Submitted by: Matthew G. Heslin
I am a former Drill Instructor. MCRD San Diego. 1958-1960. I?ve written this story for Marines. It takes place at Parris Island, (my alma mater) South Carolina. The shock is the same regardless of which coastal transformation station they attended. You are welcome to print it if you wish. I?m sure many boot camp alumnus will recognize something familiar.
Former Sergeant of Marines,
The clash of cymbals! The blare of bugles! The cadenced beat of numerous drums ! Eighty five proud, strutting musicians with heads held high, leaning back slightly! Each man?s heel hitting the parade deck at the exact, precise moment! Each step measuring an exact thirty inches and one hundred twenty beats per minute. The crisp sharpness of each band member. The shoes and cap visors glittering in the bright morning sun. This is the United States Marine Corps Band marching and playing Major John Phillip Sousa?s, STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER!
Immediately following this magnificent band of proud Marine musicians comes the Color Company. They are attired in their radiant dress blue uniforms with that distinctive streak of scarlet running down the side of each trouser leg. Their brilliant brass buttons and snow white caps sitting squarely on each and every head. Each Marine?s right forearm exactly parallel to the deck. Each rifle properly aligned and each free arm swinging exactly six inches to the front and precisely three inches to the rear. A maintained separation of forty inches from back to chest within the ranks and every head and eyes straight to the front. Every chest must certainly expand an extra size or two in order to accommodate that ?goose bumped, bubbly, weak kneed feeling? together with that sudden chill that comes over one?s body with the marching by of the Color Guard and ?Old Glory? fluttering in the breeze in all her splendor. Then, there am I, Isador P. Feldman, stepping out smartly in my finest dress blue uniform with those Captain bars adorning each shoulder, leading a full company of Marines, two hundred strong. A grand feeling of pride comes over me as I raise my sword in a snappy salute, bringing it down with precision as my head and eyes whip to the right. When I shout the command, ?E-E-E-YES RIGHT,? I know I can certainly hear the troopers? eyeballs click in unison. Oh! What a grand spectacle I am, leading my company of equally polished and determined figures of manhood, flawlessly strutting past the reviewing officers and assorted dignitaries from all over the universe. ?What a fabulous gift the Americans have in that young Marine Captain,? those foreign heads of government must be thinking as I bellowed out in my command voice, ?R-E-A-D-Y FRONT!? I can hear that single audible ?Click? as each eyeball swings back to the frontal position. Gradually the sound of air brakes begins to drown out ?Sousa?s Semper Fidelis March.?
?Could I have dozed off? Let?s see now. I left Plainfield, New Jersey, then we arrived at Yemassee, South Carolina?took a bus to Beaufort, South Carolina and here I am at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.? The bus stopped at the Main Gate. Two Military Policemen came aboard the bus to check our orders.
?These have to be the sharpest Marines in the whole world,? I mused. During the interlude, I nervously shuffled my feet and accidentally brushed my foot over the toe of the Military Policeman?s highly polished shoe. Immediately my world collapsed. My castles in Spain crumbled. My fondest dreams of being the world?s most renowned Marine Captain was suddenly and bitterly trampled by just a few short utterances? Marine Corps style. I had been verbally admonished?received a severe spanking with words?I have just had my first chewing out. The bright sunny day seemed to darken all of a sudden as we passed through the black steel gates leading to Parris Island. The single highway leading to the troop area gave me an eerie feeling of having left the protection of civilization behind and being delivered into the hands of uncaring monsters. I began to wonder, ?What did I do? That recruiting sergeant never, ever mentioned anything about this part of the Marines. He mentioned ?boot camp? but it didn?t sound anything like this. I thought they?d love to meet a new ?fellow Marine.? Maybe I?m in the wrong place. I?m probably not even supposed to be here?Let?s see here a moment… These are my orders… They say that this is the place and yes… that is my name?Oh Man! I?m in trouble!? Just then the driver began to speak into the microphone.
?This gentlemen, is a real Island. It is a flat piece of semi tropical land of eight thousand four hundred acres that used to be an old French prison. The only things that seem to flourish in the sand are the short Palmettos that you see along side the road and, oh yes,? sand fleas. You?re going to love those little critters! You?re going to be bitten by them anywhere they choose to bite you. The Island is surrounded by an impassable swamp. Encircling the swamp and the Island is a very deep, dark river with many whirlpools and treacherous currents. You may notice an occasional fin of a shark cutting through the top of the water? and, they are always hungry. Their presence should also serve as a warning to anybody who would entertain the idea of leaving before his training is completed or as we say around here, ?going AWOL.? ?Only a fool would attempt to run away from here,? I thought to myself.
The driver continued his welcome speech. ?The swamp is loaded with quicksand. You don?t see quicksand. It kinda looks like the rest of the swamp, but if you happen to step into it? you?re history. It will suck you under like a kid sucks up spaghetti?and just that fast! Then, if you manage somehow to make it to the river and are able to swim past all the sharks and drag yourself up on the opposite shore, there are thousands of flesh eating crabs. With their ferocious appetites they are just waiting for you to visit them.?
The bus driver pulled onto the blacktop behind a row of gray corrugated buildings.
?This is the end of the line for you men,? he said. ?Better you than me,? he added.
?Man, I really did it this time!…Hmm, I wonder why he?s parking behind these buildings??
As the bus came to a stop we were all ordered to pick up our overnight bags and get ready to disembark. I saw a young Marine about my age coming toward the bus. ?He must be here to welcome us to Parris Island and tell us about some of the rules and regulations,? I surmised. He had two stripes on his arm so I figured he must be pretty important. He looked like a real nice guy. He had a strong resemblance to Michael J. Fox, the movie actor. The young Marine instructed us to get out of the bus and he joined us with another group of recruits in civilian clothes. He formed us into four lines deep with eighteen men across the front. The tar was so hot that it was soft in places and actually bubbling in other spots. I was sorry I wore my thin soled leather shoes. The tar was cooking my feet. The temperature had to be at least one hundred degrees. My clothes were literally sticking to my body. I was already soaking wet with drops of sweat actually dripping off my finger tips. I said to the man on my right that this has to be the hottest place I?ve ever been. Then from out of no where that nice young Marine appeared directly in front of me, his nose almost touching mine. He bellowed all over my face. ?YOU BETTER SHUT UP PRIVATE!?
I looked into his steely blue eyes staring directly into mine. I wondered what I did to him that made him so angry with me. ?Yes sir,? I whispered. I couldn?t seem to be able to get my voice out. It was as if my vocal cords were paralyzed. Then I started to think about my decision to serve our country as a Marine. ?How could I have been so dumb. I could have joined the Air Force with the rest of the guys?but NO! Not me, I wanted to be ?one of the few?. Suddenly the young Marine hollered, ?Okay herd, turn to your right.?
I must have misunderstood. I turned to my left. Again he was right in my face. ?Do you know your right foot from your left?Private??
?No sir, I mean yes sir,? I stammered.
The young Marine stepped on my right toe with his boot.
?Does that hurt Private?? he asked.
?Yes sir,? I replied, not moving a muscle.
?Well boy, now you?ll know that the one that hurts is the right and the one that doesn?t hurt is your left. You?ll remember that, won?t you Private?? He glared at the group.
?You clowns had better listen up! You had better get it together girls or I just won?t be nice to you anymore.?
The group was formed into a single file and we followed the young Marine into building. It was call the Hygienic Unit. It was hot inside also but at least my feet were not cooking anymore. I?ll sure remember my left from my right. I don?t need one hundred and sixty pounds stomping on my foot every time I turn around the wrong way. I can?t understand why everyone one here is so angry all the time. Maybe it?s the heat down here… So much for southern hospitality!
Well, we shipped our ?civvies? home and got a big green sea bag full of new Marine Corps clothes. Wearing a brand new set of green ?utilities? we were ordered to fall back into the same place we were at first. We were told to stand at ease but not to talk. I wasn?t about to say another word. As soon as the last man was out in formation with his new clothing and his sea bag we were called to attention by a big Marine Sergeant. He said his name was Staff Sergeant Knight. He was going to be my Drill Instructor. He was about six foot four and looked meaner than a rattlesnake. He had beady little eyes that kept darting all around. ?Not much gets by this Marine,? I figured. He looked like a combination of John Wayne and Smokey the Bear. I made up my mind right there and then that whatever he says will be okay with me. He quickly explained the position of attention?no moving, no talking, eyes straight to the front.
?That?s easy,? I thought to myself. ?I have to start thinking positive and I?ll get through this with everything intact.?
Just then one of those sand fleas began walking around on my nose. I tried blowing it away but he just hung on enjoying the cool breeze. My eyes crossed as the flea strolled around heading toward my lip. The tickle was becoming quite intense. I couldn?t take it anymore. At a moment I thought best, I let go with a tremendous open handed right to my nose. The pain from the blow would be a lot easier to take than that pesky little bug nibbling on me. It didn?t go unnoticed though. Crashing through the ranks heading straight for me came Staff Sergeant Knight. I knew I was about to die! Evidently my movement did not go unnoticed.
?Did you just hear me explain the position of attention Private?? He gritted his teeth and with fire coming out of his mouth, the sergeant bellowed all over my face, just like the young Marine did earlier.
?How old are you Private?? he asked.
?Sir, seventeen sir,? I replied.
?Did it take you seventeen years to get so stupid Private?? he asked.
?No sir! I mean yes sir! I mean I don?t know sir! I?m sorry sir.?
?Sorry? Did you say you?re sorry Private? Why you?re the sorriest excuse for a recruit I?ve ever seen! Do you realize that Private??
I agreed with Staff Sergeant Knight. I felt like crawling under the building and hiding for a year or two.
?Think positive,? I reminded myself.
Next we were moved to the Base Barber Shop. We were rushed into the shop, shaved down to the scalp, and rushed out again taking our positions next to our sea bags. Our hats no longer fit our heads without the hair. We all looked alike. Pimply faces, eyebrows and ears sticking out, holding up our hats. Thanks be to God for ears!
The Drill Instructor lined us up in a column of threes and marched us off across the hot parade field known by the locals as the ?grinder.? We were strung out across the grinder for about a half a mile, all of us trying to keep up with our Drill Instructor. A few of us were trying to walk fast while others were trying to run, half carrying, half dragging their new sea bags. The heat coming off the parade deck felt like two hundred degrees.
Finally, we reached our new home. It was a Quonset hut. Three huts for seventy five recruits.
?At last,? I said to myself, ?me for the bed.?
But it was not to be. We stowed our sea bags in the huts, got back into a loose formation and walked off to the mess hall for chow. It felt great to finally sit down in an air conditioned building. The hair down our backs was driving many of us crazy but the food was great. We had creamed hamburger on top of toast. It was called ?SOS.? I know that in the Navy, ?SOS? is a signal for help or distress. The thought that being served ?SOS? was a covert warning of coming danger had flashed through my mind for a spit second, but I dismissed it as a mere coincidence. I figured it was just a name for a Navy recipe taken over by the Marines. That was fine with us. We were all starved. We just about had to inhale our food because Staff Sergeant Knight instructed us to be in formation behind the mess hall when he was ready to leave.
We were standing tall when our Drill Instructor arrived. Staff Sergeant Knight stood in front of us. He counted each man as we stood there, then he moved the group back to the Quonset huts. It was starting to cool off a bit on Parris Island but the mosquitoes and sand fleas wanted their chow too. They started to bite.
Once back in the area, Staff Sergeant Knight said we are going to have a ?field day.?
Playing baseball or football after just one day in the Marine Corps was the last thing I felt like doing. but I reminded myself to think positive again. He?s the boss. If he says play football, I play football. It sounded strange to start off in the Marines playing games but maybe this is a sign that Marine Corps training wouldn?t be so tough after all. I was pretty good when I played in school. Maybe they need football players. Heck, I can do that!
However, much to my surprise I found out that ?field day? meant we are going to scrub the place down and make it livable. We pulled out all the bunks onto the company street then scrubbed the ceilings, walls and floors. I was just about worn out after three hours of cleaning and scrubbing. Then we were ordered to take showers in order to make ourselves livable. In retrospect, I began to really appreciate my mother?s efforts when she cleaned at home. I can see now that I just took my mom for granted. I never dreamed that cleaning your living space could be so involved. I?ve decided that I had just better forget about games like football and the like, at least for the time being. I had better start to concentrate on things like learning how to become a Marine recruit and surviving life on this sand flea infested sand bar called Parris Island.
After the huts were ?squared away? we were assigned our bunks, lockers and foot lockers. We were also given our positions in the platoon and the squad. We were now Platoon two twenty six, ?E? Company, Second battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.
Taps were sounded over the troop area. As I lay in my bunk I reflected on just what had transpired during the day. I was chewed out three times, had my toes stomped on, and lost all my hair in the fastest haircut I?ve ever had. But most important of all, I was the first recruit to called ?Private? in the whole platoon. Just imagine that. Isador P. Feldman. Private. United States Marine Corps. That?s me? that?s really me.? I began to wonder just how long it will take to ?look? like a real Marine.
Well, fourteen inoculations, eight haircuts and many, many blisters later, with a ramrod for a backbone, here I am… Isador Feldman…marching to John Phillip Sousa?s ?Semper Fidelis?. I sure look great in my dress blue uniform with shoes and cap visor gleaming in the bright sunlight. With my head held high and my chest out, leaning back slightly, I really feel proud stepping out smartly with a full thirty inch step. Just listen to the clashing cymbals and the blaring bugles and the cadenced beat of the drums. As the last man in the company of two hundred Marines, we are passing the reviewing stands. I just know those ?foreign dignitaries? are thinking, ?What a grand and wonderful gift America has in that young Marine Private? ?CLICK.!?