Well, here I am, committed to one more year of sea duty and ready to get married. The chances of spending even half of that time at home with my new wife were not good. After checking around with more senior officers, a possible solution was suggested; contacting a detailer in the Navy Department to make some kind of deal! Detailers are the ones in Washington, D.C. who are responsible for assigning junior officers to various commands. I called and I agreed to extend my active duty commitment for one year, in return for a shore duty assignment of two years. I was ordered back to Newport, R.I. as an instructor in cryptographic systems at U.S. Naval Communications School, exactly the same classes I had taken two years prior.
No one in the navy just walks right in and starts instructing. Instead, I had to attend a four-week Instructor Training course. I learned some valuable lessons about teaching fellow human beings in that class. In one particular class I had probably the best visual example ever. It was about assuming you are teaching one idea, yet the student understanding something completely different. The instructor called on me to teach him how to sharpen a pencil. He was to use one of those old fashion sharpeners fastened to a wall with a crank handle. It went something like this:
Instructor (I): Tell me how to sharpen this pencil.
Me: Put the pencil in the sharpener.
(I): Tries to put pencil in side with no holes.
Me: No, insert it in the hole in the other side.
(I): Puts pencil in hole, eraser first.
Me: No, put pencil in lead first and then turn the crank to sharpen it.
(I): Inserts pencil and turns the crank counter-clockwise. Nothing happens.
Me: No, turn the crank clockwise to sharpen the pencil. Then remove the pencil.
(I): Sharpens pencil then removes by lifting it straight up, leaving half the pencil in the sharpener!
Moral: When you are teaching a class, be as specific as possible and don’t just assume people know what you mean.
So, I began a new job and marriage at the same time. Apartments were scarce in Newport and I had to find one on my own before I returned to Virginia Beach for my wedding. I picked one in a large ivy-covered estate in old Newport. It was a two-room apartment, but not your classic two-room. This had one room on top of another. The entrance was on the third floor of the estate and the first room was the living/dining area, a kitchenette (barely) and a bathroom. Upstairs was the bedroom, the only fourth floor room in the entire estate. It had a magnificent skylight. It was actually quite romantic. But there were no closets, so I fashioned one out of a window well and a curtain rod with a shower curtain over the front. Three months later we found out that the sun had bleached out my wife’s entire trousseau! My marriage was close to being one of the shortest on record at that point. My new bride was also a bit appalled at the price and the smallness of the apartment, but it was a cozy dwelling, in a grand estate in a historical area with beautiful grounds and all that stuff you love to reminisce about in your twilight years. Over forty years later, when we vacationed to Newport, it was the first place we wanted to see!
I really enjoyed my new duties and I was now a “full” Lieutenant in rank. My tenure at Communications School was relatively uneventful, with the exception of one of my students. He was just another new Ensign, but with a slight twist. He was the son of the Chief of Naval Operations, the highest ranking officer in the U.S. Navy! I had visions of being court-martialed for “failure to impart adequate knowledge!” My nerves were quickly calmed when I realized he was going to be one of the most agreeable and pleasant students I had the entire time.
After four years of active duty, I quietly slipped back into my role as “Al Hood, super civilian.” However, I did remain in the reserves for 7 more years. I drilled at reserve centers once every month, and for two weeks of the year I left my civilian job to spend two weeks on active duty. I’ll relate a few interesting “two-week cruises” as we called them.
One summer I was assigned to the Pentagon to help one of their departments outfit the communications gear for a new ship design. It was similar to a PT boat but a lot more sophisticated. I had to take a boat from my room across the river at the Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ) over to the dock at the Pentagon. If you don’t know already, the Pentagon is the largest office building in the world, still to this day. I learned only how to get to my office, the head and the lunchroom for obvious reasons.
Another summer I was assigned to a destroyer in Charleston, SC. Finally, a chance to work aboard my first choice after OCS! One problem, it was in dry-dock! All of the electrical systems were being overhauled, including the air-conditioning. The average temperature in Charleston during those two weeks hovered around 99 degrees. I spent one night aboard and immediately requisitioned a room at the BOQ for the remaining 13 days, only reporting aboard during working hours. It was the most boring two weeks of my life.
They made up for this by assigning me the next year to the USS John F. Kennedy, a super aircraft carrier, since decommissioned. It was a delight to be a part of the crew of such a famous and majestic ship. I enjoyed my work and the opportunity to go topside to observe the air operations of some of the navy’s most advanced jets. Of course, getting lost on a ship that size was again a possibility and I didn’t want to be unaccounted for when my two weeks were finally up. Once again, I was treated to being a passenger on a mail plane launch as the ship was still at sea when my two weeks expired.
I achieved the rank of Lieutenant Commander while in the reserves, but due to family responsibilities, I finally had to muster out far short of the twenty years needed for any retirement pay.
So there you have it. My unexceptional, but devoted tour of duty in the U.S. Navy. I would be remiss if I did not mention that during this time of service, others were fighting and dying in the fields and jungles of Viet Nam. I was one of the fortunate ones not assigned to that theater. Just as some of you reading this, I lost friends from high school, college and the navy in that unpopular conflict, and I take this opportunity to honor and salute them and all who served over there. I still have the greatest respect for all who serve now. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Thank you for your service, Al 🙂 And teaching me how to sharpen a pencil. Well, I was in the British Army 😉
LOL, Ralph. And thank you for your service, Ralph, even though you went through the whole experience without knowing how to sharpen a pencil.
I use to wonder why the eraser always disappeared while sharpening. Now I know ! 😉
Hilarious cartoon, Ralph!
Oh my Bro, what a wonderful tale of yours. I love the closet story and it looks romantic, your first home together. I give grateful thanks to all those whose dedication to keep us all safe took them to Vietnam and to all those who supported them as you did and to their loved ones. I have lived through a war and there are no winners, yet it is duty of care to our loved ones that draws us in to do what we called to do. I love you both. ❤ xX
Thank you for your kind and supportive comment. Yes, war is something no sane mind would wish for, but thankfully there are those who answer the call when all else fails. Love back to you.
Your tales remind me of my long ago stint in the navy from 1965-1967. Vietnam seems so long ago, and we have learned so little. The draft back then was certainly contentious but I think we would have less conflicts today if we brought it back. It would be harder to go to war if your son is going to do the fighting.
Yes, Robby, it’s hard to believe what we lived through during that god awful period. Thanks for the comment.
Great story. The flat sounds nice if a bit cramped, but that might not be an accurate impression. As for the pencil sharpening, these things are more complicated than ordinary mortals like me appreciate.
Yes, Peter, cramped is the proper word. But it was a neat first “home” for a young couple doting on each other. Newport is also a beautiful New England town.
Actually, after that experience at Instructor Training school I thought briefly about becoming a professional pencil sharpener, however, the field was overcrowded and very competitive, so just another dream unrealized.
Fascinating! That mansion looks so cool and romantic. Adding my thanks and prayers for all who gave their lives for our country. Also for those like you, Al, and my husband, who didn’t see combat but were ready, willing and able to do what ever they were called to do.
Thanks for that supportive comment, Peg. My hats off to your hubby too. That first apartment in Newport was so cool. However, carrying groceries up was only for the young! The first winter there, a major snowstorm hit and we were housebound for almost a week. Nine months later we had our first child. Go figure!
I love hearing stories like this! Married friends of ours were both in Okinawa (Military Intelligence) during the Vietnam war. Like you, they realize now that they have an interesting story they should write down so their children and grandchildren know what life was like during that time in history.
You’re right Margy, I guess I did this as much for my kids and grandkids to read as anything. They never ask me much about my time in the service, but someday they will appreciate reading about what it was like for me. And that romantic little hideaway in Newport is a treasured memory.
Love these stories Al! I love the one on how you were taught to teach! So true on the needing to be incredibly specific. I found that out just raising sons. You not only had to tell them what to do you had to tell them what they were NOT allowed to do!
Thanks, CG. It was a memorable time of my life and I enjoyed reliving it with my readers.
Hello Al. What a wonderful story of your life in the navy. I particularly liked the part about your first house with your wife, and how your wife’s clothes got bleached by the sun. I know what my reaction would be to that ! – you’re lucky she didn’t leave you at that point!!
…You have obviously served a considerable amount of time in the navy and i have a lot of respect for that…It’s really nice to read about the other parts of your life at the time as well. Take care and i hope to hear more of your stories 🙂 Carly
Thanks, Carly. It’s nice that we can be friends and share these stories without having to talk with each other….that might be a fiasco!! Ha ha.
Oh dear! haha, can you imagine?!!