Archive for Thursday, May 22, 2008

Whether on an aircraft carrier, in Africa or in Boy Scouts, swimming is important

May 22, 2008

Every few years I like to appeal to the parents with children who don't know how to swim and encourage giving them swimming lessons. This is one thing I think that every child should learn how to do.

Swimming lessons are available through Bonner Springs Recreation at their state-of-the-art Aquatic Park and I am sure the YMCA offers lessons. If you are interested in getting lessons, call the City Recreation office at 422-7010.

My experience in swimming is very discouraging. At the age of 11 my parents decided I needed to learn how to swim and they signed me up with a Boy Scout troop in Rosedale. On our first campout, on the agenda was swimming lessons for boys who couldn't swim. This experience was frightening, as I was in the water and the assistant scoutmaster told me to walk out and get a hold of the log in the water. After a few steps, I stepped into a deep hole. After going under the water and coming up for the third time the instructor dove in to save me. I got a death hold on a chain around his wrist and they later had to pry my fingers away. Later in life I realized that this incident was where I remembered seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. That was my last day as a Boy Scout.

When I got older, with the start of World War II I enlisted in the United States Navy. After a few months I decided I would like to do aircraft carrier duty. An opening for two parachute riggers came open and I conned my friend Ken Peitz to volunteer with me for the carrier duty. In a few days my commanding officer told me I would have to pass the minimum swimming requirement before I could get sea duty. I told him I couldn't swim, so they assigned a chief petty officer who had taught swimming in civilian life.

I met with the Chief and he informed me that he never had a person whom he could not teach to swim. I said, " Chief, never say never because you have a task on your hands." The Chief worked with me daily over a week and didn't have much success in my learning how to swim.

Then on our last day he said, "I will tell you sailor, one way I will sign your paper is if you get up on that 20-foot platform and I will give you a life vest and you jump off the platform with the life preserver and I will OK your request."

I said, "Are you kidding Chief, there is not way in hell that I will jump off that platform with or without a life preserver." My reasoning was if I was on a carrier and some kamikaze dived his plane into our ship with land about 500 miles away there is no way I could make it to shore. I said, "Chief, there is one thing you can be sure of. If I am on deck and we get hit, I will have a life preserver at all times in my reach."

So in our final negotiations he said if I wanted carrier duty that bad he will sign me off. I got my orders to report to Norfolk, Va., where we met with the squadron. There were about 12 of us at Norfolk all with aviation rates, but no one could give us information on the squadron that we would be assigned. After waiting for two weeks we finally got our orders and we went out and boarded a tanker. I told the officer in charge that we had aviation rates and why are we being put on a tanker? He said, "I don't know but you are on your way to North Africa," and we landed in Casablanca. Here I was dreaming of carrier duty and I was right in the middle of the Sahara Dessert.

We didn't get carrier duty, and the squadron we where assigned to was an anti-submarine squadron. My good friend Peitz had a photographic memory and he passed about all tests for various ranks. He had become a yeoman, which is similar to secretary duty, and he got me my big break. I was wanting desperately to get out of North Africa and my friend was working on putting a squadron together that was going back to the United States for reassignment. He told me the quota was already filled for a parachute rigger but there was an opening for a laundry man first class and he put my name down in that spot. I said, "no way Peitz will this ever go through." He said that the worst that could happen if they find the error is just to take me off the list. I was lucky and made it back to the States after waiting two weeks in Casablanca for a troop ship.

I wasn't all that lucky, though, because while waiting in Casablanca I got malaria but I did get to stay in sick bay on the 15-day journey back to the United States. I was granted an extra 15-day leave, which was just enough for me to miss getting assigned a squadron headed for sea duty.

This story may not have much to do with taking swimming lessons but I have always believed every kid should learn how to swim. It could save their life sometime.

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