“Get off my bus, you slimy-eyed maggots!” shouted the Drill Instructor at the top of his lungs. Thus began my “near death experience” all through nine weeks of Marine Corps Recruit Training…after we entered the gates at MCRD, San Diego…the Marine Corps Recruit Depot…on that “fateful” Monday night, September 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. Station…somewhere in downtown Los Angeles. We all had great personalities…we thought. 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: we were a bunch of worthless, slimy-eyed maggots…with no personalities. And we felt worthless.
A.F.E.E.S. stands for Armed Forces Entrance and Examining Station.
As rough and tough as boot camp was, there were some personal “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 joining 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, 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 and demanding 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 twelve 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 in 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, and 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, September 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 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 totally surprised and amazed to learn this…at 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, California…the same high school famed baseball player Jackie Robinson attended. Later when I was stationed at MCRD, San Diego, Gunny Fitzhugh became the First Sergeant in the barracks I lived in. 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…10 November 1968, a Sunday. Training was a little lighter, close order drill was about the same, and our three-mile run was as fun as ever…for me! Plus, 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 on any Thanksgiving Day. And…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…16 September – 21 November 1968.
I did not fight in Vietnam.