A Dropped Rifle

(From my time as a Drill Instructor at MCRD, SD, 1957-1960)

Southern Recruit

The last hour before putting the recruits to bed is filled with several mandatory requirements as well as a little free time for writing letters, etc. It was during this hour prior to taps that this little incident happened.

On this particular day my Platoon had been learning the manual of arms with their rifles. It was summertime and the recruits were taking their showers, were writing home and enjoying a little time to discuss things with the other recruits within their Platoon. Normal uniform for that time of evening was white skivvies, undershirts and flip-flop shower shoes. I was in my duty hut doing some paperwork. All hatches on the ‘hootches’ were open for the weather was quite warm. There was no such thing as air conditioning at MCRD,SD in those days.

Suddenly, from my office, I heard the unmistakable clatter of a M-1 rifle hitting a concrete deck. If there is one unforgivable sin in the Marine Corps it is that one simply does not EVER drop his rifle. It appeared that this great sin had just been committed.

Grabbing my Smokey Bear cover I quickly went directly to the hooch from which the sound had come. As I entered, one of the recruits quickly called everyone to attention as was required.

On the deck was the barrel and receiver group, the stock group and the trigger housing group of a private’s M-1 rifle. Standing at attention nearby was the guilty recruit.

The rest of the Platoon had also heard the noise, so when they saw me rush into this hooch, the remainder of the Platoon gathered around the entrance of the hooch like little mice to see what I would do. Everyone was quite and not a sound could be heard except for the recruits breathing. It was that quiet!

It was quite a sight to see. All recruits standing at attention in their skivvies with sunburned heads, except where their cover protected them from the sun. Their necks were brown from the sun but that color changed abruptly where the utility shirt buttoned around the neck. The remainder of their arms and legs were without color.

“All right, Private,” I began. “What the hell is going on in here?”

The private standing near the scattered rifle answered with his slow, strong, southern accented voice, “Sir. The private was just doing the manual of arms, Sir!”

“Private,” I replied, “I’ve done the manual of arms a good number of times in my Marine Corps career and this has never happened to me.”

The private had been practicing the movements we had learned on the drill field that very day; those being the various movements such as Right Shoulder Arms, Port Arms, Left shoulder Arms and Order Arms. So I suggested that the private gather his rifle, put it together, and show me just what he was doing. By the way, the usual penalty for a recruit private that drops his rifle is to field strip the rifle and place all the many metal, leather and wooden parts in his bunk and make him sleep with them. Naturally this does not allow for a very good nights sleep. That is the purpose of this penalty.

The private quickly gathered all the parts of his rifle, and with shaking hands, assembled it. He then stood at stiff attention with his rifle at Port Arms. The remainder of his squad in that hooch was still standing at attention, watching with wide eyes. The rest of the Platoon still peeking meekly through the hatch. It was a comical sight but I managed to keep my composure.

I told the private to show me what he had done. For some reason he couldn’t simply start where the rifle came apart. He had to go through the entire routine again. I could see that he was trying his best to do this correctly – all the time doing so clad in only his skivvies. He was straining to do everything just right. Again, it was a very comical sight.

First he brought his rifle to Port Arms, then to Left Shoulder Arms, than back to Port Arms, then to Right Shoulder Arms, and finally, back to Port Arms.

What had actually happened was that when he was going through this routine earlier he had added one more movement which we don’t teach. It is usually called, “With a Twirl.” It is a ‘show off’ type of movement sometimes seen done by experienced drill teams, and when done correctly it is an impressive sight. I guess he thought he would try this movement and the results were that his rifle came apart.

The movement is performed by placing your right index finger inside the trigger housing, then spinning the rifle around, with the trigger group as the center of the spinning movement. Once the rifle has made one complete revolution it’s rotating motion is stopped by grabbing the forearm portion of the stock with the palm of the left hand, thus ending the rotation and the rifle ending up at the Port Arms position. Done correctly, it is something to see. This private didn’t quite do it correctly.

When this private got to the position where he had given his rifle a spin, or twirl, he didn’t realize that the trigger housing snap lock must be tightly locked or the trigger guard will swing down allowing the trigger group to fall out, which in turn allows the barrel and receiver group, and the stock group to also disengage.

His trigger guard snap lock wasn’t completely locked so his rifle flew apart when he tried this movement. Of course, normally, that doesn’t happen.

What makes this so funny was the southern private’s remark to me while he was trying to show me this movement. I’ll never forget what he said with his thick, southern drawl. Just before he spun his rifle again, he said, “Sir! It was right ‘bout here it commenced to come apart, Sir”

Of course when he tried the movement this time, the rifle stayed together. He was then white as a sheet and that was putting it mildly. He stood there not knowing just what to do and I began to realize just how hilarious this entire situation was. I tried to suppress a smile without success. My smile soon became a chuckle and finally I could not keep any part of my composure. I turned, took off my Smokey Bear cover, leaned against the nearest double bunk and simply let out a big roar of laughter. The entire platoon saw that I was human after all and they all joined in with a much needed round of loud laughter.

When I finally got things under control and got my composure back I looked around and there stood the southern private, still standing as straight as possible at attention, his rifle still at Port Arms. I finally managed to convey to him that there was absolutely no way he could have made up this story. I would not punish him for providing us with this much enjoyment. I told him to put his weapon away and for everyone prepare for Taps. It was time to, “hit the rack.”

They did so, and after standing by the hut’s light switch for a moment, I turned off the lights. As I walked out the hatch, the entire platoon said in unison, “Sir. Good night, Sir!” It was indeed a good night.

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37 thoughts on “A Dropped Rifle”

  1. I look forward to all these stories every week…it continues to keep me in the Corps…..after 4 active duty years 55+years ago.. LaBelle, Alex J. 1838956

  2. I was in boot camp in June of 1957 and can relate to those experiences, l would not trade my time in boot for anything. Looking back it was funny when it wasn’t you, a neck of a learning time.

  3. In the year 1959, I had the dubious pleasure of attending The University of Parris Island. I thought I was smart enough as I knew not to lay my M1 on the deck, so I leaned up against the bulkhead ,,, Mistake #1 ,, (or so I thought) ,, Mistake #2 ,, I had no clue where the Rifle’s Serial Number was … One of our Drill Instructors made sure that for thirteen weeks I never forgot .. and by the way ,,, that night ,, I slept with Sixty M1 rifles.

  4. I’m sorry to write this request but I would greatly appreciate it if the news letter could return to it’s original format. It is disappointing that it has fallen to the same level as the news on TV, more commercials than news. I think the news letter is one time when you should not advertise. You have the rest of the entire week for that. I do look forward to those emails. Please when you publish the story publish the entire story. We should not have “TO CLICK HERE TO READ MORE”. Thank you!

    1. I second that!!! This format leaves so much untold. I think a lot af Marines hesitate to write their stories due to so few being published each week….Cpl Bob Mauney

  5. Many a story I’ve heard from my belated Father’s time as a fighter pilot & JAG officer Capt. Bill Ross. Absolutely hilarious!! As myself I’ve told a many as a Female Marine myself. Upon picking up my son from Boot Camp at PI 2 weeks ago, that surreal feeling of looking down the parade deck to see my son literally standing in the exact spot on the deck as I did 33 years ago. And the best part hearing the most hilarious stories of his experience and hopefully will hear more as he returns from Geiger. Three generations; all 3 at PI, all 3 at Camp Lejeune. Amazing! Now a single Mama and empty nester my life begins! Semper Fi OoohRahh!

  6. I was in Parris Island 1957-1958. Platoon 109 .This was Very serious times. There was very little laughter with our Drill instructor’s. All business till graduation day. They all said very serious “ what you learn here Will help save your life & fellow marines.”.That training has indeed helped me not only thru the Corp,but thru my working life. Now living comfortably thanks to that training. Wish I could find & shake there hands for making me a better man both mentally & physical.

  7. Ah yes, Parris Island, 1959. I remember Sgt Burke politely asking me to disassemble my M1 and sleep with it. For the life of me I can’t remember just why he asked me to do that. I am certain it wasn’t anything I did. John Lawrence 1858212. Plt 112

  8. I agree with the above comments relative to the current format of the News Letter not being as user friendly as the former format. I still read it ever week but not with the same degree of anticipation that I once had.

  9. Is it only in SD (hollywood) that recruits stayed in “hooches”and not a barracks: recruits sit around and talk to each other; practicing manual of arms during quiet time; Unless the recruit was from Tex, La , Ark there were no southern recruits in hollywood. Bogus story.

    1. Well, John, given that Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas are considered ‘Southern’ states, I’m not getting your point why this is a “bogus story.” I joined in Dallas, TX, and attended MCRD San Diego [Plt 371] in Sept 1961. We had more than a few recruits with ‘Southern drawls,’ … Prior to joining the Corps, I was in a high school ROTC Drill Team and the M1 rifle spin described, as well as why it might fail by not securing the trigger guard, is accurate,

      1. I joined in Cincinnati, Ohio and attended MCRD San Diego, Platoon 385, in October 1961. As I recall we had a number of Southern recruits. Seems like our platoon had folks from all over the country. #1985760.

    2. Respectfully to John Stone, I attended Boot camp at SD during the last months of 1974. We had MORE than a few “Suthun” boys in my platoon. We also stayed in Squad bays, otherwise known as barracks. The “Hooches” were not being used by many recruits at that time. I understand there is about 10 years difference between my story and your story, but go easy with the “Bogus story” comment. Again, with all due respect, Sir. Semper Fi!!!! D. MIller, MCRDSD Plt. 3105 9/74-12/74.

  10. Is there a Recruit who has not slept w/his rifle?I think that is mandatory during our tour at P.I.tThe D.is will think of something.Think about dropping your rifle during final Drill Comp.It happened to me.I thought I was deader than dead.

  11. Fifty years ago, 03Feb69, I stepped on the yellow foot prints at PI. It seems like yesterday. Spent 12 weeks there, 3 weeks were at “Weak Body Barn”. Picked up by Plt 231 SDI SSgt C. Reid, and I was the only “grit” or Southern Boy in the platoon. Everyone there was from the Northeast. Being from Mississippi and with a Sho Nuff Southern drawl, I received a lot attention from SSgt Reid. After M-14 class several recruits were asked the description and function of the M-14, and stumbled in their answers. When he called for me to answer the same question, I rattled off the specs, function, etc. Before I could finish, he asked me to sit down, then told the rest of the platoon if Pvt Gardner ( in a deep fake Southern drawl) knew the answer, what in the hell was everybody else’s problem? He probably didn’t realize that at Weak Body Barn, we not only PT’d, we had classes on a variety of military subjects. My only screw up was at the snapping in portion of the rifle range. Make sure your rifle is on safe when you make a head call. We all came back, and my rifle was missing. Ever try digging an M-14 out of the sand with your nose? It can be done.

  12. Parris Island, August 1960. Platoon 374. Private “G” from Mississippi called his rifle a gun. That night just before lights out, as we were standing at attention in our skivies, waiting for count off, the Drill Instructor called out to Private “G” to report to him with a pillow and his piece (M-1). The private was then instructed to get down on his knees in front of each one of us 80 or so recruits, hold up his piece, cradled in the pillow, and shout out in his Mississippi accent “SIR! Out of two hundred and fifty thousand mayen in the Marine Corps, I am the only shi-bird with a gun”.

  13. I attended boot camp in Hollywood, SD, in ’67. Q-huts, no a.c., and M-14s. After boot, we were sent to Pendleton, for I.T.R., we used M-1s, B.A.R.s, and .30 cal. machine guns. We were on a pop up target range, while walking I tripped on rough ground. My M-1, let off a live round. Fortunately, I had my rifle barrel aimed skyward, as previously instructed. A range nco not too gently shouted at me, to keep my f——- finger, out of the trigger guard, and banging the rifle into the side of my steel pot, hard enough to knock my glasses off. I was grateful to get away with such a light ‘warning’. One warning, was enough. 2377865

  14. I went through boot camp in 1958 at San Diego Plt. 308 and for what it’s worth we had several recruits from the southern states such as Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Alabama plus Michigan so as far as being a bogus story I would have to disagree as it sure happened in our series. S/F

  15. I feel kind of sorry for John Engle, who found nothing worth laughing about in boot camp. The two squads in our Quonset hut had enough crap happen to us individually every day to liven up the conversation as we sat around using our “free time” to spit shine shoes, boots, buckles or cleaning or rubbing linseed oil into stocks. As mentioned above, it really wasn’t funny in the moment if it was happening to you. But some of my favorite memories come from being able to laugh at myself and my buddies in boot camp. The best part – every funny incident also contained a lesson that you never forgot. That being said, I am again collecting funny boot camp stories for possible publication. If you guys have a funny story to share that you’d like to see in a book please forward it to me at bootcampstories2@gmail.com. Include your date of enlistment, platoon number, duty station (PI or SD) and a copy of your boot camp blues picture if available, along with permission to publish the picture. If any of you were Drill Instructors or Women Marines, your stories are especially welcome. For an excerpt of my book “SH*TBIRD! How I Learned To Love The Corps” specify an email address. For those interested in purchasing “SH*TBIRD!” ($10.99 plus mailing)I am including a sample of black volcanic sand retrieved from the invasion beach of Iwo Jima in March of last year. Makes a nice display.Semper Fi!

  16. …..been a customer of Sgt. Grit for many years and it’s not just the newsletter that has changed but since it was sold back a few years ago and some LLC from Arkansas purchased the company, they changed a lot and discontinued many items….as a Corpsman, I have seen where the shirts and mugs for Corpsman are no longer sold…and even other items for “Doc” were discontinued….very disappointed but I still enjoy the newsletter even though it’s been commercialized to much…semper fi…Activity Support Hospital, DaNang ’72…

    1. “Semper Fi” back to you “Doc”I’ve got a lot of love for FMF Corpsman, I had a 1st class sew me up at 12:30 am at BLT. 2/3 aid station in RVN in 1965, when he was finished he asked me if I minded next time maybe to make it during the daytime so he had more light, but never once complained about his lost cot time!

      1. …glad “Doc” took care of your wounds and you made it back to the real world…went on to FMF in ’73 and spent 6 yrs with some of the ugliest Marines in the world…and here it is 47 yrs later and I still meet ugly Marines every day, BUT they don’t mind me calling them fugly, because when they find out I’m “Doc”, they tell me I can call them anything I want to , ’cause I earned that right…from band aids to shots in the ass, after a weekend of I&I, they wanted that penicillan…you are my Marines, always and forever…semper fi and Welcome Home…

    1. Jim: these Marines in PI and SD boot camp needs to send you their stories of boot camp for book 2, 3, etc.., that have not been written into your first book. Your fellow Marine from 3/5, 1959-1960. Semper Fi

  17. I was a recruit in MCRD SD in the summer of 1958. I was not in this particular platoon, but a member of the same company. This evening soiree was the talk of the company for the next several days, although from the scuttlebut it was not related with as much detail. We were not even sure it was true, but was a fabricated story. Naturally, after a few days the event was forgotten, as there were many more pressing situations with which we had to contend, (as any “boot” knows). I had forgotten this completely with so many thing happening in life. Now, after so many years, it’s incredible to vicariously relive this out of the ordinary happenstance from my youth and not only find it to be true, but also learn it was related by the drill instructor involved. I’m laughing all over again.

  18. I remember when you finally realize your DI is human. It is a great feeling because he is starting to see you as a Marine. The proudest moment in my life.

  19. The enjoying sharing with other recruits did not happen in 1962 at PI. You would have been part of a two man discussion with the DI.

  20. …glad “Doc” took care of your wounds and you made it back to the real world…went on to FMF in ’73 and spent 6 yrs with some of the ugliest Marines in the world…and here it is 47 yrs later and I still meet ugly Marines every day, BUT they don’t mind me calling them fugly, because when they find out I’m “Doc”, they tell me I can call them anything I want to , ’cause I earned that right…from band aids to shots in the ass, after a weekend of I&I, they wanted that penicillan…you are my Marines, always and forever…semper fi and Welcome Home…

  21. Hey, ‘mark time,’ LCpl. Stone, odd things happen even before boot camp starts. My hometown was Chicago and the dozen of us ‘boots’ leaving there on August 7th, ’69, were expecting to travel to PI. But, allotment needs, as what they were, required a change in orders, literally as we were swearing in at the induction center on West Van Buren Street, and off to MCRD SD we went. It was my introduction to SNAFU and the Marine Corps way, ‘Adapt & Overcome.’ My platoon, 3151, originally led by Iwo Jima veteran, Gyn Sgt. Sharkey and was composed mostly of Reservist recruits and men from California and Texas, and us Midwesterners from Wisconsin and Illinois were critical to form that scheduled platoon. There was a recruit from Arkansas who ‘talked’ with such a backwoods drawl that he was assigned the nickname, ‘Marbles.’. We had so many Texas boys with their twangin’ way of talkin’ that it hurt my ears to listen to them. Us Midwesterners were largely left alone by the DI’s because they generally pitted our large groups of ‘Beach Boys’ and ‘Cowboys’ against one another. I credit that with my platoon winning across the board ‘honors’ in our series, being the Lead Platoon. It’s said that in order to know where you’re going you need to know from where you came and being a Marine became my foundation for all that’s happened since. First, you take care of your buddy and , second, you complete your mission. The reward of serving with fine young men from Everywhere, USA cannot be understated. We ‘manned the wall.’

  22. As I remember, east of the Mississippi went to PI, west to SD. Still, quotas had to be met so yeah, you’d have an occasional guy on the wrong coast. I arrived at PI on November 9, 1961 and we formed Plt 388. Midway thru training I was laid up with an infected toe and was set back to Plt 392. I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything in the world. Also highly recommend Jim’s book “Sh*tbird”. Life Long is correct, we didn’t dare “chat” with anyone while we were cleaning rifles or polishing shoes/boots/brass. Semper Fi

  23. In 1956 at PI platoon 67 we had one recruit that did not qualify at the range. He was made to march at the rear of the platoon wearing womans panties carrying a bow. great laugh.

  24. I was in MCRD SD in June 1957 it was very serious but when you look back there was some funny things that happened I spent 4 years in the core came home on a streacher and spent 8 and a half mouths in the hospital wich ended my career in the corps I would do it all over again semper fi you all

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