“Shape up or ship out,” was the word. And within the first three or four weeks, a surprising number of the fellows in my battalion were gone.
Today, my memory of that relentless pre-flight training is nothing more than a swirling kaleidoscope of barking, in-your-face discipline, calisthenics, close order drill, lifting weights, scrambling over obstacle courses, peripheral vision exercises, early morning sprints, mental gymnastics, hand-to-hand combat training, 10K runs in the heat, pushups, pull ups and Gawd knows what else I’ve mercifully forgotten.
We went at it six days a week, week after week, for three grueling summer months. I gritted my teeth and hung in there. By the time I finished pre-flight training, I was probably in the best shape of my entire life. But I’d had enough, more than enough. I wanted to fly.
The San Francisco experience is not an encounter you can enjoy in an hour or a day or perhaps even a lifetime.
My introduction to the City came on a morning when the sea breezes were blowing cold and salty from the northwest. I had taken the early Sunday morning liberty bus from Moraga to Oakland. There, I embarked on a ferry to San Francisco, across the bay.
I stood out on the deck,. still damp from the early morning mists. On the bay, tugs, barges, fishing boats, freighters and ferries moved across the choppy surface.
Off to the right, I saw Alcatraz, bright against a dark expanse of water. And there, straight ahead of me, I saw for the first time that spectacular skyline, upthrust towers rising from the city’s hills and valleys, clean and sharp. To this day, I am thrilled by that vista, even as bulky, new skyscrapers alter its classic lines.
My grandmother died that year, at the age of seventy. Josephine Martell Dewey. She was a generous, tough- minded woman who had an important influence in my young life. Probably her greatest legacy was her strong commitment to honesty. “Tell the truth,” she said. And she never let me forget it.
Following her death, my grandfather, Jim Dewey, lived on in my mother’s upstairs flat, alone.
About the same time, my mother and Aunt Phoebe put their restaurant experience to work by taking wartime jobs in the Swan Island Shipyard cafeteria.