Since I had never been further east than Nevada in all of my 19 years, the thought of going to North Carolina was intriguing. Yes, my plans for working close to home had evaporated in a flash, but with the optimism that is part of that young age, I figured that all would work out well. After all, the Navy had been everything I expected it to be…so far. And it was only one glitch in what might be a long career. I had already thought about the possibility of re-upping for another 6 years and then? Why not 20 years? I hadn’t even been in the Navy a year and I was already thinking of a career!
Joining up with the other two corpsmen at the airport, I boarded a flight (prop) that would take me to Chicago where I would transfer to a flight to Raleigh. In Raleigh, we were supposed to transfer to a much smaller plane that would take us to New Bern, North Carolina. All went well, though flying to Chicago took about 6 hours and the same to Raleigh. The flight to New Bern was exciting as there was no normal runway and the plane was going to land on what appeared to be a pasture. As we circled the airport, we could see time running out for us to make the bus connection from New Bern to Camp Lejeune. Sure enough, when we finally landed, the ticket agent told us that the bus had already departed.
There we were, strangers…in a very strange land! We decided to hitchhike as that would save us money. The Navy had paid for a non-existent bus ride and so the money would have to come out of our own pockets. We managed to get 2 or 3 rides and each took us a little bit closer to Camp Lejeune. Then, about midnight, in a very small town, we were standing with our thumbs out when the only signal and streetlight in the town went dark as the clock struck 12. We had been amusing ourselves by watching the signal go from red to green and back…the only activity we had seen in the town. About 1, a car slowed and then stopped to pick us up. It was an itinerant preacher who did his best to convert us while offering us sips from his jar of “Light’nin”. We did our best to be polite and about 3 in the morning we rolled into downtown Jacksonville, where the preacher told us we could pick up a bus ride that would take us to the base.
Unlike the last town we were in, Jacksonville was quite lively at 3 in the morning. There were Marines everywhere; Marines staggering, weaving, cursing, fighting, vomiting, and some quietly passing out on the street. In the middle of all this mayhem were the MP’s. They were everywhere; picking up the drunks and the fighters and dragging them to the vans that were parked on just about every corner. Being quite sober (we had refused the pastors offer of a drink) we felt somewhat out of place as we bought a ticket and boarded the bus that would take us to Hospital Point, the site of the Naval Hospital on Camp Lejeune.
It was about 5 in the morning when we finally walked up the steps to the imposing structure that housed the hospital. We checked in with the OOD and were assigned some vacant bunks in an otherwise empty building behind the hospital. We were to check back in with the OOD at 0800 hours. Let’s see…about 2 hours sleep! And so began my new job in North Carolina.