After graduating from Castlemont High school in June of 1944, Steve continued working with the Army Quartermaster in Oakland. Within a couple of months he received his draft notice from Uncle Sam and reported for his physical at the Presidio of Monterey in Northern California.
After passing his physical, he returned home and quit his job. He wanted to enjoy the rest of the summer before entering the service and war duty.
Steve with a buddy, Ronald Roppe chose to use their free time to explore life around Muscle Beach in Southern California. They stayed with Ron's aunt in the Hollywood area. Every day they would ride the Sunset Boulevard streetcar down to Santa Monica's Muscle Beach.
While enjoying the surfside workouts, the summer sun, the ocean, and the girls many people would offer their advice to Steve. The wrestlers would tell him, "With that great body, you should be a wrestler." The adogal dancers remarked," with such a fantastic body and handsome looks, why don't you become an adogal dancer?" The gymnasts showed off their feats of strength and exclaimed to Steve: "You have such a superb body, you should become an gymnast like us."
Even on his streetcar trips strangers would ask him if he was a movie star. Steve found these inquires and comments very complementary and was quite taken aback by all of the attention. But the fun in the sun came to a close and Steve and Ron headed back home to Oakland.
On September 12, 1944 Steve reported to the Presidio of Monterey for induction into the Army. After taking his oath of allegiance, he boarded a bus for Camp Roberts, located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, approximately 15 miles north of Paso Robles, California.
Once at Camp Roberts, Steve and all of the other inductees were indoctrinated and given a battery of tests and medical services, including a series of inoculations. Outside the infirmary the inductees lined up for their dreaded shots. It was not unusual for a new soldier waiting for his inoculations to walk out of the infirmary and faint. Others came out pale or became sick to their stomachs. Steve was not fazed by a few shots in the arm and calmly walked out of the infirmary past the line of men waiting their turn. One soldier stopped Steve and asked, "How bad were the shots?" Steve simply replied, "Oh, it didn't hurt too much and my arm isn't very swollen." Then he flexed his huge triceps for the soldier. One young man actually dropped to the ground when he caught sight of Steve's tremendous arm!
Steve had little trouble adjusting to the Army's physical demands since he was in such terrific condition. His first day of basic training was a new experience for him as he adjusted to the harsh discipline and military ways. When the drill sergeant barked, "Everyone get down and give me twenty push-ups," Steve just laid on the ground. He knew he could easily do twenty push-ups because he regularly bench pressed hundreds of pounds. He decided to pass on doing the twenty push-ups.
When the drill sergeant saw what he was doing he shouted at Steve,
"Very good, soldier" said the sergeant, then added, "You did those push-ups very well. Now, let's see how good you are at K.P." K.P. is short for "Kitchen Patrol," such as peeling potatoes, washing pots and pans and other kitchen duties. For Steve, even K.P. duty was no big chore. It gave him the opportunity to scoop up handfuls of raisins and nuts and wash them down with canned milk or fresh lemonade.
He soon adjusted to military life and became a very respected member of the company. He did twenty mile hikes with enthusiasm while other soldiers were falling out beside him. Some of them became so exhausted that after a long march they could hardly walk for days.
When the drill sergeant gave them a ten-minute break after they hiked the first ten miles, they would all sit down for the entire break. But not Steve, he would lean against a tree and not sit, knowing that sitting would slow the blood from circulating in his legs.
Steve was pleased with his conditioning and thankful for all of his early training. It sure made life in the Army a lot easier! After more combat training and the completion of his basic training, Steve received orders to ship out to the Philippines. Prior to shipping out, he was granted a two-week leave. He planned to return to Oakland and spend his leave time with his family and friends. Unfortunately, a flu bug followed him home and he spent the entire two weeks sick in bed! Then he returned to Camp Roberts for assignment.
Steve and his company were transported to San Francisco, then boarded a troop ship heading for the Philippines. Life aboard the ship was somewhat boring and the time passed quite slowly. Steve, however always used his spare time to exercise and to get his share of food.
The troops would eat at different times because there were too many of them to take meals all at the same time. Each soldier was given a card indicating in what shift he was to eat. Steve, with good fortune and ingenuity, procured all three cards.
During the first shift, Steve would make his way down to the mess hall dressed very neat, every hair in place, wearing a cap and glasses. He would ask for his food very politely, never missing to say "please" or "thank you."
Next, he would eat with the second shift. This time he would appear less neat and polite and without the glasses.
By the third shift, he looked a bit scruffy with an open shirt, uncombed hair and spouting colorful metaphors while asking for his food.
This routine give Steve NINE meals per day, so he had little trouble in maintaining his weight and muscle mass. Steve and some of his other crew members kept in shape on board by climbing ropes, doing chin-ups, push-ups and any other exercises they could do without equipment.
On the way to the Philippines Steve broke a long-standing maritime tradition. The tradition takes place when the 180th meridian is crossed. That is when the Domain of the Golden Dragon takes over and anyone who crosses the meridian for the first time must have his head shaved.
But not Steve, he escaped from the "barbershop quartet" and high-tailed it up a tall mast. He dared anyone to get him down. Many of the men tried and found themselves at the losing end of the battle with Steve. After a long while, they finally gave up and Steve was able to keep his dark brown locks.
The ship arrived at the island of Mindanao in the Philippines mid-month in February 1945. Mindanao was a replacement camp for the 25th Infantry Division.
While waiting for placement, Steve and his workout buddies searched for things they could use as exercise equipment. For a while they used a crude barbell consisting of two 5-pound buckets filled with concrete connected by a metal bar. They figured it was left behind by a fitness-minded soldier who had been sent to the front lines. Steve also found a heavy rope that they used for climbing. Although this equipment was adequate, more weight was still needed.
Steve solved his and his buddies' weight problems during a walk in the jungle. He happened upon a slightly-built Filipino man who approached him by asking Steve:
"Hey, would you like to buy some barbells? York barbells?" Steve jumped at the chance and quickly replied, "Yes! How much do they weigh?" The man told him they weighed 100 lbs. and that he wanted $20 for them. Steve and one of his workout buddies, Tony from Los Angeles, split the cost of the weights and took them back to the camp.
Steve and the guys began working out regularly with the York barbells. After many workouts with the 100 lb. weights, Steve discovered that it was not how heavy the weight is, but how you used it. He kept records of particular exercises and which muscle groups were affected during the different workouts. (Steve still has that log today.)
He was used to working out at Ed Yarick's gym where he and Ed would squat with up to 400 lbs. Since he had only 100 lbs. to work with he decided it was best to do the reps really slow and to do as many reps as possible. Not only did he and other fellows get good cardiovascular workouts, their leg gains were also quite good. By the time they were transferred to the front lines, Steve was doing 100 reps non-stop using the 100 lb. weights. Steve says he challenges any bodybuilder today to take one-half their body weight and follow his routine!
Because of the jungle heat and high humidity, any shower was a refreshing treat-even if it was in a makeshift outdoors shower. Most of the makeshift showers only covered you from mid-chest to knees. It usually had a tank of water on top of a roof connected by pipe to a small shower head made from a tin can punched with holes for the water delivery. Often when Steve was trying to shower the jungle natives would spread the word.
Soon the neighboring trees were full of people yelling, "Hey Tarzan, Tarzan! Over here, Tarzan!" Steve found it more and more difficult to shower in peace. Because of all of the attention he was nicknamed "Shape" by the other guys. The name stuck with him when he was assigned to the 25th Division, heading for the front lines in Luzon, Philippines.
When Steve and his buddies were sent to the front lines, they took their barbells with them. Four of the men carried 25 lbs. each and the bar was stored along with the rifles. Steve jokes that the plates made good bullet-proof vests!
Steve landed on Luzon by way of Lingayen Beach and continued with his company to San Jacinto, the division headquarters. The division continued on and advanced to San Manuel. General Mac Arthur paid a visit to San Manuel while Steve was there and under the command of Colonel Dalton and General Mullins.
Steve belonged to Company A of the 25th Division, which was involved in the taking of Balete Pass. This manoeuvre could have been devastating for a 19 year old, but Steve's hardy defense mechanisms kicked in. He viewed the destruction as if he were watching a movie.
He saw men being killed and soldiers carried off on stretchers. As Steve moved from position to position in his march to the front lines, he witnessed an injured man being carried by stretcher. All of a sudden the man's leg fell off. Someone ran over grabbed the leg and threw it back onto the stretcher. Another soldier had been shot in the stomach and his intestines were hanging outside of his body.
During those dreadful experiences Steve would block out the war horrors and recall the good times, such as his summer fun at Muscle Beach and the people who inquired if he was a movie star. The more he thought about it, the better it sounded: a movie star! Steve decided he just might be a movie star when he got out of the service. Then he decided he needed a stage name and chose the name Johnny. Yeah, he said to himself, "Johnny will be my stage name." He then used his bayonet to carve "Johnny" onto his canteen.
Steve spent three months on the front lines. One night, from pure exhaustion after guard duty, he decided not to return to his company's foxholes, because he could not get good sleep there. The noise of all of the other soldiers moving in and out of the foxholes left little time for deep sleep.
So Steve curled up in one of the foxholes formerly used by the Japanese soldiers. He fell right to sleep and did not wake up until 9:00 a.m. the next day! To his amazement his company had moved out and he was all alone on top of a mountain! Not knowing what else to do, Steve began backtracking and by chance came upon Company B of the 25th Division. After reporting in, he told his story to one of the officers in charge. The officer told him, "You look strong. We'll put you to good use here until we meet up with your company."
While with company B, one of Steve's jobs was to strap a 5 gallon can on his back and run down to Zaragoza River, fill up the can and hike back up the hill. Snipers would regularly take shots at him but it did not stop him from continuing his "water runs" for the troops. He did this for quite sometime until he contracted malaria. Complicated by a serious jungle fever, Steve was transported to a Manilla hospital where he spent a month recuperating. Steve never made it back to Company A because he was then sent to the Island of Leyte to join the quartermaster corps. Steve's duly on Leyte was to transport drums of gasoline and oil around to supply the front lines.
At one point, Steve was assigned to Japan after the allied occupation. He was stationed to the town of Otaruon on Nokkaido Island. It was very cold and snowed a lot in Otaruon. Steve had recently come from the sunny south and did not have an overcoat. Even worse, there was not one to fit him anywhere around. So he was forced to walk around dressed only in his olive drab shirt and pants.
One day, a general spotted Steve without an overcoat. He stopped Steve and asked why he was without a coat. Steve told him there was not one to fit him, so the general said he would make sure Steve got one. Two months later after the snows had melted, Steve got his warm overcoat!
While in Otaruon, Steve served as bartender at the N.O.C. club from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. each night. His commanding officers knew Steve did not drink so he would not drink up all of the profits. His other duties consisted of weight training the officers for an hour each day.
During the occupation, American cigarettes were in a great demand and sold for a premium. Each soldier was issued a ration of one carton of cigarettes per week. Since Steve was a non-smoker he sold his cigarettes on the street for $35 a carton! I He wisely invested the money in war bonds and when he returned to the USA he bought a car with cash from the bonds.
Steve was released from the Army after the war's end, after 26 months of service. Heading for home, Steve boarded the S.S. Waterbury, which left Yokohama, Japan in early September 1946.
The Waterbury was scheduled to dock in Portland, Oregon. That port was filled with other returning ships, so they pushed on to San Francisco. San Franciscos docks were full, so the Waterbury headed for Steve's hometown of Oakland, California.
On September 18, 1946, Steve finally stood on good old American terra firma. Since his mother had no idea when he would arrive home, she was not at the Oakland dock to greet him. That was no big deal to Steve. He was so glad to be back that he hopped on the nearest bus and headed for his home where he was greeted warmly by his surprised and delighted mother, Goldie.
It was now time for Steve to get on with the rest of his life, which is where we will pick up the story next time!
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