In my experience, this was one of those fads that didn’t last long… don’t recall hearing it much after 1966, nor before… do recall, however, hearing the term used by a Brigadier General.
One of the standard expectations of those in leadership positions at the platoon and lower levels is that those so privileged is that they will know everything about those Marines in their charge, down to each Marine’s Mother’s maiden name, and her boot size… The CG of the forces involved in operation Hastings was General English, and the operation’s name was most likely chosen because it was to occur on the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in England… the original having been in 1066 (you can look it up…)
It was during a calm period when the CG came by chopper to what may have been 3/5’s Bn CP location… at any rate, the word came down for Plt Leader and Plt Sgts of Kilo to ‘up’… or in other words, get our butts to the Company CP area (also sometimes known as ‘the antenna forest’… you may recall those gizmos known as RC two-niner-twos).
So, 2nd Lt Robert. C Rosenau and his more or less trusty side- kick, known in these parts as DDick, hide themselves forthwith from the 1st Plt CP (that being our holes) up to Kilo Six’s area. Once there, along with our peers from the other platoons, we were introduced to General English. Along with the usual pleasantries, the General asked “how many Splibs do you have in your platoon??”…
We knew what he meant… we also had no idea of that particular inventory, and I am sure we both had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look… Rosie looked at me, and I looked at him, and we began… ‘Uh, well, sir, there’s Cherokee, and Scattermouth, and Sprinks, (counting on our fingers as we went down the roster), and…” At that point the General said ‘If you don’t know, that’s fine… glad to hear it!”
We hadn’t given it a thought… didn’t have any reason to… and it didn’t matter. To this day, even though I have a fairly complete roster, I would have to stop and think about which of those Marines were white, brown, or black… could probably tell you which squad they were in, maybe a little more… and could recognize them from behind, in the dark, by the way they walked… just the way it was.