So anyways, we're on this float---

So anyways, we're on this float---

It’s 1969 and I’m with Fox Company, 2nd. Bn./ 2nd Mar. Reg/ 2nd. Marine Division on a Caribbean float. We’re doing jungle training in Panama with the Black Palm Jungle Survival school; which is run by the Army’s Green Beret unit. We were waiting to learn about using a Zip Line for a river crossing. It’S true, we were riding on zip lines years before it became a fun experience that you paid to do. Like I was saying, we’re standing around this Army Captain as he demonstrated how to make a floating device from our ponchos. I guess he didn’t understand that Marines know how or are taught to swim before leaving boot camp. He also told us how to use a zip line in order to get back across this same river. When questioned about the safety of this wire, the captain stated that he would give a month pay to learn what it felt like just before this wire broke. Well, we took our turns swimming across this stream and climbing up this tree using a ladder. I’m not sure where this ladder came from. I never saw anyone humping one of these in the bush. But I digress, I was number three in line so I’m sure about this. A Marine put the strap over his head and under his arms—he takes one step off and about to become air born when—you guessed it—the wire broke. We got it fixed without the benefit of instructions from the Green Beret. We finished the training without further incident or this captain. By the way, he never made good on his promise to give the Marine his paycheck and I’m sure this young man could have used the money—-a PFC only made about $105.00 a month back then. Now for those who are wondering about making a floating device using your poncho, you lay your poncho flat on the ground and take off all your clothes and put them in the center. Then using your boot laces, you tie the four corners together and get into the water holding on your poncho. You then quickly get out of the water and open the poncho up and get redress. My concerns about this: no weapon came across with you (maybe that’s why “they” exchanged the M-14 for the M-16—it must float), you are butt naked standing on the river bank trying to dry off before putting your clothes back on (I guess the enemy have to stop laughing before they can shot you full of holes), and , lastly, you may have noticed that I didn’t say anything about your pack and other gear that is still on the other side of the river. I guess that would be the least of your concerns as you are running through the jungle butt naked, bare footed, wet, and without a weapon. No wonder those Green Berets are so tough and few. oh well, it’s like Capt. George, my CO, told me as my feet were turning a different color from being so wet for so long (remember the floating device), I finished the Black Palm Survival Training.
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27 comments


  • L/Cpl Joe Rainey 11/75-11/79

    Parris Island 11/75-02/76. I remember swim qualification, I believe that’s what they called it, and having to jump into the water from a 30 ft.(?) tower with utility shirt and trousers on, nothing else. We then had to swim to the edge of the pool and down along the side towards the middle, across the middle and back down along the other side to the ladder and out. Needless to say I couldn’t swim very well and made it to the middle of the pool where I grabbed the edge of the pool and tried to climb out. Of course the Drill Instructor was right there and repeatedly stepped on my hands, lol (not funny at the time of course). I thought for sure he was going to let me drown but did eventually let me crawl out. I think I used the word can’t in there too during all of this pissing him off even more. I ended up an 1811 Tank crewman and don’t remember any kind of swim training until 78-79, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Had to stay afloat for 5 minutes which I was able to do somehow. Semper Fi all and Happy 242nd


  • Robert H Bliss

    I checked and an E-2 base pay in 1969 was $127 and change. I’m not sure why I thought it was lower; I guess it just felt that way every pay day. Anyways, thanks for your help with the correction.


  • Erv Paulson

    All I can remember about pay was $82.50 per month..that was 1966.


  • Shawn Inmon

    Funny how some training never changes that much. I was in Panama in ’96-’97, and we went through a “condensed” course at Fort Sherman on the Atlantic side, where the Army ran their Jungle Warfare School. We didn’t use zip-lines; we made rope bridges for river crossings – but we did utilize the “poncho rafts”. We used our “willie pete bags”, or water proof bags, inside our ALICE packs which created the floatation device, and wrapped two of them together with the waterproof ponchos. We kept our cammies on, thank God; there were barracudas in that water and didn’t want to dangle a worm in front of them, HaHaHa. All in all Panama was a GREAT experience though.


  • Kobel, R GySgt USMC Ret

    Except die (smile). We can blame all that know-how on our drill instructors and combat training instructors (usually Force Recon guys). I went through San Diego in early ’66. Many of us would take a short tour on the USS George Clymer, a leaky left-over troop ship from WWII whose bilge-pumps ran 24-7. For drown-proofing we started in the training pool, than later after boot camp, did it in sea-water at Delmar Basin. Some guys never learn, though. I can’t say about the Old West, but there are a million ways to die at sea. One was to leave your fully loaded field-transport pack secured to your back and be dragged under to drown before you can be rescued and/or be smashed between the Mike-boat (Higgins boat) and the hull of the troop shop. Leave your helmet buckled so you can break your neck when you hit the water from 60-odd feet where you fell off the net, ohh and, leave us not forget, sticking your head up above the edge of the landing boat and have ‘Charlie’ save you the trouble of breathing. Well, I covered all the important ones. We don’t even want to get into evac-ing (when it’s your turn), a P-5 landing craft that just deep-sixed. By the way, I personally don’t know of any P5’s that ever deep-sixed during combat operations, since we did our training at Delmar Basin. Two guys lost it while undergoing the training. One of the guys went nutso when they restarted his life-support. He was later dismissed from the Corps. The other man panicked and drowned… they couldn’t restart him


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