Going farther … part 2 by thadeusz
This story is fictional, it is also the second part of "Going farther …”. The author strongly advise the reader to read part 1 first.
I part one, the young Frank Harmon joins, for the fun of it, the Naval Military Preparation (NMP) as a cadet as soon as he is 16 year olds. Unluckily for him, the Minister of defense decides to mobilize for 5 years all the NMP cadets. Since he is too young, he is first sent for a year to the Naval Apprentice School (NAS), and since he mentions that he does not like it, he does not receive a regular induction cut, but a "special cut” which is painful and leaves him with an awful head partially completely shorn and partially with irregular stubbles. We find him now immediately after he has received his uniform and is locked in a special room of the arsenal with other future NAS pupils, called Seaman Apprentice, or SA. His major regret is that he wanted to get his high school diploma and study to become an engineer: that's why his parents said they were happy because he was "going farther”.
I did not mind being locked in that room: I knew now that I had no way to escape my fate and I had decided to behave as well as I could. I realized that any other attitude would create great problems for me, so I thought that I might as well keep telling myself that "All was for the best in the best of all possible worlds” and try to behave like a decent Seaman, an unpunished sailor, during the next 5 years. There was still hope to have leaves later, after I was done with this stupid NAS. I believe now that it is at that precise moment that I started to think as a real Seaman, as required by the CDR who had sent me to the NAS.
7 other young boys and girls were already in this room, all of them in dress service uniform, all of them with their name and the letters NAS on their uniform jacket. There were 2 girls and 5 boys plus me. In the room, there were tables and chairs which enabled us to work on the "sticking labels” job we had to do to finalize our uniforms. Most of them had finished this work and gave precious advices to the latter ones. I soon learned several important things. First, I was the youngest one with my 16 years and 2 months of age. Second, most of them had joined the Naval Military Preparation because they really wanted to get ready for the Navy and have an advance training. They had not joined the Navy immediately because they were too young or because their parents had refused their consent as long as they had not finished their high school. One of them was hesitant before our mobilization: he did not know if he wanted to join the Army or the Navy, but he was sure he wanted to join the Military. The eldest one was a boy, named Marvin Selnik, who was just 17 and thus still too young to join directly the Navy. He had tried to go to the NAS because he was tired of high school and he had not be admitted. He was now very excited about being finally in the NAS and he told me that we would do great things there, together. He looked kind and intelligent and we became quickly good friends.
Marvin was the first one to speak to me:
"Hello you, what's your name ?”
I started to introduce myself, as PO Pollet had told me but Marvin, who seemed to be somewhat the leader of our group, interrupted me saying:
"Hey, I am only a Seaman Apprentice, not an officer. So give us only your name and firstname. My name is Marvin Selnik.”
"Marvin, I am Frank Harmon” and I took off my sailor's hat.
"What happened to your haircut ?” said Rudi, another new SA who was the first one of our group to have received his uniform.
Marvin and the others had a good look at me and at my shorn head and Marvin asked:
"Yes Frank, what happened to your haircut ? Did you ask for such a strange haircut ? Look at us, we all have a real induction cut, except the girls, but we still have some hair left.”
"I told the CDR that in fact I did not want to join the Navy and that I would rather finish my studies before. So the CDR and the LT wanted to punish me. Later I was stupid enough to tell Borkheimer that I wanted to keep my curls for my mother.”
"I understand now why he treated you like that,” said Marvin, "Apparently he does it whenever he hears the word ‘mother' ”
One of the girls, Sandy, replied:
"You should have obeyed immediately and certainly not say to a CDR that you did not want to join the Navy: you knew that you had too. CPO Borkheimer was maybe a little bit excessive with you, but after all he is a CPO and he knows better than we, simple SA.”
"Well”, I replied, "Anyway CPO Borkheimer butchered my haircut and seemed to like that, protecting himself beyond what he said was an order of the CDR presiding during my interview.”
"Yes”, said Rudi, "Borkheimer is a butcher and seems to like to torture new Seamen. While I was waiting to receive my induction cut he gave orders to one of the barbers to have a new Seaman's head shorn completely, but leaving from place to place long stubbles. It was awful, just like your haircut Frank. But later he left me with a reasonable induction cut !”
The others approved and Sandy wanted to say more but we were interrupted at that moment: the door opened and as we all assumed it was time to go, we jumped on our feet in the position of attention. It was simply a Seaman bringing us rations to eat immediately because it was past noon. None of us had had the possibility to keep his watch, so we did not know the exact time and the excitement had made us forget our hunger. We were finally thankful to that Seaman and ate quickly. He took all the remains and left us waiting behind a locked door after explaining:
"You have to wait here because there might still be one or two more SA to be conducted to the NAS and the CDR wants only one trip.”
Marvin found the correct way of expressing things:
"The Military, it is always the same: hurry up and wait. Are you ready for that Frank?”
"Marvin, I am ready now. Since I got that dreadful haircut and my uniform, I decided to behave like a good SA who wants to be there: anyway is there anything else I could do ? So I am fully with you, and I am also excited at the idea of seeing our new environment.”
"What are you going to do next ?”
"Take care of my new uniforms and of all these labels, as I have been told to do. Since I have to be a Seaman, I want to try to be a good one.”
"That's the spirit Frank. I let you work now”
Well, that's what I said. But I said it as much to convince myself as to convince the others that I was from then on ‘one of their group'.
I worked quickly on my clothes as I had been ordered: I did not want to risk to be punished on my first day. The others had finished before me and were now discussing their respective projects for a future in the Navy. I thus realized there were many possibilities. The others, those who were now my "comrades” for a long period of time, were really astonished when I told them I did not want to join the Navy and I had just joined the NMP "for sport and fun”. Marvin reacted very rapidly:
"Well Frank, there will be lots of sport, probably more than you expect, but it will not necessarily be funny for you if you keep this state of mind. What did you want to do?”
"Marvin, I wanted to be an engineer. But I realize now that it will not be possible. I won't even have my high school diploma.”
"You might get a high school diploma if you stay at the NAS, which I would not like to do. But it will be in Marine Sciences. So the closest to engineer you can hope for is mechanic on a ship, taking care of the machines.”
"I would anyway like to stay at the NAS long enough to get my diploma.”
The discussion ended and we all tried to find something to do. It was hot in this meeting room, I sat near a table and fell asleep. Suddenly Marvin shouted:
"Attention on deck.”
We all stood up and took the position of attention. Nothing was happening, the door remained closed and we all looked at Marvin who continued:
"Well I don't know if I used the correct words, but you are all awake now. We are in the Navy now, whether we like it or not, and we have nothing to do. So let's take the initiative and do some sport. Take your clothes off, and remain in your undies.”
Sandy protested: "And if we don't want to do it ?”
"Well, I am not your chief, so do what you want.”
Most of the boys took of their clothes, me included, and we started to make push-ups under the direction of Marvin who had naturally become the leader of our group. After the push-ups, Marvin ordered us to do other exercises, including an attempt to march in step in this relatively small room. Judging by the sun through the bars of the windows, our show lasted a certain time.
Suddenly the door opened and a PO entered with a boy in SA uniform. Marvin immediately shouted:
"Attention” and then added for the PO:
"Sir, SA Selnik Marvin, Matricule 185.623/7, Sir, present as ordered. This SA takes full responsibility for what happened here. He told his comrades to start the physical exercises foreseen for the Navy. This SA will accept his punishment with respect, Sir. At your command Sir.”
The PO replied:
"Get all quickly dressed as final Naval exercise for today. I bring you the last of the future Seaman Apprentices: the selection is finished now. As soon as you are dressed properly, you will all take your bags and form a file. On my command, you will march on step with me. It is too late to send you now to the NAS, so you will spend one night in a special room. You are no longer allowed to have any contact with your Naval Military Preparation comrades who are now full Seamen.” He then looked in the direction of Marvin who was already dressed and very red in the face and added:
"Congratulations SA Selnik on your first command. Excellent initiative. There will be no punishment.” Looking now to all of us: "Forward, March.”
This PO lead us to two bedrooms, one for the two girls and one for us, the 7 boys. I don't know what happened to the girls, but I assume that it is similar to what happened to us. The PO let us enter the room and said:
"You are 7 and there must thus be a room-chief. Since you are so good at giving orders, I appoint you as chief, you SA Selnik. The others must obey you as if you were really a PO. I will let a Seaman bring you rations for this evening and tomorrow morning. You must make sure that each man has his due Selnik, and not more. UNDERSTOOD ?” The last word was barked, as usually, but Marvin replied immediately:
"Sir, YES, Sir” and he had adopted the same barking tone. The PO closed the door and locked it: we were alone again. There were 6 double bunks, the window was closed and in any case provided with bars, and there was an access to a small bathroom. Since we were 7 and the latest among us appeared in poor shape, sobbing, and also younger than I was, I said:
"Marvin, I am going to take a bunk on top so our new comrade can stay on the base floor.” But Marvin took his new role very seriously:
"Frank, you did not ask to have the permission to speak. In any case, I will decide who sleeps where. So, I will take the first top bunk and you Frank are going to sleep just below. The others will also sleep on a below bunk.”
"Sir”, I said, "permission to speak, Sir.”
"Frank, I am your temporary chief, but that does not make me a ‘Sir'. Remember that I am only Marvin for all of you. Permission granted.”
"Marvin, it is hot here. Could I open the window ?”
"Yes, Frank, if the others agree.” Since all the ‘old' ones agreed, I opened the window. All of us had taken off our hat and were ready to take off our dress service uniform. There was one exception: the sobbing new one who did not know what to do.
Marvin had seen that and tried to be kind with him:
"New boy, you can take off your hat and tell us your name.”
The last SA took off his hat and we could see what had stopped him: he had a shorn head, as dreadfully shaved as mine, with long stubbles remaining as if to give the impression he was a prisoner and not a Seaman Apprentice of our ‘glorious' Navy. Slowly he told us his name: Patrick Rohman. Marvin went on:
"Welcome Patrick.” But Rudi added:
"Your head looks like Frank's ! Have you also been punished ? What happened to you ?”
"Everything started well. I am just 16 and I was admitted in a Naval Military Preparation close to my home on the day after my birthday. In fact I wanted to join the Navy and go first to the NAS, but my parents refused: they said that I should first get my high school diploma. So when during my second NMP weekend I was brought here, I was really pleased. During the interview with a CDR and other officers everything went well until the CDR assigned me to the NAS. At that moment I thanked him and explained that my parents had stopped me going there, so I was pleased. But he did not listen to my last words and got angry, saying that I should have resisted my parents. So in order to show me what Navy life was like, he ordered me to give him immediately 50 push ups. He added, looking at a LT who was there and whose name starts with ‘Mo' that I should have my head treated like that other boy who did not want to join the Navy.”
I interrupted him:
"The other boy, it's me, Frank Harmon, and I was wrong to tell that to the CDR since it did not change a thing. The LT you mention was probably LT Morelli. But why did you mention your parents' opposition since anyway you got what you wanted ?”
"Yes,” continued Patrick, "Morelli that's the name. This LT told the CDR that I might need protection against the bad influences of my parents. So the CDR decided that my parents would never be admitted to the NAS, even on Open Gates days. But the third officer, I don't know his rank, I am not yet good at that, intervened in the discussion.”
"Patrick,” I said on a friendly tone, trying to help this poor young, very young boy, "the third officer was a LCDR.”
"Well the LCDR objected that I would be able to meet my parents during my free time outside the NAS. So LT Morelli suggested that I should be kept inside and the CDR concluded that I would be confined to barracks during my stay in the NAS, without possibility to meet on otherwise contact my parents. And now I hate this, I don't want to stay here. I am really afraid and I want to speak with my mother.” and he started crying.
"But what happened next ? How did you get such a haircut Patrick ?” asked Marvin
Patrick described the rest of what was now for him a real nightmare:
"Well, I was happy at the start and I couldn't resist thanking these officers for giving me what my parents had refused for me. So I really did not understand why the CDR became angry and ordered me to do 50 push-ups.”
"Here we say ‘gave me 50' without details interrupted Rudi.
"Well he gave me 50 and I did them as well as I could. So when the LT said that my parents were a danger for me I did not understand. And now I am completely separated from them.”
"SA Rohman, stop sobbing. That will not help you. You are in now and for good, so obey the orders even if they are stupid and you don't like them.” barked Marvin who was getting a real chief's attitude. "And tell us what happened with your haircut.”
"Well, the LT told me I was to go to the NAS and be confined there. He then gave a piece of paper to a Petty Officer who took me to the clothing hall and later to the barber. There a CPO, I think CPO Borkheimer, told me to sit and that he would take care of me himself. He said I was the third in one week to have the honour to be treated by him. He told me to avoid any movement, because these movements would provoke punishments. He then started to shave my head. I knew there would be an induction cut, but that severe and that ugly. This CPO purposely arranged to shave completely some parts of my head but to leave hair on others. The other new Seamen I have seen there got a neat and clean induction cut, but never a super short or disorganised one. Now that's enough of that game. I am too young for that and I want to go home.” and he continued sobbing.
"Patrick”, I said, "you were old enough to be accepted against your parents wish in an NMP. Now you have to accept all the consequences. You will be SA in the NAS for nearly one year and after that you will serve the Navy during 5 more years. You cannot escape this fate. So accept everything that comes with it. If I guess correctly, you will have to go to the barber every week with me and keep your head shaved. You cannot avoid it, so rejoice because they will give you a nice shaving. You will learn a lot in the NAS and become a good Seaman, which is what you wanted.”
"Frank”, said Marvin, "You became a good philosopher. And Patrick, even if you cannot communicate with your parents during your NAS time, you will be free to do so as soon as you are a full Seaman, so rejoice about that. And now, all in undies and in bed, tomorrow will be a heavy day. Frank, turn off the light and this is an order.”
I did what our temporary "room leader” had instructed me to do, then I went to the bunk he had assigned to me and I slept without problem until the bugle woke me up. Looking through the window, I saw it was still dark so I assumed that it was about 04:30. I ran, with the others, to the small bathroom and wanted to get dressed in my dress service uniform. But Marvin stopped us and told us to clean the place in such a perfect way that nobody could have guessed that 7 SA had been in the room for a full night. He had a natural tone of authority and we all obeyed him, including the still sobbing Patrick. When our work was done, Marvin told us to get dressed and to have our bags ready. It is only when all that was done that he gave us our morning rations. As soon as we were done with that, and he did not leave us a lot of time, he instructed Patrick and me, "the youngest ones” to clean the last spots of dirt due to the rations. He then told each of us to sit on our respective bunks in silence and wait. He chose to sit next to me but did not say a word.
We did not wait for a long time: the same PO as the day before came and looked at the room. He appeared satisfied and congratulated us for understanding so fast the way of living in the Navy. He then told us to take our bags and conducted our group, with the two girls, to the courtyard where a bus was waiting for us. We boarded the bus in silence, the PO relieved Marvin of his duties of ‘room leader' and we left the Arsenal for the NAS.
From the outside, the NAS was a dark building with very high walls and a heavy closed door. Once we had passed that door we discovered a big courtyard and in it a more smiling building. The building had large windows without bars this time. A LT was waiting for us and told us:
"My name is LT Perel, LT Karl Perel. I will now ask each of you to introduce his or herself according to Navy rules and in the order of your Matricule numbers.”
We did what was asked. Rudi started without problem but when Marvin introduced himself the LT commented:
"I have a note here saying that you are able of good initiatives and that you performed perfectly your duties as ‘room leader'. We might decide to use these aptitudes here.” Marvin's face turned red, but he said nothing. My turn came next and I introduced myself as I had been told to do, saluted and took off my hat. The LT looked at me and said:
"I see, Harmon I have a note about you: you will have to go to the barber and have your head completely shaved every Saturday afternoon. UNDERSTOOD ?”
"Sir, YES, Sir” was my answer.
"Now tell me”, the LT went on, "why do you have that special punishment ?”
"Sir, during his interview this SA said that he did not want to join the Navy and that he wanted to stay at school to get his high school diploma, Sir.”
"Is that still true ?”
"Sir, yes and no. This SA does hope to get his high school diploma through the NAS, but he is now fully ready to serve the Navy as long as necessary.” The LT appeared satisfied not only with the answer but with the impersonal way in which I had formulated it. So he said:
"Good for the will to serve, we are going to examine the possibilities for the diploma”
"Sir, permission to speak, Sir ?”
"Permission granted, Harmon”
"Sir, during his initial haircut, this SA hair has been butchered. This SA asks the favor to be allowed to go to the NAS barber today to have an equalization of his haircut, Sir”
"Is it CPO Borkheimer who gave you that haircut ?”
"Sir, YES sir”
"Well, he does always the same dreadful things. I understand your wish, but you don't get the authorization you asked for. You will have a weekly haircut every Saturday, and on these days only. The NAS barber will give you a decent head shave, he will be instructed to do that. So start already to serve the Navy as an excellent Seaman Apprentice.”
At first I was disappointed, but I quickly realized that this was a Thursday, which meant that my next haircut would be in two days.
LT Perel seemed to be a severe but kind officer who knew how to treat youngsters like us, with rigour, firmness and flexibility simultaneously. He proved it with the last of us to introduce himself, Patrick, who did not respect all the rules and was still sobbing. The LT ignored the sobbing and, looking at his shorn head, he asked:
"Was it also CPO Borkheimer ?”
"Yes, that was his doing.” The LT ignored the incorrect formulation and simply said:
"SA Rohman, I have two notes concerning you. First you must keep your head shaved as long as you are in the NAS. You will thus go the barber every Saturday with SA Harmon and receive the same treatment. But, second, the CDR wants you to stay here, confined to barracks, without any contact with your parents. What happened ?”
Patrick started to tell his story, forgetting that he should only speak of himself at the third person and showing a certain lack of respect for the Navy officers who had been part of his interviewing board. He ended by saying:
"And all that is unfair. The Navy is not what I thought it would be. I want to go home.”
But the LT replied:
"It is too late for that. You have been duly matriculated as a Seaman Apprentice and you will later serve as Seaman during at least 5 years. But you are very young, maybe too young and the interviewing commission had the possibility to reject you and send you home. Now that you have been matriculated that possibility does not exist anymore. So be a man and face the situation. The CDR who asked that you be completely separated from your parents is CDR Quilton, from the Arsenal. But here you depend from CDR Telnet, who is the commanding officer of the NAS. I am going to observe your behavior during several months and if you show that you are on your way to become a real Seaman, with or without your parents' agreement, I might ask CDR Telnet to review your situation.”
He then looked to all of us and announced that he was going to assign us to our rooms but that he had to do it where there were still available beds. He also said that he had been told to place us in different rooms in order to favor our integration in the main group of SA, but that this was not possible considering our number. At that moment Marvin asked the permission to speak, which he received:
"Sir, SA Harmon, SA Rohman and me … sorry and this SA are the last to have been matriculated. SA Rohman is also the youngest of all of us, and by far: he might thus need special attention. This SA is convinced that with the support of SA Harmon he could help SA Rohman in his delicate situation, Sir.”
"Selnik, do you mean that you volunteer to baby-sit, sorry … to assist SA Rohman in all the activities of this school ?”
"Sir, YES Sir, even if it makes my … sorry this SA life more difficult”
"And you Harmon ?”
"Sir Yes Sir, it is this SA duty to assist each of the other SAs if he can do it.”
"Fine”, said the LT, "I place the three of you in the same room. The three of you will be temporarily confined to barracks, but Selnik and Harmon are allowed to communicate with their parents”. Marvin and I were not 100% pleased, but I had expected something like that. The LT went on:
"I also appoint Selnik room leader for his room. You will have to explain to the other SA how you did it, to be promoted so fast. I will now bring each of you to your respective rooms.”
"Sir,” Marvin was again speaking, "permission to formulate a request, Sir ?”
"Selnik, that is not exactly the proper way to say it and you know that, I give you that permission but after you have spoken you will give me 50.”
"Sir, this SA asks the permission to have also his head shorn, Sir.”
"Request denied, you look much better with your present haircut. Now do what you have to do.”
Marvin did his 50 push-ups in a perfect way and remained silent after that. The LT took us to our room, room 7, which in our case was a big room with 6 double bunks and 12 cupboards. The LT announced Marvin's promotion and left us there with our bags. There were already 5 young boys, all in SA uniform, in the room. I wondered how Marvin would succeed to let these boys swallow that he, one of the most recently arrived, would have to serve as room leader. He did it wonderfully well. He explained that he was the eldest SA in the room, that he intended to respect the "already established habits”, that in any case he did not want to play a role of real chief, etc. He was well accepted by the others who were all 16 and half year olds but in fact he started immediately to give orders (which was his duty). He first arranged for each of us to have a well defined bed, keeping Patrick close to him, and he instructed Patrick and me to put immediately our duty uniform on. He told the other boys that he felt that it was important that we were all dressed in the same impeccable way. He too changed for his duty uniform, and four of the other boys, rearranged their clothes which they were wearing in a more than loose way. Marvin had established his authority, his role as chief, without problem.
The Saturday afternoon following our arrival at the NAS, Patrick and I went to the barber. Patrick was "treated” first. He tried to explain all his problems, but did not respect the way of speaking foreseen for us, SA, and he kept fidgeting despite the orders the barber gave him. So the barber decided to calm him in a very energetic way: he called one SA who served as helper and told him to attach Patrick's arms to the arms of the barber chair, and to put a chain on his feet. The poor Patrick stopped moving and the barber told Patrick that, considering his behaviour, he was going to respect CPO Borkheimer's way of cutting Patrick's hair. The barber very efficiently shaved parts of his head using nice electric clippers, but parts only. In fact the barber complained that Patrick's hair was too nice to be "mistreated” the way it had been but that Patrick "non Navy like” behaviour forced him to keep for him a dreadful haircut. When he was done, Patrick was released and told to go immediately to his room, which he did, sobbing, without saying a word.
It was thus my turn and I had already decided to make "contre mauvaise fortune, bon coeur”. So I asked, in the appropriate way, the permission to speak. Once it was granted I said:
"Chief,” (the barber was a CPO) "this SA has been punished and must have his head shaved every week. This SA does not want to escape his punishment, so he respectfully asks to have his head completely shaven.”
In fact I wanted the barber to give a more regular and more dignified appearance to my haircut which looked more funny than anything else. The CPO who served as barber understood that and said:
"SA Harmon, there is only one thing I can do for you, but then it will be the same every Saturday from now on. Are you ready for that ?”
"Chief, YES Chief” was my answer.
The CPO caped me and started to shave my head with his clippers with no guard, and then he lathered my head and shaved it with a sharp blade. When I emerged and was allowed to look at my head, it was completely bald and pale. I looked even worse than before, but at least I did not looked as if I had been butchered when the CPO asked me:
"Are you sure that this is what you wanted for ever, SA Harmon ?”
"Chief, YES Chief”, well it was not exactly the case but I had made my choice.
"We will reexamine this next week”
And when the next saturday came, CPO Welnez, the barber, told me that he could not let one of his SAs walk the way I did. He had thus decided to give me as soon as my hair had grown a little bit, a very decent induction cut. CPO Welnez added for Patrick and me that whenever we would behave badly, in a non Navy like way, or study badly, he would have to butcher our heads during at least two coinsecutive weeks. This was apparently specially meant for Patrick. This went on and on all the time my punishment lasted, every Saturday. Patrick and I lived very well with a #1 haircut. I still have a very short haircut, but slightly longer now !
A new life started for me. I had decided that since I had to stay in the Navy during 5 years, after the NAS, I might as well try to convince myself that I liked it. Strangely enough, I succeeded rapidly. I got used to that discipline life, constantly in uniform and constantly inspected. LT Perel was very careful about that: he came at least daily and checked if everything was fine for each of his Seaman Apprentice. He looked with great interest to the progresses made by Marvin, as well in his military bearing as his school work. I am convinced that he noticed that I helped Marvin a lot, but he said nothing about that. School work was easy for me: it was below the level of the 10th grade I had very well completed. I also started to like very much all the sport exercises and all the military training we had. On top of his school work, Marvin made sure that all the SA of our room were perfectly disciplined and dressed. He subtly made remarks which pushed other SA to suddenly feel they needed to clean their boots, or make sure the gaiters of their service uniform were completely white. Since he was a good room leader, Marvin was not softer with himself and that taught me a good lesson and a good way of life. There was only one dark spot: Patrick. Patrick was still very unhappy because he was completely separated from his parents and he kept asking the LT to be allowed to go home, going as far as threatening to desert.
A Saturday afternoon of November, immediately after mess 2 (i.e. lunch in SA language), Marvin, Patrick and me were relaxing in duty uniform in our room and our roommates were outside the NAS, enjoying a "free time” in town which we were not allowed to have. LT Perel came and sent Patrick away for some chore which was obviously only a pretext to speak with Marvin and me alone. That happened about a month after our arrival in the NAS, in the beginning of November. Marvin and I were also confined to barracks, but we could communicate with our parents. The LT first spoke to Marvin:
"SA Selnik, I must congratulate you on the way you got all the others accept you as room leader. You are doing a good job. You will probably be an excellent NCO. We will discuss that later” and Marvin really looked pleased. "But today I want to know why you did not succeed to calm SA Rohman: he just threatened to desert if I did not let him go home definitely.”
"Sir”, said Marvin, "this SA does not know what else he can do”.
"But you told me that keeping Rohman with you would enable you to calm him and make him behave like a good SA ?”
"Sir, this SA failed in this task, Sir. The only solution for the good of the Navy might be to send SA Rohman home definitely” and Marvin started to look very pale.
"SA Selnik, you know very well that this is not possible. I will simply change method and send SA Rohman to the disciplinary section. As far as you are concerned, you failed and that is not acceptable. You are no longer room leader.”
Marvin was very pale. The LT then turned himself towards me:
"SA Harmon, before you arrived here you said that you did not want to join the Navy, but that you wanted to continue your studies. But you behaved well despite of what you had said. Do you still feel the same way ?”
"Sir”, I answered, "I am now convinced that I can be very happy in the Navy, but I still would like to have my high school diploma one way or another, Sir.”
"We will have more discussions about your high school diploma later. For the time being you become room leader instead of SA Selnik. As such, you will lead now SA Rohman to the disciplinary section and then lead SA Selnik to the barber where he will have his head shorn like yours”.
"Sir, permission to speak, Sir.”
"Permission granted Harmon, but say only something useful.”
"Sir, first I … sorry this SA does not want to take his friend's job, Sir. And second, this SA believes that there is another possibility for SA Rohman.”
"You are as of now room leader, that will not be changed except if you too fail in your task. As far as Rohman, tell me what you think can be done.”
"Sir, it is obvious that SA Rohman loves the Navy and wanted to join since a long time, but Rohman is also very young and he loves his parents. He does not understand why he has been confined to barracks and forbidden to communicate with them. A solution might be to tell him that within a reasonable period of time, if he behaves well, he will no longer be confined to barracks, despite what the arsenal CDR said, and that he will be allowed to communicate with them like all the other SA, Sir.”
"What would be a reasonable period of time according to you, Horman ?”
"Sir, this SA is not an officer and cannot tell, Sir.”
"SA Horman, I start feeling that you will be an officer”, I started to get red in the face, "but now give me your personal opinion as friend of Patrick Rohman, forgetting for a minute that you are SA Horman.”
"Sir, it might be good that very soon, in a day or two, you take Patrick to the CDR office and that the CDR tells him that in a big month, not later than January 1st, he will be able to go out of the barracks and to call his parents, Sir”.
"Harmon, Selnik, you have been placed in the same bag as Rohman. So from now on I am going to treat you as he is treated. For the time being you are not only confined to barracks, but also forbidden to communicate. This will be lifted soon, but you are not to mention it to Rohman. UNDERSTOOD ?”
Simultaneously, two well drilled SAs replied : "Sir, YES, Sir”
"Harmon, now as room leader you take the punished Selnik to the barber and get for him the same haircut as yours, and that will last longer than January first. Give this paper, as room leader, to the barber” and the LT gave me a folded order containing his detailed instructions for CPO Welnez, the NAS barber.
This was a direct order we could not avoid, so I "took” Marvin, who did not really protest, to the barber. On our way, we met Patrick coming back from his short chore and I told him to join us since he and me had to have our head completely shorn every Saturday by order of the CDR of the Arsenal.
When the three of us arrived at the barber's place, we introduced ourselves according to the rules and thus took off our cover. The difference was visible. Patrick and me had the same haircut : a clean and complete 1 or 2 mm haircut all over the head. CPO Welnez did refresh this every week and from time to time reduced it to nearly 0 mm, as instructed by CDR Quilton from the Arsenal. In fact it was supposed to be a "zero” haircut, but the CPO always left something and with our dark hair, we did not look as if we had a freshly shaven head, but we gave the impression to have a simple induction cut. CPO Welnez was a kind, rather fatherly, man. He knew us and knew our complete story. He never brutalized us the way CPO Borkheimer had done at the Arsenal ! Marvin had a "much longer” haircut : he had not gone to the barber since his induction haircut and his blond hair was now nearly 3 cm long (the maximum allowed by the regulations). In fact Marvin was very proud of his curls, short but elegant. He even told me once in private that as soon as we would be allowed to leave the barracks during free time, he was sure his curls would attract nice girls.
As soon as CPO Welnez saw Patrick and me, he said:
"My usual clients coming for their weekly refreshing ! Have a seat and I will help you.”
There were three barber's chairs and Patrick and me sat, each on one of them but Marvin, not at all happy, remained standing. The CPO caped us, one of his helpers shaved Patrick's head while he shaved mine. It was done smoothly and I did no longer consider this as a punishment, which it was meant to be, but as a way to have permanently a haircut which was easy to clean and to comb ! This did not last long and we came out of the chairs rapidly with a reasonably very short haircut, a haircut which left some hair clearly visible. Nearly a short buzz cut. CPO Welnez turned then towards Marvin and asked him, smiling:
"And you, young Seaman Apprentice, do you come for a well needed refreshing ?”
Marvin was pale and did not react, so I felt it my duty, as new room leader, to tell the CPO:
"Sir, by order of LT Perel, SA Selnik must have his head shorn in a way similar to the haircut we had when we arrived in the NAS, Sir.” And I gave him the folded paper which LT Perel had given me for him. The CPO looked at the paper and turned toward Marvin:
"This is a different situation, SA Selnik. You must have a punishment haircut says your LT. Why are you punished, my boy ?”.
"Sir”, replied Marvin speaking painfully, "this SA was room leader and he failed to do what he had promised to do.”
"What was it, Selnik ?”
"Sir, this SA had promised to help a new SA, arrived with him, to get used to NAS life. And … I sorry Sir, this SA failed.”
"Sir”, I interrupted, "permission to speak ?”
"Permission granted, Harmon”
"Sir, this SA is also partly responsible for the failure.”
"Were you room leader Harmon ?”
"No Sir, but I am now.”
"So, Selnik was room leader and demoted ?”
"Sir, YES, Sir. But he did not deserve that.”
"Harmon, it is not for you to judge. I am now going to shave Selnik's head, as ordered by LT Perel and as he deserves.” He turned then towards Marvin and asked him:
"SA Selnik, do you like your curls ?”
"Sir, YES, Sir” replied Marvin who was now green in his face.
"Well, you must be punished. So have a last look at your curls, you won't see them again before you leave the NAS. Sit down now on my chair. I have been ordered to give you a haircut like those given by CPO Borkheimer.”
Marvin, still looking green, sat on one of the chairs and was capped. The kind CPO went on:
"When I was in the NAS, years ago, they used the whip to discipline us. The whip has been abandoned and it is too bad, but you will feel your punishment through your body.” The CPO turned the chair so Marvin could no longer see what was happening to his hair and ordered me:
"Room leader, have your man strapped !”
"Sir”, I dared reply, "SA Selnik is an obedient SA and he will take his punishment with respect. You don't need to have him strapped.”
"SA Horman, being strapped is part of the punishment. So stop quibbling. You have a man of your room with you, give the appropriate orders.”
I had no choice and I told Patrick:
"SA Rohman, help me: strap SA Selnik's right arm while I do the same on the left arm.”
Patrick appeared lost: he did not really understand what was happening and he had not at all realized that all that was imposed on Marvin because of his attitude and his threat to desert, but he obeyed the order and I did my share. Marvin seemed ready to weep, which was certainly not like him. CPO Welnez started then to "punish” Marvin, according to his words. He also forced Patrick to look carefully, using his words, at "what your comrade must endure, let it be a lesson for you.”
The CPO did not really brutalize Marvin, like CPO Brokheimer had done in Arsenal, but he pushed and pulled my friend's head. Each time he gave a small cut with his clippers, changing guard constantly. Viewed from outside the chair it was a real work of art : some places were completely deprived of any hair, others had short stubbles and some had longer ones. The CPO was very careful not to hurt Marvin, but he was still constantly giving him small blows, in different directions, which must have represented a torture for a young man who was strapped and who never knew from which direction the blow would come. Finally, the blond curls of Marvin's forehead, fell on his cape and he could see them. My friend could not resist any longer and he actually started to weep. The CPO noticed it, said nothing but hurried and stopped his "punishment”. He turned the chair and Marvin could see the disaster : his nice haircut had been purposely, but not brutally, vandalized. CPO Welnez told him:
"SA Selnik, your haircut is dreadful. You will stay like this during a whole week and your comrades will know that you have been punished, but next week I will arrange everything. In the meantime, you must learn that in the Navy, a Seaman must always obey each order, and a leader, even only a room leader, must do what he said he would achieve. In order to let you think about your failure, I send you now for the rest of the weekend to the brig. You will go to your room in complete silence, put on your field uniform and SA Horman will lead you in complete silence to your cell.”
"Sir”, I tried to say, "as new room leader I need this SA's help”
"Harmon you lie, you only try to save your friend. If you continue, you will also get a day in the brig and for each day you receive, your friend will receive two. UNDERSTOOD ?”
"Sir, YES, Sir” were the only words I was able to utter.
We all obeyed the orders. Patrick went back to our room. I took Marvin there in order to let him put his field uniform on and then I lead him in silence to the NAS brig, where I left him. On Monday morning he came out of his cell. The first thing he told me when we met was: "I am not angry, you did what you could.” A bit later came:
"It will be different now to catch girls.” And even more later:
"It was good that CPO Welnez sent me to the brig. During these two nights in my cell I realized what I had done wrong and I will not do it again, if I am ever leader again.”
The next day, a Tuesday, the three of us were called to the commandant's office. Each of us introduced himself according to the rules and the commandant, CDR Telnet, looked at me and said:
"When you introduce yourself, you must from now on add after ‘SA Horman', your function, which is ‘room leader'. Now,” and he looked at the three of us, "since you arrived here you have lived according to special rules: no free time outside the NAS, no communication for one of you and special haircuts for all of you … since last Saturday. I have observed you, and despite the last events, especially for you SA Selnik and SA Horman, I have decided that if you continue to behave well, all restrictions will be lifted on January 1st, which means a little bit more than a month from now. But for SA Selnik and SA Horman, I impose upon you a break in all communications with the outside world. UNDERSTOOD ?”
The unanimous reply was a loud "Sir, YES, Sir” followed by a vigorous "GO NOW” pronounced by the CDR.
As of that day, Patrick started to feel better, to behave better and also to really like the NAS and the Navy. Marvin had no real family to warn of this "break of communications” but I had warned my parents and explained everything. In January, we were told that we would have free afternoons every Saturday and Sunday, provided we were not on duty.
During the first Saturday afternoon we put on our service dress uniforms and Patrick was glad to meet again his parents. Marvin and me went alone for a walk: Marvin's parents, he told me, had stopped having contacts with him and my parents could not come because they were busy with their shop. The next day, my parents could come and took both of us to a small coffee bar (real bars and other places where alcohol was served were strictly forbidden). My mother looked at me and when I took off my hat she exclaimed:
"My little boy, what did they do to your hair ?”
"Well mother, I was ordered to have my hair completely shaven and I feel comfortable with it.”
Then my father said that he admired my bearing and I told him:
"Father, I don't really like it. But I realized that after this year, I will have to serve at least 5 years in the Navy. So I decided that I might as well do it nicely.”
"Well son”, continued my father, "I think that this is the best attitude considering your predicament. But you are in a school now, so try to get your high school diploma. When you will be released from the Navy, you will be 22 and that might be useful.”
My parents spoke a little bit with Marvin and made sure that both of us got a fair share of soft drinks and cookies, something which did not exist in the NAS. It was then time for my parents to go and catch their train, and for Marvin and me to go back to the NAS if we did not want to be punished.
I finally found some pleasure staying and studying in the NAS. The school work was easy: it was stuff I had already seen in 9th grade, except for some courses which were 100% Navy oriented. We also had lots of sport sessions and sometimes military outings, in field uniform, or parade training and finally a full week on a Navy ship to get fully ready for our future work as Seaman. On top of all that, every Saturday, Marvin, Patrick and me went to the barber who kept our heads completely shaved. Some days, the barber was kind and everything went smoothly, but each time one of us had done some error (minor or not) against the strict military discipline of the NAS, he received THE special treatment: he was strapped and voluntarily brutally shaven in a way that left his head looking like a battlefield after the fight ! In that case, a similar haircut was foreseen for the next "Saturday visit”. Nevertheless, we always saluted and thanked in a proper military way the brutal (or not) barber. Salute, military politeness was now ingrained in each of us. Obedience to the orders was also part of our lives. Patrick was now behaving well and he was rather glad to be in the Navy. He remained in contact with his parents who could come and see him once a week, which was not the case for Marvin (who was abandoned) and for me since my parents lived very far. Since school work was easy for me, I spent lots of time helping all my roommates, every evening during our "uncontrolled study sessions” in our room. The one I helped most, and who had the greatest benefit of this help, was my friend Marvin. He was not angry because of the fact that I took his place as "room leader” and obeyed my orders in a very military way. During all that time I kept doing this job as room leader and the officers had nothing to object to my attitude.
At the end of June, after the exams but just before the results and the ship assignments were announced, Marvin, Patrick and me were called to CDR Telnet's office with LT Perel and another LT I did not know. Five other boys, who had voluntarily joined the NAS, were also present. CDR Telnet, the commandant of the NAS, told us that we had good school results and good disciplinary results. We were thus all invited to stay two more years in the NAS in order to have our high school diploma. This would ensure us to have a full career in the Navy if we behaved well. The commandant was fair: he explained that we would have to repay our school expenses by signing an extension to our present contract. That meant signing an additional contract of two years for the studies and then of 4 more years to repay the Navy. Altogether that meant 11 more years in the Navy after the end of my first year in the NAS. I did not need much time to think: if I refused the offer, I would be 22 when I would be released from the Navy with no civilian training and at that age it would be difficult to start again to study in a high school. In any case, I knew my parents would not be able to pay for my studies ! So I was decided to stay and pay it with my time.
Astonishingly, two of the former SA volunteers refused the offer, despite the promise of a full career. They explained that "they did not have the head to study further and simply wanted to stay in the Navy for a whole career, but through another type of exam to be taken later”. They were told to leave the Commandant's office. The three others, John, Robert and Sebastian accepted the offer. They were told to sign their additional contract immediately and go with their LT to the clothing room where they would get more appropriate pieces of uniform. Then came Patrick's turn. He first said that he did not want to stay for the same reason as the the two SA who had already left. Marvin started to say the same. At that point, I turned towards the Commandant and said the magic words: "Sir, permission to speak, Sir ?”
"Permission granted, SA Harmon”, came the answer.
"Sir, these three SA have worked together during one year. Now this SA asks the permission to delay our answer in order to discuss it together.”
"You have one hour, not a minute more”
I told Patrick and Marvin to follow me in our room. Both were reluctant about the idea of having to study during two more years, but both wanted a full career in the Navy. I explained them that a full career with a high school diploma would be much more comfortable. I also told them that I had heard that the Navy would not keep them longer than 10 years if they did not have that diploma. Patrick obstinately refused to study further but Marvin accepted provided that we could stay together and that I would help him. We then went back to the Commandant's office where each in turn told what his decision was. Marvin and me were told to sign our additional contract and to follow LT Perel to the clothing room. The LT was rather astonished and asked me:
"SA Harmon, why did you accept. I was convinced that you wanted to leave the Navy as soon as possible ?”
"Yes Sir, that was the situation when this SA was forced to join the Navy. Now after a year in the NAS, wearing a SA uniform, this SA has realized that there will be no future for him outside the Navy and that Navy life is not so bad Sir. This is why this SA signed because he wants to be as good a seaman as possible.”
LT Perel took us the to another building where we would have our room. This building, close to the NAS, was in fact the Naval Boarding School where sons and daughters of Seamen could study for free. They had a nice uniform, but the discipline imposed upon them was not as severe as it was for us, the SAs. We were also told that we would have to perform all the chores in this building in order to keep it clean, to salute respectfully not only our superiors but also the civilian cadets of the Boarding School, simply because they were civilians and thus our superiors ! Finally, LT Perel confirmed that each Saturday Marvin and me would have to go to the barber who would "keep our heads clean”.
Later we were told that in class we would sit behind the civilians and that we would enter the classroom after they did it, marching in step.
All these regulations did not frighten me. I started studying with Marvin, John, Robert and Sebastian who lived in the same room as me. We were told to study in the option "Marine Sciences”, which is a weak option but that was difficult enough for the others and I offered to help them. One day, shortly after school started, I was called to CDR Telnet's office. The commandant asked me which option I had chosen to study before I joined the NAS and why. I told him as respectfully as I could that I had chosen the option "Pure Sciences” in order to study later and become an engineer. The Commandant said that the Navy could use an engineer and he ordered me to try to study with my "Military Sciences” courses, other courses in "Pure Sciences”. The only problem was that I would not be sent to classes for that and that I would have to do it all by myself, with books and with the help of some of my professors. At the end of our two additional years, we all took the exams for the option "Military Sciences” and I took on top of it the exams for the option "Pure Sciences”. Marvin, John and me passed successfully the exams. Robert and Sebastian failed and were immediately sent to a ship as simple Seamen, with a 9 year contract. Marvin, John and me were called in the Commandant's office who said that we could choose: either leave now the NAS and become simple Seamen with the same duty as our two comrades, or apply for the Naval NCO Academy (which implied one more year of study and two additional years of service after that, but who was counting: in my case it was already 11 additional years). Considering the advantages, the three of us applied to the NCO Academy. It must be mentioned here that when we started our third year in the NAS, CDR Telnet decided that we were now good Seamen Apprentices, well disciplined and adapted to Navy life and rules. He thus authorized us to have "longer” haircut, provided we respected the regulations concerning haircuts in the Navy. So the three of us had a non shaved head, but with hair not longer than 1.5 inches.
Marvin, John and me were told to put on our best dress service uniform and to be ready to appear in front of the selecting jury. LT Perel told us that this was nearly a simple formality since CDR Telnet had already made his choice, but by law we had to appear in front of a jury. John entered first the exam room and came back about 15 minutes later with a big smile: he had been accepted. He told us that several officers had asked him questions about his motivation and his desire to serve in the Navy during a full career. John confirmed that this was a formality. Marvin went next. It took more time for him but he came back with a smile: he had also been accepted but the main officer had questioned him a lot because his school results were far from excellent. They were good enough, but this officer had decided to be difficult. It was then my turn and I was super confident since I had passed successfully the exams for "Military Sciences” and for "Pure Sciences”: one could thus certainly not say that my school results were bad.
As soon as I entered the exam room, I changed my mind. The members of the Jury were CDR Quilton (who had been promoted and was now Captain Quilton [CAPT] and who was presiding since he was thus the highest ranking officer), CDR Diaz who was also member of the selecting Jury in the Arsenal, three years before, LT Morelli (who had been promoted and was now Lieutenant Commander [LCDR] ) and CDR Telnet (representing the NAS). I introduced myself in the proper way, showing the maximum respect but CAPT Quilton looked at my file and simply said:
"That's the cadet who refused to become Seaman three years ago ! And now he would like to become NCO ! SA Harmon, how can you expect this jury to give you a leading position in the Navy ?”
I tried to explain that I had changed and that I now loved the Navy, but CAPT Quilton did not let me answer his question. CDR Telnet tried to explain that I had served well as room leader, and also as guide and tutor for my companions: I was, according to him, a valuable asset for the Navy and should be placed in a leading position. CAPT Quilton started to hesitate but CDR Telnet made then a mistake. He explained that, next to my "Marine Sciences” diploma, I had studied mostly alone in order to get the diploma of "Pure Sciences”. This, according to the Commandant of the NAS, placed me in a useful position to become officer in the Navy. At that moment (now) LCDR Morelli protested saying that:
"A rebel like this boy in an officer position, that's unheard of.”
CAPT Quilton added:
"If this SA studied for two diplomas, he could not really help his comrades and serve as room leader. This SA is good enough to serve as Seaman and not more. He has now 9 years to show us that he deserves to move up the ranks. What we want as NCOs are not scientists but simply men with a small education which enable them to carry out the orders given by well trained officers. We want obedient subordinates able to transmit our orders to the mass of uneducated Seamen, not people who think by themselves. We don't want more. This is why a diploma other than "Marine Sciences” is wrong because it gives bad ideas to this SA.”
CAPT Quilton then asked CDR Diaz if he agreed, which was the case despite the courageous protests of CDR Telnet. I felt completely lost: I had worked hard for this second diploma in "Pure Sciences” with the hope that it would help me in forced career in the Navy, and I suddenly discovered that it was just the contrary.
The Jury thus decided to send me immediately, as Seaman, to a ship and LCDR Morelli, being kind for once asked me:
"In fact, if I remember well, you only joined the NMP because you had a friend there, a friend who is now a Seaman ?”
"Sir, YES sir. This SA arrived here with a boy named Peter Kemper, who was a cadet in the same NMP and who was sent immediately to a ship as Seaman.” In fact I had not very good memories of Peter after the way in which he pushed me to join the NMP and get stuck with it, but the training I had received made my answer automatic.
"Would you like to join him on his ship and benefit from his experience ?”
"Sir, YES sir”, at least that's what I said because I thought that this was what they wanted to hear.
"Good”, concluded CAPT Quilton, "you are now Seaman Harmon and you will move immediately to the Arsenal. You will stay there, confined to barracks, until we find this Seaman Peter Kemper and you will then move to the same ship.”
But LCDR Morelli interfered:
"Sir, this Seaman arrived here as a rebel. He should not be sent to a ship as full Seaman but as a Seaman Recruit, and thus have to move completely the ladder of the ranks.”
CDR Telnet protested saying that any SA who had performed well at the NAS automatically started as full Seaman, not even Seaman Apprentice. But CAPT Quilton confirmed:
"There are exceptions. This SA will start as Seaman Recruit Harmon !”
LCDR Morelli then added, after a last look at my file:
"It says in your file that you were ordered to keep your head shave while you were at the NAS, and this is not exactly the case. What happened ?”
I replied as politely as I could:
"Sir, when this SA reached his 3rd year at the NAS, CDR Telnet and LT Perel gave him the authorisation to relax a little bit with the restriction mentioned by you, Sir.”
CDR Telnet confirmed what I tried to explain, adding that in any case my haircut was very short. But CAPT Quilton rejected that:
"An order is an order and must always be respected. You will now stay for a while at the Arsenal under my authority. You will keep your head shaved as long as you remain there. On your ship, it will depend from your superiors there, but I will prepare a note for your Commanding Officer telling him that according to me you would be better with a shaved head and confined to barracks for disciplinary reasons. Seaman Recruit Harmon, as of now you are confined to barracks and will be transported today to the Arsenal where you will immediately get your head shaved.”
LCDR Morelli added: "Get all your things together and go to the brig where you will be placed in a cell in order to avoid all temptations to disobey before you are transferred”.
CDR Telnet tried to say something in my favor but CAPT Quilton concluded:
"I am the highest ranking officer here. This discussion is now closed. Seaman Recruit Harmon, GO.”
I saluted all the officers, but especially CDR Telnet and left the exam room with no hopes left. Now I was really going much farther.
In fact when I came out of this exam room, I felt like crying, knowing that I was now a plain Seaman Recruit (SR) and that I would probably not be promoted to any higher rank during a long time. And I had to survive this during 9 long years.
John and Marvin were waiting for me, convinced that everything had to be perfect for me since I was the best SA of the lot. I saluted both of them and I introduced me as follows:
"Sirs, Seaman Recruit Mle 185.726/4 Harmon Frank reporting as ordered, Sirs. At your command”. I then broke down and started actually to weep. John and Marvin looked bewildered and asked me to explain what had happened. I told them briefly what CAPT Quilton and LCDR Morelli and forced the Jury to decide because they did not like my behaviour three years ago, during our forced enlistment. My two comrades tried to comfort me and wanted to take me out to have a last drink together. But I told them that I was confined to barracks until I was transported to the Arsenal where I would get a "special” head shave. My friends were really sorry for me and said so. Since they could do nothing to help me, they left and went for a drink outside the NAS. I only asked Marvin to warn my parents since I would most probably be unable to do so as long as I remained Seaman Recruit.
I felt abandoned by all and wondered whether this was what my parents had in mind when they told me that they wanted me to "go farther ..."