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.