The military was a considerable change for an independent young cowboy from Payson. It wasn’t so much I couldn’t have adjusted as it was I was just a little mule-headed.
The Navy didn’t know or care much about mules or ranch kids. Their modus operandi was to send new recruits to boot camp, strip them of every shred of self respect, and remold them into units they could control.
My dad had told me the best way to get through boot camp was to quietly do what I was told and remain as inconspicuous as possible. I tried, but our company commander thought because I’d had a little college, I was leadership material, so he made me a squad leader.
My company, 696, was made up of mostly Arizona boys with a hat-full of guys from New Mexico, including four Navajo boys from the country north of Magdalena.
The Navajos couldn’t read. We didn’t know this until we had our first Blue Jackets Manual test. Most of the company did well, but the Navajos only got a little over 20 percent of the questions right. They were in my squad, so I caught hell for their lack of preparation as did Almay, our recruit chief petty officer.
Our company commander told us that our entire company had to pass the Blue Jackets tests, which were given every two weeks. He said we had to help the ones who couldn’t learn on their own or our entire company would be held back two weeks each time anyone failed the test. I pointed out to the commander, whose name was Crawl, that the Navajo boys couldn’t read and had been told they didn’t have to read because they were going to be code talkers.
Commander Crawl, who was really just a second class petty officer, was appropriately named because he was a little slow. He didn’t care that the Navajos couldn’t read. We had to tutor them until they could pass the tests, which of course, were written.
Almay asked Commander Crawl if someone could read the questions to the Navajos and Crawl had what my mom would call a hissy fit. Before he got too wild, I saluted the commander and told him we understood the order and would find a way to carry it out. By way of dismissal, Crawl told Almay and me to get the hell out of his office.
“What are we going to do?” Almay asked me.
“I don’t know,” I told him. “You can’t fix stupid.”
“I know,” he answered. “They can’t even read!”
“I wasn’t talking about the Navajos, Almay. They are not stupid; they just can’t read.”
A couple of days later, I told Almay I had the answer.
He listened to my solution and laughed. “That will work, but what if someone squeals?”
“We won’t tell anyone, but the squad leaders and the Navajos and we’ll tell the squad leaders the Navajos will cut out their tongues with a dull knife if they talk.”
The day of the next test arrived. We were marched into the test room and told to sit, but to leave the six front desks empty.
“OK, you squirrels,” boomed the voice of Commander Crawl. “Anyone who can’t see the screen, move up to the front and take a seat.”
Four men moved into to the front row. A four-part, multiple-choice question showed from a projector onto a screen.
The answer to the question was “A.” The first guy in the front row leaned forward and marked the answer.
The other three guys in the front row remained erect. Half a minute passed and the next question showed on the screen. The answer was “C.” The third man from the right in the front seat leaned forward.
Two days later, Company 696 was marching in place, double time, each man with his peace (rifle) held straight out in front of him.
The Navajos and everyone else had scored much better on the second test. In fact, we had all aced it, but Commander Crawl wasn’t buying it.
He figured we had somehow obtained a cheat sheet and he was going to find it. We were threatened, searched, cussed, drilled, and shamed, but our so-called superiors never figured out how we achieved the highest average score on the Blue Jackets Manual tests ever to come out of the San Diego boot camp.
We were denied any awards because they knew we didn’t earn the test scores, but I learned something from Commander Crawl. It’s sometimes necessary to think like a mule when you’re dealing with a jackass.
Como Siempré, Jinx