Firewatch at NATTC Memphis

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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32 comments


  • Sgt. G.J. George

    I was also stationed there in 1967; barracks S146 when you came onto the grounds.


  • Tom J Lancaster

    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.


  • Ron Shinall

    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.


  • Ron (Yoder) Hoak, USMC 1960-64

    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!


  • Craig Kovac. Sgt

    Paul J I have not seen you since Willow Grove.


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