January 20 remembered as a day of change

Published 8:56 am Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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Many changes took place in America and in my life on January 20, 1953.  Dwight David Eisenhower was sworn in as the 34th president of the United States, and I left for the United States Navy. I was anxious to leave for the Navy, but not necessarily that anxious to leave home. I just wanted to go somewhere.

My mother woke me up as usual with a cup of coffee. We didn’t have a car, so my dad borrowed my Grandpa Keller’s car to drive me to the airport.

As I was getting ready to board the plane to San Diego, California, which was my first flight, to begin 12 weeks of Boot Camp, my dad hugged me, told me he loved me, and with tears in his eyes, asked me to please not get a tattoo.

After arriving and finally getting settled in my rack at 2 a.m., I went to sleep with tears in my eyes. At 4:30 a.m., the Chief Petty Officer, with a loud voice, kept repeating, “Reveille!   Reveille!  It’s time to get up!”  I thought, “What have I done?  Only yesterday my mom woke me up with a cup of coffee!”

That day was the longest day of my life. I stayed in line all day to receive my military clothes. I was given a serial number, 499-2311. As I went to bed that night, I remember thinking, “It’s one day at a time. I only have three years and 364 days left.”

The weekend before we were scheduled to graduate from Boot Camp, we were given a 12-hour liberty pass to visit the city. I used my pass to go with a fellow named Wheeler from Washington State who suggested we get drunk.

“How can we get drunk?” I asked. It was impossible to get into any barroom, because the drinking age in all the states, except New York and Louisiana, was 21.

Wheeler and I decided to get someone to go to a liquor store and buy us each a pint of whiskey. The problem then was we had no place to drink it. We decided to go into a men’s restroom in a Greyhound bus station and drank it.  When we finished drinking it, Wheeler said, “Let’s get another pint.” I agreed, but didn’t really want to.

We got drunk and when we went back to the base, we told everybody that we had a good time.  Can you imagine drinking hot whiskey in a smelly restroom of a bus station and calling it a good time?

This Thursday, January 20, marks the 69th anniversary of my first day in the Navy.  That’s a long time ago, but I remember that day like it was yesterday.


            If you have any questions, or comments, please write to Get High on Life, P.O. Drawer U, Reserve, LA 70084, call 504-881-0113, or e-mail hkeller@comcast.net.