Wednesday, July 18, 2018

#THEPOTSHACK---Mess Duty, The First Shift --PART ONE: CORRY FIELD, 1966


(LZ410 DANANG)--Mess duty was no stranger to me.  It followed me from duty station to duty station, from the minute I set foot on Corry Field in Pensacola to the first step through the gate at Camp Pendleton. Being enlisted didn't help the matter at all, everyone with more time in grade would skate from the messhall. So the chores, the back-channel effort to feed the battalion, fell on my shoulders.
     My first experience with mess duty came in 1966, fresh out of boot camp,  at Corry Field in Florida, a class-A Navy communications training base. We were there to learn radio and Morse code, our detachment was Company K, Sub-Unit 1. The CO was RL O'Brien, a Captain when I first arrived but promoted to Major later. His immediate subordinate was Lt. Sepulveda, an up-through-the-ranks former enlisted  who really had an attitude, directed at his former comrades, the enlisted. Then there was "Gunny" Wood, although I never saw him having related to being a Gunnery Sargent, strutting around with that MacArthur corn-cob pipe all the time. His utilities were so starched he could barely walk in them and the recruits at the field had no nice words and some suggestions about the pipe and the reason he walked the way he did.

                                                    (Company K, Sub Unit 1, 1966,  unknown attribution)

     Command was merciless when it came to outclassing the sailors on the base, O'Brien was constantly showing off his company by making us do absurd things, like run in formation around the airstrip in 100 degree heat. The heat rolled off the runway in waves so we would run half-way out, fake it like we were still running, then turn around and come back in. Gunny Wood, looking through field-glasses, thought we were running all the way out to the fence line.

                                                                       (Photo by   Bob Comer c. 1966-67)

     Mess duty came up as I was in "casual" company, some limbo a new recruit to the radio school would land in waiting for a security clearance to proceed to the next phase of training, the classified section known as "R-branch." All of this was very impressive and it was not difficult to be overwhelmed by it and follow orders to the letter. That is, until mess duty rolled along and I was assigned to it for 30 days. It wasn't until many years later when I discovered entries in my Service Record Book that my security clearance had actually been processed and command was just using me for the dirty work around the company, on mess duty, firewatch and barracks field days, to make them look good.

                             (NCTC Corry Field chow hall, 1966 photo by CC Cook, USN/CTR2)

     Reflecting sunglasses was the trademark of the black petty officer in charge of the messmen. A mixed batch of sailors and Marines, we had a name for Charles Underwood Farley, it was "Chuck U Farley."  Whether this was his real name or not, it didn't matter much, mess duty was a grueling ten to twelve hour daily shift that had us reporting in an hour before zero-dark-thirty and getting off long after the sun went down. Aside from the usual daily assignments of chopping carrots and celery all day long, we would wash down the dining area three times a day in a drawn out process of moving all the tables and chairs, flooding the tile floor, then mopping it all up. There was no AC, it was Devil's Island for real, with Farley watching every move from behind his reflecting shades.
     Reflecting back on all of this, I had no idea just how valuable this tortuous lesson would be in the future, more valuable than anything I learned in radio school. I never finished the school, eventually literally fighting my way out with the usual reduction of rank and forfeiture of pay. But I was headed to the West coast when new orders were cut, the 28th Marines infantry regiment at Camp Pendleton.

          (Above: 2 photos of the Corry Co.K barracks taken circa 1967, taken by Rick Swan)


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