San Diego is a wonderful place, even in the winter. Thanksgiving and Christmas have a different kind of feel when you are surrounded by palm trees, beaches and beautiful women. The lack of snow, along with the lack of cold weather is fine with me, after all, I live on a boat and have good reason to avoid miserable winters.
The first time I was there was in the winter of 1975. My reason for being in San Diego that winter was simple. Eight weeks of fun and sun in the U.S. Navy recruit training station awaited me. My 19th birthday had just passed, and the possibility of being shipped off to Viet Nam was gone. The carefree days of my youth were over, and it was time for me to learn a trade, and figure out how I was going to lead the rest of my life.
I flew into the San Diego airport that night without the least bit of apprehension. All my worries had dissipated with the thick cloud of marijuana smoke that had enveloped me on the plane. That, and a few stiff drinks had removed any worries I might have about facing the dreaded drill instructor. I was traveling with a group of recruits, and we were all doing whatever we could to distance ourselves from reality.
When we got off of the plane in San Diego, we followed the signs to the “military reception” desk. There we found a young Petty Officer, who directed us to a bus stop outside the airport. As we waited for the bus, we all chatted amongst ourselves, looking for some common ground that would make the coming weeks easier to bear. I noticed one particular fellow, because he was talking so much louder than the rest. He was tall and had what seemed to be a cocky streak. He had the look of someone to be reckoned with.
When the bus stopped and opened the door, I noticed that an older gentleman, a civilian, was driving the bus. He just smiled and motioned us on to the bus without saying a word. I remember thinking to myself that the experience so far had not been too bad…
It was a very short trip from the airport to the base. Probably no more than a ten-minute ride. When the bus stopped the driver opened the door and a tall fellow in uniform stepped into the bus. “Gentleman”, he addressed us, “when you step out of the bus, form a single file line outside on the grinder, NOW MOVE IT!” We bummed rushed out of the bus onto the asphalt collapsing into a clumsy single file line that seemed to be about 75 victims long.
As I stood there in the line, waiting for whatever was to come next, I glanced around at my companions in this experience. We were a very diverse group, seemingly represented by almost every different race, color or creed known to man. Some were in their 30’s, but most were young like me, no more than 18 or 19 years of age. As one might guess, some of us were tall, some short, some thick, and some thin. But this night we were all joined together in the grip of a power mightier than us all.
It had gotten good and dark by this time, and I had lost track of the time. We stood outside on a huge expanse of asphalt we would later come to know as the “grinder.” Out of the darkness walked a man of medium stature. He positioned himself in front of us so that all could see him. He wore the insignia of Radioman First Class, and the “Budweiser” of the Navy Seals.
“My name is Oscar Peevey, and I am your Company Commander for the next eight weeks.” He paused before continuing, “Your company number is 7566. Don’t forget that. You will address me as Company Commander.” Petty Officer Peevey spoke in a clear voice, he did not yell, but was plainly heard by each and every one of us. For the next two months, we would rarely hear him address us in this calm tone of voice.
The first week of Boot Camp shot by in a blur of haircuts, gear issue, and paperwork. Everything had to be perfect, which meant we ended up doing everything numerous times before we got it right. Somehow Petty Officer Peevey had been transformed from a reasoning leader of men, to a screaming, frothing at the mouth, Doberman-like creature, which was satisfied with absolutely nothing we did.