FARRAGUT STATE PARK - For the first time in 69 years, Ted Noddin on Saturday returned to the site of the Farragut Naval Training Station.
But the veteran remembers it well.
North Idaho winters will do that to folks.
"It was cold," the Coos Bay, Ore., man said bluntly. "The snow was clear up to my butt."
Noddin was among about 50 veterans who attended Saturday's reunion at Farragut State Park for those who completed the training program from 1942 to 1946. It was where "fighting blue jackets" were made in preparation for World War II.
Noddin was 17 years old when he went to boot camp in 1943. He called his return to Farragut "very interesting."
"The last time I was here it was bare - just buildings and no trees," Noddin said.
Gone are the buildings, the barracks, mess hall and hospital. Back in the day, there were 43,000 inhabitants, making it the largest urban area in Idaho.
But at Farragut State Park Memorial Plaza, near the Museum at the Brig, there were lifetimes of memories recalled.
Noddin, now 86, said he remembers the different training activities, including swimming, rifle practice and shoveling coal out of railcars.
"We also rowed boats on Pend Oreille in the middle of winter," he said with a smile.
Noddin said there were thousands of trainees on the "grinders" (marching grounds) at a time.
Veteran Duane Kock (pronounced Cook) of Sandpoint admits he was a bit scared of what would happen when he went to boot camp in 1944.
"I kept my nose clean," he said. "I didn't even know there was a brig until I came for the reunion."
Kock said he did get into trouble once, but it was due to a fellow trainee wiping his shoes on Kock's towel.
Kock said the overall training station experience made him grow up in a hurry.
Kock, who has been coming to the reunion since 2000, said fewer veterans are around each year to attend the gathering. But he's thankful that it's still held.
"This makes me feel proud and have a love for our country," he said. "It's great that they have this."
Veteran Doug Coleman, from Kansas, has made it to the reunion every year except one since 1987.
"It brings back a lot of old memories," he said. "I remember marching to the bay for training and the spray was coming off the lake because it was so cold."
Randall Butt, Farragut State Park's manager, said he learned early on that Farragut veterans want to have the reunion continue as long as possible. It has been held for nearly 30 years.
"We take it seriously because they want their story to continue to be told," Butt said.
About 25,000 people visit the station's museum at the park each year. Butt said the park hopes to add at least one new feature to the grounds each year so the veterans and visitors can be proud.
"You folks are the history," Dennis Woolford, a park ranger, told the veterans. "You are the folks who forged the grounds for us to be here today."