ENS John Boyd – UDTRA Class 29 wc Recollections – JTB

 

Note: Originally published in “To Be Someone Special – The Story of UDTra Class 29” by RD Russell

 

Rather than one specific ‘event’ such as the final blowing up of Northwest Harbor so well described by Barney (House), I’ve recalled a number of pictures that sort of flash through my mind about our mutually shared time as Tadpoles.

 

Continuing on from Barney’s narration, I remember a little later that afternoon or the next day being mustered outside the gate of our compound at Northwest Harbor when “Doc” Barber came out and said (I can hear the tone of his voice and inflection still), “All right you people, I want you to get down there on the beach and clean up all the ‘derbiss.’

 

I had no idea what ‘derbiss’ was and one of the other officers, Wrightnour or Wooten, I think, asked “Clean what derbiss, Barber?” His answer was a somewhat irritated, “The ‘derbiss’, all that stuff from the obstacles that washed up on the beach.” Then I remember Ensign Wooten finally understanding what he was talking about, “Oh, I know – the ‘daybree’. You want us to clean up the debris.”

 

Barber’s response, “Yes, that’s what I said. Go clean up all the ‘derbiss’ – a new word added to the language by a tobacco chewing corpsman from El Cajon.

 

I recall the last working day before the start of our ‘Magic 16 weeks’ together, the last day of so-called ‘Officer pre-training’. The evolution was surf passage and rock portage in front of the Hotel Del. I’d not even been in the ocean prior to training and the thought of surfing into those rocks was not really high on my personal list of fun and healthful activities for a sunny afternoon. The specifics are not recalled but I do remember that our labors resulted in my having had one trouser leg, from the knee down, severed by the intimate contact with rock and barnacle.

 

In the early days I recall then Chief Dick Brereton who was soon to leave for ‘Knife and Fork’ school. There were times when I thought he suffered from arrested mental development because the only calisthenic he knew was, you remember, ‘Sitting Flutter Kicks’. I guess he never heard of pushups or groin stretchers, only flutter kicks, sitting or supine.

 

Shortly after Dick Brereton’s departure a new instructor reported, a lieutenant, ‘Preacher White.’ In problem after problem I can hear him briefing us saying, “The water temperature today (tonight) is 82 degrees, IOH” We came to understand that IOH stood for In Our Hearts…and was a LIE. Maybe he had dyslexia as it was really 28 degrees and he just read it backwards. Yeah, that must have been it. I can’t believe it took me 30 years to figure it out.

 

The constant cold water is one of my most pervasive memories of UDTRA. One day, shortly before San Clemente Island, we’d had some sort of problem conducted in the Bay adjacent to the SEABEE pier. Young, skinny Sheridan had run afoul of the instructors so he and his swim buddy (who remembers who it was?) had their own extended period treading water there. I’ll not forget Sheridan shivering so much that I thought all of San Diego Bay looked like the bowl of a Mixmaster.

 

I remember some of our ‘guest’ instructors – the ones who came TAD from the Teams. Like Bill Raschick who thought the greatest fun in the world was doing jumping jacks in a rubber boat while it was at ‘head carry’ by seven (or less) stalwart Tadpoles.

 

I also remember another ‘guest’ whose tenure was rather short-lived. One Saturday morning he was in charge of our problem, wondrously titled ‘Distance Judging Over Water’. After some preliminaries we buried the end of a flutter board line with a ‘dead man’ adjacent to the Bay next to Turner Field (you recall Turner Field – that place of eighteen bazillion pushups per person. Can anyone explain why after all these years and all those Tadpoles pushing themselves up, hence Turner Field down, it is not now many fathoms below sea level? It defies the laws of physics), placed an IBS in the water to provide transportation to our ‘guest’. His name, I think, was Nash, a little short guy. Bud Juric was lingering in the background to see that all went well, I guess. At any rate, the idea was Nash reels out this flutter board line from the IBS, propelled out into the Bay by swimming Tadpoles, while the rest just swam. At intervals Nash would call for a halt and we were to estimate distance o the beach and call out our answers. Apparently Nash did not realize we already knew how the flutter board line was marked with colored bunting. Of course this soon became a bore and some of the answers to his queries became absurd. Such responses could be heard as (at 125 yards), “eight hundred forty-nine”, and (at 200 yards), “twenty-three hundred.” I’m not certain he ever knew his chain was being yanked but he clearly understood what was up when several frolicsome Tadpoles propelled large volumes of water into the air and into the IBS resulting in Nash becoming soaking wet and unhappy. This, as you may recall, resulted in our being introduced to the wonders of a UDTRA Happy Hour. We squatted in waist deep water for five or six birthdays apiece while Nash and the kindly Father Juric looked on.

 

Who can forget Cifuentes’ riveting classroom lecture on ‘Dangerous Marine Life’? Before that I thought all dangerous marine life came in the form of Jarheads…”I don’t want a BAR, I just want a Candy Bar, Lead me to the…”

 

How about Ensign Wooten who later in life demonstrated outstanding ability in academic pursuits never once through all our study and tests on Diving Physics and Medicine got even one problem right involving the Diving Tables. His efforts with the repetitive Dive Table produced repetitive wrong answers.

 

I remember the best pre-program briefing given during all of training and it was not given by one of us but rather was delivered by Kevin Murphy. Recall San Clemente and Thanksgiving when Kevin briefed on the night problem. The dreaded Kelp Swim. A bit later there may have been some happier people somewhere in the world that night but I doubt it.

 

From Hell Week who can forget the ‘Scavenger Hunt’ or the Mud Flats where at lunchtime Doc Barber declared the very center of the mudhole to be ‘Wardroom Country’ so the officers journeyed there to sit in that marvelous mixture and enjoy that award-winning culinary delight, the Box Lunch.  How about the diving contest there – running down the sand dune, springing from an upturned IBS and performing the Swan Dive for Distance, the Jackknife for Depth, and other acrobatic marvels – Greg Louganis, eat your heart out.

 

Speaking of Hell Week, I still do not know and have not been able to figure out, after more than 33 years, how Mister White and the rest of Boat Crew Six kept their Evinrude from being discovered by the Instructors or any of the rest of us. Lest we start an argument about Boat Crew Six’s Hell Week prowess, I think we should put the matter to a vote among all members of Class 29. I think the result would show clearly that they employed some sort of ‘illegal’ propulsion. “Fess up, Willie, tell us the deal. After all, Lonnie Price can’t give you pushups now.” (Or can he?)

 

I remember someone, I think it was Russell, B.T., who made a mistake during a demo training evolution with cap crimpers. He spent the evening hours that day sitting on the grass in front of the Instructors’ Hut with a cap crimper and rolls of time fuse cutting the fuse into one inch pieces, then crimping each piece in the middle until he had built the required pile a foot high or whatever it was. All I could think of as he recited his accompanying litany: “This is for cutting, this is for crimping”, was the famous poem in Leon Uris’ book “Battle Cry”, a scene from their Boot Camp at MCRD, San Diego, “This is my rifle, this is my gun, this is for shooting……”

 

From San Clemente I recall the after-supper tension each night in the officers’ tent waiting for the Duty Instructor to summon whichever one of us was going to be in charge of whatever the night problem was going to be. One night as we waited, Maxie Stephenson came by and was standing inside talking to us when an unfortunate mouse started to run across the deck in front of Maxie. He saw the little critter as he was speaking and without even pausing or missing a breath, jumped up a little, then came down with both boon dockers on the mouse who was turned into an instant protein pancake.

 

Remember the last night of San Clemente Island on the LST when we were all mustered on the main deck and watched that last big demo shot go off near China Point? LT Schmidt, that ever warm, gracious personality, was there with us and made a tiny speech about the concluding of our operational training evolutions; we had finished. I remember his warm, gracious, even touching final speech – a cold, laconic one word “Congrats.” Is it any wonder that during the week before graduation back in Coronado he was the only instructor we did not throw into the Bay? By the way, that reminds me (after 33 years), who threw the red smoke grenade into Lonnie Price’s office to force him out into capturing and dunking range?

 

During that last week, remember getting a couple of paychecks that had accumulated while we were on San Clemente? I recall one tall tow-headed Ensign who, in the process of helping one of the Instructors into the Bay, lost his helmet liner which landed in the water floating upside down. No one gave it much thought as the wind carried the helmet liner bobbing southward. It became hilarious when we realized he had beforehand placed those back paychecks inside the helmet liner, so we were watching one month’s pay, for one man, float not so majestically toward Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, the Mud Flats or other points south.

 

Speaking of floating majestically along the Bay, who can forget LTJG Wrightnour and crew proudly paddling the IBS along the Bay with its blue and white ‘COMIBSFLOT ONE’ pennant proudly two-blocked and fluttering in the breeze on its swab handle mast? ‘COMIBSFLOT ONE’ is a much more impressive title than ‘Senior Trainee.’

 

How about George and Gene, the twins, the ‘Rector Set’? One of them (I’ll say it was George) came up lame and complained for several days about a ‘bad wheel’. He was sent to Sick Bay a few times; no one could find anything wrong with his foot and we began to think he was malingering but he persisted in his complaints until, finally, Doc Barber, I think, checked his boon docker for maybe a nail sticking up. Turns out, no nail…but lo and behold, there was a boot sock crammed into the toe of his boon docker. No wonder our boy experienced pain but who could imagine going through several days like that and not be aware? Apparently only part of the ‘Rector Set’ could do that!

 

Speaking of those who did not graduate, remember Frank Bomar who did not but came back a couple of years later, did finish, and served in the Teams with honor.

 

Who can forget the continual antics of Layton and Marley, particularly those on liberty, authorized and otherwise…something about them in the Tijuana jail, being freed but Layton lingering in the cell for some reason.

 

Recall if you will, one of the less onerous rules in Tadpole-land, namely, that when moving individually around the base during working hours the requirement to double-time. I found this particularly to be a pain when going back to the area after lunch so I developed a method which technically, scientifically fulfilled the definition of running but which actually resulted in less forward speed than normal walking. This became (not well) known as the ‘Boyd Shuffle.’ As with most new things, there were doubters until one lunch hour, while shuffling back to the area I was observed being overtaken by two guys walking along the street. My having been less than the fastest runner in the class, my shuffle should not have come as surprise to anyone. I think the only slower runner in the class was a fellow from Miami of Ohio, that refugee from the Greasy George Clymer (APA something or other), whose name comes to mind when one thinks of Huckleberry Finn. Even though his name is Sawyer, he’s always seemed to me to be more like the free spirit, Huck Finn.

 

Who else remembers Henry Lee at San Clemente Island, taking one of those outdoor showers at least once a day in that frigid water? That water is the only I ever experienced that was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit but still not solidified. I’d like some graduate physicist to explain that.

 

You know, something occurs to me as I look over this stuff and think about our training – old Frogmen may be the only people in the world who get nostalgic and sentimental over their own pain and suffering. I’m not sure I know what that says about us…and I’m not sure I want to know. To paraphrase a song from Mary Poppins, “A spoonful of Hooyah makes the pain go away…”

 

Who can forget Peter Witter, stripped to the waist displaying his hirsute overdevelopment absolutely flying through the obstacle course thus causing observers who did not already know him but merely saw this hairy critter streaking over, under, and around things to demand to hear him speak intelligent words before admitting he was human rather than a throwback to some more simian-type creature.

 

Laboring under fatigue was a significant lesson we learned in UDTRA. I recall a night during an inland Demo raid problem that we all sat offshore at San Clemente, a bit south of the airfield runway while the swimmer scouts did their thing. There we were, seven IBS more or less clustered together and everyone sort of resting, mentally as well as physically, when someone, Will Sawyer, I think, sounded the alarm and pointed to the south where we could see a white light ‘coming our way’. Will announced a ship bearing down on us and a frantic effort to paddle out of the way began, but after several minutes of high energy effort, it occurred to us that if it was a white light on a ship it could not be coming toward us. After all, there would be two range lights and an overtaking light could not be visible from forward. We finally realized we were about to be run over not by a ship but by Castle Rock which, presumably, had not gotten underway in several centuries. At least everyone was not wide awake.

 

Who remembers at San Clemente dressing for every non-swimming problem by picking your driest set of Greens off the clothesline? Driest being a relative term. Nothing was dry after the first three or four days. Driest merely meant the least sopping. If you could hardly wring any water out, it was dry enough to wear. My skin still well remembers the cold, clammy feeling of pulling on damp Greens. How come nobody told me to go to San Clemente with 12 extra sets? How come nobody had 12 extra sets?

 

How about standing on the beach at Northwest Harbor waiting for the word to launch IBS’s through the surf for the night problem and about 40 young idiots wailing to the sky for protection from the cold, wet and misery by crying out to that mythical surf god, Juju, Juju, Juju. Wasn’t it Marley or Layton who invented Juju? If not, at least they were two of his (or her) more vocal priests.

 

Perhaps a Class 29 Trivia Quiz would be fun:

 

  1. Who stuffed the sock into the toe of Rector’s boot?
  2. Who initiated the idea of running away from Filmore that day he was visibly drunk and leading us on a run at San Clemente?
  3. Who did not tie the PL or PR to the mooring buoy in Northwest Harbor the night Pete Witter had the watch?
  4. Who was the first member of the Class required to hold a smoke grenade with the pin removed, because he was sleeping during classroom work (after the mandatory trip into the Bay, of course)?
  5. Where and how did Boat Crew Six hide their Evinrude (or was it a Mercury) during Hell Week?
  6. Who threw the smoke grenade into Lonnie Price’s office?
  7. During the SCUBA harassment swim, who picked up my regulator from the bottom of the pool and put it on his tanks?
  8. Who first introduced us to ‘Juju’?
  9. Was the head at Northwest Harbor a ‘three holer’ or a ‘four holer’?
  10. Who was the shortest guy in the Class whose helmet could never touch the bottom of the rubber boat during head carry?

 

 Back to UDT/SEAL Vietnam Era stories