Musings of An Old Man

by Brian K. Moore



When I was drafted into the Navy in 1944, the first stop, as with all recruits, was Boot Camp. In boot camp the main objective was to teach the recruits that they have no rights, and that they were to unquestionably obey any order from a superior officer. Even if the order was, “Go out and get killed.”

To help accomplish this end, the Boots were allowed no liberty (they could not leave the base) and they were allowed no visitors.

After Boot Camp the rules were relaxed a little and it was possible to get limited liberty, which means time off the base.

When our company finished Boots, it was transferred to a Pre Radio course at a school in Chicago that the Navy had taken over, a friend that I had met in boot camp, Tom Kehoe and I, in some of our free time, found a pretty nice apartment which we rented for our wives so that they could come to be near us and we would be able to spend whatever free (liberty) time that we could with them.

This time with our wives was extremely valuable, and we felt that it was worth whatever it cost to have it.

Our wives were to live together, without us, most of the time. They did and got along quite well.

It has always been a source of pride and an honor to me that Phyllis would leave her home, friends, familiar surroundings and most of all our 6 month old baby, little Margie Linda, who she left with her mother, to ride the trains across the country, with the dirty old men and the dirty young men drooling over her, in order to perhaps be able to spend a weekend and maybe a Wednesday night with me. She did this.

The nice apartment arrangement with the Kehoes wouldn’t last, because Tom, who like me, had no previous algebra training, decided it was useless to fight it. He quit the course and was shipped out, and of course, his wife went home. I heard through the grapevine, and I hope it’s not true, that he got killed in the war.

The apartment was too expensive for us alone, so Phyllis went hunting and found a room with a bath down the hall, which she rented. It had only a ¾ size bed, but this was OK. We liked to be close.

When I was through Pre Radio, which I had to go through twice, because of my algebra deficiency, she took the train home, picked up little Marjorie Linda and followed me to my next station, driving our 1942 Studebaker Champion. This next station was, Primary Electronics School at Del Monte on the coast of California. We rented a one room cabin in nearby Pacific Grove, which we were really fortunate to get.

All this just so she could be close to me, with no guarantee of how much, if any, we would be able to see each other.

At this point I should tell of another high point in my Navy career besides the high point discussed in another writing. This high point was indirectly caused by Phyllis because she was the reason that I studied so hard.

We students could get weekend liberty if we maintained a 90% or higher average. When your wife and child are living just a few miles away, and you need 90% to get to them— YOU STUDY!

Now, flashback to Pre Radio School in Chicago. I had failed to take algebra in high school. My thought was, “Who’s ever going to need algebra?”

Well, at the beginning of the first day of Pre Radio, the instructor said, “We’ll teach you some primary electricity and we’ll teach you to use a slide rule and we’ll review your two years of high school algebra.” Then he added, “If you haven’t had high school algebra, you might as well quit right now.”

That didn’t sound too encouraging, but I thought, “I’m not going to quit. I’ll let them throw me out.”

I was 25 years old, but most of the class was just out of high school, right fresh from algebra.

I soon became known as “dumb Moore,” because of the “dumb” questions I would ask.

Although, at 25, I was about 7 years older than most of my classmates, I was not the oldest one in the class. The oldest was Bert Trillick, who was 27. Bert had been a math instructor in private life. Bert saw my plight and took me under his wing and through the entire 3 week course spent almost all of his spare time tutoring me. Without his help I would not have made it.

With his help I barely made it and not all at once. I got 40% on the final exam with the passing grade being 70%.

People who failed the final got an interview with the presiding officer before being flunked out of the course.

The interviewing officer noticed that I had got the first 4 of the 10 questions right. He asked, “Why didn’t you finish the test?” I answered, “I just didn’t have time. He asked, “Why?” I said, “This is my first exposure to algebra. I have had no instruction in algebra before I started this class.” He said, “We’re going to run you through again.”

So I got a second chance. This time I had to do it without Bert Trillick and I barely made it, getting a grade of 70% on the final—and that is about as barley as one can do it.

As an aside to this story, Bert looked me up after the war and came to visit me when I was working on Joe and Margie’s house on Pine street in Altadena.

As I traveled through Primary and Secondary Electronics, a lot of guys who had called me, “dumb Moore” were still in my class. I had learned good study habits because of my pursuit of a 90% average so that I could get out and be with Phyllis, and I was doing well in school. Some of them were flunking out.

One week the test was on the Attack Plotter. A device that in response to a received sonar signal, could aim and fire a torpedo. It was a complicated electronic devise, and this was known to be the toughest test in the course. We all approached it with trepidation.

The test took a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. They had a rapid method of grading and we all stayed in the hall where the test was taken until the grades were posted.

While we were waiting for the grades, the head instructor came on the PA and said, “We have a solo 100%. Brian Moore. Moore, you’re relieved from inspection. You can take the early bus.” There was a general acclaim throughout the audience.

I said, “Thank you, sir. I won’t need the bus. I have my car.” He said, “You may leave now!”

As I walked out, I made it a point to go right past the guys that had called me dumb Moore. I said, in my thoughts, “Well, what you think of dumb Moore now?”

It was truly a moment of triumph. I had slain the dragon test, vanquished my detractors, won the fair maiden for the whole weekend, and I was on my way to my reward.

It was a great feeling and it stayed with me all weekend and it rubbed off on Phyllis. She savored it too.

After finishing Primary Electronics I was sent to Secondary Electronics School at Treasure Island. Treasure Island was an artificial island built in San Francisco bay for the Worlds Fair of 1938. I had visited this fair in 1938 with a group of friends. It sure looked different as a military base.

The same system prevailed about grades and liberty. Ninety percent or over got you liberty on the weekends and Wednesday nights.

Phyllis and Margie Linda followed and it was a little more civilized for them this time, because her aunt Helen and family lived in Piedmont and her mother and my brother, who were husband and wife, lived in Oakland and so Phyllis and Margie Linda lived with each of these households one after the other while I was at Secondary Electronics School at Treasure Island.

While Phyllis and Margie were living with her aunt Helen and her husband Jerry, her uncle Walt and his wife Edith came to visit. Walt was Aunt Helen’s and Phyllis’ mom’s brother. Walt’s wife Edith was, as Walt put it, “stacked,” which means, she was built something like Phyllis. One day Phyllis and Edith were together in San Francisco and had arraigned to meet me. After we met we walked down a busy street that was almost completely lined with guys in Navy uniforms. There was much Navy in San Francisco in those days. In this setting either of these women walking with a guy in a sailor suit was enough to make this whole crowd drool—two of them together hanging on to one sailor guy made the whole crowd green with envy and amazement. If I needed an ego boost, I got it.

While Phyllis and Margie were living with Joe and Margie, I left them early one morning and walked to the station to catch a train to Treasure Island. Upon arriving at the station, I saw a tremendous headline: ATOMIC BOMB DROPPED ON JAPAN. A few days later Japan surrendered.

My schooling continued although the Navy’s primary target was eliminated. I maintained my 90% average and therefore my weekend liberty and life was pretty good until I got over confident and missed my 90% one week. I spent a very chagrinned weekend on the base studying. We now had telephone connection and I apologized all over the place to Phyllis. She had every right to be furious with me, because after she had done whatever had to be done to be with me, I had dropped the ball and failed to perform my end of the deal. But typical sweet Phyllis instead was sympathetic to me because I had to stay in. God! What a prize she was.

You can bet that I never again failed to do whatever had to be done to fix it so that we could be together.

After I finished my 7 months Advanced Electronics course at Treasure Island, I spent about 3 months at the Naval Repair Base in San Diego during which time I repaired nothing, and at Camp Elliot, which was a sort of holding place for guys that were waiting to be shipped out.

Phyllis and little Margie followed me there, to spend whatever time they could with me. They lived in rented travel trailers. Several people in and around San Diego had bought old travel trailers and gone in the business of renting them, mainly, to the women who, like Phyllis were following their men.

It was sometimes a little confusing for me because when I got liberty and came home to the trailer, I might find that Phyllis had found a better trailer and had moved—sometimes to a different trailer park. But love conquers all and we made it work.

I have always admired the women who put up with a complete disruption of their lives just to get a little time with their man.

Phyllis was right there for me—whatever it took. And, I still thank her and love her for it.

Phyllis following me ended when I got shipped out. It came as a surprise and a shock to us both. With no notice at all, I was told, “Pack and get on the bus, you’re shipping out.” I had taken the car to the base, so I made arrangements with a friend to take the car to Phyllis and to tell her that I had been shipped out.

Both she and I thought that meant across the ocean to some far off place, so she packed and went home to my folk’s house in Altadena. She went to my folk’s house rather than her father’s house because he was still in the army, and he and Maxine were living in Washington DC.

My mother and father welcomed her. They really loved her.

Well, my big ship out sort of fizzled. I was assigned to LSMR 405. This means Landing Ship Munitions Rockets. There were 18 of these ships built for the invasion of Japan, which was not going to happen now, so their weekly routine was: leave San Diego Bay Monday morning, cruise in formation and do maneuvers. Then go fire rockets at a firing range on San Clemente Island, and then back to San Diego Bay for the weekend.

Weekend liberty was easy for everyone but it didn’t do me much good with Phyllis gone. It was certain that I would be discharged soon, so we decided not to have her come back.

I was, I am, and I forever will be grateful for the loyalty that she showed by living this bumpy kind of life because of her love for me.