The second or third week, we were issued our M-1 Garand rifles, Cartridge Belt, sling, bayonet with scabbard, and a rifle cleaning kit.
We were told to memorize our rifle’s serial number. We were marched into a building and were taught everything there is to know about the M-1 rifle.
We memorized the rifle’s nomenclature and ballistic specifications. We learned, both by feel and by sight, the name of each and every part. We learned how to disassemble it, clean it, and put it back together again, over and over and over.
The next weeks were spent running, marching, close order drilling (COD), Physical Training (PT), running the many obstacle courses. We were unwilling participants in individual and group punishments, for all.
Marine Corps boot camp is brutal.
Pushed Over Your Limit
We started out with close to a hundred guys in our platoon. When we graduated Boot Camp, there were about sixty-one of the original Marine recruits left.
You were pushed up to and over your limit in everything. Sympathy and kindness was never shown. Never! The Drill Instructors’ job was to break you down, then build you back up into what they wanted you to be. And, they were good at it.
If one maggot screws up, the whole platoon is punished. Sometimes, everyone but the guy that screwed up is punished, while he gets to watch. It seems that most of our marching was done with our rifles held above our heads after we just couldn’t get one thing or another right.
Everything was taught by repetition. Doing everything over and over until it was done right. And sometimes it was reinforced with fists and boots. Someone always screwed-up at something.
One tried and true favorite of our Drill Instructors was having the whole Platoon do the Manual of Arms with packed-full sea bags. They probably weighed thirty-five pounds, with all our gear in them. They would exercise us until our muscles were on fire. It must have been a comedy to watch, but it was no comedy to do.
Learning How to Kill
One of the more fun things we learned was hand-to-hand combat. There, they tried to teach us how to kill an enemy with our bare hands.
It was sort of a mixture of judo, karate, and just mean street fighting.
We learned how to defend ourselves against someone coming at us with knives, how to throw a person, and so on. They told us if our arms were pinned, to chew the guys nose off, or his windpipe. Gouge out his eyes. Tear off his testicles; break anything you could get hold of. It was sort of fun.
We would pair off and practice. We called it Dance Class.
Another fun thing we learned was how to use the bayonet. For hours we would practice the slash, the jab, the vertical butt stroke, the horizontal butt stroke, the smash, parry right, parry left, back to the guard position.
After a while, that M-1 felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. “What’s the matter? You girls want to rest? Okay, you [expletive deleted] maggots! Get those rifles over your heads and run in place!”
We practiced with the pugil stick. The pugil stick is just a broom handle with canvas bags filled with fabric padding on each end. We put on football helmets and fought it out. It was a chance to get rid of some stored up frustrations. This Recruit really liked that. So did everyone else. Even the Drill Instructors seemed to enjoy it.
Guard Duty and Mess Duty
At night we had guard duty, and used to walk around the recruit training area. That was a dull and lonely duty.
We could look out over the bay and see San Diego. It was really pretty, especially at night, but it might as well have been on the moon. We would never get to go into town, unless we died or completed Boot Camp.
The fourth or fifth week was spent doing mess duty, which was a nice break. Not that it wasn’t hard work, it was. We had to get up an hour and a half earlier than usual, but it got us away from our Drill Instructors for a while.
This Recruit started out in the scullery, loading the huge dishwasher, and taking the clean trays and dishes out to the serving line. This Recruit had to run almost constantly, because if the “mess Marines” ran out of forks or cups, you were in line for being charged with a Capitol Crime.
After a couple of days, this Recruit was re-assigned to the reefer detail. This Recruit’s nom de gare became “Reefer Man.” They had a room-size refrigerator and my job was to take stuff out to the cooks and receive the incoming crates of food. Reefer detail was a pretty good assignment. One of the best things about it was that I was left alone.
After each meal, we cleaned the mess hall. All the tables and benches were shoved to one end and the other end was swept, scrubbed, pushed dry with a squeegee, and swabbed. Then the tables and benches were shoved to the other end and the process was repeated. Everything was then put back, ready for the next meal.
There was one redeeming thing about mess duty. After each meal, there was always a lot of dessert items left over and the Mess Sergeant allowed us to have as much as we wanted. He was a pretty decent Marine NCO, by boot camp standards.
There was a bakery somewhere on the campus and their baked goods were always fresh and first-rate. We could sometimes scrounge leftover sheet cake of some kind, and Recruits never get tired of it.
All silver linings have clouds though, and soon it was back to our Drill Instructors. More COD and PT. PT was done on the road and the parade ground: The Grinder. It was the beginning of the California spring, and the asphalt got really hot in the afternoon. Push-ups were murder. So was running.
We ran about three miles every morning and evening and it seemed like the Grinder just completely sapped your strength.
Next Week: On the Rifle Range