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June 1950, Communist North Korea invaded South Korea with support from the Soviet Union. Therefore, the United Nations voted to assist South Korea, and here we are, in another war only four years after World War 2. I was eighteen years old and prime for the draft. I saw too many movies and newsreels during WW2, and I knew I did not want to sleep in a hole and do all that walking. Since the Soviet Union did not have much of a navy at this time, I thought it might be a good place to fight a war. So I enlisted in the navy for four years.

There was a group of ninety-three of us at the recruiting station at Thirteenth and Market Streets in Philadelphia, the largest group since WW2. It was on the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News. We had to be here at 8:00 AM, but we didn’t leave until late evening, because they had to arrange a special train for us. They sent us to a restaurant for lunch then dinner. Finally, we got on a train, and we were on our way to Great Lakes, Illinois. Our train pulled over to a side rail every time a regular scheduled train had to pass us. It was a very long ride to the Great Lakes Naval Training Base in Illinois. We slept in the seats. We left the train station and boarded a bus for the ride to the base. As we passed the navy base, I noticed that the barbed wire on top of the high cyclone fence was facing inward. Isn’t that supposed to keep people out?

Since we arrived late, they held the mess hall open for us. At top speed, a mess cook came out wearing a rubber apron and gloves, carrying a stack of those metal compartment trays just out of the steam cleaner, and hollering, “Hot stuff!” And sure enough, they were hot as hell, and we had to juggle them hand to hand, along with the hot cups with no handles.

Suddenly, I heard someone calling my name from behind the chow line. Here was a server from my hometown, Freddie. We were so happy to see a friendly face in this place of strangers. He told his buddies behind the food line to load me up, and they sure did. I hardly recognized him because his hair was so short. At the exit, there was a very large sign that read, “Take all you want. Eat all you take. Don’t waste food,” and next to that exit was a big marine inspecting what you scrape off your tray.

That night I had trouble sleeping because my hands were sore from that hot tray and I felt sick from eating all that corn bread and chili they piled up on my tray. Also, trying to sleep in a very large drill hall with about a hundred or so other noisy guys on cots, I felt anxious and maybe a little scared.

This was my first day in the navy—1,459 more days to go.

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Meet the Author

Meet the Author

John Viola

He is a first-time writer. This book is written from memory of sixty years ago. It started while he and his wife took up a walking routine to get in shape and lose a few pounds.

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