On Friday, January 26, 1968 I arrived at the Naval Training Center, Recruit Training Command, San Diego, California to begin one of the least pleasant but most memorable episodes of my life, namely Navy "boot camp," an intensive nine-week-long (it seemed longer) experience designed to help me and my fellow recruits make the oftentimes stressful transition from civilian life to military life, from a life of personal freedom and choices to one where nearly every tiny aspect of your existence is governed by authority and sometimes seemingly arbitrary rules and regulations that you did not dare to question.
Nearly forty-seven years later, on Tuesday, December 23, 2014, I returned to the place where if you had asked me on April 1, 1968 (the day I left "boot camp") if I ever wanted to come back, I would almost certainly have said not just "No," but "Hell no!"
But I did return, and for two reasons. First, because I was curious. I had heard that the Naval Training Center had closed down in 1997 and that it had subsequently been turned into a multi-use complex called "Liberty Station." Secondly, because as any person who has ever served in the military will almost certainly tell you, that experience, whether it occurs in war or peacetime, is one that stays with you for your entire life. In short, it is something you never forget, even if you wish you could! There is therefore a tendency to mentally revisit it from time-to-time and if possible to even return to the places where the experience actually occurred. In recent years (2010 and 2012) I have also revisited the two aircraft carriers I served aboard, the U.S.S. Yorktown (CVS-10), which is a floating museum near Charlestown, South Carolina, and the U.S.S. Intrepid (CVS-11), one of New York City's most popular tourist attractions.
I confess that I have long harbored mixed feelings about my time in the Navy. From day one I could hardly wait to return to civilian life and did so at my earliest opportunity. The military way of life just didn't suit me and nothing that I experienced during my nearly four years of service endeared me to it. If anything, it seemed as if everything the Navy did was part of a conscious conspiracy to make me dislike it so much that when I was asked near the end of my fourth year if I wanted to "ship-over" (re-enlist), I wouldn't hesitate in pronouncing an unqualified "No!"
That being said, I am also grateful for the experience. If it wasn't for my service in the Navy I would never have met my wonderful wife, would not have the two sons and grandson I cherish, would not have seen the parts of the United States and many foreign countries that I was able to visit, would not have been able to afford to go to both college and graduate school, and would have had a much harder time buying a home. In hindsight, all these things were worth the nearly four years of my life that I gave to Uncle Sam, who in my case has amply repaid the debt.
I can also say with pride, although it took me a number of years to come to an appreciation of it (largely because no one else seem to value it), that I played a part, however, small, in protecting my country from the threat of nuclear annihilation during that tension-filled period we call the "Cold War."
During my 2014 visit to San Diego, I made a video recording, which can be viewed on both YouTube and this site (see "Narratives"). After returning home, I decided to see if I could find out what happened to some of the guys I remembered from boot camp and was pleased that I was quickly able to reconnect by email with Ralph Skelton, who was not only one of my shipmates at San Diego but also the only one besides me who came from the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. Today, Ralph lives in California (although not San Diego) and quite by chance I live in the very same town where he resided when he joined the Navy in 1968!
While trying to find out what became of some of the other fifty-nine guys in my company, I was saddened to learn that at least three are now deceased. One, Gene W. Faulkner, Jr., was one of my best buddies in Boot Camp. You'll see a photo of him and me in the "Picture Galleries" section of this site.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to locate everyone, due both to lack of time and lack of leads, which is why I built this website. It is my hope that any of my former shipmates who may want to find out what happened to the guys with whom they went through boot camp might come across it and contact me, if for no other reason than to say "Hi, how are you doing?" and to share their reminiscences with me and their other former shipmates by offering to have their written narratives or videos or photos posted on this site.
And so now you now what this site is all about!
--Steven Butler, February 2015