Actually, I started boot camp in mid-september, but it was still so hot during the day at Parris Island, South Carolina ,that black flags flew for several days during the first few weeks there. Black Flag Days were designed to eliminate strenuous physical activities due to the high loss of recruits who would be overcome by heat exhaustion. The Drill Instructors side-stepped this handily. Faced with the herculean task of crammimg beaucoup hours worth of training into an 18 hour day, they simply continued the prescribed curriculum indoors or in some “out of the way” locale. Once you realized that these Drill Instructors were pushing you to the limit so that your chances of survival would be greater in actual combat, their methods began to make sense and, in fact, contained profound wisdom as well as a GREAT deal of humor. Each of us has a funny story or two from boot camp. I’ve been told I should share this one with all of you. There are three phases to Marine Corps boot camp. In Phase 1, they try to kill you, or at least it seems that way. You discover to your amazement that there are a myriad of rules and procedures that MUST be followed at all times. The hard part is that the rules are made known to the platoon one at a time as each is broken by an unsuspecting recruit. (Ask a former Marine what happened the first time someone called his rifle a “gun”.) Thusly, one learns how things are accomplished “The Marine Corps Way”. No recruit may speak to ANYONE without permission. No personal pronouns may be used when speaking, e.g. ” I “, “me”, “my”, “you”, etc. No one may laugh or even smile. (When we were photographed in our half-set of dress blues [the kind they bury you in, we were told] “If you so much as grin, I will break your skull!) Phase 1 lasted the longest of the three, or perhaps it just seemed to. Phase 2 consisted of two weeks at the rifle range followed by one week of “Mess and Maintenance”. Week one was “grass week” where each recruit learned the proper positions for firing an M-14. The essence of these seven days became individual studies on how long the human arm could function without circulation and still survive. Week two was live-fire week ending with qualification day. I fired Sharpshooter on “Qual Day” because I liked the medal. (No Bull) It was a Maltese or Surfer’s Cross with a Marine Corps emblem in its center and was, by far, the best looking medal of the three. Week three found us working in the chow hall somewhere scrubbing pots or peeling spuds. Three other recruits and I were sent to the Close Combat Course where we cleaned, painted, raked gravel, and one afternoon hand-rubbed linseed oil into the stocks of brand-new deactivated M-1 Garand rifles. (They were to be used during swimming qualification as “necklaces”.) The “SWISH” of the tomahawk startled us all but especially the recruit whose head it barely missed as it embedded itself in a nearby oak. “DAMN! I MISSED!” came the retort from the Close Combat Instructor. The recruit nearly fainted. Phase 3 was testing and “war games” in the field. Recruits were allowed to blouse their trousers and retain some hair on the very top of their heads (a “high and tight”). We began to feel “salty” and entertained the thoughts that we might actually make it to graduation. Some of us were wrong but that isn’t why I’m telling you all this. In the field at Parris Island you were taught many things, One of the most memorable experiences was the Day Infiltration Course. You had to crawl under barbed and concertina wire from point A to point B. As combat Marine recruits, we were burdened with 782 gear, pack, rifle, bayonet, and helmet. While you attempted to negotiate this course, an M-60 fired over your head, blocks of C-4 were detonated in sand bagged craters nearby, and Drill Instructors threw sulfur grenades at you to make you “HURRY UP!” All in all, it was a great way to spend an afternoon. When it was Indian Company’s turn, all four platoons in the series were seated in formation and prepared for instruction on the situation facing us. The instructor for the course, a gunnery sargeant with a thick New Jersey accent, took the platform and briefed us on this obstacle and what we were about to learn from it. “Dee traynin’ tuhday is about a classic Muhreen Cohr tactic…a fruntal assauhlt in dee face uv hostyle enumee fiyah”, he began. He went on to explain,among other things, that staying low to the ground was the key to survival. You did this by low crawling toward the enemy while consciously digging a furrow with your helmet. The reason for this was that the enemy fire would glance off the left or right of one’s helmet and although possibly injuring an arm or leg, one could continue the assault. “Ahr dayer any questions?” he asked at the conclusion of his lecture. One recruit raised his hand. “SPEAK!”, commanded the Instructor. “Sir, the private understands the frontal assault and how enemy bullets can glance off of the side of the private’s helmet, but what happens if a bullet strikes the private’s helmet in the center?” The instructor momentarily looked perplexed. It was obvious that NO ONE had ever asked this question before. In the time it took for the gunnery sargeant to spread his feet apart and place his hands on his hips, he had his thoughtful reply. “For our poipuhsez heah tuday, we will not be interested in doz bullets wit yohr name written upon dem. We ahr interested only in doz bullets dat ahr mahkt “to whom it may cunsoyn!”
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