Train to Destiny The 1957 movie The D.I., starring Jack Webb, premièred four years before I enlisted in the Marine Corps. The story was about a drill instructor trying to shape a platoon of raw recruits into fighting Marines at Parris Island, South Carolina. An early scene in the movie showed a train load of young men arriving at Yamassee station in South Carolina. There they were met by their drill instructor and were confronted with the realization that they may have just made the worst choice of their young lives. In September of 1961, I was thinking about that movie and those actors. I was on a train from Buffalo, New York to Yamassee, but with a group of Marine Corps enlistees, not actors. None of us had any idea of what we were getting into.  The train ride to Yamassee was more than 850 miles long. As we traveled south, we picked up more enlistees in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the Carolinas. The wasn't much to do for the dozen hours it took get there, so we passed the time with tall tales, a little penny-ante poker, and a lot of drinking. The legal minimum drinking age was 18 in New York, West Virginia, and South Carolina. So the beginning, middle and end of our trip was very “wet.” As the beer and liquor flowed, so did the stories of conquests on the gridiron and the dance floor. We were men of the world celebrating our coming of age. We were breaking away from our families and about to see the world. Life was a new, big adventure, and we were going to be a part of it. Greyhound buses were waiting to take us the last 90 miles to Parris Island. It was midnight and we were tired and less than sober. There wasn't much to see on that black, moonless night. We had run out of boastful commentary and some of us actually tried to get a little sleep. The time passed quietly. Eventually we crossed our last bridge. The bus headlights glared off a big red sign announcing Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Seconds later we stopped on the edge of a huge parking lot. A lone Marine, hands on his hips, was spotlighted by the headlights of the bus. The driver swung open the door as the sergeant came striding into the bus. He was wearing a drill instructor's campaign cover, we all knew as a Smoky Bear hat, dipped low over his forehead with his searing eyes just visible below the brim. He rushed to the back of the bus, and at the top of his voice asked the last guy in the last seat, who would be the first person off the bus. The young man, a bit confused, answered, “Me, sir?”  His response was immediately corrected by the sergeant. “From now on you will begin and end every sentence with the word SIR,” he barked. “Do you understand?” “Sir, yes sir,” the recruit responded. The DI then turned and, as he marched to the front of the bus, asked every recruit he passed, “Who's going to be the first one off this bus?” By the time he got to the front of the bus and asked the first guy in the first seat the same question, we were all yelling, “Sir, me sir!” The drill instructor exited the bus and began barking orders at us through the opened windows. “I want to see all eyes forward. No one eyeballs me. Do you understand?” “Sir, yes sir,” we all yelled. Whatever buzz we had from our earlier drinking was now replaced with sheer terror and confusion. The DI then yelled. “When I say go, I want all of you girls to exist this vehicle as quickly as possible. Do you understand?” “Sir, yes sir,” we replied in unison. “I can't hear you,” he bellowed. “SIR, YES SIR,” we screamed at the top of lungs. The DI Positioned himself along side the door of the bus. “GO, GO, GO, GO!” he bellowed. (There is an indisputable law I learned in high school physics. Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. That axiom was about to be proven wrong by 40 Marine recruits.) The bus erupted into total chaos. Everyone was trying to get off the bus at one time. The scene was reminiscent of a Keystone Cops silent movie. In seconds, all of us were off the bus and being herded into two rag-tag columns. As the DI starting giving us our first instructions on how to line up into a proper military formation, an angry voice carried over the formation from the bus. “Who's going to pay for the #*&%* door?”  We looked back to see the driver standing on the steps of his bus, trying to close a door that was now swinging loosely on one hinge. The drill instructor never missed a beat and told the driver to call headquarters and they'd take care of it. With the door jammed half closed and a glaring stare, the driver swung his bus around and drove off into the night. More than a few of us were wishing we were riding back with him; broken door aside.
Swimming the length of the pool, and treading water were basic requirements for every recruit. I never made it, even after countless evenings of extra lessons and practice. Instead, while trying to tread water, I went under and began to drown. The warm, ethereal feeling I was experiencing was abruptly interrupted by an instructor who was upset because he had dove into the pool while still in his sweat suit. My extreme effort of nearly drowning seemed enough for my drill instructor and I was never tested again at Parris Island. I would have to attempt qualifying at my first duty station. Mercifully, while at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, a Marine from my Parris Island platoon helped end my swimming dilemma. He was now the company clerk and told me that my record book had been changed to show me as a second class swimmer. I was eternally grateful.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos are from my bootcamp platoon album: Albert Love Enterprises
Judo was the martial art of choice because you could fully executive a maneuver without holding back. At the time, karate was not a full contact sport.
Hair trauma happened in less than 30 seconds. Our lives were changed forever. Grown men cried.
Pugil Sticks simulated hand-to-hand combat with rifles and bayonets. The task was simple; aggressively charge your opponent while delivering your loudest war cry and hardest blows. In this I excelled to the point of having to be pulled off my opponent by the instructor.
Mess Duty was another new experience for most of us. You either worked on the line, in the galley, or in the scullery and pot shack. Nothing was easy and you quickly gained a new respect for Marine Corps cooks and bakers. Organization and timing was critical to feed thousands of troops on a tight schedule. And the chow was surprisingly good. I even learned the proper way to crack an egg and make delicious mashed potatoes.
162 First Battalion, Company C, Platoon 162 Parris Island, South Carolina Marine Corps Recruit Depot USMC United States Marine Corps
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