For a kid in a family of ten with no prospects of college, a four year full scholarship plus monthly stipend to boot, was a pretty attractive payoff for committing to spend four years in the Navy. So I followed my older brother, Hugh Louis’s footsteps and applied for a Navy ROTC scholarship when I was a senior in high school. The process involved a relatively tough written test followed by a physical exam. Success meant that you would make a commitment to serve as an officer in the Navy for four years following college. In return you received a scholarship with full tuition, books, room and board at the college of your choice plus a monthly paycheck.
You attended regular college classes. But on Wednesdays, you would wear a navy uniform at
school and attend Navy science class in the Navy armory on campus. Your summers would be a
three month tour of duty on a Navy vessel as a midshipman. Wow! When you were graduated, you received a commission as an ensign, equivalent to your peers in the U. S. Naval Academy at
Annapolis. This was the path Hugh Louis was on and he eventually completed a successful Navy
career retiring with the rank of Captain. For the same success all I had to do was apply, so I did.
Exhilarated by a passing grade on the written test, I worried a lot about the physical exam because I knew that my glasses were a “no-no” in that era’s navy. Although those rules have since been relaxed, my nearsightedness in 1958 loomed as a serious obstacle to the dream of a lifetime.
When the day arrived for the physical, I stood in the line with many others for the various
inspections and checks by doctors. As my turn neared at the vision testing station, I worried at not even being able to see the chart, to say nothing of the letters on it. Just before my turn came, the doctor excused himself momentarily to the other room. I snatched my glasses out of my pocket, glared at the chart and instantly memorized it just as the doctor returned. Was I desperate! When it was my turn, I faked a hesitant recall of the letters and luckily was passed on to the next station. What a relief, I made it!
The next station was color perception. They used an album-like book of large numbers and letters formed from a kaleidoscope of colors. If you had problems distinguishing the dominant color of dots forming a character, you basically “couldn’t see” it. Out of the required minimum of 18, I got 17 correct. What a fall I took! I had no idea! I was out. I was rejected. My college and naval career was over before it started.
The disappointment was profound to say the least as I found myself in a few days looking for a job instead of shopping for clothes for college. Eventually, with my dad’s help, I landed a laborer’s job at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company in Louisville, maker of Kools, Viceroy, and numerous other cigarette brands. That saga is a story for another day.
But my life was put on a different path and I headed in a different direction. I never forgot the letters on that eye chart and they have become my password for a zillion computer logins ever since.