Robert George Bateman received orders to report to San Diego, where he would complete boot camp at their Naval Training Center. Normally, the process would have taken 13 weeks, but Bateman completed it sooner.
The training center closed for Christmas, but Bateman didn't want to exercise his earned leave time. He was assigned to a special company, Company 526. He was selected by his company's members to be Laundry Petty Officer 3rd Class, and given a patch featuring a figure 8-shaped knot, which meant "You're 3rd Class, Knot Nothing." On Feb. 28, 1964, Batman reported to the USS Caliente AO-53 in the Portland, Ore. shipyard. The ship was in dry dock then, being updated for service in the first fleet of U.S. ships to go to war in Vietnam. The USS Caliente was a fast, refueling fleet Oiler. When Bateman first saw the Caliente, it was in "X mode," being overhauled and crawling with Naval personnel and civilian contractors. While this took place, Bateman and the rest of the crew lived on an APL, an Auxiliary Personnel Lighter. This was a barge used to house sailors along the pier as their ships were being worked on. Living there temporarily made things easier for the sailors, who could stay out of the contractors' way and get a break at night from their working hours readying the USS Caliente.
After a few weeks in X Division, Bateman was greeted by the ship's Chief Master-at-Arms and taken aboard the Caliente AO-53 to meet his Division Chief for the first time. He was assigned to the ship's Boiler Division, to train to repair all the equipment associated with steam propulsion systems. After a brief time assigned to the Boiler Division, the chief boiler tender selected Bateman to be trained as the ship's "oil/water king," which meant his duties were to test all fuels to be used by the Caliente and any combat ships the U.S. serviced in the fleet during the Vietnam tours. For this training, Bateman was sent to San Pedro, California for five weeks of fleet petroleum school.
George Bateman, U.S. Navy
After completing that training, Bateman was sent to Long Beach Naval Shipyard for boiler water testing school for one week. There he learned to test boiler feed water, test boilers, add boiler compounds to maintain limits, read boiler blow downs schedules and keep boiler records and logs. Another responsibility of Bateman's new title was to make sure that the ship's "potable water" (usable water) tanks were topped off before the ship went to its station off the Vietnam coast. This included keeping usage records and tracking gallons used per man, as the rule was that boiler tender's feed water comes before potable water for showers, etc. in the "head" (bathroom). This meant that Bateman had to, at times, put chains and padlocks on the doors of these areas, to ensure that the ship had enough water to carry out its duties.
While the USS Caliente assumed its position off the Vietnam coast, one of the crew's duties was to supply potable water to coastal ships Mine Sweeper Ocean and Mine Sweeper Coastal, since they didn't have evaporators onboard to distill seawater to potable water. There were also requests from large combat ships for potable water, but those ships had more engine rooms and thus more evaporators than the Caliente could sufficiently supply.
On Nov. 1, 1967, Bateman was released from the USS Caliente AO-53 in Long Beach, Calif., six days early, since the ship had to service other ships around the California Coast, and the Navy wanted to avoid the trouble of paying Bateman Inconvenience Pay.
Bateman hadn't lost any of the ambition that buoyed him throughout his early years. Instead of frittering away his spare time in the Navy, he studied, and exited the regular Navy as a Second Class Boiler Tender Petty Officer. He moved to Western New York and joined the Dunkirk Naval Reserve 3-20s to complete the last two years of regular service, and re-enlisted three times. Within the first two years, he was promoted to Boiler Tender First Class E-6. This was all while Bateman held a job at Ralston Purina as a maintenance man. He retired from Ralston Purina after 22 years of service.
Bateman lives in Forestville with his wife Bonnie Lee Klepfer, where he helps raise his three stepchildren.