Bruce T. Russell, BM3

by B. T. Russell

 

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

 

When did I first hear of UDT? Of course, I’d heard of them while on a ship floating in ‘the bay,’ but I first took notice when I was stationed on Guam. I would have done anything to get back to the world so when a request for volunteers came out in the Plan Of The Day, I threw my skinny ass into the pot. God, was I naïve! I had never run an entire mile in my life, never played sports (too small). I had been on a YMCA swim team ten years prior and had seven years of playing the fool in the Navy. Oh, yeah! Was I ever ready.

 

What was my most memorable moment? …Two of them actually. During ‘Hell Week’ on Friday, we were on our last legs of the exercise. Believe it or not I was still lucid, and scared shitless, I might add. Everyone in the boat crew (McNair’s) was acting very strange. Bobby Lee (Clark) jumped up in the boat and started thrashing the water with his paddle, screaming “SHARK!” There was a lot of chatter, but none of it made sense. We couldn’t find the CAMPFIRE way point. We met up with Barney’s boat crew who also seemed to be lost (with lights all around us, I might add) and proceeded along, blind leading the blind. Then we stop and gather for a patrol order from Mr. McNair. He said (I swear to God this happened), while pointing at the SDG&E lights, “Ok, guys, we’re going to paddle over to that hotel, get a room and a hot shower and something to eat…and…an hour’s sleep and then com back and finish this event.” I, of course, said, “Oh, shit,” under my breath. With Bobby Lee as stroke man we hauled ass for the ‘hotel.’ When we got there everyone had forgotten why the hell we were there. Someone suggested we build a fire and get warm so Barney and I set out to find some matches. We were strolling along at the SDG&E compound when the indefatigable Barney House quietly asks me, “Are the guys in your boat acting strange?” I replied, “Yeah! And they’re scaring the shit out of me.”

 

Barney and I happened upon the plant guard and nonchalantly ask him for some matches. I could only guess what he thought looking at us! Wet, muddy, sandy, staggering from lack of sleep, and talking like a couple of drunks, I’m convinced he thought, “Well, I can shoot ‘em or give ‘em some matches.” I’m glad he chose the latter.

 

We took the matches back to the beach where the boats and crews were and proceeded to build a fire of the oily tar-coated wood. It rose to about twenty feet in the air and could have been used as a beacon for the jets landing at North Island NAS. Barney and I stayed off to the side and eventually went back to the boats and laid down for some sleep when the yelling began. I peeked up over the gunwale and saw instructors Raschick and Olivera standing on the berm over us, glowing in the firelight as a sort of apparition. Both were mentioning our mothers and family lineage and kicking dirt at us. After half an hour or so of “what part of dumbass don’t you get?” type of PT we were instructed to put out the fire and paddle back to the UDTRA area.

 

This, folks, was the fun part. We got back to the area at the crack of dawn where we were met by instructor Lonnie Price (you guys remember Price, don’t you?) Chief Price told us to paddle back down to IB and make sure the campfire was out. I should note here that everyone else in Class #29 had secured from training. So, Mr. McNair (always the optimist) says something like, “All right, sailors, let’s get our back into it”…..hahahaha. Back down the bay we went, crying, bitching, pissing and moaning all the way. But it wasn’t that bad! We virtually flew along the water and made it in record time. The reason: the wind was coming out of the North at about 20 to 30 MPH and funneling right down the bay, so it was a great ride. We got to the fire easily and made sure it was out. It was!

 

This part I need help with. We waited for an instructor to check us out. He (I cannot remember who) instructed us to proceed back to the “AREA.” We enthusiastically launched our trusty craft and headed, into the wind, back to the phib base. After about an hour of paddling like hell we discovered we had gone absolutely nowhere; the wind was holding us to a zero sum distance over ground. We paddled close enough to shore so that we could get out and pull the boats along. The last thing I remember clearly was Mr. McNair and I changing places because he wanted to paddle for a while to stay awake. So I took over as coxswain. Here’s where I need help! All I remember of the rest of that day was periodically being screamed at and threatened with bodily harm on the trip back because I kept falling asleep and steering our boat in circles. I don’t remember getting there, what happened when we got back. I  assume it was somewhere around noon, Saturday. The remembrance is an airdale friend of mine (not a trainee) was waking me up in the barracks so we could go out. He was underage so we got some beer and went to the IB drive-in movie. He told me the next day that after one beer I passed out and was yelling gibberish and grunting so loud we left. What a week.

 

Memory # 2…the ride to the beach on the crest of a big one, screaming all the way. We hit the beach, high and dry, and jumped out of the boat onto the rocky beach damn proud of ourselves. I looked and saw Barney standing there with a huge grin.

 

Best moment…when about halfway through training I made it out of the beach run ‘goon squad’ by one man. For two months they used me as the cutoff man for the goon squad and on that day I somehow sneaked by when they weren’t looking and got into the first group. Worst moment…just too damn many to remember.

 

I retired from the Navy in ’77 after being in SEAL Team since ’64. I stayed around S.D. for a year then moved my new family to Oregon. We lived in the boondocks, in a cabin along the Umpqua River, getting our water from a creek and living a simpler type life.

 

I eventually graduated from Oregon Tech with a degree in Medical Radiology and have worked at a hospital in Southern Oregon as a Radiographer ever since.

 

I am still trying to get to the graduation of #229. Hope to see you there.

 

Sincerely,

BT Russell

 

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