The summer of 1954 got off to a spectacular start. The seniors at the University of Kansas walked down Mount Oread to the football stadium for their graduation ceremony. Commissioning in the regular Navy followed later the same day. The Navy had issued orders to active duty following graduation and commissioning as follows:
Upon acceptance of appointment as Ensign, Supply Corps, U. S. Navy, and when directed by the Professor of Naval Science, NROTC Unit, you will proceed to Athens, Ga., and report to the Commanding Officer, Navy Supply Corps School for temporary duty under instruction, pending further assignment to duty by the Bureau of Naval Personnel.
Our training for the Supply Corps was to receive the finishing touches in Athens, covering all aspects of supply management in the Navy. It was compressed into a twelve-week period. The schools main entrance and Winnie-Davis Hall, which housed the schools administrative offices, is shown below as it appeared in 1954.
For decades the school had been located in Bayonne, New Jersey, and had only recently been moved to Athens. Our class was the first to start training in Athens. The campus was located on the grounds of the old Normal School, and consisted of a large cluster of mostly older buildings. One building had been converted into an officers mess, but few of the nicer amenities were otherwise available on the campus. The fresh influx of married students made it somewhat difficult to obtain adequate housing in the community, particularly since we would be short-term, 90-day residents.
We settled into a one-bedroom apartment within two blocks of the University of Georgia campus. We were within easy walking distance of Stegman Hall, where Navy students and dependents had swimming privileges. Stegman had been used during WWII and afterward as an activity center for pre-flight training of pilots. Directly across the street from Stegman was Legion Pool, where dependents could catch some rays during the hot summer days. As very few of the apartments had air conditioning, the pools were popular gathering sites.
Immediately behind our apartment was a forest of tropical undergrowth. Coming from the high plains, we were unfamiliar with the southern climate, which offered lush undergrowth and crawling vermin in abundance. We had no particular problem with the crawlers, so long as they remained outside where they belonged. One evening we allowed a dish of butter to remain in the middle of the table over night. The next morning the butter dish was black with ants. They had beaten a path through the back door, across the kitchen, into the living room, up the table legs, and across the table to the butter dish in a single evening. Then they had accumulated in sufficient numbers to completely cover the butter until it was black with ants eating their fill. This incident set the stage for the next ninety days in which we were battling for dominion of our own apartment.
From that moment on, we scoured the stores for any appropriate weapons, which might give us an advantage against the crawlers. One early favorite was lighter fluid. It could be administered in several ways. The fluid itself was lethal when sprayed directly on the ants, but was an inefficient waste of fluid. A more dramatic effect was to pool fluid around one of their hills. A match would ignite the fluid and cripple hundreds, even thousands in a few seconds of flames. For the next hour their friends and neighbors were busy carrying off the bodies, and were momentarily distracted from entering our apartment. After a short period of trauma, they were back.
None of the commercially available sprays or chemicals were effective against ants, leaving us to our own resources. The most useful weapon we discovered was hot bacon grease. We never understood the mechanism for its effectiveness. A little hot grease on an anthill, and they abandoned ship. The grease may have sealed their underground passageways, making their homes uninhabitable. It seemed only fair. As a food source, the grease may even have clogged their little arteries, producing massive heart attacks. Whatever the mechanism, the grease was as effective as any we could find. We greased them in the mornings, and torched them in the evenings. As television was still not a useful commodity, the millions of ants provided hours of consuming entertainment throughout the day.
Except for fighting crawling insects, and the southern heat without air conditioning, school passed quickly. Training in Athens was temporary duty, subject to reassignment. Several days before graduation we received orders to our first permanent duty assignments. In my case they read as follows:
Upon completion of your course of instruction and when directed by your commanding officer you will regard yourself detached from temporary duty under instruction at the Navy Supply Corps School, Athens, Ga. and from such other duty as may have been assigned you; will proceed to San Francisco, Calif. and report to the Commandant, Twelfth Naval District for the first available transportation to the port in which the USS Gardiners Bay (AVP-39) may be, and upon arrival report to the commanding officer of that vessel for duty as assistant to the supply officer as the relief of Ensign David J. Griffiths, (SC), USNR, 571713/3105.
These orders set into motion the routine processing required for overseas assignments. A table of required vaccinations identified the number and kinds of shots and boosters for each destination. Going to the fleet in the Western Pacific specified a series of nine shots, seven initially, and two boosters at some subsequent time. For the next several days, the medical unit gave thousands of shots to their graduating officers, who were leaving for destinations all over the world. I received my seven shots, four in one arm and three in the other.
On reading these orders, I was reminded of the recruiting posters in windows and on street corners at the time. Join the Navy, and See The World, they proclaimed. As the Gardiners Bay was half way around the world from Athens, it was clear I would see the first half on my first tour of duty. I was fully vaccinated for everything except ants, and was eager to get the show on the road. The next six weeks would be an initiation into a service for which I was scarcely prepared. While the Supply Corps’ motto was Ready for Sea, I was not sure I was ready, but I knew I was going.