Part 3 of a 3 part series
In the middle of our training one week was dedicated to Service Week. Most Companies were involved in food preparation in some manner. Some peeled potatoes, some helped cooks, some served on the serving line, while some washed dishes in the scullery. Our Company, for whatever reason (luck I guess), was selected to do service other than that. Many were selected to be cleaners in various training buildings, and other such tasks. I’ve no knowledge as to why I was selected, but for whatever reason I got the enviable/unenviable job of cleaning the Recruit Training Commanding Officer’s office. He was Captain William J. Catlett, Jr., and as far as I was concerned he was right up there somewhere around God in rank. My job was to arise at 0300, go to the galley for early breakfast, and be in the Captain’s office by 0400 to begin my day’s work. He had an inner office and an anteroom. The inner office was rather Spartan with solid oak desk, and solid, no nonsense chairs here and there, while the outer room was a much softer décor with leather covered sofa and chairs. Daily I dusted everything in sight, washed everything I didn’t dust, vacuumed most of the rest, and rearranged what little might be out of place, which was next to nothing. When Captain Catlett arrived around 0800 I was to be as unobtrusive as possible while remaining in the outer office in case I was needed until he left for the day around 1600 – 1700. After that I returned to my barracks. About the third or fourth day of this I cleaned as usual. When I had everything shipshape I worked up courage enough to sit down on the huge overstuffed leather-covered sofa. I awoke with Captain Catlett gently shaking my shoulder. I jumped to attention, trying to salute, say good morning, and apologize, all at the same time. He merely told me to carry on, and entered his office. In the middle of that afternoon he summoned me into his office. I had heard of Captain’s Mast punishment, and dreaded my summons, but I dutifully entered.
Captain Catlett asked me to uncover, which meant remove my whitehat. He then asked me to sit down on a wooden chair next to his desk. In my mind it was the chair of the doomed. He leaned back in his chair a bit as if thinking what punishment to bestow upon this miscreant that would dare fall asleep in his office while on duty. He then spoke softly, “Tell me what you think of the Navy, so far.”
Trembling, I answered, “I like it.” Was I to tell him what I really thought?
He said, “Relax son, I really want to know what you’re thinking. My job is to train you, and all the others, how to be good sailors, and enjoy your time in the Navy. I can only know how well I’m doing by asking you.”
I began to see the light. This was the first time in many weeks that anyone had treated me with any reasonable respect, and he actually was looking for my opinion which could somehow affect what everyone in this training facility was doing. For about a half hour I gave my opinion on a variety of topics all having to do with the recruit training program. It is doubtful that anything I said was valued enough to cause any action to be taken, but at least I discovered even a lowly recruit could possibly have some effect on higher decisions. Nearly 60 years later I recall one of his questions was what I wanted to do with my time in the Navy. I answered that I was happy just cleaning his office, and I would do that for my entire enlistment if it was okay with him. He told me that there was much more, and better things for me in store, and don’t settle for any less than the best I could do. He then dismissed me, and my indiscretion of sleeping on the job was never mentioned.