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Old Corps Drill Instructor

Looking Back At The Old Corps
Submitted by: Ron “Tank” Rotunno

In 1965, one special career Marine had excelled as a leader of men. Yes, he had claimed membership in “the few, the proud”, but more than that, he was gung-ho, a hard-charger, a member of the “Old Corps”. At age 37, Sgt. J.R. Mickel was senior D.I. of Platoon #135 Company, 1st Recruit Battalion. To most raw recruits at Parris Island, he might as well been God Himself. He not only commanded their respect; he led them beyond the call of duty. As an 0300 infantryman, he’d earned the Silver Star for bravery in Korea, with combat stars for time of actual enemy encounter. The recruits knew all of this, although he, himself, never told them.

Now, Mickel was a tough Marine, but so were his assistants, the Junior Drill Instructors. A serious group of “Jar Heads”, they included: Sgt. D.W. Donovan, Sgt. J.W. Haynes, Sgt. P.D. Crocket and Cpl. R.R. Sibley. Indeed they were “leathernecks”, rugged as basic training. So how come Mickel was such an outstanding leader of this pack?

Was it because of the Bulldog tattoo on his left arm? Or was it because he gave such good demonstration during training? He could-and did-do it all: instruction on marching drill, every syllable in the manual of arms with an M-14 rifle-how to clean it, disassemble it and reassemble it, physical training, obstacle courses. You name it-he did it-BETTER than anybody else.

Was it because of his running, his stamina? He ran faster going backward than most privates did going forward. When the platoon went on a 3 mile run, the Senior D.I. made keeping the pace look easy. In that humid and oppressive South Carolina heat, Mickel even showed his platoon the “paratrooper strut”, a way to make breathing easier. Showed how to lob along at a steady pace, raising his feet slightly off the ground, even in double-time. Mickel was “all the way”, no time for quitters or lagging behind.

No, it wasn’t his bulldog tattoo, or excellent demonstrations, nor even his stamina. It was that, within the camaraderie of the platoon, he stuck up for his men. Whatever happened, he had drilled ’em, taught ’em, worked with ’em, and come hell or high water, he stayed right there beside ’em! Let’s say, for example, the C.O. wanted to set a fat body back in training-or some recruit who wasn’t doing well in some other part of his training. Like in the case of, say, “Neuhaus, Newt.” Newt was over weight-balance according to age and height.

Called in front of the C.O., Mickel stood up for this recruit under his care: “Sir, Neuhaus is losing weight. And, Sir, I’ll make sure he gets the weight off on schedule. We just need a little more time. We are working hard at it. Neuhaus says he can do it.”

Neuhaus, standing at attention, would agree: “Yes, Sir! I’ll lose the proper amount of weight each week.” After which, knowing that Mickel was a man of his word, the C.O. would respond, “Alright, Neuhaus, but the first time you can’t keep up with the training, you’re going back. Sgt. Mickel, sent the private to sick bay once a week to get weighed.” Which was met with the predictable: “YES SIR!” This last exchange terminated in another predictable: “DISMISSED!”

And, during rigorous physical training, Mickel threw buckets of cold water on the overheated recruits. Cold water and cold towels-techniques just now being accepted nationwide in sports medicine. But there was no time for heat prostration, heat strokes or blackouts in Mickel’s readiness platoon. The platoon might have lost some of it’s purpose-and that would NEVER happen! Not if Sgt. Mickel could prevent it!

Yes Sir, he was part of the “Old Corps”. Nobody who trained with him in the Summer of 1965 will ever forget. If you take a look at the group photo at the end of the Summer’s basic training, you’ll notice that even his Bulldog pup, little “Bullseye”, sat attention. Why? Sgt. Mickel trained him, of course, that’s why. Any Questions?!

Boot Camp 1965

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Robert Nall - November 11, 2020

Cpl Sibley was one of my drill instructors. Was the “good guy”. If I remember right, he was from my hometown, Louisville, Ky. I often wonder if he is still alive. I hope so.

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