The Modern Navy, Unzipped

I joined the Navy in March of 1957. What prompts a landlubber from Augusta, Kansas to enlist in the Navy? Well, I liked the tradition of the Navy, but, what was more important, was the educational and training opportunities that the Navy offered.

On the day I was to report, my friend, Johnny Luding, drove me to Wichita and dropped me off at the Navy Recruiting Office. I was 20 years old and most of the other guys were only 17 or 18, so I was put in charge. I was given instructions and paperwork for everyone, and we were loaded aboard a train for Kansas City. At Kansas City, we were loaded into a Pullman car on another train so we would sleep on the way to Chicago. At Chicago, the next morning, we boarded a commuter train to Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

At the Great Lakes, what appeared to be a couple hundred of us were herded into a big gym where we were given physicals and then were sworn in. Next, our new clothing was issued. We immediately started checking out our “dress blues.” The first thing, of course, was the white hat (pronounced as one word). Next, came the neckerchief. Then, the navy blue jumper with the white piping. Now, what’s next? These are not 13 button, bell bottom pants! These are straight-legged trousers with belt loops and zippers! What the hell? I didn’t join the Navy because of their uniform, but if I’m going to be a sailor, then I damn sure intend to look like one. I’m not going to go around dressed in trousers like an Army ground-pounder or and Air Force fly-boy. Jeez, what’s the world coming to? We asked an official looking guy what the deal was. He said that in an effort to modernize, the Navy had outlawed 13 button pants and gone to conventional trousers.

I suffered this indignity for the next year. I finished boot camp, went to AN “P” School at Norman Oklahoma, went to Aviation Electronics “A” School at Millington, Tennessee, and joined Patrol Squadron Forty-Eight, a seaplane squadron in San Diego, feeling an imposter. Then, I noticed that some of the older guys were wearing their 13 buttons again. The Navy had relaxed the dress code. My wife agreed that I should have some real Navy clothes, so we saved up a few bucks. There was an Army/Navy surplus store on Pacific Coast Highway in San Diego. I took my savings there, and for less than 20 bucks, got a pair of 13 button pants. Hot damn! I finally looked like a real sailor.

Dave Thomas


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