Welcome to San Diego (2023)

Peter Wynkoop



7 min read


Mar 18


Navy Boot Camp

Welcome to San Diego (2)

As he climbed on the bus at the airport, Jake swore he’d maintain his cool. Like most of the thirty-eight others in his party, he knew very little about the Navy and wondered what awaited him. This was an adventure, his buddies assured him as they helped him pack for boot camp.

Welcome to San Diego (3)

After entering the Naval Recruit Training Center, the bus dropped them at an old, two-story building, and the recruits filed inside their new home. There they met some fifty others who would be part of their unit. Jake’s group of recruits were all men — women’s boot camp was separate in those days.

An older guy in uniform began to bark at them:

“All of you, line up at your bunks! I am Chief Smiley, and everything you do for the next few weeks will be ordered by me. You are Recruit Company 325, and you will shit, shower and shave every day you are in the Navy.”

“You will learn how to make your bunk, and you will learn to march in military style.”

“You will be the grass, and I will be the lawn mower.”

“When I say ‘Jump’, you will say ‘Yes sir, how high?’”

Culture Shock

Welcome to San Diego (4)

Jake and the other recruits snapped to attention and jumped into their places at the front of each bunk, all fearing what was to come next.

“The first thing you will do will be to get a haircut, so you stop looking like hippies. Then we’ll get you out of those filthy clothes so you can look like sailors.”

Chief Smiley sent them all to the street, where a bus was waiting. They climbed aboard, and the bus took them to the barber shop. Soon Jake and the others were lined up with several barbers who moved swiftly to shave each head clean.

Welcome to San Diego (5)

With the haircuts completed, the recruits were driven to a building where they were issued a sea bag, dungaree uniforms, underwear, socks and shoes. In addition, they also received blue and white uniforms they learned were both dress (formal) and undress (informal) uniforms.

After receiving their uniforms, recruits were bussed to a store on the base where they purchased soap, toothpaste, other hygiene articles and a padlock. Then all were delivered to the company barracks, the building where they’d met Chief Smiley.


The recruits’ next task was learning how to fold their uniforms and how to stow them in their lockers. They learned that their lockers would always be locked, to be opened for inspection at any time. Jake learned that if he failed a locker inspection, his uniforms would be scattered around for him to refold and stow.

Recruits learned how to make their bunks: every corner was to be squared and each blanket was to be folded precisely as they were taught. Every bunk should be so tight that a quarter would bounce if dropped on it.

Welcome to San Diego (6)

Company 325 then assembled in the street, and recruits were marched by Chief Smiley to the chow hall. After dinner, the company was marched to the barracks, where all had a chance to relax. Jake began to fold his uniforms while others wrote home and prepared for bed.

Welcome to San Diego (7)

325 Goes to School

Recruits were taught about seamanship, naval engineering, guns, rockets, torpedoes, communications, naval history and the many professional ratings or specialties that a sailor could pursue. Classes were held daily, interspersed with training sessions in marching and carrying and using a rifle. Recruits were taught shipboard fire-fighting and how to swim. They trained aboard a training ship: USS NEVERSAIL.

Welcome to San Diego (8)
Welcome to San Diego (9)
Welcome to San Diego (10)

Recruits learned how to stand a watch, which meant taking responsibility for the safety and security of a building or other fixed site. One of the important watch stations was to ensure the safety of the company’s laundry. Each recruit would wash and hang his laundry to dry on the company’s clotheslines. Jake’s first watch was to guard the clothesline from midnight to 4 a.m.

Welcome to San Diego (11)

Red Hats

Most Navy recruits were young men who didn’t always obey orders. For those who severely broke the rules, there was a special company that assisted reluctant recruits to learn how to follow instructions. A separate unit, they were easily recognized by their hats, which had been dyed red to distinguish them from the other recruits.

The Red Hats marched everywhere at double-time, an exhausting pace that provided an extra incentive to comply with the rules. No matter how difficult the training was, no one wanted to be a Red Hat.

Jake’s Goals

In the next few weeks, Jake managed to follow the rules and avoided becoming the focus of Chief Smiley. He found he was good at marching in cadence, and his locker passed the frequent inspections.

What Jake wanted most was a chance to lead. He thought he would be good at running the company for the chief, but the chief chose someone else at every opportunity.

Fridays are for Graduation.

As Company 325 marched through the base, they often passed the Boot Camp Choir marching in another direction. Every Friday, companies that graduated marched at a formal ceremony that honored their growth from recruits into sailors. The Boot Camp Choir marched at the head of the formation, singing maritime and Navy songs.

“The choir,” Jake thought. “That is a better place to march than just in our company. Singing while marching, and there may be a chance to lead.” Within a few days Jake had auditioned and passed the test: he would be a member of the choir. He was not transferred from Company 325 but would spend hours every day singing and marching with the choir.

Boot Camp Choir

In the choir, Jake learned to march well, and he took pride in his skills as he learned traditional Navy songs. “Anchors, Aweigh” was a superb marching song, and he learned the words quickly.

While most choir members were not graduating on a given Friday, every singer was drawn into the celebration of graduates every week. Just singing with the choir was exhilarating. Jake enjoyed the choir more than he’d imagined.


After a few weeks, the recruit company commander of the choir graduated, and Jake was promoted to lead the group. Finally, Jake would have the opportunity to prove his value.

Welcome to San Diego (12)

During his final three weeks, Jake led the choir at graduations, proudly marching aned singing “…and ’til we meet one day, here’s wishing you a happy voyage home!” and other marching tunes. At the time, the Navy band did not participate in boot camp graduation; the choir sang “a capella”.

Jake Graduates

On Friday, December 3rd, Recruit Company 325 graduated from Recruit Training Command. Jake led the choir as it sang clearly, assisting the graduating companies in keeping their marching cadence. The formal parade was everything that Jake had hoped it would be. Afterwards, he packed his bags with the optimism of a freshly-trained sailor who looked forward to his first duty station.

Welcome to San Diego (13)

While most of his classmates were assigned to a school for their various new specialties, or to a ship, Jake was en route to a Naval Ammunition Depot in Hawaii.

Post Script

An assignment to Hawaii right out of boot camp might seem like a dream come true, but soon Jake’s enthusiasm waned. As with Army recruits, fresh from their own boot camps who had been assigned to Schofield Barracks near Honolulu, Jake would soon learn that his assignment was not all palm trees, tropical breezes and Mai Tais.

Welcome to San Diego (14)

Hawaii in the late 1960s was the hub for military installations preparing soldiers, sailors and Marines for their next assignment: VietNam.


What is a nickname for San Diego? ›

Some may scoff at San Diego's nickname- “America's Finest City”- but this SoCal metropolis offers more than just temperature year-round weather.

What good is San Diego known for? ›

San Diego is renowned for its idyllic climate, 70 miles of pristine beaches and a dazzling array of world-class family attractions. Popular attractions include the world-famous San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California.

Why is San Diego so special? ›

San Diego is known for its great climate, military culture, world-class attractions, and events like Comic Con. San Diego is the second largest city in California, behind Los Angeles. Located in the southwest corner of California, San Diego runs along the US-Mexico border near Tijuana.

What is downtown San Diego known for? ›

As the city's cultural hub, Downtown is packed with top-notch art galleries, excellent museums, and a lively dining and bar scene. Bordered by the North San Diego Bay, Downtown San Diego has a charming vibe where gleaming modern skyscrapers shadow beautiful historic Spanish-influenced buildings.

What is San Diego's motto? ›

The motto, "Semper Vigilans," is Latin for "Always Vigilant." There are two discrepancies in the seal's design. First, San Diego was founded by Franciscan priests, not Carmelites.

What is a funny name for San Diego? ›

San Diego has a diverse collection of nicknames. Some of the most common are America's Finest City, City in Motion, Plymouth of the West and Silicon Beach.

What is the nicest area in San Diego? ›

A: Torrey Hills, La Jolla, Del Mar Mesa, and Via de la Valle are widely considered to be the safest neighborhoods in San Diego. As of June 2023, Niche.com gives each neighborhood a A crime and safety rating.

What is iconic to San Diego? ›

San Diego is a city in southern California with gorgeous weather and stunning beaches. However, San Diego is known for the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Padres, and more recently, its craft beer industry, also make this a famous city worth visiting.

What is most famous in San Diego? ›

What is San Diego Most Famous For?
  • Balboa Park.
  • Coronado Beach.
  • Maritime Museum of San Diego.
  • Black's Beach.
  • Gaslamp Quarter.
  • Torrery Pines State Natural Reserve.
  • Ocean Beach Farmers Market.
  • Seaport Village.

Why do people love San Diego so much? ›

The Beaches

San Diego has some of the best beaches in the US. And each beach has its own vibe. Ocean Beach is the hippy beach, Pacific Beach is home to the college crowd, Mission Beach is for the active ones, and La Jolla offers some spectacular cliffs as a backdrop. San Diego is the perfect place for a Beach vacation.

Does Diego have a nickname? ›

Nicknames: Dee, Go-go. Variations: James, Santiago, Iago. Namesakes: Diego Corrales, Diego González.

What is another name for Diego? ›

Diego is a Spanish name. It originally derived from the medieval names Didacus, Didaco and Didago, but is today seen as a variant of the Hebrew name Jacob, because it derived from Medieval Spanish “Sant Yago“ (= “Saint James“), who was Saint James the Great. From this came the name Santiago and the short form Diego.

What is downtown San Diego nickname? ›

150 years ago, the area that is now the Gaslamp Quarter was jokingly nicknamed “Rabbitville” after its chief inhabitants. The “Rabbitville” installation will honor the pioneering spirit of legendary founder, Alonzo Horton, who transformed Rabbitville into modern San Diego.

Why is San Diego called Finest City? ›

Back in the early 1970s the slogan 'America's Finest City' was coined for San Diego as part of advertising drive to attract visitors to the city. The nickname has stuck ever since, but does the city really live up to it's nickname? According to Natalie Côté, San Diego more than merits the accolade.


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