Sunday, June 24, 2012

My first night in Marine Corps boot camp...and a bit more

This was written earlier, but just finished...more to add.

My first night in Marine Corps boot camp June 22 1968

Today, actually this night at about 23:00-23:30, 21 June 2012
is 44 years to the day that I entered U.S. Marine Corps boot camp
at Parris Island, South Carolina. Mostly, it was June 22, 1968, but
we got in before midnight.

I left Boston by train with Tommy Lizotte and Gary Arbuthnot.
I had joined the Marines on or about 26 February 1968 on the
120 day delay program, which meant I would enter boot camp
after I graduated from high school. When Tommy joined the
recruiter, a helluva of a guy, Staff Sgt. Frank Ramos, signed us
up on the ´buddy system´ which meant that you and your friend
would go through Boot camp in the same platoon.

Gary was also supposed to be with us in platoon 384 (´the best
in the corps´as we sang), but I think that he ended up in platoon
385.  But, I didn´t complain about the mixup. That´s because
within the first few days of boot camp a drill instructor from
another platoon asked the recruits if they had any outstanding
questions or problems.

One man raised his hand and told the DI that he joined with
his best friend under the ´buddy system´ and his friend was
placed in another platoon. So, the Drill Instructor (herein DI)
said "so you miss your buddy? We might not be able to change
things, but you want to see your buddy?" The man didn´t know
what do do, and the DI asked for the name of his buddy.

They DI´s got his buddy, and brought both of them in front
of the whole series (four platoons of 80 men in a training
series). Then, the DI said "Say hello to your buddy."

Your, man said "Hi" to his friend. The DI came over and
said "I said to say hello. This is how you say hello." And,
with that the DI smacked the man who missed his buddy
across the face. Then he ordered him to say hello to his

He hit his friend, but not enough for the DI, so the DI
again smacked the man knocking him off his feet, and
said "Say hello to your buddy." He smacked his friend
hard to avoid another smacking by the DI. Then, the DI
said to the recruit who was smacked "Say hello to your

This went on for about 5-10 minutes. Smack, smack, smack...
so, a lot of people who´s friends ended up in the wrong platoon
decided not to complain. Hello Parris Island!

I guess that you could call the ´buddy system´ not only having a
friend go through that experience, but it was also witnessing each
other getting abused, beaten and more by the Drill Instructors.

I knew Gary much longer as we had gone through our first 8 years
of primary school together in a small class at St. Charles Borromeo
in Woburn, Massachusetts.

We took a long train from what I thought was an Army base in
Boston not far from South Boston, and there were many stops.
As we were from Boston and the Boston area we were the
smartest, cockiest wise guys. But, we would have to share that
with those from other cities...notably New York.

Our first stop was at Brockton, and it set a pattern; every new
group thought that they were the baddest. The next stop that I
remember was New York, but there were others before it. We
also stopped at Philadelphia; I don´t know about Baltimore.
But, we stopped and got out for a bit in Washington D.C.

I remember that stop because many buildings were boarded up
as there had been five days of riots in the African American
community after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I wasn´t interested in seeing national monuments; I wanted beer,
or a place that sold it. I came up empty.

We then moved on to Richmond, Virginia, a city that I liked very
much in the last several months before I got out of the Marines,
and went there on weekends several times. On a Lance Corporal´s
(L/Cpl) pay hotels were too meant trying to meet
a woman the first night...and having someplace to stay...and

I enjoyed going through Virginia very much, especially the
approach to Richmond. I saw graveyards and communities
that you don´t see if you´re on a highway, and I saw poverty
in someplaces.

I don´t remember how many stops there were beteen Richmond
and Charleston, South Carolina, but I remember one in particular.
We stopped at a small place in South Carolina in the African-
American part of town; it was a short stop...maybe 10-15 minutes.

I got off the train and raced to the central area, and as I ran my
ass off I called out to people asking where the bar was...´crazy
white boy.´ I didn´t think about segregation, or have a clue.
Although on May 17, 1954 the U. S. Supreme Court outlawed
separate educational facilities based on race, and Congress
passed ´The Civil Rights Act of 1964´ that outlawed major forms
of discrimination against African-Americans and women racial
segregation still existed and does mainly through housing segregation
by race.

I was the first one to the bar and got two beers, and left a good
tip; I was happy. I did the same six months later in the Anchorage,
Alaska airport...running and asking where the bar was. I was going
to Vietnam for my first time.

The train ride was also very interesting and educational. I was
seeing lots of farmland...fields of yellow and other colours for
miles. But, I also saw poverty, and what shocked me were the
small grayish one floor small houses that spoke of abject poverty
among African-Americans. I never forgot that.

It also is a fact in the North, and I grew up in a housing project
that the older kids called it ´The Brick Jungle´ (the name I use
in my novel) for my first 14 years. The project was for families
that were near the bottom economically.

We got into Charleston, South Carolina late probably about 11pm,
and switched to a bus for the 5 mile ride to the Marine Corps
Recruit Depot, Parris Island. It was very dark as we crossed the
distance from the main land.
I had good training for Marine Corps Boot Camp. My father was,
in the years he drank, my own personal Drill Instructor. In 1987
a counselor and later colleague told me that my father helped
prepare me emotionally for war in Vietnam; that is to withstand
it not only emotionally, but also psychologically. So, I knew I
could handle boot camp.

I knew that Drill Instructors (herein DI´s) smacked and beat
recruits, but my dad smacked me, and when I was 14 he scored
a one punch TKO on me. And, I didn´t give my dad the satisfaction
of seeing me shed a tear! So, I knew that I could take a beating,
and come back. That´s a terrible statement about your childhood,
but I was also prepared for war by him. Now,  I consider that a

One of the best pieces of advice I got was from Charlie M who
was a couple of years ahead of me at Woburn High, and in the
Marines earlier. He said to get a seat at the front of the bus that
took us to Parris Island, preferably the first row. There was a

When the DI came on the bus he said that we were now at Parris
Island, Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Then he said ´Your mama
and papa ain´t here. We are your mama and papa. When I tell you
to get off this here bus you run your slimy civilian ass off and get
into that barracks. You got 30 seconds and 28 off them are gone

And as Charlie had warned the DI had a night stick (in Boston
we called the policeman´s night stick a ´Billy Club.´ After all,
they just don´t use them at night. In Boston a Billy Club used
to be called a ´Paddy Whacker.´ Paddy as in Irishman.

Charlie had also warned that even if I were in the front seat (I had
the aisle seat behind the driver) to get offfast  because the DI may
turn around and try smacking us just because we were at the front
of the bus. He did turn around, and I ducked. He didn´t want anyone
to get away free. I was happy that I avoided his club.

However, as soon as I got off the bus to run into the barracks
there was another DI waiting and screaming ´What The Fuck
are You Doing Taking a Stroll?´ These guys would smack whoever
they felt like. There was another one past him even more menacing.
I was running my ass off, but to them I was ´walking.´

The last one was waiting on the wooden steps at the top of the stairs.
He had it best; everyone had to pass him within feet, and then they
turned left into the barracks. Inside the white wooden barracks were
tables put together lengtht-wise so they were about 15 feet or so,
and there were about five rows of these.

A DI walked on the table in some rows and we were being screamed
at by half a dozen DIs; it´s hard to remember when you´re traumatized
and not able to count. We had to empty our pockets and all possessions
onto the table. I remember seeing a DI´s leg extend and his foot strike
a recruit in the face and there was blood on the table. That put fear into

I expected punches and beatings, but Holy Fuck kicking a guy in the
face? This is worse than I imagined, and I spent a fair amount of time
imagining to prepare myself. It was over in under three hours, and
then we were taken to a temporary white wooden barracks until our
new drill instructors got us. It turned out that we had another 24 hours
in those barracks. We survived our first 24 hours.

One thing was clear there was no way that we could move fast
enough for any DI. I doubt Jesse Owens could please them in that
regard. It was a constant throughout the nine weeks of boot camp.

We spent another 24 hours in the temporary barracks, and then
our DI´s came. While we had been waiting for our three Drill
Instructors for the next nine weeks to come so we would be out
of limbo so to was not better.

During all of boot camp if a DI caught you looking at him he would
scream ´What the Fuck are you looking at? Do you want to Fuck
me?´ Or, are you trying to eye Fuck me?´ Believe me, there was
no right answer to that question. If you said "No" you weren´t looking
at him, then you were a liar! You´d hear "Are you calling me a lair?"
Once you said "No" after saying that you hadn´t been looking at him,
then you went back on what you had you had lied!

And, if you said No to "Do you want to Fuck me?" then for sure
you´d here "Why, I´m not good enough for you?" I´ll give you a
hint. A yes or no answer is bad. That´s what it was like. It´s called
a mind fuck! One gigantic mind fuck.

Whenever you had to ask a DI a question you had to say "Sir, Private
Meuse requests permission to speak to the Drill Instructor", or whoever
it was. The answer might be "Speak hog." That was one of the many,
many new names that they had for you. ´Queer´, ´faggot´, were others,
and ´you´...oops the private didn´t complain unless he wanted a beating.

And, you could never say ´you´ because a ewe is a female sheep,
and the DI would again ask if you wanted to F*ck him." That was
a no-go area.

Our three Drill Instructors for the next nine weeks were Senior DI
Staff Sgt Ross. And, I thought that my dad was scary? My father just
got me ready for the likes of Sgt. Ross et al. He was about 5 feet 10
inches, a bit thick with a reddish freckled face that was either the
result of the sun or drinking or both...I think it was more the drink.

He was a scary dude and prone to outbursts of rage and anger. Ross
seemed like a man just waiting for a  reason to punch, or beat up
someone. He didn´t need a reason; he had 80 recruits to train and
abuse if he felt like it.

I experienced his wrath, and remember one time in particular. He was
screaming within inches of my face and the next thing I knew I was
on the cement floor, and he was screaming at me. ´Who the Fuck gave"
me permission to get down on the floor´ when he was talking to me?´
Shit, he had slammed my chest hard with his fist. I goy up fast as I

Then, there was Assistant Drill Instructor (ADI) Sgt. Braswell. He
was the youngest of the three, and most  felt that he was a sadist;
me too, yet I had seen a human side of him. Being a sadist was a role
he played. I got his ´special attention more than once.

When growing up in my housing project, ´The Brick Jungle´ dentists
visits were...when really needed. A tooth pulled. So, my first time to
the dentist in boot camp he pulled eight teeth. It hurt, and they don´t
waste too much medication on recruits.

I got back to our red brick barracks on ´light duty.´ Within 20 minutes
Sgt. Braswell came walking through the door, and we all stood up to
attention and yelled out ´Platoon Attention.´ It actually sounded like
platoon Aten hep. I could barely open my mouth, so I did my first Lip-

Unfortunately, Braswell caught it out of the corner of his left eye; he
missed nothing. He came right over and got in my face and said "What
makes you so special, Miss Meuse (yes that´s one of the kinder things
they call you). I didn´t get a chance to explain because his fist slammed
into my mouth. There was a bit of blood, but that was nothing to a DI...
all in a day´s work so to speak.

But, Sgt. Ross called out to him and waved him to the duty table
where he quietly said something about it not being a good time to
hit me. After all, he had nine weeks.Sgt, Braswell came back to me
and was a different man. He seemed concerned, and said he did not
know that I had some dental work. He even asked me if I was allright...
i.e. do you need to go back to the dentist. I nodded that I was allright;
I thought it best not to mention the fucking shock and pain. That might
really piss him off.

He actually suggested that I go lie in my top rack (bed). For a split
second. I worried that if I started to I would find that it was a bad
joke. But, I was hurting, and thought he meant it. He was nice to me,
and while lying in my bed I was thinking he´s sure gonna get back at
me for this one. And, he did; more than once. The worst was a slam
to my adam´s apple.

Another time we came out of a rifle class, and Braswell said "Miss
Meuse remind me of something when we get back to the barracks."
The whole way back I was thinking ´did I do anything?´ No, I stayed
awake in class. What could it be? I hadn´t pissed him off. Maybe it
was nothing. No, a DI like Braswell wouldn´t call you up for a chat.
This must be bad shit.

When I went up to the duty table I requested permission to speak to
him. Got it, and said he told me to remind him of something. And he
said "Oh yeah. Get over in the corner." There was a space after the
last bed of about four feet wide and six feet long. Braswell immediately
said "On you back. On your feet, On your knees...back, feet, knees,
prone...for three or four minutes.

He screamed at first when I didn´t understand what he meant, and I
thought I was in for a beating, but I just did what he said. It´s called
´grass drills´, but I was doing them on the concrete floor. The problem
is he´s barking out the orders in rapid fire, and you (oops the private)
is always 2-3 commands behind him. After a few minutes you´re wiped
out. What a blast it must´ve be for him

Sgt. Braswell was in the habit of saying that he was getting ´out of the
Corps,´ and when he did he couldn´t wait to sit down with a beer to
watch the late news on TV and see us getting our asses shot off!

I liked him and his sense of humour, but not then.

Sgt. Fondaw was the other ADI, was around the same age as Sgt. Ross,
30ish, or was a career Marine like Ross. He was by all accounts best
liked...I think. I had seen him angry, but I don´t remember him beating
up on someone the way Staff Sgt. Ross or Sgt. Braswell did. but, you
didn´t want to piss him or anyone off.

That´s enough  proof read abit...I´ll add to it.


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