My Road to Creativity, 5: The Navy Seabees

My orders were to report to Norfolk Naval Bass in Norfolk, Virginia, a fleet base which was confusing as the two Seabee bases were in Davisville, Rhode Island or Port Hueneme, California. I ran into a number of other Seabee reservists who were as confused as I was. After a month in Norfolk, we all got our orders to report to Gulfport, Mississippi. We had no idea why.

We arrived in the deep south on a balmy soft mid-April night to discover we were the first of sixty personnel to recommission an old World War Two Seabee Base. The Viet Nam War was really now getting into full swing and Senator John Stennis managed to get this base reactivated in his home state.  So there we were.

We were an undisciplined group with not a whole lot to do. With my construction engineering background, I was tapped to work for the senior training officer fo the Twentieth Naval Construction Regiment. I had no idea at that time at how that would impact my two year career in the Navy and it would turn out to be very, very good for me.

It was in Norfolk that I discovered Ian Fleming’s James Bond series and by the time I finished my two year commitment, I had read most of the series. There was a guy I met early on who was reading Fleming’s Bond as well, so we shared books and conversations many times over beers and burgers at the Enlisted Men’s Club.

My two years went well. Being a hard working dependable farm boy, my commanding officer loved me. Also, I knew how to schedule using the Critical Path Method (CPM) system for creating flow charts that involved showing all the inter-dependent aspects of a project, in our case it was scheduling the training for battalion personnel prior to deployment in Viet Nam. I became indispensable. 

I also had to have security clearance as I knew of troop movements, personnel, etc. so I had an FBI background check which rattled my little hometown community when the FBI went around questioning everyone about my history. I found it very amusing when I talked to my parents who were fairly freaked out.

My wife as able to join me and in the process, we had two babies while in Gulfport, born at the Keesler Air Force Base Hospital in Biloxi, about ten miles away. 

I loved the soft south, the Gulf and the  beaches, shrimp boils and beer, and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

I basically loved the Navy, the people and the predictability. I went active duty at the rank of an E3 and, in two years I was E5. I was tempted to extend my active duty, but the specter of going to the now raging debacle thartt was Viet Nam dissuaded me, especially now with a new family. I had seen and talked to some of the guys who returned from their eight month tour there and, for basically non-combat personnel, they were pretty messed up. I opted out and was discharged in March 1968. 

We packed up and moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa where I went to work for a consulting engineering company as a land surveyor, engineering inspector, and draftsman.

86,400 Dollars

I recently read an interesting parable in Marc Levy’s first novel, If Only it Were True.

I will paraphrase it here . . . 

Imagine you had won a contest and that each and every day you had $86,400 deposited into your bank account with only two rules:

1) Everything you do not spend will be taken out of your account at the end of the day. You have to spend the entire amount by the end of each day. You cannot cheat or hide the money by moving the funds to another account. But each and every morning there will again be $86,400 in your account.

2) The bank can close this account at any time, without warning. It can tell you that this game is over, it is closing the account and there won’t be another.

The question is, what would you do with this gift? How would you spend this amount of money every day? Think long and hard. Would you sit and worry about how you would spend this great amount of money and by the end of the day it would still be there and you will have lost it all? Or would you get on with the business of spending it in the best possible ways, enjoying it, sharing it, celebrating it?

Every moment we have in this life and is precious. Each day we are given twenty-four hours or . . . 86,400 seconds. Spend your daily gift wisely, especially during these weird and trying times.

Road to Creativity Part 4

Scared to death, I moved to Ames in late August, 1963 to begin a new adventure. I had a full slate of classes plus I got a part time job at the library and worked on Saturdays and some afternoons doing carpenter work for one dollar an hour, a far cry from the five an hour I was used to, but I needed the money. I was self supporting as my parents had no resources to help me out financially. Then I had naval reserve meetings on Wednesday nights. The reserves were great as I earned forty dollars a month.

I didn’t do great in school, but I did well, mainly Cs and Bs with an occasional A. I was inundated with advanced algebra, trigonometry, calculus, drafting, structural engineering, soils mechanics, engineering mechanics like statics, hydraulics, and construction materials. I also had several classes in land surveying.

But the one class that I really liked was Technical Writing. Although it was about how to analyze and communicate something like construction specifications or reports, I learned how to really write. I remember our final test was to write a report, on what, I can’t remember now, but I do remember we were allowed only one spelling or grammatical error in a thousand word paper. Period. More that one, we would have to try again. I aced the course.

There was no time for anything such as reading anything other than working on classwork. As far as creativity, all my energy went into classwork, problem sets, and studying … and some college level partying.

With working part time, I had to lighten my class load. Then I had to do a two week training in February in 1965 which was in the middle of winter quarter and had to drop a particularly difficult class. That, plus, managing to get married in the summer 1965, rather than two years, it took me two extra quarters to graduate which I did in March of 1966 and left for my two years active service with the Navy two weeks later.

More coming . . .