Keller: Navy serves 18-year-old rude awakening

Published 1:05 pm Thursday, January 22, 2015

On January 20, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as the 34th President of the United States of America. That was a big day in his life and also a big day in mine.

It was on that date, 62 years ago, that I was sworn in to serve four years in the United States Navy.

I don’t know how much President Eisenhower’s life was changed, but for me, it was a rude awakening.

Only 18 years old, I left Moisant Airport in the late afternoon for San Diego, Calif. When I finally got settled in my barracks, it was 3 a.m. At 4:30 a.m., the lights were turned on with the Chief Petty Officer hollering, “Reveille, Reveille! It’s time to get up!”

Leaving the comfort of my home, I was used to my mom gently waking me up and asking if I wanted some coffee milk.

In less than 24 hours my life was changed, never to be the same.

I was marched to the Mess Hall, ate breakfast and later was given a Serial Number (49923-11) and a Billet Number (46) to identify my place in the group to which I was assigned.

It was the longest day of my life. I stayed in line all day as I was issued clothes, shoes and a Navy uniform. I was also given a bucket and a brush and was told that was to wash my clothes.

“Wash clothes!” I thought. “I’ve never done that!”

That night I lay in my bunk with tears in my eyes, missing home already and thinking that I have three years and 364 days left. (The thought was overwhelming.) The three months of Boot Camp was hard, but good for someone as spoiled as I was.

After a short leave at home, I was assigned to a destroyer, the USS Saufley EDDE 465. I spent the remaining 44 months of my tour assigned to the Saufley, whose home port was Key West, Fla.

We cruised the east coast, visited Havana, Cuba (before Castro), San Juan, Puerto Rico, other islands and the major ports along the east coast.

I’m considered a Korean veteran, but believe me; my tour of duty was easy.

The only action I witnessed was in the many bar rooms to which I was attracted. I thank God that He protected me from my riotous living.

Unlike President Eisenhower, who served his country well, my four years in the Navy served me well. It did more for me than I did for it.


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