If You Can’t Swin, Why Join the Navy?

People ask, if you can’t swim, why join the navy?

When I applied for the job at Charleston County Park and Recreation, I was initially hired as the mechanic because of my diesel engine training and experience in the navy. The emphasis is on “diesel”. I knew almost nothing about gasoline engines. But, because of that, it was assumed that I knew how to drive a stick shift or manual transmission. I didn’t.

Then, one day, I was directed to drive over to the headquarters building to pick up some mail and drop a package off at the post office. I started walking over to my car since the only company vehicle was a beat up old Chevy pick up we called the “grey goose”. The grey goose was so old that the gear diagrams had long since disappeared. But there’s a point especially with males that the ego takes over and your mouth just won’t form the sentence “I don’t know how”.

I did know a little about clutches from having driven my grand father’s old farm tractor though, so maybe I can just fake it. Luckily the gears in the old grey goose were quite forgiving and I made the trip from our maintenance compound to the headquarters office quite easily. After leaving headquarters, I made it to the James Island post office parking lot also very easily, even managing an intersection stop sign.

The real crisis began leaving the post office. There was an intersection with a stop light and a slight incline. Now it was getting critical, trying to shift gears to move ahead and at the exact moment the light turned green, a car pulls up right behind me. Every time I pressed the clutch, shifted gears and tried to move forward, the truck would move backwards. Finally, the guy behind me decided it was safer to just pull around me. I turned the ignition off, put on my blinkers as though the truck had simply broken down. Then two guys passing by helped me push the truck back into the parking lot.

After several minutes sitting in the parking lot, I just said to heck with it, cranked up the old goose and successfully navigated through Folly Road traffic back to the maintenance compound.

I was so proud of my success, that I even started driving my wife’s little manual trans Honda Civic.

It was like that when I joined the navy. I had jumped off the piers into the Detroit River with my buddies as a kid, but I couldn’t swim a lick. However, I always made sure I was close enough to the pier to be able to grad a hand hold, so I thought and worst case scenario, one of my buddies would come to my rescue. The Detroit River is well known for it’s current.

People ask, if you can’t swim, why join the navy? Well, I wanted to ride submarines and how often would you need to swim if you’re underwater? So, I went through boot camp, taking the mandatory swim classes and after several exhausted efforts of being thrown into the deep part of the pool, I managed to grab the trainer’s rescue pole enough times that I passed the swim requirement.

It would be several years later on a gunboat in Vietnam that I finally really learned to swim. It was a tradition back in the day was that when you made rank or rate as we called it, you got thrown over the side. I was advanced from E4 to E5. When the guys gathered for the traditional toss, I gave them quite a chase until they finally got me cornered and even then, I put up a fight. Telling them I couldn’t swim seemed to make them even more eager to give Durrette the ceremonial toss. After begging and pleading, I got the bright idea that if they let me have a life jacket, I could go through with it willingly.

One of the guys goes down into the cabin and comes out with a life jacket. Only at that time, the navy was still using the inflatable life jackets to conserve space. Each jacket was equipped with a CO2 cartridge and a lanyard you pulled to inflate the jacket. It also had an inflation tube so you could manually blow it up with your lungs if the CO2 didn’t work.

So, feeling confident that this wasn’t my day to die, I offered little resistance and it was one, two, three and off I went. As soon a I hit the water, I grabbed the lanyard and gave it a jerk… nothing.
Then as my head started going under, I grabbed the manual inflation tube and started blowing as hard as I could. Sinking for the second time, I could see the bubbles coming from the jacket. Calling on my boot camp swim training, I managed to get back to the boat and the guys pulled me back up on deck, laughing their butts off. OE Wells had removed the CO2 cartridge and punched holes in the jacket. I became a fairly decent swimmer after that