Career Selection and Jerry Parker

Jerry was a friend but I never called him Jerry.  In the Navy you addressed shipmates by their last name.  Enlisted up to paygrade E6 got only a last name.  Chiefs were addressed with their rank.  “Chief Lowman”, etc.  To address an officer, it was always “Mister”, or Captain if appropriate.  Parker and I became friends during our first six weeks of classification at Philadelphia Naval Yards.  He taught me to play the card game Hearts during our long periods of idle time.  We had occasional work parties which were mostly just busy work.  We did everything from scrubbing the steps in the gym, to cleaning the clerestory windows in the ceiling.  I was never troubled with heights so was often selected to climb the 25 foot scaffolding to do the job.  We were given a fun job once that included using a four inch fire hose to wet down the dust on the ball field.  Got a real surprise to find out it took three men to hold the hose due to the high pressure.  Some of the sailors assigned to help with the job were from the brig.  I didn’t ask what they did to be imprisoned but recall one prisoner telling me about a time when they were hosed down in their cells.  He lost the only photo he had of his girlfriend. 
Jerry and I spent a time or two in the galley helping to prepare food for a couple thousand sailors.  My most vivid memory was opening one gallon cans of scallops and pouring them into a 10 gallon cook-pot.  I was not a big seafood fan at the time but when I found a dead fish in one of the cans, I vowed to never eat scallops again.  (And I haven’t)  
After our duty selection, twenty of us were ushered into a bus for a transfer to NAS Quonset Point in Rhode Island.  Jerry and I sat together and chatted during the five-hour trip, wondering what life would be like on active duty.  Before we left, a Navy Chief stepped aboard and began shouting at us about payday.  He was holding a handful of checks which got everybody’s attention.  The Chief (Navy equivalent of an Army sergeant) began shouting at us.  “I HAVE YOUR FIRST PAYCHECKS HERE.  I WILL CALL OUT YOUR NAMES AND YOU WILL REPLY WITH YOUR SERVICE NUMBER.  ANYONE WHO DOES NOT KNOW HIS SERVICE NUMBER WILL NOT BE PAID”.  I immediately started preparing my response in my head.  “545-76-42, 545-76-42, 545-76-42.”
Jerry and I passed the test and opened our paychecks as soon as the Chief left.  Comparing checks, we both received the same E2 pay.  $68.  Sixty eight dollars was a fair amount in 1961, however this was a whole month’s pay.  I thought it was pretty small but then realized I only had to buy three things: toothpaste, cigarettes and candy bars.  Uncle Sam would provide everything else.
After a short break at the rest stop on the Connecticut Turnpike, we arrived well after dark at enlisted quarters #42 aboard the air station.  Tired and travel weary, we followed directions to the upper floor and were assigned bunks and lockers.  We quickly made our bunks, stripped to our skivvies and hit the sack.  I think it was about midnight by then and I dozed off almost immediately.  Around 3am, all the lights came on, and there seemed to be a lot of commotion going on.  We were all ordered to get up, get dressed (I had my uniform from the reserves but Jerry was still in civvies), and report to the pier about a mile away.
(I’ll continue this event in the “Accidents” chapter - For now, let’s go back to Jerry Parker)
After several days of doing nothing at Quonset Point but playing cards and just passing time, we were ordered to report to Land Plane Hangar number one at 9am the next day.  Getting up at 7am was now easy after so many boring days with nothing but Klondike Solitaire to keep us busy.  Muster was formal as everybody had their full uniforms by now and we had all seen what happens to the slackers who didn’t follow the rules.  This time there were significantly higher authority officers in attendance, so we all followed orders from the Chief.  Everyone snapped to attention when called to order, followed by a short speech by the Airbase Captain (at microphone in photo) who explained that we were a new Anti-Submarine squadron created in response to increased Russian submarine activity at sea.  Our squadron commanding officer would be CDR George Bean (third from right in photo).  Today the few of us would be considered “Plank Owners” a Navy term meaning anyone assigned to a ship or squadron the day it was commissioned. 
After the formalities, each of the department heads gave a short description of their duties and asked for volunteers among the Airmen who did not already have a billet (assigned job).  The first department head to speak was AK1 Randy Lowman, a quiet fellow who turned out to be a good-natured petty officer.  (His personality would change dramatically when he was promoted to Chief - story later.)  Without introducing himself, Loman’s first words, were “Does anybody know how to type?”.  Jerry’s hand shot up immediately.   He looked over at me, elbowed me in the side and said, “Raise your hand”.  I replied, “I don’t know how to type”.  “Doesn’t matter” he said, “It’s got to be an easy job”.
My brain was clicking.  I thought I wanted something technical.  I loved to build things and I loved airplanes, so I thought something in the airframe department or electronics would be best.  I didn’t think I’d be happy sitting behind a desk typing or using a calculator and really wanted something more hands-on with the airplanes.
But I raised my hand as well as one seaman in the back row (Airman Ron Iverson).  All three of us were asked (more precisely told) to report to the squadron supply office for a meeting with First Class Lowman immediately.  It was an office job and did actually seem interesting.  The room was filled with big grey steel desks with typewriters and manual adding machines.  I found out later that one of the daily duties included driving the department pickup over to Main Supply to get parts ordered by the mechanics.  I had to take a driver’s test first but passed with flying colors because of all my driving experience growing up on the farm.
The duties of an Aviation Storekeeper turned out to be a fun job.  While the two-mile trips to Main Supply were routine, I was occasionally asked to make longer trips.  One memory includes a trip from Quonset Pt to Boston Navy Yards to deliver a needed part to the USS Independence being repaired there.  The trip was fun and I felt important when I was trusted for such a significant trip, but I did not enjoy the civilian drivers in Massachusetts.  I think they follow different rules than those taught in Pennsylvania.
So my year in Rhode Island turned out better than I thought it would and it had a much bigger impact on my life than I could ever have imagined.
After my Navy service I went to work for IBM in Endicott, NY.  After their usual battery of tests, and taking into consideration my Industrial Arts (Shop) education, they assigned me first to electronics and then to a couple of machining departments.  My daily walk to the cafeteria took me by a glass walled department called Machine Accounting.  Ah, familiar stuff with keypunches and accounting machines and green-bar reports, I felt like I was back at Main Supply.  After a few months, I was tired of the cutting oil under my fingernails and changing my clothes twice a day, I thought I might like working with good old IBM-5081’s again (80 column data cards).  A trip to HR the next day was successful.  Since I had also scored high in the logic tests when starting, they agreed that I would be a good candidate for Data Processing.
Many years later, decades actually, I realized that Jerry was the one who innocently defined the path I would take for the rest of my career. Those two years of managing supply documents and the use of data processing equipment had qualified me for a job in IBM’s computer room.  That beginning mapped my entire working life and I wished that I could thank him for elbowing me in the ribs.
This story had a good ending for me and our family but unfortunately not for Jerry I think.  It was only a few years ago that I realized the connection Jerry had made for me.  In 2014 I decided to find Jerry to see if he remembered that first day in VS-42. In 1961 I was living in New Milford, Pennsylvania with my parents.  Jerry was somewhere in center city Philadelphia. I was sure that after half a century he would now be living somewhere else. I myself have had nearly a dozen addresses since then. I had no idea how to find him.  I mentioned my wish to find my former squadron mate to another Navy veteran who said he had access to some records and could likely find him. I really just wanted to thank Jerry for helping to set my career path.  That path defined where I worked, where we lived, where our children found their spouses, where our grandchildren were raised, and so much more in our lives that would have been completely different had I pursued a different career path. When my Navy friend got back to me with the results of his search, I was filled with regret for waiting so long to find my friend.

The message contained Jerry’s obituary infprmation which had been published ten years prior.  While reading the note, something seemed familiar.  I dug out my 1962 squadron booklet and confirmed that his obituary address in 2004 was exactly the same. Ironically, he had spent his entire life in the same Philadelphia apartment.