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To understand the background for this post, it will be helpful if you first read (if you haven’t already), Part I.
The following is a continuation of Mr. Spaulding’s and my conversation this month about his military service.
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Mr. S.: One nice thing about it [Navy boot camp], though, is it was right on the Great Lakes so we got to get out there and fire 20 mm anti-aircraft canons, guns, at the airplanes that towed the big long targets behind them, the sleeves. You got to fire at those. That was a heck of a lot of fun.
Mr. S.: I suppose they had multiple thousands in camp being trained at the time. I don’t know how many.
L.: You would fire a 20 mm canon?
Mr. S.: Mm-hmm. We had to get our practice, firing out over the lake. We couldn’t fire any other direction because the brass shells, ammunition, were explosives. They’d come down and hit and blow the heck out of things. It worked pretty well on seagulls, too! You’d get a flock of seagulls going along just when you were aiming and you’d make a few feathers fly. They didn’t like that very much. And, neither did the seagulls.
Mr. S.: They used the 20 mm anti-aircraft canons ordinarily aboard ships to shoot at planes.
L.: So, firing over the lake was simulating firing over the ocean?
Mr. S.: Right. The range was such that they wouldn’t go clear across the lake. It was twenty miles wide there or more. Thirty, I don’t know. They’d end up in the lake.
L.: So, the 20 mm canon was an anti-aircraft canon. So, then when you say an anti-aircraft canon, did you also call it a gun?
Mr. S.: Well, a gun, (chuckle) the terms are kind of interchangeable. They talk about big guns on a battleship. That means a shell 18” in diameter weighing a couple of tons, or a ton, anyway. And, that’s a gun. A rifle is a gun.
L.: So, the 20 mm canon…?
Mr. Sp.: That’s the diameter of the projectile, the bullet part. There are 25 mm in an inch, so 20 mm is not quite an inch in diameter.
L.: When I think of a canon, I think of something huge that has huge ammunition.
Mr. S.: No, there are all sorts. These were mounted on a pedestal. It wasn’t that big a gun, really. And, it had a sort of cylindrical magazine that you put in the top of it. I don’t know whether there were a hundred rounds in it or what, but it was fully automatic. You’d just hold the lever down and, “bthhrrrrrringggg,” just shoot until you ran out. It was lots of fun.
L.: When you were in boot camp, that was one of the things you did for your practice. You know how you said in boot camp it was sort of like they made you think you weren’t a real person?
Mr. S.: You bet. They ran you through. They ran you through everything they could think of. They’d put a tear gas mask on you, run you into a building full of tear gas, and part way through they’d make you take the mask off and find your way out. Lots of fun things like that.
L.: Did that scare you or did you just view it as a challenge?
Mr. S.: No. You just wanted to get the heck out of there because it burns. It hurts your eyes. It hurt to breathe.
L.: When you were in the military, could you hardly wait to get out? Or, was it the type of thing where you enjoyed being there? Or was it like you didn’t enjoy it but you felt you were serving your country so you were glad to be there?
Mr. S.: Oh, most of the time I would get along all right. I liked being on a ship better than the island. I did a lot of time on the island duty.
Mr. S.: There was something else neat at boot camp. If you were on the ship and the thing started to sink, the fires would be blazing flames. So they made this great big pool and covered the surface with something, not gasoline but something less flammable, and light it and you had to jump off a tower into there and then come up and then swim, splashing the flames away from you. You swam through it. If you didn’t, you got the heck burnt out of you. That was interesting. They wanted to make sure you could survive if that happened to you.
L.: Would you explain that again?
Mr. S.: Ok. If you’re in the water and it’s covered with fuel, it’s blazing. You can’t just swim right through it, because you’d get burnt…your hands, your face, everything. So you had to use one hand to splash it away at one side and then splash it away on the other side and fight your way through it so you could get out away from the flames. The whole ocean wasn’t on fire. Just a part where you might be.
L.: Were you ever afraid for your life?
Mr. S.: Not that I can remember.
L.: How long were you in boot camp?
Mr. S.: I think about three months. Maybe it was only ten weeks. Because I was out of there about Christmas time [of ‘44].
L.: When you got out of boot camp, when and where did you go?
Mr. S.: Back to the Great Lakes for a while. That’s when you sat around and waited until they decided where to send you.
Mr. S.: The best thing I learned about being in the service was discipline. Doing what you’re told and when you’re told. You don’t mess around.
(Part III will be posted on Monday, August 17th. I’ll post more about Oregon in a week or so.)
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