I didn't enjoy my stay at Asbury Park. In the first place there was a lot of unnecessary and foolish discipline. For example, from the time of Lights Out at 2200 until Reveille at 0600, we were not allowed out of bed for any reason – even to go to the bathroom. Our doors had to remain open, and the corridors were patrolled all night. Of course, there were instances where we had to go, and we did, but we had to time it carefully, and risked being put on report by so doing. My room was ten flights up and the elevators had been deactivated; that was bad enough, but we had to run up and down stairs. Failure to do so also resulted in being put on report. During the daylight hours, our time was split between standing at attention in formation under the sweltering sun, attending asinine classes (at a grammar school level), or participating in especially obnoxious athletics.
In all fairness, there were a couple of activities which I viewed as worthwhile. One was the rifle range, which we accessed by bus about once a week. Here we were not only taught how to fire various weapons, but learned how to take guns apart, clean them, and put them back together. This is pretty standard training, but it was the only time in my military career when I was exposed such activity. Had I not gone to Pre-Midshipman School, I might have missed it entirely.
Secondly, we were, after all, in the Navy, so on one occasion we boarded busses and traveled to a Jersey port where we boarded a Minesweeper. Off we went, out to sea, in what was probably the Navy's least stable vessel. Rock and roll was the name of the game, and everyone became seasick. The ship would get underway for about an hour, and then would lay anchor for about an hour. It kept doing this throughout the day. There seemed to be a group of guys who were desperately sick while the ship was moving, but felt better when we lay anchor. Another group reacted in the opposite way; these sailors were pretty good as long as the ship was moving, but became violently ill as soon as the motors stopped. I was somewhere in the middle; I felt lousy all of the time, but never had to hang over the rail as did so many others. Just what we learned from this one day seagoing experience isn't quite clear, except perhaps to give us pause to think about the desirability of sea duty. Even with all the seasickness, it was a welcomed relief from the normal daily routine.
On hot, sunny days, were mustered on the parade ground, and marched out the stockade to the boardwalk, where we were forced to stand at attention, eyes forward, while attractive young female bathers stood at a distance and watched. While standing in formation, corpsmen were stationed throughout the ranks to attend to those who passed out (and there were always several). It seemed to me this was cruel and unusual treatment. We weren't being punished for anything; it was simply part of the daily routine.
One week of every month, a platoon would be placed on Work Detail. The work consisted of a wide variety of menial tasks such as sweeping the streets inside the stockade, washing floors, emptying large GI can full of grease, etc. At the start of one of the work weeks, our platoon was assembled and the officer in charge asked, "Is there anyone here from Harvard?" I didn't know what to do – it was generally unwise to do anything which called attention to oneself. However, I took a chance and raised my hand. I was then informed that I would be in charge of handing out assignments. I was given a desk, and spent the week behind that desk handing out all those nasty tasks. It's not a way to win a popularity contest, but I don't think I made any lasting enemies. And, under the circumstances, nobody dared make sarcastic remarks about Harvard.
Athletic activities consisted of boxing, an obstacle course at the high school field, or various calisthenics on the beach. I hated boxing, but I had an accident shortly after arriving at Asbury Park which got me excused from that activity. While running to evening chow, I tripped, fell, and split open my old scar from the bicycle accident on Walnut Street in Newton. It again required stitches, so that halted my boxing career.
But I wasn't fond of the other athletic activities. Every morning following breakfast, we would assemble on the parade ground between the two hotels, and promptly at 0800 we would march off to the high school field to tackle the obstacle course. We were forced to change from our uniforms into our gym shorts on some wooden bleachers, in sight of anyone who cared to watch. The course was wicked, and I couldn't master the rope climbing or scaling the wall. When the session ended, we had to get back into our uniforms, without an opportunity to shower or clean up in any way, and march back to the fenced in courtyard which served as the parade ground. I decided to attempt an escape from this miserable routine.
I had always been bothered by hay fever during the summer months, and my summer at Asbury Park was no exception. Every morning, while we were mustered on the parade ground but before marching off to the high school field, Sick Call was announced. I decided I was sick (I had a very runny nose), so I answered the call and reported to Sick Bay. The medical corpsman would check me over, decide I probably had a cold, and would issue me some APC tablets. I wasn't sick enough to be given an excuse from any activities, but by the time I got back to the parade ground my platoon had already marched out of the stockade. Since they would never allow anyone to go outside by himself, except when issued a liberty pass, I had no choice but to go to my room and await the return of my platoon.
I followed this procedure on several occasions, and it worked for awhile. Eventually, however, it aroused suspicion, and I was summoned to the office of my commander and accused of faking my illness. I insisted I was sick. The officer replied, "Whitney, you're a goldbrick. I answered, "Yes, sir." This situation was about to become serious, when nature intervened. We had a hurricane.
The storm struck in mid-afternoon on Thursday, September 14, 1944.
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Updated on Jul 1999