As soon as graduation was completed at boot camp in Parris Island we were herded onto a bus and sent to Camp Lejeune, N.C. for basic infantry training. Camp Lejeune was a welcome change. Sort of like being let out of jail. The class and field training was what you would expect a marine to be getting. This was teaching you military methods and basic field skills. The schools were generally interesting and the night marches, obstacle courses, and miniature war games were teaching us how to survive. The only real downside of Camp Lejeune was the 3.2 beer mandated by North Carolina law. At completion of infantry training I got a leave at home and transfer orders to the Naval Air Station in Memphis, TN for aviation school. The leave at home went by in a blink.
I had very mixed feelings about reporting to the Naval Air Station in Memphis. No one else in my company at Camp Lejeune had received orders to Navy bases. Nobody explained Memphis was a joint Marine Corps and Navy school location for many aviation trades. Memphis was a great duty station. My placement testing allowed me to request any school on site. Actual placement would be determined by availability of the school starting dates and enrollment. Two of my choices weren’t available for several months. I enrolled in the Crash Crew School to be an aviation firefighter. I loved the school and the training, worked diligently, and graduated first in my class. My first permanent assignment, which was by request, was to the Marine Corps Air Station in Kaneohe Bay, HI.
The Naval Air Station in Memphis had the best entertainment of any place I have ever been. The enlisted man’s club on base had many great USO sponsored performers several times a week. We didn’t have to go downtown to Beale Street. Everybody from Beale Street came to us. Rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and instrumental stars were all part of the entertainment. Fats Domino, Little Richard, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis, Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolf, Duane Eddy, James Brown, Gene Krupa, Bobby Bare, and many others were familiar faces on the base in Memphis. For an eighteen year old with $77 a month income it was a great place to go to school. We couldn’t afford to hang out on Beale Street. Our adventures and entertainment had to come to us.
While not really an adventure, the death of John F Kennedy was a very significant event while stationed in Memphis. All personnel were restricted to base and only essential services were available. It was a solemn time and no one knew what to expect immediately following his death. We had our gear packed in seabags and were ready to go on a moments notice just in case. It was a long few days.
I took a train from Plattsburgh, Ny to Memphis, Tn……………it helped me appreciate the aviation schools.