I flew out of sunny San Diego in January 1970 for 16 weeks of radar school at the Naval Training Center north of Chicago. The plane flew into O’hare Airport late at night and boy was I surprised at the climate change! The wind was howling and snow was piled up along the roads about 6 feet deep. I arrived at the base sometime around midnight and was led to a barracks. I was directed to a bunk in a room that in the darkness seemed way crappier than boot camp. The following morning I was sent a couple of blocks away to a much nicer barracks space. In fact, it’s hard to even refer to it as a barracks since it was more like a modern college dorm. Two guys to a room and you each had a huge locker and storage area as well as your own desk. The bunks had nice thick mattresses and plenty of blankets. Good thing too, since one day that winter the temperature was 55 below zero with the wind chill. The wind here mostly blew right off of Lake Michigan and across the base. Most all travel for me on base was by foot, going to the mess hall, PX, school, sick bay and the club, which was sometimes challenging with the snow, ice cold and wind. Speaking of weather, springtime brought me my first experience with midwest thunderstorms. We get an occasional thunderstorm here in the northwest, but nothing like those back there!
My classmates were mostly “boots” right out of basic training, just like me, but we had a few “salts” who had been out in the fleet and decided they wanted to become radarmen, so were sent here for training. Only the Navy knows why I was sent here when there was a second Radarman “A” School located about 600 miles north of San Diego at Treasure Island, San Francisco. The school part was pretty uneventful. All this was new and was hard to correlate to any real world scenarios until you get aboard a real ship. I do recall one of the most challenging parts of school was in using the maneuvering board. This was a diagram on paper that had concentric rings coming from a center position and also from the center were lines (like wheel spokes) that went around the rings 360 degrees. On this chart you plotted positions so that you could see the relative motion of 2 (or more) moving objects through vectors and calculate a true course, speed, CPA (closest point of approach), time to turn, etc. I think I only used a maneuvering board twice in the fleet.
While back there I got to see a lot of the sights up and down the western shore of Lake Michigan. Sometimes a buddy and I would go into the little town of Waukegan to shop or see a movie. During my stay here, I went into Zion, Illinois a couple of times to sell blood. $14 a pop was easy money back then. My roommate (SA Watson), had the urge to buy a motorcycle, so he got a Triumph 650 Bonneville. Funny thing was that I don’t think he ever rode it. He just gave me the keys, knowing that I had a 250 Scrambler back home and that I had a MC endorsement on my Washington drivers license. It was great when it got closer to spring and I would take off for a ride on Saturday or Sunday and be gone for hours riding up to Wisconsin by myself for lunch and see the scenery away from the base. Other times I would take the train and go down to Chicago for the weekend.
So, upon graduation from radar school, I receive orders to report to the 32nd Street base in San Diego for a Pre-Commissioning school. I don’t really recall what these classes were about, but I guess it was to prep me for eventually reporting to the Long Beach Naval Station at Terminal Island. I was to report to the USS francis Hammond (DE-1067) which was moored in the shipyard. It was still receiving equipment and was swarming with yardbirds and tech reps as well as the nucleus crew and the rest of the pre-commissioning crew. Yardbird was a name hung on civilian shipyard workers. A commissioning ceremony was held on July 25, 1970. You can see the Commissioning Ceremony Program here. A navy tradition is to consider any crew member assigned to a vessel at time of commissioning a “plank-owner”. You can see my Plank Owner Certificate here.