A Dropped Rifle

(From my time as a Drill Instructor at MCRD, SD, 1957-1960)

Southern Recruit

The last hour before putting the recruits to bed is filled with several mandatory requirements as well as a little free time for writing letters, etc. It was during this hour prior to taps that this little incident happened.

On this particular day my Platoon had been learning the manual of arms with their rifles. It was summertime and the recruits were taking their showers, were writing home and enjoying a little time to discuss things with the other recruits within their Platoon. Normal uniform for that time of evening was white skivvies, undershirts and flip-flop shower shoes. I was in my duty hut doing some paperwork. All hatches on the ‘hootches’ were open for the weather was quite warm. There was no such thing as air conditioning at MCRD,SD in those days.

Suddenly, from my office, I heard the unmistakable clatter of a M-1 rifle hitting a concrete deck. If there is one unforgivable sin in the Marine Corps it is that one simply does not EVER drop his rifle. It appeared that this great sin had just been committed.

Grabbing my Smokey Bear cover I quickly went directly to the hooch from which the sound had come. As I entered, one of the recruits quickly called everyone to attention as was required.

On the deck was the barrel and receiver group, the stock group and the trigger housing group of a private’s M-1 rifle. Standing at attention nearby was the guilty recruit.

The rest of the Platoon had also heard the noise, so when they saw me rush into this hooch, the remainder of the Platoon gathered around the entrance of the hooch like little mice to see what I would do. Everyone was quite and not a sound could be heard except for the recruits breathing. It was that quiet!

It was quite a sight to see. All recruits standing at attention in their skivvies with sunburned heads, except where their cover protected them from the sun. Their necks were brown from the sun but that color changed abruptly where the utility shirt buttoned around the neck. The remainder of their arms and legs were without color.

“All right, Private,” I began. “What the hell is going on in here?”

The private standing near the scattered rifle answered with his slow, strong, southern accented voice, “Sir. The private was just doing the manual of arms, Sir!”

“Private,” I replied, “I’ve done the manual of arms a good number of times in my Marine Corps career and this has never happened to me.”

The private had been practicing the movements we had learned on the drill field that very day; those being the various movements such as Right Shoulder Arms, Port Arms, Left shoulder Arms and Order Arms. So I suggested that the private gather his rifle, put it together, and show me just what he was doing. By the way, the usual penalty for a recruit private that drops his rifle is to field strip the rifle and place all the many metal, leather and wooden parts in his bunk and make him sleep with them. Naturally this does not allow for a very good nights sleep. That is the purpose of this penalty.

The private quickly gathered all the parts of his rifle, and with shaking hands, assembled it. He then stood at stiff attention with his rifle at Port Arms. The remainder of his squad in that hooch was still standing at attention, watching with wide eyes. The rest of the Platoon still peeking meekly through the hatch. It was a comical sight but I managed to keep my composure.

I told the private to show me what he had done. For some reason he couldn’t simply start where the rifle came apart. He had to go through the entire routine again. I could see that he was trying his best to do this correctly – all the time doing so clad in only his skivvies. He was straining to do everything just right. Again, it was a very comical sight.

First he brought his rifle to Port Arms, then to Left Shoulder Arms, than back to Port Arms, then to Right Shoulder Arms, and finally, back to Port Arms.

What had actually happened was that when he was going through this routine earlier he had added one more movement which we don’t teach. It is usually called, “With a Twirl.” It is a ‘show off’ type of movement sometimes seen done by experienced drill teams, and when done correctly it is an impressive sight. I guess he thought he would try this movement and the results were that his rifle came apart.

The movement is performed by placing your right index finger inside the trigger housing, then spinning the rifle around, with the trigger group as the center of the spinning movement. Once the rifle has made one complete revolution it’s rotating motion is stopped by grabbing the forearm portion of the stock with the palm of the left hand, thus ending the rotation and the rifle ending up at the Port Arms position. Done correctly, it is something to see. This private didn’t quite do it correctly.

When this private got to the position where he had given his rifle a spin, or twirl, he didn’t realize that the trigger housing snap lock must be tightly locked or the trigger guard will swing down allowing the trigger group to fall out, which in turn allows the barrel and receiver group, and the stock group to also disengage.

His trigger guard snap lock wasn’t completely locked so his rifle flew apart when he tried this movement. Of course, normally, that doesn’t happen.

What makes this so funny was the southern private’s remark to me while he was trying to show me this movement. I’ll never forget what he said with his thick, southern drawl. Just before he spun his rifle again, he said, “Sir! It was right ‘bout here it commenced to come apart, Sir”

Of course when he tried the movement this time, the rifle stayed together. He was then white as a sheet and that was putting it mildly. He stood there not knowing just what to do and I began to realize just how hilarious this entire situation was. I tried to suppress a smile without success. My smile soon became a chuckle and finally I could not keep any part of my composure. I turned, took off my Smokey Bear cover, leaned against the nearest double bunk and simply let out a big roar of laughter. The entire platoon saw that I was human after all and they all joined in with a much needed round of loud laughter.

When I finally got things under control and got my composure back I looked around and there stood the southern private, still standing as straight as possible at attention, his rifle still at Port Arms. I finally managed to convey to him that there was absolutely no way he could have made up this story. I would not punish him for providing us with this much enjoyment. I told him to put his weapon away and for everyone prepare for Taps. It was time to, “hit the rack.”

They did so, and after standing by the hut’s light switch for a moment, I turned off the lights. As I walked out the hatch, the entire platoon said in unison, “Sir. Good night, Sir!” It was indeed a good night.

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