Parris Island, October 31st, 1969
It was 3rd Battalion, Platoon 3061’s turn for guard duty on the Bayonet course. For some reason I was chosen for 1am-2am walk, It was chilly, but not too bad in South Carolina that evening, and I was taken to the point where I would meet my predecessor on this post. After a few minutes, the other private arrived, and together we walked the course. Many of you may remember the Bayonet Course. You went down and around a series of somewhat wooded paths, and every so often you would meet the “Enemy.” The enemy being life sized, dark green dummies that we were to “stab,” or butt with the rifles, as we ran by. Kind of a fun time, right?
Well on October 31st at 1am it was a slightly different story. To begin with there was a full moon. And then there was the partly cloudy sky that made it the perfect Halloween sky. Finally, the partly wooded paths cast perfect Halloween shadows on the paths.
The private who has preceded me, and who led me around the course that I was to walk seemed overly nervous for some reason. I think all he really said was, “This place is spooky.” With the two of us supporting each other I didn’t see the problem, but after a turn I was on my own. Hey, I was a Marine Recruit, I can take on anything. But in the eerie shadows of the path things were different. I turned a corned and my heart skipped a beat when someone was unexpectedly standing there in the shadows facing me! It only took only a moment to realize it was a bayonet dummy and I breathed a sigh of relief. —until I turned another corner and repeated the experience.
I know, I know these were inanimate structures and nothing to be frightened of. But on a creepy night, by the light of a partly obscured full moon, your mind forgot all of that, and nearly each time I came across one of the shadowy green bodies in the shadowy, I had a similar experience. I was both embarrassed and ashamed of myself for reacting this way, but on and on it went. I did perhaps ten to fifteen circuits during my hour. And even got to mentally counting out the amount of time for each circuit, both in an attempt to calm myself, and to figure out how much time I had left in this “House of Horrors.” Finally I came to the end/beginning and there was my relief. Never has that word, “Relief,” meant so much! I took a turn with this next victim, and tried to warn him as best I could, knowing that nothing would really help.
Years later, when reflecting on this, the thought came to me that they should make a late night charge though the Bayonet field a regular experience for recruits, but I though the better of it as the experience could not be the same with other comrades so nearby! It was the loneliness that heightened the fear. I have also wondered how many who walked that route in the late night has the same reaction. I know that everyone that walked it that night did, although we rarely talked about it openly after that.
S/Sgt Shuttleworth USMC