ADVENTURES IN PENSACOLA

                or Everyone else went to New Orleans...

                             and you went to Hattiesburg?

It was the summer of 1961, between my third class (sophomore) and second class (junior) years at the U.S. Naval Academy. Second Class Summer was always greatly anticipated by Midshipmen because we traveled all over the place undergoing a wide variety of training. My group started off at the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Virginia working with the Marines and amphibious Navy. Then we went to the Naval Base in Philadelphia for fire fighting and damage control school. After that we visited Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida for indoctrination into a variety of aircraft types. This was followed by a trip to Naval Air Station, Key West for indoctrination into submarines. During this trip we spent about a half day aboard a diesel sub and I vowed that I would never again set foot in a submarine. But the crowning glory of Second Class Summer was the month we spent at NAS Pensacola flying real Navy aircraft. OK, it was T-34 and T-28 trainers with flight instructors, but I loved every minute of it…felt like Joe Foss or Pappy Boyington. After graduation I became a Marine infantry officer, but on two occasions I almost volunteered for flight school…once out of The Basic School, and another time when my fellow rifle platoon leader and buddy George Ross left 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines for flight school. But I was born to be an infantryman.

                                                             Navy T-34 Trainer

At Pensacola they issued us one flight suit. It was an orange nomex suit, and we sweated it through and through sitting in the cockpits of the planes on the unbelievably hot runways waiting for takeoff. The flight suits dried quickly after you took them off, but they stunk like hell. Of course we could have washed them in the shower or deep sinks available in the barracks, or even the washing machines, but given the choice of doing that or drinking beer at the ACRAC Club, you can guess which option we chose. We also had reading assignments on the various aspects of the T-34 and T-28 which we took seriously, but when it came to laundry or beer, we wore stinking flight suits. As I recall the ACRAC, it was a low rent dump within easy walking distance from the barracks, but it sold cheap beer. That was important to money-starved Mids.

                                                             Navy T-28 Trainer

The Pensacola segment of our summer was by far the most memorable for me. I loved the flying, and although the T-34 was the basic trainer, I had more trouble handling it than I did the T-28. For some reason that airplane liked me better than the T-34.

One weekend about half way through our stay at Pensacola, our group of Midshipmen decided to charter a bus for a trip to New Orleans. I agreed to kick in, but seeing as how I had an old high school buddy from Kansas, Jim Foshee, who had moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, I decided to ride the bus as far a Gulfport, Mississippi and hitch-hike the 60 miles to Hattiesburg north along US Highway 49. Jim was staying with relatives while attending Southern Mississippi University. I convinced two friends from my USNA company to come along. Thus my room mate Dick Williams from Pratt, Kansas, Bob Borlet from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and yours truly started out on our big Dixieland adventure. We’d meet the bus in Gulfport on Sunday afternoon on the way back to Pensacola. I called Foshee and told him we were coming and to line us up some dates for Saturday night.

The bus departed Pensacola after work late on Friday afternoon. We disembarked on the southern end of Gulfport around dark and decided to take a cab to the northern city limits before we started hitch hiking. As we drove through the city, the cab driver gave us a short guided tour. He pointed out the Phillips Milk of Magnesia plant as we passed, and Williams remarked, "It must be the shits to work there." We were dressed in the old Navy khaki summer service uniform…the one with the blouse and black shoulder boards. To see why our attire is worth mentioning here, read on.

We caught a ride that took us about 35 or 40 miles, and then dumped us in the middle of nowhere at a dark road intersection. There was one building at the intersection. It was a bar on stilts that had a dim front porch light burning. Other than the dim light shining through the windows of the place, that was the sum total of illumination. It was friggin’ dark! We decided to go in a have a cool one before catching another ride. We entered the place and ordered a beer. The redneck clientele of the place eyed us with suspicion. As we were nursing our beers at the bar, a gap-toothed gent came up and said, "You boys finish your beers and get out of heah." I inquired as to why and he replied, and I swear this is a direct quote remembered for these past 45 years, "We don’t like Navys heah!" Hmmm, recognized our uniforms, eh? How observant. I saw a pay phone on the wall and called Foshee and told him where we were and that he’d better get his ass down and pick us up if he wanted to see us alive. He knew exactly where we were and said he’d leave immediately. We finished our beers and went outside and stood in the dark until he arrived.

Having survived the bar on stilts, the rest of the weekend was memorable. The southern hospitality shown by Jim and his relatives in Hattiesburg was nothing short of outstanding. We ate like kings, consumed copious amounts of cold beer, and met some nice Mississippi girls who we took to a drive in movie. There were eight of us in a single car, and remember, we were in Mississippi in July. I can’t remember what movie was showing. Borlet’s date was a little short girl who had such a heavy southern accent that they could barely communicate. The dialects between Michigan and Mississippi approached incomprehensibility.

As we were getting ready to depart on Sunday afternoon from the Hattiesburg bus station, Williams visited the head, and rather than pay the dime to get into the pay toilets, he laid on the floor and scooted under the partition. Bus station rest room floors and khaki uniforms do not mix well. It cost more than a dime to get the uniform cleaned.

We met the bus returning from New Orleans and headed back for another week of flying. I’m sure that aviation summer convinced a lot of classmates to pursue Wings of Gold upon graduation. On a sobering note, of those that became Naval aviators, 11 classmates died during the Vietnam War. But none of us was thinking about those possible consequences during the summer of 1961.

Just another adventure from my days at the Old Boat School.

  Semper Fi,

   Dirck Praeger sends