''My Life In Review: Have I Been Lucky of What?''
When I began to contemplate writing a Life Review my first inclination was to start with an introduction or preface justifying or rationalizing the palpably egocentric venture. I did recognize that one of my writing foibles is a propensity for protracted preambles and prolonged prolegomena—as well as my addiction to alliteration. Thus, before setting pen to paper I grappled with the problem of defending the undertaking but failed to resolve them to my satisfaction. The result? protracted procrastination. The product? a blank page.
Then, at the end of the first week in May, 1991, I delivered a pinch-hit lecture for Candy on the Late Adulthood topic in her Life Span course. In reviewing her lecture notes I once again confronted the recommendation of gerontologists that persons in that ultimate stage should engage in the healthy and productive exercise of composing a Life Review. The day after that class I sat down at my desk, punched out the word "Ancestry" in capital letters and started to write, not a preface but a simple statement expressing my views on genealogy and presenting some scraps of information I had about my remote progenitors. That didn't take long but it tapped my memory bank and generated a momentum which has carried me through five months of nearly daily sessions at the desk devoted to developing a chronological narrative of my remembered experiences.
I have been amazed at the chain reaction of memories triggered by concentrating my thoughts on a particular period. The old memory bank spewed out a spate of specific mental pictures which had not surfaced for years. My task became a matter of composing verbal descriptions of those images and events. I have access to a few documentary references: Clotilde Blowers' Wilson-Willson and Allied Lines; A Rand McNally Atlas; The World Almanac; Admiral Dan Barby's MacArthur's Amphibious Navy; The Capstan, Yearbook of Notre Dame's Midshipman's School; The Boulder, Houghton College's Yearbooks 1935-1939; My Administrative Files; Collections of my Speeches and Essays; Jill's Journals of Our London sojourn; My Journal of our European Trip and scattered memorabilia—but the overwhelming bulk of material came straight out of my memory bank.
The central question: how reliable are those memories? Certainly they are inevitably selective and are not flawless. I discovered in consultation with Jill some inaccurate dates and mixed-up sequences of events which I have corrected but there must be other inaccuracies. All I can claim is that I have tried to be faithful to the images that have bubbled up into my consciousness. I have not "made up" events or invented situations. In some cases where I have used direct quotations I can't swear that they are exactly verbatim but they do carry the original sentiments expressed as I remember them.
This then is not a documentary history or a strictly scholarly autobiography but a verbal trip down Jack Crandall's memory lane. It is a chronological narrative of my experiences as I perceive them now. It inevitably contains embellishments which stem from the fact that it is an egocentric enterprise and, at times, an urge to be "literary" if not always literal. I have not written fiction. The characterization of persons living or dead applies to real persons and is not coincidental.
If it seems to accentuate the positive it's because there are so many positive things to accentuate. As my writing progressed I began to think that an appropriately accurate subtitle should be "A Series of Fortuitous Developments." Last summer, while conversing with Jill's nephew, Chris Carlson, I told him that this exercise was making me realize how blessed I have been. He startled me by saying, "Would you say that you've lived a charmed life?" (his tone indicated that he thought so). I cannot avoid an affirmative answer to that question.
However, as I have pointed out in the concluding paragraphs of the narrative, to attribute the many good breaks I have had to "luck," "fortuitousness" or "accident" would be to ignore the purposeful impact of my family and friends. I may have been—I was—lucky that Jill came to Houghton College and that I was able to convince her to tie her life to mine but that is not to discount all of the things she has done to make my life happy, yes, and successful. Similarly I was lucky to be the beneficiary of caring and competent parents, ideal in-laws, wonderful daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren but their contributions to my well-being and pleasure have not been accidental. The same is true of my friends Wayne Dedman, Harold Rakov, Gordon Allen, Mike Auleta, Harry Porter, Lowell Fox, Al Brown, Roger Carlson, Jim Ditzler, Dick Johnson, Jim Murray, Dick Ingraham, Wayne Herrick, Bill Vogan, Frank Dunlap, Ed Neveu, Don Wilsher et. al. I am not so much a product of a concatenation of coincidences as a beneficiary of the caring efforts of family and friends. Writing these memoirs has raised that realization to a new level of consciousness.
The conventional point to make in one's memoirs' preface is that they are written to share one's experiences with his descendants to let them know about events in his life that they would otherwise not be aware of and, at some future date they might be interested in having a more complete picture of one of their progenitors than would ordinarily be passed down in the family's oral tradition. That certainly constitutes one of the purposes in grinding out this narrative. In fact, at the outset, it stood out as the principal reason for committing my memories to the typewritten page.
However, as the writing progressed I began to realize that this exercise held intrinsic benefits and values for the writer whether or not anyone else—children, grandchildren, et. al. ever perused these typewritten pages. Such a realization squares with the claims of certain gerontologists who contend that a Life Review has a therapeutic value. I tend to shrink from the notion of equating this activity with therapy since I feel compelled to deny a felt need for therapeutic treatment. Nevertheless I must admit from traveling down memory lane a positive effect on my self-perception, an effect that can best be described as a paradoxical combination of a greater sense of humility and pride, augmented by a sharpened sense of gratitude for the many blessings I have received from family and friends.
As the narrative unfolded and the recounting of events moved along I found much that was satisfying and pleasant to recall, little to regret. I realize that that statement smacks of smugness, but I hasten to add that I do not regard myself as the author of the fulfillments, the happiness and successes that have marked my life. With a different set of families and friends it could have been quite otherwise.
I close this protracted preface by registering the hope that some of my descendants will get some fraction of the pleasure in reading about my life that I have enjoyed in living it—and writing about it.
My ancestors, a fragmentary genealogy
While I am proud of my parents and grandparents I have had little interest in genealogy and exploration of my extended ancestry has been slight. The lack of interest in genealogical matters stems from the fact that as the explorer moves back through successive generations the number of ancestors increases by geometric progression. Thus if I were to trace the eleven generations of Crandalls in America I would be dealing with 2048 male and female progenitors! The problem is compounded by our patrilineal system which forever focuses on the male surname. Therefore to follow only the "Crandall" line of descendant is to ignore most of the persons who have made a genetic and cultural contribution to my heritage. However, I have had some interest in and have acquired a smattering of information on the ethnic origins of the first forbears of both mother and father to come to America.
The first Crandalls to arrive came from Wales and settled in Westerly, Rhode Island in the 1640s. They became followers of that "religious renegade" (from the Puritan point of view), Roger Williams, and the early generations of Crandalls in the colonies produced several Rev. John Crandalls of the Baptist persuasion. One of those Rev. John Crandalls ditched his missionary work in the Massachusetts Bay Colony circa 1670, fleeing to Rhode Island to escape Puritan persecution. It appears he had little interest in becoming a martyr like the Quakers who remained. While, as far as I have determined, the Crandalls were hard-working, God-fearing people of "the middling sort"—farmers, artisans, as well as clergymen—few became historical celebrities. The only one I am sure about is Prudence Crandall, a woman ahead of her time, who braved the wrath of her Connecticut neighbors by admitting blacks to her Female Seminary in the 1830s—She was eventually forced out of town, moving to Iowa, but persisted in championing the rights of Negroes and women until her death at the age of 90.
It really goes without saying that eleven generations have yielded a spate of Crandalls (only God knows how many) and they are scattered around the country if not the world. A considerable number live in the Southern Tier region of Western New York. I have encountered the largest number since moving to Bemus Point; thirty-six Crandalls are listed in the Jamestown Telephone Directory. Their relationship to yours truly remains unidentified.
The account of my earliest years is necessarily based on what I've been told, mostly by my parents. It is safe to assume that their reports are colored by parental bias. I was born about a month early, a product of induced labor because mother's health was endangered by an excessive amount of albumin. It was a cold February (the 9th) in 1919. Dr. Al Lyman came to the house to officiate and the delivery took place in a downstairs bedroom which later became the dining room. Mother always insisted that I weighed ten pounds. Because I was premature that poundage figure may raise the issue of credibility in the reader's mind. It has in my own but I have found no contrary evidence. Thus it seems safe to say that I was a bouncing baby boy, my father's first offspring and the proverbial "apple of his eye." In fact, Mother often said that my head looked like a Northern Spy apple.
At the outset it appeared there would be no problem in naming the infant. Dad had long proclaimed that if he had a son he would call him Jack. However, Dr. Al resisted writing what he regarded as a nickname on the birth certificate and turned to Mother for an appropriate recommendation. She proposed that I be named after my father i.e., Curtis John Crandall Jr. Dr. Al erroneously inscribed John Curtis Jr. on the certificate. That error was not discovered until I enlisted in the Navy twenty three years later. The Navy insisted on a photostat copy from the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Albany. I had earlier occasions to use a birth certificate but the copy was always supplied by the Caneadea Town Clerk. He knew my name was really Curtis John Jr. and so wrote it on the copies furnished. Thus all my legal documents up to the time of my Navy enlistment proclaimed I was Curtis John Jr. For the next four or five years after that I had to sign numerous affidavits declaring that Curtis John Jr. and John Curtis Jr. were one and the same person. In actual practice I have always been known as and called Jack—neither Curtis or John. So Dad won out much to my later satisfaction.
He impressed my name, with certain embellishments, on my consciousness early on. One of the first things he taught me after I had begun to talk was a little spiel designed to impress, even startle, anyone who asked me who I was. My learned response: "I'm roarin' Jack Crandall, the Boy Wonder born in Houghton, New York, Town of Caneadea, Allegany County with proud, but poor parents."
My formal education began in September, 1924 when I entered the first grade in the district elementary school, Caneadea District School #6. The white frame building had two classrooms serving all eight grades. The "little room" contained grades one through four while the "big room" was the setting for grades five through eight. At that time about forty pupils were enrolled averaging five per class. Instruction was provided by one teacher for each room. Each teacher's busy schedule consisted of four subjects per grade. The school day was composed of two three-hour sessions, nine to twelve and one to four with ten minutes for "opening exercises" (a joint session) and two fifteen minute recesses (morning and afternoon).
The third and fourth grade years left no vivid memories of highlight events or incidents, but I continued to enjoy school and the related activities. In fact, I preferred the school year to the summer because there were few playmates and except for the trios with Dad and Mother, little excitement to match that of school days.
The fifth year brought the thrill of moving into the "big room" and having a male teacher, Mr. Fred Byron, one-half of a husband and wife team, for his spouse, Bessie, took charge of the "little room." He was a kind, conscientious man and an effective teacher, especially in English and history. They became my favorite subjects. The titles of my first textbooks in American History were Explorers and Founders of America and Makers and Defenders of America. I also derived much pleasure from the sports activities during the recesses, especially baseball in the fall and spring.
A shocking incident highlighted that year. I have called it the "Big Stoop Story" and have recounted it more than several times in lectures in my college classes. The protagonist or antagonist (victim or villain?) was called "Big Stoop," always behind his back, never to his face. He was fourteen, nearly six feet tall, solidly built, well-muscled, strong and in the fifth grade for the third year. While we were aware that he was considerably less than an intellectual giant we looked up to him literally and figuratively because of his physical attributes and prowess. He was the only boy who could hit a home run on the ball diamond behind the school. If any of us could get the ball over the plate he could hit it over the fence. Thus, in the fall and spring he enjoyed near heroic status. Those Western New York winters were long—so long—and he was out of the spotlight but "on the spot" for his academic deficiencies. For him it was a winter of discontent and he became depressed, restive and surly.
That February a couple of eighth grade boys, eager to break the monotony and ennui of those interminably dull days concocted a plan to stir up some excitement and enlisted Big Stoop as a fellow conspirator. Their scheme could be called a tardiness strike. They put it into effect on a blizzardy February morning. With opening exercises underway about three or four minutes the first conspirator burst into the room stamping the snow off his feet, flapping his arms and noisily depositing his coat, hat and overshoes in the cloakroom. Then he swaggered back to his seat, About two minutes later the second boy repeated that performance and after a similar interval the third did the same. Opening exercises had been turned into a shambles.
Despite the complete disruption Mr. Byron was surprisingly tolerant. Taking the bad weather into consideration he could understand some justification for tardiness and rather mildly chided the boys for their noisiness. However, the next morning the boys resumed the same routine. When the second conspirator stormed into the room Mr. Byron discerned the pattern and perceived the plot. He rushed up to plotter, number two, grabbed him by the shoulders and roughly whisked him to his seat, jamming him down and shaking him until the bolts in the cast-iron base began to loosen and flecks of blood appeared on the plotter's wrist.
At that moment "Big Stoop" charged into the room and surveyed the scene with a sullen stare. The James-Lang theory of emotion claims that the more the emotion is expressed the greater it becomes. Mr. Byron was furnishing striking evidence of the validity of that theory. Letting go of the second conspirator (perhaps saving his neck, we thought) he rushed to the front of the room and clutched Big Stoop's right shoulder. The perennial fifth-grader shrugged him off as if flicking off a pesky fly. The teacher then made the biggest mistake of his pedagogical career. He kicked out with his right foot, directing it toward Big Stoop's backside. When his foot and leg reached a posture parallel with the floor Stoop swiveled around, grabbed it sending two hundred pounds of flabby pedagogue crashing to the deck with the powerful pupil on top.
We were spellbound with fright, fearing we might be witnessing a murderous assault. Mrs. Byron moved in to rescue her husband by pulling hard on Big Stoop's hair. Suddenly he relaxed his hold, got up and just stood there sullenly but somewhat shamefacedly. When Byron regained his breath and was able to get up he pointed to the door and wheezed, "Out." That marked the end of Big Stoop's academic career.
We were beside ourselves with shock and apprehension. When recess came we huddled outside whispering our horror-struck reactions. Then someone said, "There he is!" Sure enough across the road from the schoolyard in the old canal bed loomed the menacing figure of our ex-hero. We heard little about him after that. We did hear later that he had been arrested as a juvenile delinquent. Certainly his life was blighted.
I have often wondered whether a longer baseball season and a shorter winter would have made a difference in his life. And what if he had been less strong and a bit brighter? After all he did not organize the conspiracy. The boys who did were not thrown out of school. They were not strong enough to confront the teacher the way he did even if they had wanted to. Was he more victim than villain? In any case he provided the most dramatic event of my largely tranquil elementary school years.
I can recall no startling development in the sixth grade. The next year geography joined history as a co-favorite subject. Jerry McKinley and I took two eighth grade classes along with our seventh grade courses. Jerry and I became pals sharing our love for sports as well as our affinity for school. He was quite diminutive but had good athletic ability. In the summer we would try to scrape up enough players for baseball but could rarely recruit more than enough to play "three 'ol cat" (five).
That spring I re-entered the job market, applying for a position at Fillmore Central School. I did not favorably impress the Principal, Andy Haynes, at the interview. He told me that I was "overqualified" for a high school history job—an ironic, wrongheaded and disingenuous observation (there was some other reason but I never found out what it was). However, the members of the Board of Education thought differently and told him to hire me. One of them later told me that Carl Becker's recommendation was decisive. In any event in the fall of 1940 I returned home and commenced my teaching career at Fillmore only four miles away. In the meantime Jill's fine performance at Sardinia won her an appointment at Mt. Morris at a higher salary in a larger school twenty-five miles from Fillmore.
The fall of 1940 found Britain facing a grim situation and the prospect of an imminent invasion by Hitler's war machine but I was preoccupied with the pleasures of pedagogy and the prospect of imminent marriage. In September we decided on a "Franksgiving" wedding (FDR had issued an Executive Order moving Thanksgiving up a week). We bought a 1937 Oldsmobile Club Coupe for $375. (Jill paid for it; I hadn't earned any money yet.) So we were able to travel to Jamestown to make wedding preparations. They included several trips to Buffalo with Jill's mother to buy a wedding trousseau.
Despite preoccupation with the forthcoming, knot-tying event I was enjoying teaching and felt I was getting off to a good start in a congenial atmosphere. The physical environment was attractive (a brand new building); the social setting pleasant (responsive students and genial male colleagues—Bob Collins, Bill Appleford, Jim Young. and Bob Boehmler—constituting, a faculty basketball team).
I bought an engagement ring with my first paycheck, one of my few contributions to the several steps in launching us on "the sea of matrimony." The weekend before the knot-tying we had to journey to Jamestown to obtain the marriage license. An ice storm had struck the region creating dangerously slippery roads but we were not deterred. However, Dad, who was deathly afraid of icy pavements, was prompted to provide us with train tickets for the next week's honeymoon trip to Philadelphia as a wedding present.
The wedding week's weather turned out to be crisp and clear. Roger, Jill's brother, gave us the rehearsal dinner at The Apple Inn. The wedding party included Betty Jane Sturgis, Jill's suite mate at Houghton, as Maid of Honor, Carolyn Jones and Phyllis Olson, long time friends as attendants and Sally Lagerquist, daughter of Jill's cousin Albert, as flower girl. On the groom's side Walt Sheffer, a college colleague, was Best Man while Bob Luckey and Roger were ushers. After the reception I went to Walt's home in Youngsville.
November 21, 1940 dawned brightly. Our morning ceremony took place in the Lutheran Immanuel Church, Jill's home church, with Felix Hanson officiating. We were hitched without any hitch. The post-wedding luncheon, featuring chicken fricassee and lots of goodies in addition to the traditional wedding cake was held at stately Le Van's Tea Room, a former mansion, now the Sheldon House. The Carlsons provided a first-class launching of our marital voyage and I owe them my eternal gratitude.
After the reception we shuffled off to Buffalo in our merry Oldsmobile, ate supper at McDoel's restaurant. The entree? Chicken again! We were having a cackling good time. That evening we tooled out to the cavernous Buffalo Station, boarded the Philadelphia train and commenced our conjugal journey. When the train stopped in Olean someone came on board and plopped heavily down in berth "upper ten" directly above us. The next morning I ran into "Doc" Paine, our College President, in the washroom, discovering that he was the occupant of "upper ten." He helped carry our luggage to a taxi, adding his blessing to our marital venture. A couple of years later as President of the Houghton Alumni Association I was able to thank him publicly for accompanying us on our honeymoon—certainly an act of supererogation for a college president!
We stayed at the Ben Franklin Hotel, ate at Bookbinders, toured the city and attended the annual Turkey Day classic between Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. It was an exciting game, won by the Quakers in the last minute by virtue of a heroic touchdown run by their star back, Francis Reagan. Our tickets to the game were Bob Luckey's wedding present. I was not a sufficiently zealous Cornellian to be crushed by the "Big Red's" defeat. Besides as a happy honeymooner I was in a state of euphoria as well as the State of Pennsylvania.
Since we had jobs twenty-five miles apart we didn't set up housekeeping immediately. Jill kept her room in Mt. Morris and I continued to live at home in Houghton, commuting to Mt. Morris two or three times per week. As the fall semester neared its end Jill, saddled with a superhuman load, decided to resign and we rented a second-story, furnished apartment in Fillmore. It was dark and drab with nondescript furniture, no kitchen sink and no dining area. But Jill made the most of it, providing delicious candlelight dinners in the foyer-hallway and sparking the place up with colorful knickknacks. And, as Dr. Al put it, "It was secluded." Life proceeded smoothly and happily (at least for me) except on one occasion when she fed me a whole batch of waffles, creating a somnolent condition which prevented me from participating in the weekly cleaning (this occurred while she was still teaching). However, she continued to furnish me with such sumptuous meals that I began to take on an inflated look. That spring we had belated wedding pictures taken and I presented the appearance of a groom who had been stuffed into his wedding suit.
During the spring semester Andy Haynes, the Principal, received word from Albany that each school would be expected to develop its own history syllabi and transmit them to the State Social Studies Supervisor at the State Education Department for approval. My assignment was to draft innovative syllabi for World History and for a two-year American History course. This became my summer job—without pay. I completed the task, sending the syllabi to Albany that fall. My reward came when I received the response. The letter of approval contained a glowing commentary on the quality of the work. This was in sharp contrast to their assessment of the syllabus submitted by the Junior High teacher which was rejected. One tangible result of my salaryless summer: The State Social Studies Supervisor recommended me to several principals as a person they should have on their staffs. However, I was not in a position to take advantage of any of those opportunities. My draft classification in the spring of '42 was changed to 1A and I was on the brink of military service.
That second year in Fillmore (1941-42) saw us leave our twenty dollar per month drab, second-story apartment and move into a house with a fourteen dollar monthly rental (my salary that year was fourteen hundred dollars). The house we occupied was really half a house, although it was a free standing edifice. Bob Gillette, the head custodian at Fillmore Central, had bought a large house, cut it in two and moved the structure we were to live in to an empty lot on School Street. He remodeled the interior, consulting us in regard to the kitchen arrangements and color scheme. It was a two-story edifice with a large kitchen, small but cozy living room and downstairs bathroom. The upstairs space contained two bedrooms. We furnished it with a combination of new pieces (sofa, chairs, rugs) and old (refrigerator, stove, dressers, beds) borrowed from my folks and freshly painted by Dad Carlson.
Our new abode was quite attractive on the inside but had a seedy outside appearance. It sorely needed a fresh coat of paint and was surrounded by an unseeded yard nearly hidden under a big pile of dirt. There was no basement and the pipes in the bathroom were exposed to the weather. The old floor furnace in the living room was indicative of the minimal nature of our domicile. The pilot light seemed shaky, having a tendency to flicker out. Our parents and even the local druggist, who knew about its idiosyncrasy, worried that it would go out in the night, permitting gas to seep into the living room and upstairs, asphyxiating us. We were too naive to share their concern. Furthermore, the lack of a cinder block border around and under the house allowed access by small animals. We actually heard a rat gnawing into the fabric of our Louis XVI carpet and discovered evidence that such rodent rummaging had taken place more than once. Fortunately they were never able to break through but the thought of a possible rodent invasion was a bit unsettling.
Still we had fun playing house. We entertained the Carlsons (Dad, Mother and Roger) at Christmas. We decorated that little old place to the hilt. My present for Jill was a phonograph and record albums, including the theme songs of the Big Bands. Christmas morning we danced to the swinging rhythms of Benny Goodman's "Let's Dance" and the signature songs of Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and Harry James. What fun!
Nearly every evening we capped off the day with Sealtest ice cream raspberry tarts in front of our open gas-burning "fireplace." We entertained company for dinner—Bob Luckey, Walt Sheffer, Joe and Monica Cole (he was the basketball coach) as well as our parents. Friday nights we went to the Fillmore Hotel for fish fries. We enjoyed the movies at The Opera House. I was "as happy as a clam at high tide," as pleased with my situation as an affluent middle class husband living in a fine home in suburbia.
I viewed our modest quasi-dilapidated dwelling place in the "hick-town" atmosphere of Fillmore (the main street looked like a western movie set with wooden false-fronts on the few stores) through romantic lenses (several years later when Fillmore celebrated its centennial the slogans were "a century without progress" and "a century of rigor mortis"). Looking back I wonder how I could be so contented and complacent in a situation which an ambitious person would not tolerate very long. The answer, of course, is that I was happy living with Jill, her cooking and caring. I liked my job, had remarkably good students. My first star student, Lyle Brown, who earned an "A' in History A, went on to obtain a Ph.D. and a professorship at Baylor University. My ace student in American History, Warren Richardson, became a highly successful lawyer and lobbyist in Washington. So there I was living in what from a broader perspective and more sophisticated view would be regarded as a physically minimal and culturally impoverished environment which, in my state of euphoria, I regarded as idyllic. Jill knew better, had a larger perspective and a more far-sighted vision but neither needled nor nagged me about my complacency.
Soon, however, the spell of arcadian contentment was broken. My 3A draft classification was changed to 1A and in the spring of '42 I was now subject to being called into the army. I never received that official letter from the War Department which begins with the salutatory "greetings." We spent the Easter weekend in Jamestown. Jill noted an item in the Jamestown Morning Post which announced that married men were now eligible for the V-7 program, a program designed to produce Naval Officers. I checked into the Jamestown recruiting office, launched the process, passed the physical in Buffalo, was sworn in and ready for orders to Midshipman's School at the close of the school year. Jill's spotting that announcement proved to be a pivotal point in our lives. It generated a chain of events—three and a half years of service in the Navy, including nearly two years of action in the Southwest Pacific and, after the war the generous benefits of the G.I. Bill—that culminated in the completion of a Ph.D. and a career as a college professor and administrator. I've often wondered what our lives would have been like if Jill hadn't read that paper and spotted that announcement.
Commencement came, I resigned my position. Andy Haynes graciously but also shrewdly tapped Jill to take my job. (I say "shrewdly" because he knew she was an excellent teacher.) Now the waiting period for my orders began. I expected them momentarily so I just fiddled around, waited and did more fiddling since I was not eligible for gainful employment. The summer dragged on—with more Friday night fish fries—and finally evolved to fall. Jill went off to school, yours truly languished at home. I took daily trips to the post office uncomfortably aware that people were wondering how an able-bodied young man could be sitting out the war.
With my self-esteem at low ebb I was becoming difficult to live with. A couple of weeks into September I wrote the Bureau of Naval Personnel presenting the data on my enlistment and inquiring about my orders. Within a few days I received a reply, informing me that my records had been misplaced but that my reminder had triggered their recovery. Then came the orders to report to Notre Dame Midshipman's School on October 4th. The wait was over. No longer did I have to sit home and watch my wife go to work every morning. The great adventure had begun.
When I enlisted I listed 69 Benson Street as my home address so the train ticket which accompanied my orders specified Jamestown as the point of departure. I was scheduled to take Erie's New York—Chicago train at five twenty Sunday morning, October 4th. Dad Carlson took me to the station. With his penchant for punctuality we got there in plenty of time. It turned out to be a so-called "milk train," stopping at every city, town and village enroute, taking all day to reach South Bend, Indiana. The tedium of the trip was somewhat relieved by listening to the radio broadcast of the World Series between the Cardinals and the Yankees but I was an indifferent listener that day. At another time I would have been excited about the Cardinal's victory but my mind was preoccupied with speculation about my possible role in a more significant contest: The Yankees and the Brits vs. the Axis Powers.
Some thirteen hundred young men converged on the Notre Dame campus that Sunday afternoon and evening. They came in all shapes and sizes but had three characteristics in common: an A.B. or B.S. degree, a successful physical exam and an aspiration to be a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. Taken altogether they presented many variables. Some came from small private colleges (like yours truly), others from large public and private universities. Virtually all of the different academic majors were represented from anthropology to zoology as were all sections of the country from California to Maine. Those who were successful in completing the program would later be tagged with the sardonic sobriquet, "Ninety-Day-Wonders." The assumption underlying the Navy V-7 experiment was that college graduates with a liberal arts education were the most likely prospects for coping with an accelerated, rigorous learning regimen and becoming competent Naval "officers and gentlemen." The program was designed to produce quickly several thousand officers to help man the hundreds of ships being built. In retrospect it was remarkably successful and, in validating the assumption, provided convincing evidence of the value and importance of a liberal college education.
The term, "Ninety-Day" Wonder is somewhat misleading because the program stretched over four months. The first month, called Indoctrination, the candidates were apprentice seamen, wore the traditional "middie" uniform with big-collared blouse, bell-bottom trousers with umpteen buttons, and a crinkled sailors cap over a severe brush-cut. They (we) were subjected to a rigorous—at times tortuous—routine from reveille (0600) to taps (2200). It was a testing, probationary period consisting of four academic-type courses all of which the trainee must pass to become a midshipman plus a strenuous physical fitness program, watch duties and countless inspections. Any lapses: failure to meet any of the standards or to live up to the regulations brought "demerits." As our battalion officer, Lieutenant Brown, a feisty Texan, continuously reminded us, "You guys know what demerits mean. Demerits mean a train ticket home or to the Great Lakes and boot camp." The principal motivational strategy was to engender the feeling that we were always under "the sword of Damocles" and any slip we made would bring it crashing down on our heads. It seemed to work. Most of us were running scared and running hard.
The four courses were Indoctrination, Math (spherical trigonometry), Naval Ordinance, Seamanship and Navy Customs and Regulations. Moreover, we were confronted with a partially new language consisting of a new vocabulary for familiar objects and, of course, the names of all the nautical accessories and appurtenances with which we were totally unfamiliar. Thus we now walked on a "deck," not a floor; down a "passageway," not a hall or corridor; hollered "gangway" not excuse me; looked up at the "overhead," not the ceiling; leaned against the "bulkhead," not the wall; went to the "head," not the bathroom; listened to "scuttlebutt," not gossip; went "topside," not upstairs; "sacked out," not went to bed, at "twenty-two hundred hours," not ten p.m. Further, we had to distinguish a chock from a bit, a capstan from a winch, the foc'sle from the fantail etc.; all of this and more before getting near a real ship.
Of the four courses only Navy Customs and Regulations did I find quite easy. By far the most difficult was spherical trig. Unless one was a math major the problem of mastering the spherical concepts and managing the logarithmic calculations was intimidating. The math instructor assigned to our platoon had graduated from Georgia Tech in business administration and had barely passed high school geometry. The class followed a departmental syllabus and took departmental exams. His only contribution was to conduct the class in a strictly military manner (he made us stand at attention when reciting, address him as "sir" and begin our recitation by saying, "Seaman Crandall, reporting"). After going through the formal protocol at the outset of the class session he would select the number of seamen coinciding with the number of assigned problems, ordering them to write their calculations and solutions on the chalk boards. Then he would point to the work on the first problem saying, "Are there any questions?" Hands would fly up. As he recognized each hand-waving seaman the pattern of comments went something like this. "I did it the same way but got a different answer." Next, "I did it a different way but got the same answer." A bewildering debate was ignited leaving us in a state of utter confusion. Our class had only one math major. We besieged him with frantic requests for help, driving him to the point of having to turn us down. We became panicky as we were failing the weekly departmental exams and would sneak into the head after taps (risking possible demerits) to try to get help from each other.
The instructor kept reminding us that failure to pass the course would bust us out of the program but also that he was pleading with his superiors to replace him. Finally his pleas were heeded. The last ten days a former high school math teacher, Lt. Tefft from Rochester, took over and pulled most of us past the 2.5 minimum grade level, giving some twenty-five aspiring and perspiring seamen a chance to become naval officers. The irony of that harrowing experience was that while the rationale of subjecting us to the esoteric intricacies of spherical trig was to provide us with a theoretical background for celestial navigation we never used the stuff we learned in that course. In actual practice celestial navigation was handled by consulting tables which contained the products of all of the necessary mathematical manipulations.
A "Boot-camp" regimen constituted the nonacademic part of the program from reveille to taps. Failure to be punctual at the first muster in the morning (or any other), failure to be in the sack with lights out at taps, failure to be in the designated uniform (uniform requirements changed during the day, sometimes on very short notice), failure to heed any announcement, failure to have a clean room and clean sink ("a wet sink is a dirty sink"), failure to pass personal inspection, failure to fill out any form properly—all of the above resulted in demerits. Failure to hear an announcement (not getting the word) was no excuse. Thus we were always on edge, fearful of missing "the word." We all had periodic duty as Mate of the Deck of our deck in the dorm. The M.O.D.'s principal responsibility was to pass the word to his mates on his deck. Occasionally some sadistic seaman would run out into the passageway and holler, "All who have not done so do so immediately" sending us all into a state of panic.
The physical dimension of the program focused on close order drills and rigorous calisthenics conducted by "drill sergeants"—actually chief petty officers. They were an integral part of the daily grind. Northern Indiana winter weather is chilling with the wintry blasts sweeping across the flat frozen terrain of the Notre Dame campus. I still remember with a shudder of lying on the cold, cold ground doing endless leglifts wondering whether my legs would fall off before they were infected with frostbite. I lost fifteen pounds that first month.
The climactic events each week were the Saturday inspections and tests. Each room was occupied by two seamen. Responsibility for the condition of the room rotated each week. Any deficiencies were charged against the "Captain of the Room" that particular week. Bill Cox from Graceville, Minnesota and a graduate of St. Johns College was my roommate. He was a fine person, conscientious and competent, and didn't deserve demerits but had the misfortune to be captain on those weeks deficiencies were discovered. I really lucked out in the demerit category except for one instance. I signed the G.I. Insurance form in the wrong place and had to work off the demerits by toting a rifle around the campus on Saturday afternoon during the Notre Dame-Michigan football game.
Eleven hundred survived the one-month probationary period while two hundred busted out. The end of Indoctrination was marked by celebration. Several of the survivors who had experience as entertainers staged a Happy Hour show featuring much scatological humor and irreverent jibes poking fun at the "ridiculous regulations" and the idiosyncrasies of members of the instructional staff. It was an effective way of relieving the tensions accumulated during the long four-week grind. But the first "liberty"—from Saturday at 1300 'till Sunday at 2200—provided the best opportunity for letting off steam. Some went to Chicago; most took hotel rooms in South Bend (I went into town but did not stay overnight). The shenanigans and hi-jinks of that first midshipman's class at Notre Dame on that occasion and subsequent liberties resulted in a ban on overnight liberties for unmarried men in the classes that followed. Later when, as Naval officers, we would meet graduates of those classes they would accuse us of being the culprits who had ruined liberty weekends for them.
Now we were proud midshipmen with the appropriate dress uniforms which closely approximated those of naval officers but the rigorous routine remained. However we had to deal with a new academic curriculum. Navigation replaced Indoctrination Math; Ordinance was augmented by Damage Control; Seamanship became more than knot-tying sessions and a detailed study of the Watch Officer's Guide and Manual rounded out the curricular requirements. Navigation seemed to me to be the most important subject and the most challenging. The fundamental task was to learn to do a day's work in celestial navigation. In a recurring assignment we were given all of the relevant data: sextant readings, the velocity of the winds and currents, the ship's position at 0800 and the ship's average speed. We had to execute the necessary calculations, apply them to the chart using compass and parallel rulers plotting the exact location of the ship at 0800 the next day. My lack of manual dexterity caused me considerable anxiety. My ineptitude in manipulating the compass and parallel rulers with precision and in drawing razor-thin lines created horrendous possibilities. In plotting the exact location of the vessel at the specified time a skewed ruler and fat lines could place the ship several miles from its correct position—on a large sale chart—even if the mathematical calculations were correct.
Our instructor, Lieutenant Hussong, gave no partial credit. If the plotted spot was more than ten miles off (just a "silly millimeter" on a large-scale chart) we were charged with a wrong answer. Although 2.5 was passing in the Navy grading system. he used only two grades 4.0 and flunk. He used his procedure, which we thought to be excessively harsh by contending, "I don't want to be aboard a ship that has a 2.5 navigator."
Anyone who failed any exam was placed "on the tree" for the next week. Those on the tree were assigned extra study hours which were deducted from "liberty" time. All grade information was posted on the bulletin boards so we knew where we and everyone else stood at the beginning of each week. We were told that our grade point ranking would be a critical factor in determining our duty assignment upon graduation. That was simply a motivational ploy. Over half of our class went to the amphibious forces, including the front-runners. Except for that traumatic time in Indoctrination Math I managed to stay off "the tree" and ultimately finished 142nd in a graduating class of 1,050.
Thanksgiving brought a break in the action and Jill to South Bend. We stayed at a first-class hotel, The LaSalle, ate thanksgiving dinner at the Oak Room of the Hotel Hoffman, another fine hostelry with live pipe organ music enhancing the festive atmosphere, toured the campus and went to the movies. Although she was impressed with the sparkling new dress uniform she was a bit dismayed at my general appearance. My weight loss and quasi-skinhead haircut made me look like a scrawny, plucked chicken rather than the plump, chubby-faced husband with wavy locks she had known.
The rigorous regimen resumed in the post-thanksgiving period. Each day was crammed with tightly scheduled activities with no down time until Saturday afternoons. Except for a couple of hours of pick-up basketball in Rockne Memorial Gym we were busy doing our laundry, reviewing our notes and preparing for the next week's work. I never took time out to read a newspaper or listen to the radio. It seemed like a treadmill experience, engendering ambivalent feelings of wanting to get off and, at the same time, fearing that any lapse or diversion could bring dire consequences i.e., falling behind and busting out.
I did experience an unwanted interruption and several days of deep anxiety. Victimized by an unknown "bug" I reported to sick bay and was placed in the hospital. My illness remained undiagnosed. I tried to persuade the nun/nurses to give me a physic but they demurred. Roger came down from Camp McCoy, Wisconsin to visit while I was still in a hospital bed but, since my "disease" had not been identified, they wouldn't let him come in. I talked to him from the second-story window. Soon I showed signs of recovery and was released to resume the grind. Bill Cox clued me in on the material I had missed and I was able to catch up without serious grade point damage. That incident might be called "a successful damage control operation."
Christmas came and so did Jill. We bought a little tree. The maid at The LaSalle Hotel collaborated in our preparations. It was one of my most memorable Christmases. We saw the film, "Holiday Inn" which introduced Irvin Berlin's "White Christmas" and later dined at the Oak Room of the Hotel Hoffman where the organist played that stirring sentimental song. That holiday, the last we were to spend together for three years, was idyllic in every respect.
Now the first midshipman's class at Notre Dame was coming down the home stretch. One afternoon early in January the staff passed out form sheets asking us to state our preferences for duty assignments. We took this "opportunity" seriously and it generated spirited conversations regarding the best strategy to employ in filling out that form. Some said, "Put down Coastal Defense; that's the safest duty." Others contended, "No, write in Bomb Disposal; they'll say ÔHe's too brave to die and assign you much safer duty.'" The fact of the matter was that the whole exercise was quite irrelevant. None of the classmates that I knew got a duty assignment which matched their stated choice.
January 28, 1943 was Graduation Day. Mother and Dad came out for the commencement ceremony which was held in the new Navy Drill Hall. The final exhortation in the commencement address was "Come home with your shields of honor untarnished or come home on them."
We were now Ensigns in the United States Naval Reserve ready for active duty. My orders directed me to report to the amphibious force at Norfolk, Virginia after a two-week leave. I journeyed back home with my parents. We rode all night on the New York Central to Buffalo without sleeping accommodations.
The fortnight at home flew by. Jill had been forced to move from our half-house which had developed a bad case of frozen pipes (those exposed bathroom conduits). She was living next door in a house rented and occupied by Andy Haynes, his wife and the owner, Pearl Torpey. Andy asked me to speak at Rotary about my experiences at midshipman's school. We attended a Valentine's dance at Fillmore Central, giving me a chance to show off my naval officer's uniform in front of my former students and colleagues. My self esteem was restored. No longer would people wonder whether I was sitting out the war (my situation during that long, hot summer of lost records).