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I Remember Marine Corps Boot Camp
MARINE CORPS BOOT CAMP: 1968
By D.T. Nyerges
"Get off my bus, you slimy-eyed maggots," the drill instructor shouted at the top of his lungs.
Thus began my "near death experience" through nine weeks of Marine Corps recruit training that began after we entered the gates at MCRD, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, in San Diego on Sept. 16, 1968.
In mere split seconds we were standing at our best "attention" on those yellow footprints at the receiving barracks for what seemed like hours. The hazing and swearing never stopped!
I was shocked senseless. I thought I would be treated as a man, not as a "maggot." This was when the Vietnam War was explosive and controversial, to say the least. My "home of record" was Pasadena, California.
I remember talking with some of the guys on the bus ride to San Diego from the A.F.E.E.S, Armed Forces Entrance and Examining Station, somewhere in downtown Los Angeles. We all had great personalities - we thought so.
We were students, surfers, camp counselors, part-time grocery clerks, and "street guys." Once we had our first haircuts, I didn't recognize anyone; we all looked exactly alike. It was true what the drill instructors said about us, I now thought. We were a bunch of worthless, slimy-eyed maggots with no personalities. And we felt worthless.
As rough and tough as boot camp was, there were some "fond" memories.
To my surprise and delight, I could outrun every private/recruit in my platoon on our near-daily three-mile runs. Although I lettered varsity in cross-country track in high school, I continued to run a lot on my own during the three years after high school - my junior college days - before I joined the Marine Corps.
Our almost-daily three-mile runs were not races, but I made them into races. I was one of the shorter recruits, so I was always marching and running at the tail end of our platoon. By about the second week of training, I realized that I could catch up to the front of the platoon with very little effort.
Those guys in front, including the platoon guide and the squad leaders, were running very well but working very hard at it. I often wondered if some of the recruits ever ran very much before recruit training. Again, these were not races, but merely our routine three-mile runs.
My platoon commander, our senior drill Instructor, was always insisting that I run even faster. "Yes, sir, the private will run faster and harder the next time," was my usual reply.
I soon realized why he was telling me this: he held four track records at his high school.
Even though he was 12 years older than I was, he could still outrun every one of us recruits in the sprints. At 21, I was considered one of the "old men" in boot camp. Nonetheless, I came in first place all through recruit training on our three-mile runs - but never fast enough for my platoon commander.
I had just spent the entire previous summer working as a camp counselor at a boys' club camp in the Big Bear Lake/Barton Flats area about 100 miles east of Pasadena at an elevation of 7,000 feet.
During my free times at camp, I would run long and hard around and near camp with a lightweight cedar log over my shoulders. (I had already enlisted in the Corps on Monday, June 10, and would depart for boot camp on Monday, Sept. 16.) And now, running at sea level was a breeze. My personal training at 7,000 feet paid off at sea level. I felt very little pain running, and I loved it.
Here is another "fond" surprise for me: not only did Gunnery Sergeant Ray Fitzhugh hold four track records in high school, he held them at my high school. I was surprised to learn this, which happened about the third week of training. This didn't make life any easier for me in boot camp, but I felt much better about it.
We both graduated from John Muir High in Pasadena, the same high school baseball player Jackie Robinson attended before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Later, when I was stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Gunny Fitzhugh became the first sergeant in the barracks where I lived. It was really good seeing him again. And he was as mean as ever, which I now liked. This was in HQ. CO., RTR (Recruit Training Regiment.)
My other "fond" memory was that of being in boot camp on the 193rd birthday of the Marine Corps on Nov. 10, 1968 - a Sunday. Training was a little lighter that day, although close order drills were about the same, and our three-mile run was as fun as ever - for me.
We attended the Marine Corps Birthday Ceremonies and Festivities on base, where the oldest and the youngest Marines would eat the first piece of birthday cake.
The noon and evening chow times were splendid banquets, and not too dissimilar to those meals civilians would enjoy on any Thanksgiving Day. Plus, we even got a few extra minutes to eat, instead of rushing as usual. We recruits did not attend the evening Marine Corps Ball.
My other drill instructors were Staff Sergeant R.D. Stride and Sergeant Kenny Joy. We were in Third Battalion, India Company, Platoon 3081, Sept. 16 through Nov. 21 1968.
I did not fight in Vietnam.
Editor's Note: Marines have been part of the history of San Diego since Marines on two Navy frigates landed in San Diego in 1846 during the Mexican-American War. Work later would begin in 1919 to build a base in the coastal Southern California city. A few name changes after the first, Marine Advanced Expeditionary Base San Diego, the base in 1948 was renamed Marine Corp Recruit Depot. San Diego.
At SGT GRIT, we carry apparel, covers, pins and more celebrating MCRD San Diego , which trained recruits arriving from west of the Mississippi River, and MCRD Parris Island, which trained recruits arriving from east of the Mississippi. We even carry a long-sleeved Property of MCRD San Diego T-shirt that highlights the year 1968. Shop our officially licensed collections of all things Marines.
To contribute your story about the Marine Corps, see our Marine Corps Stories page at SGT GRIT, where we sell officially licensed USMC product.
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