Firewatch At NATTC Memphis

The Marine barracks at NATTC Memphis were two story wooden buildings from the WWII era when I went to aviation mechanics school there in 1960. This made it necessary to have a firewatch on duty after lights out for obvious reasons. This duty always fell to the new Privates right out of boot camp, like me. The staff NCO barracks was directly across the street from the MAD headquarters back then. Not only were the barracks dated from the war, but so were the staff NCOs who lived there. These were all old Corps, battle hardened vets who pretty much lived by their own rules. I was unlucky enough to pull the firewatch duty one night for these men. I had learned in Boot camp to keep a low profile in these situations (E-1 vs all ranks above) so my first pass through the barracks before lights out went pretty quiet. When I got to the first deck entryway the Officer of the Day, a young Second Lieutenant, was waiting for me.

“Private”, says he, “I was just up on the second deck and there is a Gunnery Sergeant up there smoking a cigar in his bunk”. “I want you to go up there and order him to put out that cigar”.

“Yes Sir”, I said, knowing that I just got a death warrant.

Leaving the Lieutenant standing in the entry way, I went back up to the second deck, and there he was at the end of the squad bay propped up in his rack, in his skivvies, smoking a cigar and reading the latest Playboy. He also had a can of beer that he sipped on from time to time.

I walked up to him, cleared my throat, and said, “Excuse me Gunny, but the OD just gave me orders to tell you to extinguish your cigar.”

In retrospect, this guy looked and acted a lot like Lee Ermey with the same vocabulary. He looked at me over his Playboy, took the cigar out of his mouth, and said “What is your major malfunction Private?”

“Just doing my duty sir”, I said.”

“Now you listen to me boy, and you listen good… You go back down there and tell that pizz-ant Lieutenant to suspend it from his rectal orifice,” (or words to that effect). “And dump my ashtray on your way out.” At which time he turned back to his reading matter and refreshments.

After dumping his ashtray, I proceeded to the first deck entryway where the OD was waiting. I related, word for word, what the Gunny said. The Lieutenant told me to carry on, did an about face, exited the barracks, and we didn’t see him for the rest of the night. The Gunny had another cigar and a couple of beers in peace before lights out. That 1960 Playboy would be a collector’s item today I’m sure.

Cpl Norm Spilleth
’60 – ’64

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33 thoughts on “Firewatch At NATTC Memphis”

  1. Remember the barracks and the “old” Sergeants well! I was there in 1962 and I remember I did something that this old Sergeant didn’t like and I had to move my bed out on the adjacent field to study………….My “bunkmate” is the owner of the “Piggly Wiggly”-really nice southern gentleman………

  2. I remember Memphis in 1963. One of those “old” Staff NCO’s kept us outside in just utility jackets in snow flurries for an hour and a half. When we finally went in to choose our schools, I chose aviation ordnance solely because it was in Jacksonville, Florida and I was still shivering. I had absolutely no idea what ordnance was. It was the start of a lifelong career.

    1. Thank you for your service. God Bless the Corps and the Marines. My Marine joined in ’82. His memories are rough. Cant imagine all you ’60s men had to go through!

  3. Yes I was there in 1963 it was snowing and like 10 degrees. they had no field jackets but we could wear our thin rain coats. Sick bay was full almost everyday. I went on to be a 6413 MOS Aircraft Mack: Man people now days just dont know how we had it back them. The biggest fight Ive ever seen was on Memoral day Marin/Nave track meet.. They said what started it was a Nave guy tripped a Maring and then All hell broke loose.

  4. I did fire watch at NATTC winter of “66. The Marine Corps had just “shipped me over” from a bad trip in the reserves. Busted to Pvt, I was still wearing UTs from boot camp and a reserve length haircut (not high and tight). Along with old salts from WWII and Korea, there were a lot of medevacs from Vietnam in the barracks. While doing the Mid-watch, I thought I would step out on the back deck and have a smoke (reserves remember. I hadn’t stood any watch since boot camp). Well the OD, a Capt came up behind me.” Douse that butt, Private”. I snapped to attention. He gave me a real good look and I think he thought I was a medevac. No smoking on watch. Carry on” he said. I breathed out an “Oh S*it”. and knew how lucky the Capt wasn’t hard corps or I would still be in the brig.

  5. love the stories as I also was there in1960. yeah we did have some older salts & remember when I was trying to get a grip on something in school, I took my questions to ” the old salt ” as we say. He took pity in a pfc & understood my problem. he sat me down & didn’t raise his voice once as he explained how the system worked as he was a ww2 aircraft mech on some carrier’s where work was rushed to get them flying. he helped get me thru not only that problem I had, but had me come to him almost daily when ever I had any questions. great guy & stayed in touch for many years after.. like we were taught ”we never leave fellow marine behind ” & he believed that.

  6. I was there in ’74 and the wooden barracks were long gone . We had modern 4 man rooms but no doors. I went thru AEA school and loved Millington . Had my own car so we visited the Mississippi River, Downtown Memphis, and all the strip joints and bars we could find . Remember waiting for schools because the Navy ran the base, but have many fond memories . Showed up for roll call one morning unshaven because I was 17, didn’t shave when I went in but just wasn’t used to shaving every day. Old Corps NCOIC looked at me, told everyone I was going to demonstrate shaving out of a helmet . They didn’t have a helmet so I dry shaved in formation,cutting myself all over. The Navy taught me a trade ,(Aviation Electrician) which I transitioned to industrial electrical when I got out . 45 years later I still use that knowledge and Thank God I joined the Corps . My son joined when he could and I am proud of him . Cpl ’74-’78

  7. I remember January 1966 in Millington Naval Air Station. I was going to be an ADJ Jet Mechanic. That is not what I joined the Corps for. I wanted to be a Grunt. To make a long story short. after many transfer request I had 3 days to get to North Carolina. To be a Grunt. Ended up in Alpha Co. 1/4 67-68 nice places like Con Tien , Cam Lo, Gio Linh. So much for wish’s coming true. OooooRah!! But remember we use to sit on the side walk and watch the squids march to class in the mornings in Millington. So damned funny. And there was a Gunny who made the best Pizza at the 7 Seas club. That and a quart of colt 45 was usually dinner. Good times.

  8. Was there in the fall of 59. I remember two things .. Joined the silent drill team and vampire liberty. Red cross paid 10 or fifteen dollars for a pint of blood.l (6441) aviation structural mechanic They rushed us thru school so we could get home for X-mas. Then on to Cherry Point N.C. VMA-332 for the rest of my tour

  9. I was at Millington in 1976 going to school to become an aircraft mechanic (6028). I went on to work on T-28s at MCAS Kaneohe Bay and C-117s in Cherry Point. Loved my time in Millington, the place where I found that most of the the establishments outside the base can get you in some kind of trouble.

  10. Got there Halloween 1958. AT/A ( 6611) School. Marched in Two parades in Memphis because I was 6-4 and those selected were chosen by heigth. Pulled Firewatch several times but only in my barracks. Guard Company was withdrawn and Navy took charge of gates and Brig. Those on the gate, had pIstol lanyards without pistols and whistle lanyards without whistles!

  11. I was there in the spring of ’71. Same old barracks. I then transferred to NAS Glynco for Air Traffic Control School. That was the lap of luxury. Brand new barracks for the Marines. Four man rooms with doors and all. The Navy lived in the old squad bays. Went back to NATTC in ’76 to be an instructor, Spent 6 months as duty daddy for the young Marines in the new barracks. I’ll never regret my time on active duty.

  12. I was at NATTC Memphis in 1968 while going to Avionics and then GSE Schools. I was billeted in one of the two story wooden barracks and also stood Fire Watch. Posted at the end of the Squad Bay was a photo of another Marine on Fire Watch who was in a prone position with his fiberglass helmet melted over his face. He had obviously fallen asleep while on watch in one of those wooden barrack that had previously burned to the ground. As you would see this photo each time you went up and down the Squad Bay it was more than enough to keep you awake during your watch.

  13. Was there in the winter of 80-81; for basic helocopter and power plants and related courses – ended up on 53s. Don’t know if it was the same barracks, but we called it “animal house”.

    1. Yes Paul, it was the same barracks and we all called it the animal house, Semper Fi! I ended up on UH-1N’s.

  14. I was in Memphis in 79. We Marines had open squad bays. It felt like being back in boot camp again. Especially during field days, we must have had the cleanest squad bay in the entire barracks. I was sent there to become a jet engine mechanic. Then I was sent to Cherry Piont, NC. However; somehow I was sent down the road to New River Air Station, NC, to become a helicopter mechanic.(6114). UH-1N’s was the start of my Marine corps career.

  15. I was stationed at Memphis Naval Air station , Marine barracks June 59 to October 60 my mos was meat cutter (butcher). The butcher shop on base had one marine butcher a e 6 I was a e 4 so I was asigned to the cooks and mess mans barracks n c o. Great duty station Memphis w as a great town. I remember fire watch,piss calls fieldays and all that good stuff. Semper Fi

  16. I was there most of 64 going to Avionics school. I signed up for the Drill Team. Recruiters would book us and the Drum&Bugel Corps for small town parades from Mich. to Fla. Made an impression in our dress blues. We had 1 of 3 wooden barracks right by the gate. One of the others was the student Wave barracks. Our barracks commander was a Field Music E-4. We kept things tight so they let us do our own thing. Good times.

  17. I was there in 1992 and the Marines still ran security at the gates until the daughter of the Co. decided she didn’t have to stop because her daddy owned the place. I too have made some stellar choices when completely hammered. That said the young shock troops filled her car with .45 caliber holes and from that day forward sailors worked the gates. Memphis, Happy times. I was supposed to be a jet engine tech. Until this mustang Capt. Asked for volunteers to be a crewchief. “Whats a CrewChief Sir?” He set the hook with “ you’ve all seen that mandatory b4 you go to boot camp movie full metal jacket rite?” We nod yes “ remember the scene with the CH-34 helicopter and the guy in the door is going (bop bop bop get some) THATS A CREWCHIEF!” . I would have signed up twice if i could have. I was so happy to get Hueys as I remembered them on tv every nite as a sqirt. I met an embasy guard in Cleveland Ohio when I delivered his pizza. He showed me a picture from saigon the last day the US was there. Semper Fi

  18. Fall of 1968, Millington, who remembers “Vampire” Liberty, yup we gave blood in Memphis, crossed into Mississippi where drinking age was 19 or as long as you could pay for your drink, acted like the young fools we were at the time and somehow got through school. It was supposed to be you could give blood every 8 weeks, but being ” slick/smart”?? new Marines from Chicago we soon found out there were 2 hospitals offering the $ 15.00 per pint of blood, so we gave blood every 4 weeks vs 8 weeks and in those days no computers to keep track of who what where on blood draws. Young dumb etc we had alot to learn about life and being Marines. They picked a bunch of taller guys and said we were going on funeral details?? Big reality check as we traveled alot in Miss/TN/ Arkansas being honor guards and rifle squads at funerals for what seemed like mostly 19 year old Marines killed in Nam. I was glad to be on rifle squad because it was further away from the Moms, dads, family of the fallen Marine. Not much grabass back then and our Gunny drilled us to be perfect when pulling the triggers on the old M-1’s we used to be sure it sounded like it was supposed to, One shot not a bunch of shots going off 7 different times. It mattered to us and we did it perfect. Ok, enough on the downside I will admit we did like seeing the southern girls and we did have some dark humor going on to help us not think about things as reality set in on us. I went in as a basic 18 yr old dipshit, got out at 22 with 3 stripes, grownup, confused, abit worn out. At 68 in decent health I’m grateful as hell to have earned our Title, and yet on days I lack gratitude the confusion sneaks back in my gourd, Semper Fi

  19. Loved Millington NATTC. 7 Seas, vampire liberty, Navy/Marine Track meet! Ran the mile and enjoyed the team barracks and practice. Went through electronics school and radar school in 1965/66. Big fight with the local Millington boys in 66. Chu Lai RVN 67 and 68 with VMFA-314 Black Knights.

    1. I was in Chu Lai HAMS 13 in 66 and 67 Was in machine shop and supported all sqd Baker was last name. Hard to think that was 50 years ago.

    2. Carl,
      I was in Ordinance, 6511 with VMFA-314 same time you were there. We lost two AE’s or AT’s the night we were rocket targets. I was in the hooch next. I tried to help but the “doc” threw me out. I went down to the flight line. Sad night. I was meritoriously combat promoted to E-6 Staff Sgt. at a formation. I went home that July. Many were very pissed I didn’t re-up.
      I went home and had a wonderful and successful life. No regrets. Two sons, four granddaughters.
      I’m getting ready to retire for the third time. I’m a technical trainer for US Customs at their advanced technology academy.
      The Corps was good to me. The skills and knowledge that I learned was the best. But, I very much miss the people and the esprit de corps.

  20. From my home in Memphis ……destination; Millington. When I was 9 years old with my 11-year-old brother and a 12-year-old friend we ran away from home (1954) and the first place we wanted to go was Millington. The previous year my parents took us to an air-show there. Loved it. Saw the Blue Angels etc. We walked and hitch-hiked and got there by 6 pm. Wrote a goodbye note with paint on our friend’s father’s freshly painted garage. We were planning to end up ….. we didn’t know where, but it involved a stop at Millington to see some planes and then to hop a freight train to adventure-ville. We had about a dollar fifty between us and some wild dreams. Our dinner in town at a soda fountain included a bag of Lays potato chips, cupcakes and a coke each. Went to a movie, tried to sleep on someone’s front lawn, but the mosquitos were brutal, so we decided, after a lot of discussions that maybe our beds and food at home wasn’t so bad. Plus no more money. We climbed the fence on the base, heard some laughing and music in an em club. Went in and convinced one of the partiers to call our parents. They did and my dad and friend’s dad came and picked us up. They didn’t say a word to us and we didn’t talk. All was well and nothing was ever said about our adventure. I visited PI in ’63 for a few months and went on to LeJeune, Okinawa, Viet Nam, Quantico, back to Okinawa, El Toro, and home in ’67, Will never forget our visit to Millington.

  21. I was there in 1971 in the fall. Just back from my Nam tour via a temporary stay at Iwakuni, Japan. I was being re-trained in a new MOS as a Jet Engine Mechanic. As a L/Cpl. I was assigned to march my platoon to classes. One day the navy would not get out of our way. An incident occurred, we reassembled; as we had accomplished our objective, and my platoon went to class. Unfortunately I was brought up on charges. I played linebacker on the football team. I believe that was a contributing factor that led to my promotion to Cpl. instead of another bust. I went on to VMA-513 as one of the first jet engine mechanics on the AV-8A Harrier. It was a great 4 years. I still bleed MARINE CORPS crimson.

    1. Wow! What memories these comments bring back! I was at “Navy Memphis” late ‘60 -61 in ADR SCHOOL. I wanted to be the best, but two sailors always topped me on the tests. I came out top Marine but third to those guys. Later I found out they both had their A&P licenses before they went in. I remember “firewatch as well. The Wave barracks was not part of my post, but as I went by a number of the girls, tried to entice me to come up and “visit”, I was pretty naive back then, but duty reminde me that I couldn’t leave my post so I sadly told them I could not comply with their request. Upon graduation, I heard the the duty assignments were made based on class standing, I was pumped, I wanted to go to Cherry Point, but when the clerk rolled up his window, without looking up, he said; “your whole class is going on the Princeton!” “What’s the Princeton?” I asked. “It’s a ship!” He said. Thus began a trip to Sea School, and 2 and a half years of being a sailor in green in the flight deck V-1 division on the LPH-5 USS Princeton. At the time I hated it, but now enjoy going to reunions and being the Chaplain and Historian of the USS Princeton Vets inc. SEMPER FI MARINES, wherever you are!

  22. I was one of those SNCO’s, I was a troop handler at the only big wooden barracks left. I think it’s number was 238 and housed about 200 to 300 Marines. I had a young Marine come to me one day and say he had a problem. I asked him what it was, he said he had his girlfriend pregnant. I told him that wasn’t a problem and he said yes it was because he had his girlfriend’s mother pregnant also.

  23. Oh man. old memories.I was there at the Naval Air technical Traing Command at Millington as well.I was an AT and tried to flunk out to be a helicptor door gunner but they would not have any of that and after getting reamed out to a 409 by a salty old gunney I was very happy to get back to school.We had some very nice Navy barracks with 2 man and 4 man rooms.I was still a slick sleeve private .I turned 18 there and went down to Missippi and bought my first 6 pack drank 3 cans and puked my brains out.Some birthday 1969.

  24. Was there in summer 69 transferred over there from the open wing WW2 Hospital, WIA Viet Nam.First night had fire watch when around 0 dark thirty some black troops who had been hitting some weed in open field decided to tear up the bldg.Later had to come back to Millington to testify at Court Martial at that time was billited at BOQ first time found beer in Vending Machine.

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