Tributes & Stories


NAPS, Yesterday, As I Remember It

By George Van ‘50

After reading the article about NAPS in the Jan-Feb Shipmate along with Admiral Ceaser’s report I feel compelled to tell it as it was some years back. However, I must confess that at my age my memory isn’t so good. In fact the main thing I remember from my Naval Academy education is “Red, Right, Returning,” but I’ve forgotten what it meant. Fortunately I went Supply Corps so I don’t suppose it made much difference.

My class was the first one to enter the Academy after World War II. Over 70% of us had prior service, from a few months to three years or more, and many of us went through NAPS. The school at that time was in the Old Tom School at Bainbridge, MD. I understand the capacity for classes was about 700 and there were more candidates than we eventually numbered nearly 700 more. I was a Marine PFC then and received my orders to report about the first of March ’46 so I went to Camp Peary.

Peary was an interesting place at that time. It was a base originally established by the Seabees and later became a regular Naval Training Center with several service schools. There was also a Marine command conducting retraining for general court-martial prisoners and there was a German POW camp. Though this was well after the end of the war in Europe these men hadn’t been sent back yet but they did depart during our stay at Camp Peary.

The living conditions were somewhat primitive. We lived in 40-man barracks, really tarpaper shacks, with a pot-bellied stove at each end of the shack, and slept in bunks, upper and lower. For each four barracks there was another shack in the center with heads, sinks and showers and there was a boiler room with a coal bin outside to provide coal for the boiler (hot water) and where we were to pick up coal for the pot-bellied stoves. A cold snap hit in early March and it can get cold in Virginia. There was no coal. We had to endure several days before any was delivered. In the meantime we were tearing up furniture from the empty barracks and some of the barracks themselves to get something to burn. Even after the coal came few of the boilers were fired so if you saw smoke coming from one of them everyone in the area would go to get a hot shower. We took a lot of cold showers. No problem. We got liberty only every other weekend.

Fortunately the curriculum was primarily a review of high school subjects so if you had taken a pre-engineering course with a little English Lit on the side it wasn’t too tough. As I recall we took our exams in early April and then were sent on a 10-day leave. A few days after returning to Camp Peary we were put on a troop train early one morning and after riding the rails of the C&O, the R, F & P, and the Pennsy for all of a long day we arrived at Bainbridge. There was plenty barracks space and with no more classes being conducted they could get us all together. I remember one of the other Marines in the barracks was a PFC by the name of Hugh Krampe who bragged of being a Hollywood actor. He did not make the cut but returned to Hollywood and became Hugh O’Brian. After a couple of weeks at Bainbridge the results of the exam were posted and the rest is history.

Incidentally I happened to be in the Williamsburg area in 1990 and tried to get aboard Camp Peary just to look around and see if anything was as I remembered it. The Marine at the gate seemed very nice but he would not let me aboard. He didn’t tell me why but I suspect the CIA just didn’t want any company.