In WW2, I Avoided Army Khaki To Don Navy Blue 


It happened a year and a half after Pearl Harbor. The day following the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack, my 19-year-old older brother was in line to enlist in the Army. I wanted to go with him, but was 16, too young to be a soldier. 

A few months later I saw the Ronald Reagan musical called “This Is The Army”. Interrupting a theater scene in the movie, a bunch of actors dressed as sailors jumped down from the balcony, ran up on stage and sang, “What About A Cheer For The Navy.” Of course, it was all in the script, but it turned my teen head from Army to Navy. Who wanted to spend the war eating K-Rations in a muddy foxhole?

When I hit 17 the next year, I went to the recruiting office in downtown Philly, signed up for the Navy, went home and waited for my call. Just a few weeks after my 18th birthday, I got it and went back to the office. After the physical, I was sent to a room with two desks, each with a grizzled WW1 sergeant, one Army and the other Marine.

After mumbling and paper shuffling, the Army sergeant told me I was to report for Army basic training in a week. Confused, I told him I had already signed up for the Navy. He said the Navy list was all filled for that day, and since I was now 18, he could draft my sorry butt to fill his daily Army quota.

I tried arguing, but he just continued writing his list. I was in a yelling panic when the Marine sergeant came over. He looked at the papers, read my name and calmly asked me a question. “Are you related to Eric Sherman who runs a pharmacy in South Philly?”

“Yeah, he’s my late father’s brother, Eric.” Hell, at that point of desperation I would have said yes to anything if I thought the Marine could help me stay out of the Army. I didn’t want to sit in a muddy foxhole and eat Spam. Actually, my answer was true. Uncle Izzy, who called himself Eric, was that pharmacist.

The Marine then said, “Mr. Eric is a hell of a good guy. He always helped my family with medications and stuff for free when we didn’t have the money to pay for it.” He looked at the papers again, leaned down and spoke softly to the Army sergeant. Then smiled, came over and shook my hand.

“You’re in the Navy now!” 

Postscript: I served two and a half years in WW2, first aboard a troop transport. Later I was with an advance Navy unit during the campaign to retake the islands of Leyte, Samar and Luzon in The Philippines. Of course, I sat in muddy foxholes and ate Spam. 

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