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The Vietnam War – Bob Meyer – Enlisting in the Navy

Bob Meyer was born at the old Anna Maria Hospital in Marshall in April 1945, the eldest of four boys and two girls in the family. He and his wife, Jacqueline, live in Marshall where he is retired after a career with the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office as an administrative sergeant in the jail.

Bob graduated with the Marshall High School class of 1963, the MHS boys’ basketball state championship year. But Bob did not feel ready to settle into life. “I felt like I needed more growing up to do,” he recalled. So he enlisted in the Navy shortly after graduation.

He explained his interest in the Navy as the place where he might do that growing up.

“I had an uncle, Chuck Mitchell, that was in the Navy in WWII and he told me about the Navy. He told me while I was in the Navy I couldn’t get any tattoos or he’d break my arms,” Bob remembered, laughing. He added, “I didn’t get any tattoos.”

Bob’s dad used to run Marshall’s Standard service station. He always remembered a June day in 1963 when his son left for the Navy. Bob also remembered that day.

“(Mom) gave me a ride down to catch the bus at the old Atlantic Hotel and Dad was working so I waved as we drove by. Went down and got on the bus. Of course, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Bob’s first stop was the Minneapolis federal building where Navy officials gave the new recruits a cursory physical exam and administered the oath of enlistment. Bob described the medical exam, “It wasn’t much of a physical. If you were alive and breathing, you were in.” The induction center staff then signed the trainees into what Bob described as a “25 cent hotel” for the night

Bob’s adventure revved up the next day with his first commercial flight. “They flew us out to San Diego,” he recalled, “I wanted to go to San Diego because I had never been to California, so it was a big deal to me.”

The new trainees arrived at Naval Training Station San Diego in the middle of the night. They settled into barracks for a short-lived hour or two of sleep. “They came around and hit the trash cans to wake you up nicely,” Bob recalled with a laugh.

The first day passed in a blur of yelling instructors; uniforms being thrown at them; and the oh-so-fashionable boot haircut. “Of course I was scared,” Bob recalled, “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Boot Camp included a kaleidoscope of people. “There were a lot of different people around — different colors and creeds,” he remembered, “I wasn’t exposed to anything like that prior to going into the Navy.”

Boot Camp was supposed to last 12 weeks, but Bob’s training company had a shortened training cycle.

“After we were there a couple weeks they had an outbreak of spinal meningitis and they had guys dropping like flies. Every day you would see ambulances there picking up people. They weren’t in a hurry to leave — they were already dead. That was bad stuff. They had to close the boot camp down completely and fumigate everything.”

The delay led the Navy to reduce that training cycle to six weeks. When Bob’s training company returned to boot camp, they were spread between two barracks to avoid further infections. Additionally, the barracks windows had to remain partially open for air circulation. As a result, their single blanket and double sheets did not do the job at night. “You were cold all the time,” Bob recalled.

The Navy pushed the trainees through the abbreviated training cycle. They spent time cleaning, drilling with, and qualifying on the range with their M-1 rifles. They also did a lot of physical training; learned about shipboard fire-fighting; and had to prove they could swim.

Bob remembered the swimming test as pretty basic, “It was sink or swim. Everybody’d jump in and if you couldn’t swim they’d see and they’d pull you out before you drowned.”

Routine training inspections fostered teamwork.

“They had inspections where you had to have everything in your bag folded a certain way and they’d come around and inspect it. You’d go over and check your buddy’s and he would come over and check yours, so right away you were helping each other out.”

The trainees graduated from Boot Camp and Bob reported to the Navy’s Torpedo school in San Diego. The math requirements proved problematic and he ended up reassigned to scrubbing pots in the mess hall.

The Navy soon pulled Bob out of mess detail and assigned him to the U.S.S. John S. McCain, a destroyer (small warship) based out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Navy flew Bob to Honolulu and he remembered walking up to his first ship, “Holy mackerel, I had never seen anything so big in my life – I was really excited.”

Bob reported aboard as an ordinary seaman. He recalled, “I went to the deck force where you chip, paint, sand, shine bright work, stand watches on the bridge, and take care of the boats.” This was his assignment for a year and a half.

Bob quickly became used to sea duty, as the McCain began exercises and inspections to prepare for a Western Pacific (WESTPAC) cruise.

The Lyon County Museum is organizing an exhibit about the impact of the Vietnam War on Lyon County. If you would like to share Vietnam experiences or help with the exhibit, please contact me at prairieviewpressllc@gmail.com or call the museum at 537-6580.

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