November 30
by Harris Green

It was a warm Friday afternoon in San Diego, California at the Naval Recruit Training Depot (”boot camp”). We seaman recruits, now ”short timers” in our seventh week, were cleaning our barracks for the weekly Friday afternoon captain’s inspection.

In keeping with routine, we were washing the decks (floors) and bulkheads (walls) with soap and water (when the Navy says clean they mean clean). It being a warm June day, we being ”seasoned” recruits, and (most importantly) we being 18 years old, we found ourselves in a water fight. Before long there wasn’t a member of Company 159 that wasn’t drenched in soapy water.

Those of us who were thoroughly soaked took off all of our clothes and continued the fun completely naked. Before long, we discovered how slippery the tile floor was and were ”skating” on the soapy water. Then one of the guys got a running start, dropped to the floor and slid along on his bare rump. Soon all of us were having a contest to see who could slide the farthest on his bare bottom. Whoever’s turn it was would stand at one end of the barracks and get a running start before hitting the floor and sliding some fifty or sixty feet.

When it was my second or third turn, I was determined to set a new record, so I got a good, fast start, hit the floor at my best speed yet, and was caught up in the exhiliration of the moment. After a few seconds I noticed that the barracks had suddenly gone completely quiet. All the other recruits were standing at attention at the foot of their bunks, some fully clothed,  some partially clothed, some naked, but all dripping soapy water.

Then I looked down at the other end of the barracks and saw, to my horror, the Company Commander standing in the ”hatch’ (doorway). I tried desperately to stop but couldn’t. My soapy hands could not get traction on the soapy floor. So, powerless to stop, I slid  right up to his feet and jumped to attention. When all was utterly quiet, eighty young men standing rigidly at attention, the Commander spoke: ”YOU CLOWNS GET IN THOSE DRESS UNIFORMS AND BE IN FRONT OF BATTALION HQ IN FIVE MINUTES!”

Never before or since have I dressed so fast. Forget drying off. We snatched our skivvies and dress uniforms out of the locker and furiously threw on our pants and jumper, dress shoes, and white hats. We jerked the rolled kerchief under the collar flap and frantically tied the square knot in front while running to fall in. In slightly less than five minutes all eighty of us were in uniform, at attention, on the parade ground in front of HQ. We were looking pretty sharp despite an occasional fleck of soap suds in someone’s hair or on someone’s navy blue sleeve.

After a minute or two the Company Commander and the battalion CO strolled out of the building and stood in front of us. For a full minute they just stood there, and the silence was penetrating.

Off in some distant barracks a radio was playing. I could barely hear the music. It was the young crooner Pat Boone, singing, ”Yew made a vow. . .that yew. . . would always be trew. . .but somehow. . . that vow. . . meant nothing to yew. . . .”

When the Company Commander finally spoke, he made it quite clear what he thought of our behavior.Then he had me and two others report  ”FRONT AND CENTER!” for additional remarks. Following that he told us to ”FALL OUT!”

That incident occurred over fifty years ago, but I will never forget the day I got dressed up to get dressed down for being undressed.