After boot camp I went to Navy data processing technician school in San Diego. This was in the summer of 1973. Microcomputers had not yet been invented and computers, even the simplest ones, were huge machines that took up entire rooms. Almost all data processing was done using punched cards. I learned how to operate a card-punch machine to enter data and how to use a card-sorter and a card interpreter (which read the holes in the cards and printed the text meaning of the holes on the cards). I also learned how to operate a primitive shipboard computer called the Univac 1500.

At the end of data processing school we students had the opportunity to request, with no guarantee of our choice being granted, what duty station we’d like to be sent to. My first choice was Naval Air Station, Keflavik, Iceland. I had been thinking that I’d rather not have to go to sea and so shore duty would be preferable if I could get it, although you might very well ask why I had joined the Navy at all if I had an objection to going to sea. I have no answer for that. Apparently at the time I joined up I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. Anyway I thought I was being clever by choosing a place like Keflavik, Iceland because I figured a place like that was probably someplace that NO ONE wanted to go, so if they saw I deliberately chose the place they would certainly pick me to go there, right? I felt confident that they would send me to Keflavik, so much so that I went to the base library and started looking up what information I could find about Iceland, which turned out to be a fascinating country. I even tried to learn a few words of the Icelandic language.

When my orders came I was mightily disappointed to see that I was not going to Iceland after all. I had been assigned to the USS Saratoga, an aircraft carrier whose home port was Mayport, a small town on the northeast coast of Florida near Jacksonville. Although the ship’s home port was in Florida it was at that time undergoing a long overhaul and was in drydock at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia.

I reported to the ship on a very hot day in late summer, walking through the grimy, sooty, gray shipyard feeling ridiculous in my bright white dress uniform, with sweat dripping off of me and struggling to carry my seabag containing all my uniform clothes over my shoulder. I found the ship in its drydock berth. I had never seen anything that big before. It was a vast dark gray monster, resting on enormous blocks in the drydock. There were many men working on the hull in various places, accompanied by smoke, steam, the glare of many welding torches and the sounds of loud machinery and grinding tools. I walked along the pier adjoining the ship for a while before I finally found the place where I could come aboard. I climbed up the ramp and stopped and showed my military ID card and my paperwork to the officer of the watch. I knew I was beginning a new phase of my life, probably a very strange and difficult one, and that I was entering a world to which I really did not belong, not at all.