The Marine Corp has two boot camps one in Parris Island and one in San Diego (which you’ve all seen in “Gomer Pyle’s Adventures in the Marines” on the TV series) that was the boot camp we were assigned to. We boarded the train for the three day journey, no air conditioning, the windows were usually up on the train and we slept in our clothes in the seats, not too comfortable.
At the end of the trip we felt dirty and sweaty. Arrived at the San Diego railroad station. Trucks were waiting for us and we were piled into the back ends of two and a half ton military vehicles. We all stood up in the back of the truck and were taken to the recruiting station in San Diego.
As I stood in the truck I noticed all the lush landscape that was completely foreign to any of us from anywhere east or the Midwest. It was just beautiful with palm trees and flowers and for me, unusually colorful.
By this time it was getting to be late afternoon and we were all tired and hungry. We finally arrived at the recruit depot and saw the big sign out in front “The Main Gate U.S. Marine Corp Recruit Depot”. The truck stopped and we were allowed in and I thought “Boy, this is finally it. It’s going to be a real adventure. It Was!
They herded us into a huge barracks. The main floor was a partially open area where we were met by several Marines, mostly DI’s and we all more or less lined up in front of this long table. We were expecting to be greeted with some ebullience but it was quite the contrary. This DI’s jumped up on the table in front of us and told us what scum-bags we were and how we had volunteered to get into the Marine Corps and they didn’t particularly care whether we were there or not, it was up to us. He used a lot of strong language, which I don’t care to repeat here.
The DI looked every inch a “God”. He had his brown stiff brimmed hat, starched khakis everything spit and polish and he looked like everything we envisioned a Marine to be, except we were taken aback by his attitude.
We were given little boxes to put our valuables in, to mail home later, and afterwards we were walked to the mess hall and had our dinner, a little late, on stainless steel trays. I think it was “cold cut day” (Friday) we sat down at long tables and ate.
Everyone was very tired and quiet, with just a little talk here and there. We were taken back to the second floor barracks, typical barracks with double bunks on top of the other and lockers. We were shown how to make up a bunk. We were told to strip the bunk and make them up. The DI afterwards checked to see whether we had done it correctly. Well, if one or two people had not done it correctly, he made everybody strip the bunk again. This happened three times.
We finally got it right and were told to take a cold shower, which we did, and afterwards finally got into our little beds and went to sleep or tried to go to sleep. I lay back on my bunk wondering what the heck I had done! Anyway, the next morning a bugle on the PA system woke us up and we literally jumped out of our sack, got dressed and went back down stairs and were taken to have our physicals.
The physicals went fine except there was a line for everything. As we went through the Navy doctors and corpmen were very efficient. The final test was a blood test. I’ll never forget how they used a tiny tube with a sharpened end which after tournequeting your bicep they put the tube into a vein and let the blood run down into a test tube which ended up corked and had your name put on it. That was the end of that physical.
The next step was getting our gear, equipment and clothes. As we walked over to the warehouse where all of this was stored we passed on the edge of the parade ground that was indeed a magnificent sight. The parade ground at San Diego is pretty much the way Gomer Pyle shows it on TV. A huge quadrangle of asphalt and the buildings surrounding it are stucco and clay tile, rather good looking.
The parade ground by this time was filled with recruits, formed platoons with the DI’s drill instructions. You could almost tell by the way each platoon marched which week they were in, the first, second or third week. It was very noticeable in the way they wheeled around and did about faces and some had rifles by this time, which was another indication that they had been in for several weeks.
After getting our clothing, pith helmet, shoes khaki shirts, greens and all of the other things, belt and whatever we needed at that point we were marched over to the PX and each man had to purchase a pail, scrub brush, Fels Naptha soap, shaving gear and tooth brush and tooth paste. These would take care of our needs for the next seven weeks.
We were next assigned to platoons. My platoon happened to be 743 and we were assigned a DI. The DI assigned to us was Corporol Apple. He was a good looking guy with blonde hair and looked great, he was liked by the guys because he had a ready smile he tried to be mean and rigid but he broke into a smile occasionally as if to show that he didn’t really mean it.
This is probably one of the funniest incidents in Boot camp while not funny to us at the time. We were marched over to the barber shop and the platoon stood in three ranks waiting to get our hair cuts. There must have been three or four barbers inside and there was only one way to get in, walked up two or three stairs and went in and took turns The funny part of it was that as we stood out there each man had varying lengths of hair, some having longer curly locks which they were apparently vain about. As each man came out with his head narrowly shaved the entire platoon would burst out laughing. The same thing happened to me and everybody else; but we all got used to it.
We lived in Quonset huts, which are half circles of corrugated steel. Inside were the same steel bunks every man having a bunk and some sort of a locker and the day’s work proceeded. The first week was strickly close order drill. We were taught to do our left face, right face, forward march and close order drill and we marched pretty continuously for several days. We had several classes, class movies and it progressed that way until about the third week.
At this time we were issued our Springfield 03 rifle. A World War 1 vintage wonderful weapon, lever action with 5 round clips.As we walked up they handed them to us and they were full of Cosmoline which is a thick green grease. They marched us to a cleaning area where there were toothbrushes for cleaning each weapon. We were given a lecture and were told that this rifle would be our partner for the rest of our Marine career. We treated them with great respect. The same day after the Cosmoline process and a thorough cleaning we had a rifle inspection and many of us had to go back and clean them again and probably again.
About this time Corporal Apple was transferred to another platoon. We were sorry to see him go. He was replaced by Sgt. Sellers, who was a handsome man, a little older than Cpl. Apple. Sgt. Sellers had a little mustache, Pith helmet, as usual the same spit and polish appearance, we grew to like him as well, although he was a lot more strict and a little more temperamental than Cpl Apple.
A little note about the DI’s we were instructed by, they had all been in the Corp for several years. I think Sgt Sellers had been in for six or seven years and we heard that all of the DI’s on the base had been survivors of the SS Lexington the carrier that was sunk in the battle of the Coral Sea. They told us little stories about being rescued after a day or two just clinging to the wreckage or rafts and finally being picked up.
A little about the make up of the platoon, they came from all over. The platoons in marching order were arranged so that the biggest men were usually in the lead when we marched in columns and the shorter men were in the back, they got to be fairly small down to five foot six inches tall the last two or three were called “feather merchants” I don’t know where the term came from but that is what they were called.
Personalities varied as did ages some were seventeen as I was and some were as old as twenty, although there were not too many of those. Some of them as you talked to them you realized that they had been around for a little while and as in the case of the one guy with the longer black shiny hair, had a loud sport coat when he came in, quite talkative and you could see that he had been around and was more or less a “city slicker”
Sgt. Sellers took us in hand after we received our new rifles and taught us the “Manual of Arms” and the Marching Manual and had us marching with our rifles on the parade grounds and we were doing pretty well after two days. We were slapping our rifles as hard as we could so that we sounded pretty good.
There were as many as 20 platoons at a time, all marching in cadence and each DI had his own little style. The cadence was almost musical with the various DI’s and you could hear them from
afar. The whole ambiance was really kind of exciting the cadence went, somewhat like this: “wot, two, three, foe, three, foe d -u left, right, left hup o three, four, five, six, seven, eight” and you were expected to slap your rifle so that they all came down at the same time. It was rather miraculous as we got to be good at it. The sights and sounds of marching recruits all over that parade ground was quite a sight to behold.
There were two other events that happened during boot camp. We were told that they were making a movie in Hollywood and wanted us on the parade ground with all the recruits of the boot camp at that time. So we all had our rifles, marched out to the parade ground and they assembled us all over that parade ground and we had been taught to do an exercise drill with rifles so that the entire parade ground was filled with recruits at about 5 or 6 feet apart each way and the cameras were on us. We went through this rifle exercise to the music of “It’s Three O’clock in the Morning” and they had us do this several times while they shot and re-shot. I don’t know if this ever appeared in a movie but for us it was a kind of a unique situation.
The other event was: every Saturday morning we would have an inspection and several of the higher ranking officers would come around and make the inspection walking past all of the troops lined up on the parade grounds in our “greens” with our rifles, standing at attention all at several stages of training. Now and then one of the high ranking officers would stop and talk to one of the men and ask how they were doing in their training and of course it was always, very affirmative and up, up, and up.
One particular Saturday morning we were told that President Roosevelt was coming so of course we were out quite early all standing at attention on the parade ground. On the perimeter of the parade ground were many platoons all lined up, all standing at attention. The sun in San Diego during the morning hours was starting to get quite warm but we stood there and not too long afterwards an open black limousine came along and there he was President Roosevelt, FDR himself! The car went touring around the middle of that parade ground in the middle of all the recruits and we got a look at him and he left. That was the end of that big event but it was quite exciting.
I had told you that we had gotten Pith Helmets originally; but we hadn’t since they were short of Pit Helmets so we got them three or four week later. Most of us had the short over-seas caps. Some of the fellows who were blond or red heads got some real sun burns !
Boot camp took seven weeks of which the first three or four weeks, was at the base and that went mostly as I told you. On Saturday mornings it was inspection time but on one or two days a week in the mornings we had to wash our clothes and we were
marched out to the wash racks which were bands of wood racks with piping and faucets above about three feet apart so what you had to do was wash your clothes that morning, shirts, dungarees, skive drawers, underwear and scrub them with the Fels Naphta and a brush and hang them up to dry. All of the clothes were marked so that you would hopefully get your clothing back.
We were awakened by a bugle call at 5:00 a.m. put on our clothes rather quickly, and ran outside with overcoats because the San Diego mornings at that time of the year were quite chilly. We would do some calisthenics, then marched over to the mess hall for breakfast.
We were usually scheduled to do certain things during a particular day one of them being, bayonet course, obstacle course, class movie training films, snap in with rifles, close order drill and on it went. Occasionally, someone would foul up so the DI would make the offender do something strange or bizarre to make others laugh at him. Scrubbing the stairs up to the drill instructors little bivouac with a toothbrush and soapy water, another one was to send the offender out to the salt flats to bring back a handful of water. Well, that was quite hard to do. Usually very little water remained in the offender’s hands.
The fourth week at Boot Camp at the recruit depot we were bused over to Camp Matthews, which is the Marine Corp rifle range. I’d like to describe a little about the camp. As we came through the big gates they had several mottos above the gates, such as “Make Every Shot Count”.
We were assigned to Quonset Huts that were to be our residence for the next few weeks. We were a couple of miles from the Rifle Range.
Let me describe how the riffle range was set up. They were a flat platform and spaced every so often for a position to fire from. There was a burning soot-chamber that was used to thrust the rifle in and soot the front sight so that there was no glare off of the site.
The Range ranged from 100 yards, 200 yards and 500 yards. Targets had “buts” which was a trench in back of each line of targets. The targets themselves were square with a big Bull’s-eye in the middle and a number of points much the same as a Dart game they slid up and down. In the trench was someone tending each target and after each round was fired the person would pull down the target, put a white plug into it so that when he ran it back up you could see if you hit the Bull’s-eye because it had a white spot on it.
Every platoon that came in got a turn to fire and to tend the “buts”. Beyond the 500 yards was a long hill into which all the bullets penetrated and after a certain amount of time, from what I heard, they would go back there and collect all the lead by digging it out of the hill.
The first few days we spent time learning all the firing positions. They consist of kneeling, prone and standing positions. We were instructed how to use the rifle sling, how to wrap it around our arm and get a steady position whichever position we were in. We were given instruction in the 45 caliber automatic Colt which was a standard side arm for the army the Marine Corp and I guess the Navy. After a certain amount of instruction, I’d say in 2 or 3 days we finally started to fire and we got to practice firing at each position. This took several other days and in the interim we fired at the 45 Caliber range with the pistol and I did fire expert with the pistol, which I was quite pleased about.
Some days later we were told we were going to fire for record, which meant that it goes on to your permanent record. The three rating from bottom to top are Rifleman, Marksman and Expert Rifleman. Of course everyone wanted to be an Expert Rifleman. Record Day turned out to be a nice day, wind blowing slightly and I did quite well firing. An instructor next to me made a mistake allowing me to fire two or three rounds at the five hundred yard range, without adjusting the windage knob on my rifle and this caused me to miss Expert Rifleman by two or three points. It was upsetting but I did get Marksman and this was not bad and I felt pretty good all in all. After our Record firing we assembled and marched back. I might tell you that we were issued rifle jackets that were padded, had leather elbows and a leather right shoulder piece so that when the rifle fired it was in the shoulder and it would take up some of the brunt of the recoil.
The other thing I have to tell you our original instructor whom I envision throughout my life when I think about it, as an ideal Marine. He was a great big guy, a French Canadian and looked like he was a Canadian Indian. Tall, dark wore the typical brown broad brimmed hat and was so good and so likeable that everybody thought he was wonderful. He would pick up that 03 rifle and show us how to fire standing up. In that standing position I can see him now. The rifle looked like a toy in his hand, he was so big, beautifully built and the typical Marine so that we all admired him.
After our firing on the range for Record we assembled and were marched back to our Quonset hut. Sergeant Sellers marching along with us everybody could tell that he was quite upset. The back of his neck was red and he had a very stern expression on his face. We marched back to the Quonset Hut. Later Sgt. Sellers told us that our DI had lost a bet with another platoon DI (a bottle of Scotch and some dollars). He marched us out to the Salt Flat in the hot sun. for at least an hour. We were exhausted so he made all of us pay for our misdeeds whether we fired poorly or for a job well done - it was all part of the game.