Actually I was an AE. I went to AE “A” school. After school I checked in at NAS Corpus Christi and two days later Hurricane Celia hit. The Seabees were sent in from Gulfport to help clean up and rebuild and about 15 of us were assigned to them TAD for what was supposed to be two weeks. Seventeen months later we were sent back to our squadrons. Three of us hated it so bad we requested to be cross-rated. Two were ADRs so it was easy for them. I had to work at it a little harder since I was in a critical rate. After requesting a Captain’s Mast the Skipper wrote a letter on my behalf and sent it to the Bureau of Naval Personel. I’m told I’m the only sailor to cross rate from a critical to non-critical rate. Whether true or not, I’m certainly glad I did it.
Here is what was starting to happen to the military in the 60s and 70s.
I set this apart, though, and here is why: I was in Cecil Field, walking back from the chow hall one night in between the barracks, and I felt a very sharp, hard kick in the ass. I whirled around to see a black guy grinning at me, and when I asked why he had kicked me, he said "I don't like your hat" (referring to my squadron hat for the VA-46 Clansmen)
I said, "That is too damn bad because you and I are going to have at it" and as I removed my glasses, four other black guys stepped around the corner. They encircled me as I stepped backwards, and not knowing what else to do, I assumed a martial arts pose hoping to buy a few seconds of time with their uncertainty. It worked as one of them said "Ah, he knows karate..." but that only lasted a few seconds until one lunged at me, I took a swing and down I went.
They were kicking the crap out of me, so I balled up and protected my face and vitals as best I could. They were trying to kick me in the nuts and the face, but fortunately for me, they smelled like they had been drinking, and landed more kicks on each other's legs and ankles than they did on me.
It seemed like it went on for five minutes, but I suppose it may have been only 15 or 30 seconds, at which point I saw an opening in their circle, bolted up and shot through it in one motion with all five of them running after me. I jumped on the concrete steps into the barracks, but knew if I grabbed the door to open it, they would be on me, so I grabbed a swab that was sitting in a bucket there and began jabbing and swinging it at them. I think I had been screaming "HELP!" over and over again at the top of my lungs throughout the entire time, but I don't really remember doing it.
They finally melted away, and I went across the street to the hangar and found my boss, who was on duty, AD1 Woods. When I told him what happened, he said: "Do you want to get together a bunch of our squadron mates and go find them?"
That was Woods. A good man. While I searched the face of every black guy I passed on that base for months, I simply could not remember the faces. But that simple willingness of Woods to take my side and stand with me against a bunch of black thugs kept me, I think from developing any long-term hatred of blacks because of it. He'll never know, but I hope to somehow meet him again and thank him in some way.