By Kevin Schmitt
I thought I’d share with you some of the things my dad told me about his Navy days. It all began in Idaho, believe it or not. That’s where boot camp was, near Lake Coeur D Alene. (That’s about thirty miles east of Spokane Washington, in case you’ve never been there.) For Dad, it was a great experience. The lake is long and narrow, like Loch Ness, and so clean, they even had a rule against pissing in it.
Dad was seventeen years old and had been brought up with wood chopping and winter outhouses. So the rigors of a Rocky Mountain boot camp didn’t ruffle his feathers one little bit. In fact, there was just one thing that came into his life that was totally new to him, and that was a young man who was half black, and half Cherokee Indian. His name was Jamie Jameson, and he hailed from the state of Georgia.
I suppose you could say that Jamie was a social trail blazer. In order to gain acceptance, he had to be twice as good as everyone else, but real modest about it. Dad didn’t take to him right off because Jamie could run like the wind, whereas Dad was built for weight lifting. Running is a very important part of boot camp training, so if you’re a bit slow at it, you just might resent those who are not. Maybe Jamie sensed that---maybe not. But one chilly night when Dad was standing guard duty, Jamie showed up with a cup of coffee. Dad didn’t stop being a racially ignorant person that night, but it was a beginning.
After boot camp, Dad’s platoon got on a train and headed towards the ocean. (Which seemed like a very fitting and proper place for future sailors to be.) Idaho hadn’t taught them a thing about the South Pacific, but what the hell, everything would work out just fine. Palm trees, naked native girls, and a few near sighted Japs they’d have to bump off.
They could hardly wait.
They had to change trains in this little mountain town and it was winter so they all headed for the only restaurant to be had. Trouble was, no colored folks were allowed. Well, the kids in that platoon were more redneck than not. But Jamie had won them over at least to a point. Anyway, a platoon is like a gang. You mess with one member, you mess with all. So the platoon formed up in front of that café and no one was allowed in. A deputy sheriff was called in, but that man was no fool. He took one look at all those uniforms and realized that his handcuffs would be staying in their little case.
In the end, everyone was allowed in, and just to pour salt onto the wound of the proprietor, Jamie was told to take a healthy dump in the bathroom so he wouldn’t need to go on the train.
Kevin Schmitt lives in Minnesota and has been a factory worker for thirty-five years. His hobbies are camping, cross country hiking, kayaking, and playing the Boehm type flute (Irish folk music and marches.) When the weather is too God awful for anything else, he writes and practices a bit of Karate kata. He is not a cool person, and he is aging rather quickly.