enough for the United States Navy.
The next morning, after chow in the early-morning San Diego fog, he was integrated into another company of some sixty recruits. He loved the California climate, the cool and fog. He had always wanted to live in California. It was rough, but he would make it. What the hell? There was nothing to lose. He was riding the train to wherever it would take him.
The new company was marched across the bridge to the other side of the base from Worm Island. The petty officer in charge marched them to the supply depot. This was the place where uniforms were issued. They were spread out in a formation in a large square of asphalt in front of the building and issued a green canvas sea bag. They were then marched through the building where they had to call out their sizes. Uniforms were tossed at them in a rather brutal manner.
Back on the asphalt square, they changed into the rough black heavy marching boots they had been issued. Earnest had asked for a size ten, to be sure to get them big enough. Most items would not be a good fit. This exercise took up the morning. The afternoon would be taken up with preparing and stenciling the items of uniform which had been issued.
The recruits were issued cardboard boxes. They were instructed to place all their civilian clothes, watches, rings, and any other paraphernalia in the box. They were then to seal it up and write their home address on the outside. Nothing at all would be left of their individual personal identity.
In a large room with high tables the length of the space they were given a stencil with their name and social security number cut out. Along the rough shelves there were brushes and pots of black and white paint. Item by item, they were given instructions about how to stencil every piece of the uniform. A petty officer barked the instructions in an often unintelligible manner. The recruits managed by looking at each other to see what the other person was doing. Some items would be fucked up, but they were rushed through the process as if they were on a critical mission where every second counted.
The stenciled items were then packed into their green canvas sea bags. Late in the afternoon, they were marched to the quarters where the new company would be formed up in the evening after chow.
It was around seven in the evening. The recruits were marched to the cavernous barracks room and shown their racks. They were double deck with a small locker beside them. They were instructed about how to fold and stow each item of their uniform in the Navy way. This was called getting their gear squared away.
After stowing their gear, they were ordered to stand at parade rest in front of their racks.
Presently, a group of three young enlisted petty officers appeared. It soon became obvious to Earnest that they had been drinking. They were, in fact, quite drunk. They were not there to lead and inspire, but to terrorize and abuse. It was a repeat performance of the charade that Earnest had been the victim of in front of the barracks a few days before. This time the appropriate recruits would be assaulted. The exercise was to go much further, being played out fully to its logical brutal conclusion.
Earnest was amused to see this sort of stupid shit starting up again. He feared that they were likely to do some actual physical harm to one if they took it upon themselves to do so. Being drunk, they would perhaps not be capable of controlling their emotions.
The three petty officers started their abuse, fortified with drink.
“You fuckin pussies! Attenn chunn!” They started their rounds.
One of the petty officers stepped in front of a scrawny recruit from New Jersey.
“Where ah yah from?”
“Sir, New Jersey, Sir,” the frightened rabbit managed to get out, almost ready to start sobbing.
“Why dja jine the Navy?”
Jesus, the same fucking questions,” Earnest thought. Had they trained them for this exercise of terror? It hadn’t quite worked on me as planned, he thought.
Earnest was amused at the crudity and brutality. He sensed that they were after brutality. He himself had barely escaped it. It seemed that they were itching for brutality, fortified with alcohol. Were they actually going to beat someone up? No one would be in a position to defend himself. That was for sure.
Earnest never imagined they would do such a thing when forming up the company. They went on picking on individual recruits, abusing them and asking stupid questions.
“Why dja jine, mothafuckah?” Earnest was again asked. He made an equally stupid reply, the only possible way out. Luckily he was not singled out for a beating. Perhaps it was because he was older.
The worst abuse was being piled upon the easiest targets, the little scrawny guys. Some of them were from the city. Maybe there was a reason for going after the little guys, Earnest thought. They were not able to defend themselves. After abusing them and calling them pussies, they singled out three young guys and took them into the head near the center of the bulkhead. Everyone else stood quietly at attention.
Then it began. One could hear fists hitting flesh and then a dull thud as their young bodies collided with the bulkhead of the showers. Loud angry shouts and abuses. Pleas from the young recruits for mercy. Another assault. In a bit, the party returned to the large space. The young recruits were blooded and sobbing. The three thugs had beaten the shit out of them. It was organized assault and battery, pure and simple.
The party had accomplished their mission of terrorizing the recruits. At least this was what they believed. The members of the company were ordered into their racks with lights out. The drunken petty officers returned to the club to get even more shitfaced and look for a woman to screw.
Earnest was shaken by the event. He wondered what he had got himself into and how he could put up with such stuff for six years. Then his mind returned to think of home. He had to write a letter to his wife. He would tell her that everything was OK. He still hoped for the best. Surely, this was not the way things were supposed to work, even in an outfit such as the United States Navy.