Lots of Guns | Tom Camfield

Tom Camfield
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Posted 9/29/21

Photos: Able Seaman Tom Camfield (left above) and shipmate “Fish” Finnell, destroyer USS John A Bole, DD 755 Ketchikan, Alaska, July 1947; Pvt. Tom Camfield (right, above) and fellow …

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Lots of Guns | Tom Camfield

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Great economic setbacks, military conflicts and political disasters. The ebb and flow of penicillin . . . I became an unwitting veteran, along with my parents, of the Great Depression, as the 1930s began. And I was soon introduced to warfare — which has flourished ever since.

I never planned ahead very well. Like I never became a wartime sailor. I lived without goals, was a child of happenstance. Goals that did develop were ever of a vague and general nature.

My engagement and wedding rings were to languish with my wife-to-be Jean Westall for more than a year longer after Jan. 20, 1951, when I found myself on a bus to Fort Lewis via Port Angeles with several other guys and $10 in my pocket. And still wondering why the orders I carried weren’t sending me to active duty aboard a destroyer.

For I was officially in the U.S. Navy — although, in reality, I also was in the U.S. Army and there wasn’t much I could do about it. True enough, it was “only” the U.S. Navy Reserve but I had been a member for almost four years. I had qualified as a powder man in a 5-inch gun mount on an old-style destroyer.

However, down the road I was soon volunteering as a U.S. soldier for the first time as someone found out I‘d been given close-order drill by Scoutmaster Russell Sheffer in Boy Scout Troop 479 in 1942. 

Until a few days before, I had been on my way to marriage, halfway ensconced as a printer at The Leader once again and pushing 22 when the Korean War got under way and my “draft” number quickly came up. I thought little of it. I took the scheduled physical exam. “The paperwork will catch up with then,” I thought naively — pretty much right up until those initial contrary orders came in the mail. As we were processed forward to a train to San Francisco, we puzzled over the nature of the “top bn” to which we were being assigned for basic training.

It had nothing to do with torpedoes. It was a topographic engineering battalion. It also was the middle of the night. In the morning, hanging in a closet was a clothes hanger reading “Port Townsend, Wash.” The battalion’s boat detachment had been scheduled at Port Hudson at some time.

Having picked up typing as a useful high school elective, and writing and grammar also the same useful tools they’d been in college, I volunteered a lot and was made a company clerk immediately out of basic training.

Almost as promptly I found myself a PFC replacing a SFC in the field map-making maps near Seward, Alaska.

With I stuck in tents and quonsets for almost a year, and Jean and I not managing to marry until 1952, it’s no wonder I ignored inviting re-enlistment offers almost another year later after that.

Almost forgotten in the military morass was the U.S. Air Force and three semesters of early required ROTC map reading, etc. But that was largely lower-class trumpet playing in the ROTC band and counted for little.

I guess my military interest began about my sophomore year in high school , 1944-45, when I won a VFW medal on the subject, “How to ensure a lasting peace.” My next medal was about seven years later for how to fire “expert” with an M-1 carbine.

A couple of colleges in California, Jean’s dedication to work (70 years married in February) and a couple of publishing stints finally had us back in PortTownsend back around the time I was 30 and we were involved in parenthood.

It’s a wonder I never fired a shot in anger. In those sort of circumstances, I could have perhaps died with buddy Fran Baker or schoolmate Bill Humphrey about 69 years ago before I could trigger a second one.

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  • MargeS

    Hey Tom, I always appreciate when you tell your stories of your life and times. Thanks for sharing. It's important. marge

    Wednesday, September 29 Report this

  • Thomas Camfield

    Hi, Marge. Lot of other related detail from those early days. As I recall, Bob DeLeo and Bill Wise, both then late-year high school juniors, also were snagged by the active Navy recruiter on the heels of World War II. I don’t know about Bill, who later drowned himself salmon fishing, but Bob and I went off to Seattle and made a training trip aboard sister destroyers, hitting Ketchikan on the Fourth of July 1947. In uniform, we sort of tore up both towns and involved the Shore Patrol. We did not see one another at sea. I don’t know to this day why we felt so macho we passed on traveling around the Pacific and to Hawaii aboard an aircraft carrier. I lost track of Bob over the intervening 74-plus years but he called me recently when he retired back to town. He seems to have held together better than I.

    I guess I lived a full life in early years. My favorite job? Driving truck for the Post Engineer at Fort Worden.

    Thursday, September 30 Report this