THE FUN TEAM
I was in a car on my way to Newport, Rhode Island in late October of 1962. We were driving up to the Naval Officer’s Candidate School (OCS). Why? Because after I graduated from college that June the draft board was really breathing down my neck. They said I would probably be called up within six months if I didn’t voluntarily join a service. My choices were: (1) wait to get drafted, (2) join the Army, serve 6 months as an enlisted man and go on 2 weeks active duty every year for about 100 years or (3) go to Navy OCS for 4 months, become a Naval Officer and serve for 3 years and forget about any more active duty after that.
I chose number 3. Why? Well it seems all my friends thought that being an officer rather than an enlisted man would look better on my resume when I later ran for political office (which, of course, I never did).
In that car were two other guys who had also signed up for Navy OCS and one of their fathers who was driving us up there. I didn’t know any of them before that trip. When we finally arrived at OCS the 3 of us were assigned to Oscar Company – Section 4 (O-4). There were 7 companies with 4 sections each. There were 38 guys in my section. So there were about 1,100 guys --- all college grads --- who were about to experience a real shitty 4 months. We lived and slept in barracks.
Every day we were all rudely awakened at the ungodly hour of 5:30 am and it was lights out at 10:30 pm. In between was marching everywhere as a section --- marching to meals --- marching to classes --- and just marching for the hell of it. After dinner we had our study period and a little bit of “free time”.
Over the first few weeks I became part of a good group of 7 guys. It turns out that a bunch of guys from Michigan had arrived at OCS at the same time I did. Four of those guys became part of our crowd which crowd soon became known as the “Fun Team”. Those four were Happy Jack, One-Finger Dave, Sweetsy Petesy and Big Dave. Also in our group were Big Daddy (from Philly), Johnny (from Wisconsin) and me (a South Jersey guy). Most of those in the Fun Team were given nicknames. One-Finger Dave got his by claiming that he knew karate and he could knock a guy down with just one finger. Happy Jack was always smiling, joking and laughing. Sweetsy-Petesy was the smallest guy and Big Dave was the tallest guy. I don’t remember how we arrived at “Big Daddy”. Somehow I escaped without being given a nickname. So did Johnny.
Initially there were two other guys in our Fun Team but they eventually flunked out. When you washed out of Navy OCS you were sent to Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois where you became an enlisted man (a sailor) and from there you could be sent anywhere in the world to serve for two years. None of us wanted to flunk out and become a “mere” swabbie!
Our classes were in 5 different subjects: Orientation, Weapons, Seamanship, Navigation --- and my killer --- Operations. Besides the pain of having classes in subjects that were sometimes difficult --- they were also subjects that you didn’t give a shit about!
In addition, you had to study and memorize lots of stuff every night --- you had various duty assignments each day like sweeping the barracks or cleaning the latrines --- you had to march everywhere --- your mealtimes were very short --- you could only have 7 hours of sleep each night --- and you had no weekend liberty for the first 3 weeks.
To add to your misery they also had things called “red gigs”. These “gigs” were things that your superiors gave to you for committing various sins. Terrible sins such as not making your bed to perfection --- not giving your shoes a really good “spit shine” --- forgetting to wear your cap outside --- not having a completely straight “gig line” (the pleat in the front of your shirt had to be exactly in line with a certain part of your belt) --- not “calling out” properly in class --- not marching properly --- not wearing your tie just right and a host of other terrible infractions!
They weren’t giving out gigs the first week --- but by the end of the second week I had accumulated 12 gigs which condemned me to one hour of EMI (extra military instruction). This meant one hour of marching up and down a field with your rifle on your shoulder on Saturday. Geez! This was really Mickey Mouse! It was like pledging for some damn fraternity!
We didn’t have classes on Saturday or Sunday but there was still a lot of marching drills on Saturday and marching to all your meals and everywhere else all weekend. There were quizzes (tests) in all our subjects all the time and your grades were posted periodically. The highest grade was a 4.0 and you had to finish each course with at least a 2.5 or your ass would be shipped off to the dreaded Great Lakes. And you knew you wouldn’t look that good in a damn sailor suit (maybe at a costume party ---- but not in real life!).
During the first week there everybody had to get really short crew cuts. We were also issued uniforms, shoes, socks and all. We also had to pass a swim test. It consisted of jumping from a short distance down into a pool and swimming the length of the pool. Almost all of us could swim, of course --- except for Big Daddy in our group. He jumped into the pool and immediately sunk to the bottom. An instructor had to jump in after him --- and pull Big Daddy to the surface. After that Big Daddy had to take swimming lessons until that sorry-ass non-swimmer from Philly could pass the damn test.
Finally after 3 weeks we got one night of liberty. Four of the Fun Team went to Providence for the night and hit such dives as “Ziggy’s” and “Stage Door” where we all drank up a storm. It was sure great to get out of that “prison camp” --- if only for a night.
The following week was a rough one with a whole bunch of shots given to each of us (needles in our arms --- not shot glasses of booze) and we had big exams in every subject. But that Wednesday was the day before Thanksgiving so that gave us a 1 ½ day liberty. The Fun Team had found a place to stay overnight in Newport. It was at a house owned by a Mrs. Sauerwine where we could stay for $2.50 each per night. That Wednesday night Sweetsy Petesy, Johnny, Happy Jack. One-Finger Dave, Big Dave and I partied it up big-time at a dive called “The Binnicle”. My highlights that night included dancing with a hunchback ---making time with a 31 year old mother of 4 kids --- and winning a Limbo contest. On Thanksgiving afternoon we all had a great turkey dinner at Mrs. Sauerwine’s --- and then it was back to our barracks.
In between Thanksgiving and the Christmas-New Year’s break the weeks became fairly routine. We studied our asses off all week --- went to all our classes --- marched everywhere --- and on Saturdays we would all go to “Mom’s” then go into town and party at various dives while boozing it up, dancing with chicks --- then returning to “Mom’s” to sleep it off ---- and going back to our barracks on Sunday.
There was also a drum & bugle corps and during those weeks they had try-outs. I wanted to join the drum & bugle corps because if you were in it you didn’t have to march around with a damn rifle on your shoulder anymore. So I told the corps leader that I could play the drums. Of course I couldn’t really play the drums which became quite obvious when I tried out. But the corps leader was a nice guy and he asked me if I’d like to play the cymbals. I said, “Sure!” So I became one of the bands two cymbal players and I never had to march with a rifle again! After that all the guys in the Fun Team called me “America’s Cymbal Symbol”.
I was a real hacker back then. One time I left a penny on Happy Jack’s nicely made bed --- which got him a couple red gigs. Another time in Seamanship Class the old Chief who conducted the class was demonstrating how to use ropes and levers to lift things. I had secretly tied the end of a rope to Happy Jack’s coat which was on the back of his chair. So when the Chief pulled a certain rope Happy Jack’s coat went flying across the room! That stunt got a lot of laughs and Happy Jack got a couple gigs.
On one of our Saturday nights in town I picked up a cute little Chinese girl and she took me back to her place. I was finally going to get laid in town! The gal went into her bedroom to put on something more “comfortable”. I was ready to go! Suddenly four of the Fun Teamers came busting thru her front door and dragged my ass out into the street. “What the hell are you guys doing?” I demanded. One of them shouted back, “If the rest of us aren’t getting laid in this damn town --- neither are you!” And they dragged me back to “Mom’s” --- unlaid.
That fall I got very sick with a bad cold. I had a fever, chills, a sore throat, runny nose and all the rest. But I refused to go to sick bay because if you went there for say a week you would be “rolled back” to the next class and have to start everything all over again. As sick as a dog I marched in the rain, dragged myself thru classes and all the rest. After a couple weeks I finally got better. I had lost 15 pounds --- but at least I hadn’t been “rolled back”.
Christmas leave commenced on December 20th and it sure was needed! We all returned to OCS on January 3rd. Classes resumed the following day. On Saturday of that week all of the Fun Teamers went to “Mom’s”. That night Sweetsy Petesy, Big Daddy, One-Finger Dave and I picked up our four dates that I had lined up. They were all from a Catholic College named Salve Regina --- or as Happy Jack called it “Salivating Vagina”. We all partied at a pub called Leo’s. We danced --- got high --- joked --- I played the guitar with the band --- and the owner sent our whole crowd a free round of drinks. It was a fun night!
January dragged on after that. Classes, tests and studying all week. Saturday nights saw the Fun Team at Leo’s and other bars --- picking up chicks --- getting drunk --- sleeping it off at “Mom’s” --- then returning to our barracks on Sunday.
I was really sweating one course called Operations! My grade was constantly just below 2.5. If I didn’t pass all my courses I would “wash out” --- they would put a sailor suit on me --- and ship my ass to dreaded Great Lakes!
In late January I came down with another really bad cold with bloodshot eyes, a nose ache, a toothache, a fever and chills. On the last day of January I finally went to sick bay where my diagnoses was “Acute Sinusitis”. The doctor gave me a bunch of pills and a “bed chit” to sleep in. But after a very bad night with a lot of pain I returned to sick bay where after waiting 2 ½ hours I was given pain pills and a shot of penicillin. I was also excused from all activities. I stayed in bed the rest of the day and the Fun teamers brought me food.
Later that day 3rd Quarter Accumes (accumulated averages for each course) were posted. I was finally passing all my courses --- barely passing Operations with a 2.57. But Big Daddy was failing Weapons with a 2.37 and he had to go before the Board next week. He was not a happy camper!
The next day was Saturday and I went to Mom’s with the Fun Team but I spent all day and night in bed with some studying in between. I didn’t go partying in town with the rest of the guys. I was sick most of the following week but I still went to classes, took tests, studied and marched in the parades playing my cymbals. By Friday I started to feel like a human being again. Big Daddy was allowed to continue at OCS.
That Saturday all the Fun teamers went to Mom’s on liberty. That night Happy Jack, One-Finger Dave and I went to the lounge at the Viking Hotel where we met three really nice girls. One of them was Sandi who became my date. Sandi worked at a Naval Hospital --- she was extremely good-looking – and a real good dancer. The six of us later partied at Anne’s Kitchen and another place. I had a great time that night and Sandi would become my regular date for the rest of OCS.
The next week was “Hell Week”. We had 17 exams instead of the usual 10. We were all miserable that week. On Saturday it was the Fun Team at Mom’s --- dinner at “Paul & Eddie’s” --- Sandi was my date later --- several of the other guys had dates --- by this time Johnny was dating a very sweet and attractive girl named Betty --- we all partied at the Surf Club and there was lots of dancing and drinking --- and I even went to Sandi’s place for a while and met her folks.
The following week was typical except that it ended with 3-day liberty weekend. Liberty commenced at 5 pm on Thursday and that night found Sandy and me along with Happy Jack, Sweetsy Petesy and their dates partying it up at the Surf Club --- drinking & dancing till late in the evening. Even later Sandi and I returned to her place. Luckily Sandi had a car and she returned me to Mom’s at 3:30 pm.
Friday night found Big Daddy, Johnny, One-Finger Dave, their three dates and Sandi & I at a bowling alley having fun and laughs followed by a get-together at Sandi’s place.
On Saturday a college buddy of mine and his wife picked up Sandy and me and took us to his parent’s house in Barrington for cocktails and a great dinner! Then it was back to Sandi’s place till 3:30 am and Sandi driving me back to the base at 4 am. We were all really night people!
The last week of February was routine. Classes ended on March 1st --- a Friday. Final grades were posted. I passed all my courses and so did the other six Fun Teamers! We were in! We were going to be Ensigns in the Navy!
Weeks ago we had all been asked what type of ship we’d like to be assigned to and where we would like to have our home port. None of us got our first choice. I had asked for a Cruiser out of Boston. What I was assigned to was a Destroyer Escort out of --- Galveston, Texas! Hell! I didn’t even know that we had a Navy ship in Texas! What the hell did I know about Texas?
But right then it was Friday night in Newport. The Fun Team hit Mom’s --- had pizza at Cafe 200 --- then Sandi and I along with Big Daddy, Johnny, One-Finger Dave and their dates all went bowling and drinking. We had all completed OCS!
Saturday brought more partying with our dates --- dinner --- bowling --- drinking --- dancing at the Surf Club --- and a million laughs! On Sunday Sandi & Big Daddy’s date, Mary, picked up Big Daddy and me and we all went to see “To Kill a Mockingbird”. To this day it was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen! Afterwards we went for coffee and then the girls took us back to the base.
The next five days at OCS were our last five days there. In slightly over 4 months the guys in the Fun Team had really become close friends. Big Dave wasn’t quite that close to the rest of us. But the other six of us had really bonded. When you go thru that much shit and pain together you really needed a support group and we sure supported each other for those 4 months!
That Monday liberty began at 4 pm. The Fun Team had dinner in town. Then Sandi and I barhopped and went for a long drive. Tuesday’s liberty commenced at 5 pm and Oscar 4 then had our big section party at the Embassy Restaurant. It was a wild party --- I played the guitar --- the drinking was heavy --- and the Fun Team in unison said good-bye to the rest of Oscar 4 by given them the middle finger and shouting an obscenity! Nobody ever said the Fun Team was a class act!
By Wednesday all the Fun Teamers had received their orders. Sweetsy Petesy was going to an LST (Landing Ship Tank) out of Norfolk. Happy Jack was going to a Destroyer out of San Diego. Big Dave was going to flight school in Pensacola. Big Daddy was being sent to an aircraft carrier out of Norfolk. Johnny was going to a Cruiser out of Norfolk. And One-Finger Dave would be going to an aircraft carrier out of Long Branch, California. Of course my sorry ass was going to a Destroyer Escort out of Galveston, Texas. Geez!
My parents had driven up from our South Jersey home that day so that night Sandi drove me to their motel where I introduced Sandi to them and the 4 of us chatted for a couple hours.
On Thursday the Fun Team presented Mom Sauerwine with a Ship Clock and gave her our thanks. She had been a godsend to us all. Afterwards the entire Fun Team and our dates had a “Fun Team Banquet” at Christie’s Restaurant. We all wore our Navy Dress Uniforms --- there were speeches --- toasts --- and a million laughs. Our Banquet was followed by the Graduation Ball on base --- a nice affair. Afterwards the Fun Team and our dates partied at the Surf Club and we didn’t get back to the base until 4 am.
Friday was our very last day at OCS. The Graduation Ceremony took place at 10 am. 961 of us were commissioned as Naval Officers. My parents, Sandi and all the other Fun Teamer’s dates were on hand for the occasion. After the ceremony the entire Fun Team, with their dates and families all met at Mom Sauerwine’s to say goodbye to her. We then all went to the Mayflower for lunch. After lunch we all said our good-byes to each other --- and it was really tough! It was also difficult for Sandi and me to say good-bye to each other. But all good things --- and all bad things --- must come to an end. OCS was over and the Fun Team would be scattered across the country.
Sandi and I exchanged letters for the first few months that I was stationed in Galveston. But she finally realized that I would be too far away for too long and she decided to call it quits. We never saw each other again. Johnny did marry Betty, the girl that he had been dating during OCS, and they had four kids.
During my 3 years of active duty I did run into Big Daddy a couple times. Sweetsy Petesy and I actually rented an apartment in Little Creek, Virginia together for our last year in the Navy after I had been transferred to shore duty with the Beach Jumpers.
All the Fun Teamers were discharged from active duty in the Navy in February of 1966. The following month I organized a Fun Team Reunion at my parent’s home. The Reunion ran for 3 days and was attended by Happy Jack, Big Daddy, One-Finger Dave, Sweetsy Petesy and me. Big Daddy brought his fiancée and I fixed the other guys up with dates. The Reunion was fantastic!
None of us ever saw Big Dave or Johnny again.
Many years went by before I tried to get back in touch with the Fun Teamers. I finally found Sweetsy Petesy out in Michigan and together we found Big Daddy in North Carolina and One-Finger Dave in Mississippi. We all wrote e-mails to each other occasionally and had a few phone calls. Sweetsy Petesy even came to visit me in New Jersey and later One-Finger Dave visited him in Michigan.
Sadly, we also learned that Johnny and Happy Jack had both died. I talked with Johnny’s wife, Betty, around 1999 after I had learned that he had died way back in 1977. He had died so young at age 37 --- but Betty had made sure that their four kids all graduated from college.
I will always remember both the good times and bad times that took place during those 4 months of Navy OCS. And for sure I will always cherish the memories of those great guys who called themselves --- the Fun Team.
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