For all 2,600 students of San Diego’s Point Loma High School, 16 September was the first day of school following summer vacation. But it was an even more special day for 25 of us who, as naval cadets, were joining the high school’s newly organized Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Some of the naval cadets had had Army R.O.T.C. training the year before, and most of them made it a point to introduce themselves to the Naval Science Instructor, Captain William A. Lewiston, U. S. Navy (Retired). Wise in the ways of the services, these young veterans wanted to be remembered when Captain Lewiston made up the staff positions.
It was a confused, hectic day. Because it was the first year of Navy R.O.T.C. at Point Loma High, sophomores, juniors, and seniors were all in the same classes.
Academic studies for the first year were scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Two main textbooks were used, The Blue Jackets’ Manual and Naval Orientation. On Wednesday, we suited up in our gym clothes and went out for P.E. credits. We did exercises the first part of the period and then played touch football for the remaining minutes. On Friday, we wore our uniforms for an inspection, after which we practiced drill. We were drilled by cadets who had been Army cadet officers the year before. It took time, but we soon caught on.
In the classroom, we were seated by rank with the highest ranking cadets closest to the front of the room. After the tardy bell rang, the mustering cadet called us to attention in our seats to take the muster. When Captain Lewiston entered, the mustering cadet sounded “Attention on deck,” and reported the results of the muster. The scheduled events of the day would then proceed.
Each cadet had three uniforms—one khaki and two blue. The khaki uniform was topped by a CPO’s cap frame and a black chin strap for cadets under the rank of ensign. There was an anchor on the band of the cap with the khaki cover. The officers wore a gold chinstrap. The khaki uniform also consisted of a short-sleeved khaki shirt and khaki trousers. These items of clothing were issued to us, but we had to buy the black shoes and socks. Since the weather was warm at first, we wore our khakis at the Friday inspections.
The working blue uniform consisted of a blue flannel shirt with blue trousers and a white cap cover. The favorite of all the cadets was the dress blues. This traditional uniform consisted of the officer’s double-breasted blue dress coat. We wore navy ties and long-sleeved white shirts without cuff links. The trousers were the dress blue pants worn by officers of the Navy. We wore white cap covers with our dress blues.
We wore our working blues for two weeks; then, in the third week, we wore our dress blues. Wearing a naval uniform all day in school has its problems. Some of us had auto shop classes, wood shop, or other daily activity that prevented us from wearing the uniform. So, officer’s country was turned into a dressing room. Before our scheduled R.O. period, we would change into our uniforms for inspection, and at the end, change back to our civilian clothes.
On those days when we were permitted to wear our uniforms all day, we were sometimes the victims of the “civilian” students’ unrest. A favorite trick was to accidentally knock a cadet’s cap off and step on it, or, in class, a student would put his feet on the back of a cadet’s dress coat. Many a cadet went around with one or two shoeprints on the back of his jacket. And, of course, our shiny shoes were always being stepped on.
Hats were a problem. When we took them off as we entered a classroom, where could we put them? We needed our desks to write on, and we needed the shelf below the desk for our books. If you were the only cadet in that classroom, the teacher usually let you put it on his desk. But, with five or six cadets in one class, it became a problem. We ended up by putting our books on the floor and the hats on the shelf of the chair. Generally, the person sitting in back of you could then take your hat and pass it around the room. When the bell rang for the next class, so much time was spent looking for your hat that you were usually late for the next class.
In the early morning before our first class, the flag was raised; and, of course, the cadets saluted the flag. But, if a cadet is holding his girl friend’s hand—with books in the hand he should salute with—he has a problem! By the time those cadets had solved it, the flag was raised, and so was the Captain’s temper.
Every Friday throughout the school year, at 0730 on the dot, we stood morning inspection. The whole battalion would fall in on the drill field and Captain Lewiston would arrive with the honorary inspector. The first inspector was the principal, the next was the vice principal, and, before the year was out, we had been inspected by all the school counselors and most of the teachers. After the honorary inspector finished, he (or she) selected a “cadet of the week.” The cadet then came forward and was congratulated. After a brief speech, the honorary inspector was escorted by Captain Lewiston to his office for coffee and an introduction to the unit.
We participated in two very big events that first year. One was a naturalization ceremony. Cadets were selected as guides and stood at different guard posts. Among the distinguished guests were three judges, the commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, and a sergeant who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor. The whole Point Loma student body was there, along with the people to be made citizens and their guests. We were delighted to get through it without making any mistakes. Afterwards, we helped to serve refreshments.
Toward the end of the first year, the unit’s most important ceremony occurred. For two straight weeks, we reported at 0700, an hour before school started, and practiced special marching maneuvers and formations. The Commandant of the Eleventh Naval District was the guest of honor. The superintendent of San Diego’s schools also attended. After the Commandant’s speech, the battalion formed in the manner we had practiced. The official N.J.R.O.T.C. flag was presented to the head of the color guard, the Eleventh District Commandant presented a plaque to the school superintendent, and the unit was officially dedicated.
There were approximately 90 cadets in our unit. The highest ranking cadet was a cadet lieutenant. There were two lieutenants junior grade, four ensigns, a number of chief petty officers and petty officers 2nd class. There were no petty officers 3rd class or petty officers 1st class the first year. A cadet advanced from seaman to petty officer 2nd class. Two ribbons—the Service Year Ribbon, showing that a cadet had completed a year of N.J.R.O.T.C., and the Cadet Club Ribbon—could be earned the first year.
Out of its membership dues, ($3.50 per year per cadet) the Cadet Club sponsored an annual picnic at which the cadets could eat all they wanted. However, it wasn’t a good idea to stuff yourself, because, right after chow, we all played in a giant football game, the rules of which were closer to those of a Chinese fire drill than to those of the N.F.L.
The best Cadet Club event of the year is the Reserve Officers’ Ball, held in March. Our unit and all of the San Diego Army units attended. The Navy was outnumbered by 50-to-1 at the ball, but we made our presence felt. Since the Army’s regular military science instructor is a staff sergeant, a lieutenant colonel was assigned by the Army to be the honored guest at the ball so that he would be the highest ranking officer present. But, lieutenant colonels don’t outrank Navy captains, and so our naval science instructor’s presence probably punctured the Army’s pride. (Oddly, the man who held the position of commanding officer of both San Diego’s R.O.T.C. units, Army and Navy, was an Army major—two ranks junior to Captain Lewiston.)
The ball went nicely. The Army awarded its usual medals during the evening and the dancing began once again. Nevertheless, the Army—or somebody—had the last word in whatever interservice rivalry there was that night. Someone switched the checks on every single one of the Navy hats in the checkroom.
We went on many interesting field trips. The father of one of the cadets was the commanding officer of a destroyer. Since Captain Lewiston couldn’t get the school’s permission to take us during the week, we went on board the destroyer on a Saturday. Unfortunately, some cadets had weekend jobs and couldn’t come. And, to make matters worse, the busses got lost. The wonderful time we had was marred at the end when we were told that someone had taken one of the flares from the ship. Captain Lewiston said that, if the person who took the flare would return it, no questions would be asked. Apparently someone valued the flare more than he valued the good name of the unit, and it was not returned. We all regretted the poor image we must have left with the crew of the destroyer.
Our next major field trip was to the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. This time Captain Lewiston was able to get permission for us to go during the school day. The Enterprise trip was a great success and everything went smoothly. Although we were grateful to the captain of the ship for inviting us, we didn’t see as much as we had hoped. We went through the island and walked around the deck, but we didn’t see either the admiral’s suite or the nuclear reactor. During the tour, a comment made by one of the crew puzzled us. He told us that some of the glass used in the island was so thick that a “huge millimeter” shell couldn’t crack or break it. But, later referring to the same glass, he said, “It costs a small fortune. I know. I broke one.” We figured that, if he could break a piece of glass that a huge millimeter shell couldn’t dent, he must be stronger than he looked.
We also visited the Amphibious School in Coronado and the staff gave us an excellent educational tour. We had a conference in which we saw a very realistic mock-up of an amphibious assault. There were many sailors there; however, they acted as if they had seen this mock-up many times before. After a hearty lunch in the mess hall, they marched us down to see a good film on the Frogmen, after which we returned to school. This trip lasted all day.
On our next field trip, we went to the Miramar Naval Air Station. That was a very educational excursion also and we saw the entire base. The executive officer inspected us and seemed impressed. Then we went to the air field and toured the aircraft engine plant and the control tower. We got the “red carpet” treatment throughout the day, including a chance for each of us to sit in a jet plane. But one thing happened that made Captain Lewiston very ashamed of us. When it was time to pay for the meal, the supply officer pointed out that four cadets hadn’t paid. Captain Lewiston made up the difference out of his own pocket. Some of the cadets took up a collection to pay Captain Lewiston back, but he wouldn’t accept the money and, instead put it in a general fund. The manner in which he handled this situation gave us all something to think about.
We had one special extracurricular activity, an encampment during Easter vacation at the Naval Training Center, San Diego. We were invited for the whole week, but Captain Lewiston decided that we would stay only three days. We wore khaki uniforms, but, instead of our regular caps, we wore blue baseball caps. Two other units came from Long Beach. There would be no red carpet treatment this trip; we were treated like regular recruits. What a way to spend Easter vacation! The first night, we bedded down at 2100, but we were too excited to sleep. The next day we got up at 0430 and went out to the daily activities. On the second night, we had no problem whatever getting to sleep. By 0630, about the time most civilians are getting up, we had finished breakfast and were on our way to our first class. We had the same classes as the recruits, including one in fire-fighting, but, since we had to leave on Wednesday, we missed the fire-fighting demonstration. During the whole three days, the poor chief petty officer who was in charge of us was worried and tense. When we watched the film on fire-fighting, no one was paying much attention to it. This irked the chief petty officer, and he lost his temper and shouted, “Maybe you guys think this is a picnic, but when you come back here as recruits, you’ll learn the Navy way!”
We did learn some things the Navy way on that trip. One subject was gas masks. It looked easy, but when they put us in that gas chamber and told us to put the masks on, it wasn’t as easy as we’d thought. They pushed us in. Some of us thought we had the gas masks on right, but when we got into the chamber, we found that we hadn’t. It was, of course, no laughing matter; in fact, it could better be described as a crying matter.
They marched us everywhere; no walking. When I got back to school, I had worn holes in my socks.
During the evenings we went swimming. On the second day, we took the swimming test. We had to put on our bathing suits but were told to take them off before the swimming test. “We want the pool clean,” they said—without explaining why we had been issued dirty swimming trunks.
Chow was three times a day, but we were allowed to go through the line only once. We had to stand a one hour-watch during the night; some of us didn’t mind, while others did. I, myself, would have preferred to sleep. While our civilian friends were at the beach, we were doing what the chief petty officer called “physical exercises to get you tired and ready for the next class.” It was an experience we will not soon forget.
A recurring difficulty was “haircuts.” More trouble has come from that little word than most any other. Captain Lewiston did not insist that we get the “four-inch part” the Marine Recruit Depots specialize in, but he made it very clear that hair must be short. Nowadays kids just don’t bother to get haircuts, and, after a while, Captain Lewiston gave in and permitted us to wear our hair fairly long, provided it did not curl or hang down under our hats.
Spring arrived and it was back to khakis!
We had two more field trips. One was to the Anti-Submarine Warfare School where we learned to plot and to talk on naval telephones. The commanding officer, a captain, gave us a hearty welcome, and reminded us that he had graduated from Point Loma High School 29 years before. He told us that he had gone through a Senior N.R.O.T.C. program. “I made it,” he said, “and so can you. If I made Captain, you can, too.”
Our last field trip of the year was joyful revenge for the 12 of us who had gone to the previous Easter encampment at the Naval Training Center. When we arrived, we didn’t know what to expect, but they had busses for us, and we didn’t march as before. We didn’t have to wait in line for chow; the recruits waited this time. We saw all the “tourist sights” that the recruits never see. Then came the highlight of the day’s excursion. We were to be guests at the Recruit Graduation Ceremony.
Something else that gave poor Captain Lewiston more gray hairs should be mentioned here. We planned to arrive at school at 1600, since the graduation was at 1700, but school closed at 1430, and more than half of the cadets had jobs after school. So, instead of the 90 cadets that were supposed to show, only about 35 came. It really looked bad when they announced over the loud speaker that 90 cadets from the N.J.R.O.T.C. unit were present. We sure didn’t look like 90. And, since the dress for the day was whites for Navy personnel and dress blues for us, we stood out even more.
Thus passed the first year of the N.J.R.O.T.C. unit at Point Loma High School. Though we hadn’t started off with much of a bang, we slowly got organized. Other units must have had the same problems we did. But, through these lessons we learned to be better cadets and we hope we will make better officer candidates. We made mistakes, but we feel that we contributed to the progress of future units of N.J.R.O.T.C.
A recent graduate of Point Loma High School, Cadet Larry Watson plans to attend college and hopes to obtain his B.A. in Business Administration. Cadet Watson was one of the first cadets to join Point Loma’s N.J.R.O.T.C program. One of his main interests is in military medals and insignia, and his article on U. S. Medals was published by the Military Collectors Club of Canada Journal. When he completes his college studies, he hopes to make the Navy his career.