I spent five memorable years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Why five years, you ask. Because the Marines build men, some take longer than others. Here are a couple of stories from my days in the Corps. Semper Fi.
The First Hour
We pass though the gate at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in the back of an open-bed truck and come to a stop at a Spanish style, stucco building with a red-tiled roof surrounded by green grass and palm trees. It’s February, this is going to be like summer camp.
A tough looking Marine in a Smokey the Bear hat comes out of the building to greet us and in a normal voice says, “Off the truck, men.” We nervously hop off the truck onto the asphalt. Smokey the Bear says in a sterner voice, “Too fucking slow, back in the truck”. I’d never heard an adult use the f word before, especially to a bunch of strangers.
“Alright girls, let’s try it again.”
We all jump quickly to the ground only to be ordered back into the truck again. What’s up with this “girls” thing? This goes on and on. Each time Smokey gets madder, louder and more profane. Maybe this wasn’t going to be like camp.
Finally we exit the truck to Smokey’s satisfaction. He orders us to get in formation. Unsure of what a formation is, we line up in a couple of straggly lines and wait for Smokey’s next outburst. It doesn’t take long. He comes charging at us like a linebacker, grabbing one recruit by the neck while screaming obscenities. He drags this poor kid out in front of us by his shirt collar and shouts, “This candy-assed, civilian cocksucker has the nerve to chew gum in my beloved Marine Corps.” I remember teachers scolding students and making them throw their gum away and but I’ve never seen someone beaten to the ground and called dirty names for chewing gum. Maybe this isn’t going to be like school either.
Finally, Smokey orders us into the building. Our running efforts don’t satisfy him, so we do this over and over until we we're all fighting and clawing to get through the door. This violence seems to please Smokey.
We race through the door only to find a whole bunch of these obscenity-yelling Smokey the Bears inside. These guys are all terribly unhappy about something and there’s no question they aren’t real thrilled with us being here.
We woke by ourselves. The sun was up. What’s going on? This was the first morning in boot camp that our DIs had not sounded reveille at o’dark thirty in one outrageous form or another. My favorite is when they throw the metal trash can down the center isle making a loud crashing sound as it hits every bunk in the hut. Everyone lay in the bunks wide awake tensely waiting, waiting for our next boot camp adventure to begin. Finally reveille is sounded and we have ten minutes to dress, go to the head, make our bunks, and fall out in platoon formation.
We fall out without our rifles or our buckets, something is definitely up. Our DI yells, “This morning you shitbirds are going to the JC club. All of you Protestants form a detail over here,” pointing to his left. “All of you Catholics fall in over here to my right.” We raced to our respective group.
Pvt. Mitchell was left standing alone in our old platoon formation. “Didn’t you hear me maggot?” our DI yells as he rushes to get face-to-face with Mitchell.
Mitchell shouts, “Sir, I’m Jewish, sir.”
“A Jew, sir.”
“I’ll be damned, a Jew in my Marine Corps. Sergeant Jenkins, get out here and see what we have here.”
Our senior DI, Sergeant Jenkins, comes out of the duty hut glaring at Mitchell. “What’s this?”
“A Jew in our beloved Corps.”
“You sure he isn’t faking it, just to get out of going to the JC club?”
“I don’t know; Mitchell doesn’t sound Jewish?”
“We could look at his sorry little pecker.”
“That won’t work everybody’s doin that today. Get him out a here.”
“Mitchell, run your sorry ass down to the base chapel and find the van that’ll take you over to the Naval Training Center for Jew services. Report to me as soon as you get back. You’re on my shit-list, for leaving my base to go pray with the fucking swabbies.”
Paxton was a big oafish, country boy that hadn’t been to a dentist before joining the Corps. He must have been all of nineteen when he reported in to Alpha Battery in Twenty Nine Palms grinning with his bright, new Government Issue dentures. He was assigned a lower bunk across the squad-bay from me.
One evening a bunch of us were hanging out at our squad-bay table doing our normal Marine stuff, cleaning rifles, polishing shoes and brass, and writing letters while Paxton sawed toothless logs in his bunk about six feet away. We should have been used to his snoring by now, but he was especially loud tonight. So loud that you couldn’t even talk or hear the music on Morgan’s radio.
Without a word, we all rose and filed over to both sides of Paxton’s bunk. Eight of us, in pall-bearer-like fashion, gently lifted him, his mattress, and his bedding, and carried him to a sand dune about a half mile out in the desert. We laid him in the sand, tucked him in, and giggled all the way back to our barracks.
Would the coyotes chew off his ears? Would scorpions crawl into bed with him? Would a sidewinder resent him being there? We all hoped.
Before reveille the next morning we woke to Paxton dragging his mattress through the squad-bay swearing and looking for someone to take a swing at. He was really pissed but no one paid any attention to his ranting … just another night in the Corps.
I’ll Never Do That Again
My M1 kicked as I put another round into the bull from 500 yards. Today is our last practice day on the range. Tomorrow we qualify. Qualifying on the rifle range is a big, big deal in the Marine Corps. It’s paramount that you qualify on the range each year you’re in the Corps. The humiliation of being a non-qual Marine would be unbearable.
I’m in the prone position with six rounds left before I call it quits. I’m not concentrating and I buck my next shot. Bucking is when you anticipate the shot and throw your shoulder into the butt of the rifle to counter the recoil. A buck is easy to spot; it always goes down and to the left. My missed shot caused the dirt to fly just as my DI walked up behind me and the butt crew waved the dreaded “Maggie’s drawers” indicating a miss.
“Did you just buck that shot Rockwell?”
I mumbled, “Yes sir,”
He immediately kicked me in the ass and without saying a word he stepped forward with the toe of his shoe on my testicles and said, “You aren’t going to do that again, are you Rockwell?”
“Sir, no sir.” The tears were forming in my eyes as I tried to focus my sights on the target. Damn, he was standing on my balls, my eyes were full of tears and I have to hit a 20 inch bull from 500 yards. No telling what he’s going to do if I miss this shot. Stomp? Ouch.
I squeezed off a round and it seemed like an eternity before the butts detail lowered my target to mark my score. We both waited; him with his shoe firmly on my balls and me with tears running down my cheeks. The target came back up. I couldn’t see the hole marker through my bleary eyes. Finally they raised the large white disk to the bull area, indicating a bull’s eye.
My DI lifted his foot and walked away without a word, my balls reassumed their spherical shape, and I whispered a little prayer, “Thanks God, I owe you one.”
©2009 by Bob Rockwell