The test

When I was a kid, I was asked a hundred times “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Mostly I remember the questions, as I had no good answers. My folks were both school people who believed that an education was the best way to get ahead. After the first grade, my mother was always a teacher in my school, and my father was always the principal. It was hard to hide. From what I had seen, I was not sure I wanted to follow their examples. They were fine examples, but knowing a field from every angle destroys the mystique. At the time the Navy’s recruiting posters said Join the Navy, and See the World. This slogan removed the warts, and left the mystique. I think that was what I wanted, but I had no interest in actually joining the Navy. I wanted a career with no warts.

1949 Wakefield, Kansas

1949 Wakefield, Kansas

In the fall of 1949 during my senior year in high school, the principal called me into his office. I said to myself, “What have I done now?” Until I arrived, I didn’t know if I was going to see the principal, or my old man. To my surprise, it was the old man, and he just wanted to talk. He was concerned about paying for college, and asked if I was interested in a college scholarship for training through the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC). He said there would be testing and physical examinations, and a lot of competition. I said I was interested before I knew what I was getting into. It would be a good deal if I could qualify.

Within a month I completed what seemed like 100 pages of application and information forms. The Navy was looking for two thousand men of good character in excellent health who were willing to sign a contract for college training in exchange for service in the Navy. The scholarship portion paid tuition, fees, books, transportation costs, and $50.00 every month for four years of college. Each summer required taking a cruise or other training program as assigned. That amounted to free college plus some spending money, plus one all-expense paid vacation each summer till graduation. My part of the bargain was to take Naval Science classes every year till graduation, then accept a commission as an ensign in the regular Navy. From that point forward, I was to serve at the pleasure of the Navy for a period of three years. It was a dream deal, but difficult to imagine actually getting into such a program.

One of the forms was designed to assist with a background check. It asked for the organizations in which you currently hold or previously held membership. Then it asked if you have had any contact with members of such organizations. Then it provided a list of organizations two pages long and a box to check for each. The only organization for youth in Wakefield was Boy Scouts. It was not listed. The form also asked about traffic violations, truancy, vandalism, arrests, criminal records, and civil lawsuits. At that point I worried about the streetlights I shot with my BB gun in Derby when I was eight years old. Fortunately my record was squeaky clean. Unofficially if I selected the proper references, I might be able to avoid difficulty with my background check. The forms were all completed, signed, and submitted to the Bureau of Personnel, U.S. Navy Department, Washington, D.C. Then the waiting began.

Two months later I was advised to go to the high school in Concordia, Kansas. It was for psychological testing. The instructions were to get plenty of rest, and prepare for a very long day beginning at 8:00 in the morning. I reported to the high school and was shown to the library where the testing would be held. I was one of 100 students in the room. I tried to calculate the chances of being selected. Subsequently I learned that 40,000 students were considered to fill 2,000 slots. At that rate, other things being equal, five students could be selected from the Concordia group. The testing was grueling, taking 50 minutes of every hour with a ten-minute break. I don’t remember ever leaving so many test questions blank in my life. At 5:00 in the evening I was miserable and exhausted, and slept in the car all the way home.

A month later I was told to report to the military headquarters in the Main Post Office Building in Kansas City, Missouri. It was for a physical examination and career interview. Reporting as requested, I filled out more forms, had an interview with two people, and participated with fifty persons in a group medical examination. A military group medical examination is a phenomenon impressed indelibly into memory for a lifetime.

One of the forms was a medical history in which you reported everything you knew you had, or knew a family member had. I reported, among other things, a couple of fractured bones, and supplied the details as requested.

The group medical was initially a record reading session of the medical histories, with individual follow-up of questionable items. After this the doctors in charge held a group physical examination. The instructions were simple. Remove all your clothes, including your shoes, and stand at attention in a straight line, shoulder to shoulder, facing east. All fifty stood at attention, naked as jaybirds, while the doctors looked us up the front, sides, and rear for any visible sign of difficulty. One might call this a gross visual examination, but it could not hold a candle to what followed.

The next instruction was to bend over and spread-em. I was not sure what em was, so I watched the other guys and did what they did. Up to this time, the notion of mooning ones posterior parts had not been coined. Had I been alone in the bathroom, the experience might have been tolerable. Only my mother had seen this particular exposure before, and that was two decades earlier. There I stood in a room full of 50 naked men, bent over and spreading em. The sight was gruesome. Moon we did. Then we were told to put on our clothes, go home, and forget everything we had seen there that day. Such a sight is difficult to forget.

After a month I received word that my application was complete. I was given alternate status, the highest form of rejection. They thanked me for my participation, and wished me good luck. It was now summer 1950, and time to make final plans for college. My application to the University of Kansas was accepted. I arrived in Lawrence during rush week, a number of days before official registration, and pledged the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. I was ready to start school, but had no idea what kind of major I might select. The NROTC was but a distant memory.

While eating lunch at the fraternity house, I was told I had a message at the Western Union Office. I had no idea what kind of message might be so urgent. It was from the Navy Department, Bureau of Personnel. It said:

Be advised change from alternate to regular status NROTC. If accept, advise this office, proceed immediately Oregon State College, Corvallis and report Professor of Naval Science for duties as assigned.

I had hit the mother lode! Free college, spending money, paid summer cruise-vacations, plus transportation at government expense. While I had never heard of Oregon State College, it really didn’t matter. I packed my bags and returned to Western Kansas to prepare for the long journey to the west coast.

The next seven years of my life were on the Navy’s drawing board. I looked forward to the journey with excitement and enthusiasm. I repacked my bags and boarded the Union Pacific’s City of St Louis headed west for Portland and Corvallis, wherever they might be.

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