The summer I turned 16, I was exploring along the waterfront, enjoying the dirt and the grime and the mesmerizing fast flowing Savannah River.
All of a sudden there it was! A 95 foot U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat with what I think was a twin barrel 20mm gun mount on the bow. She had beautiful lines. I decided right then I wanted to be in the Coast Guard and run a boat like that. On my 17th birthday I was in Atlanta being sworn into the U.S. Coast Guard! In retrospect, I think maybe they were desperate for recruits in those days! They sent me to Cape May, New Jersey for basic training. I loved it from the very beginning. I loved the water. I loved boats, I loved the disciplined life. We were issued, as was explained, “Everything that we needed”. Everything else was to be sent home or thrown out. On our second day we went through cleaning and testing the action on our rifles. I was given the task of carrying a rifle to the armory for repairs.
I felt pretty important walking along with a WW2 M1 rifle.
I saw that I was being approached by four officers! No escape. I searched my memory from ROTC training.
How did one salute with a rifle while moving. I was sure this would be the end of my career in the USCG. I was turning that rifle every way but the right way, wishing I could make it disappear! All four of the officers had quizzical looks on their faces. I finally just froze, holding my breath with the rifle at the “Present arms” position. They stopped.
One of them asked, “How long have you been in the Coast Guard sailor”!
I stuttered and shouted, “Uh, uh, All day sir”! All four broke out laughing. I was told to “Carry on”.
There were competitions held between training companies every month. The winning company got a full weekend off. We were graded on every aspect of our training, personal appearance, condition of barracks. I am talking about crawling around on one’s knees picking up miniscule bits of dirt or dust with wet fingertips from a mirror shined floor.
There was also individual rifle drill competition.
One person selected from each company represented his unit. I had a head start having my own rifles starting at about age 12 and practiced drilling with a rifle in ROTC at Commercial High.
I found that all high schools, particularly in the north, did not teach ROTC. A majority of the Coast Guard recruits had never seen a rifle, much less handled one. I ended up representing my company in every individual drill competition. Something akin to absolute perfection was required in handling the weapon thru standard commands. An officer would stand next to you and give the commands in a whisper.
One fraction of an inch off with any part of one’s body or the weapon and you were out.
The entire Battalion would be in formation watching. Every time it would get down to the last three or four guys out of a dozen or more starters.
I would get the tap on the shoulder which meant, ”You just screwed up, return to your unit”. The last time I could compete before graduation from basic training I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was suddenly the only one standing there! I have always wondered if it being my last time had something to do with my winning. I was awarded a beautiful brass belt buckle with crossed rifles on it and another long weekend at Crest Pier, Wildwood Beach, New Jersey.
Thank you Commercial High R.O.T.C.
Roy Hubbard is a retired Green Beret and a Savannah native who calls South Bryan home. He writes for us on occasion.