Spitshined Boots Were Prized

Spitshined Boots Were Prized

The combat boots pictured on your “Salty old Marine” tee shirt reminds me of my experience with an Army Surgeon, a full bird colonel.

In 1958 the Corps was issuing recruits 2 pairs of boots for field wear – the venerable “boondocker” low cut boot (just above the ankle), and the full combat boot. Both were made of rough, unfinished leather because (it was said) they “breathed better” on the feet. Regardless of design purpose, this was not acceptable –unofficially I’m sure – to the Corps. Our DIs immediately informed us that these boots would be worked on until they could carry a spit-shine like a patent leather shoe! And we did. And after weeks of labor – using shoe polish which we melted into the leather with matches or lighters, smooth, rounded bottles to press the polish and leather firmly down and smooth, and elbow grease by the hour – we lovingly produced a shine you could shave by. Those boots were worn at every inspection held in utilities for the next four years.

Advance the story a little over 2 years. Wearing my prized combat boots, I had boarded the APA USS Navarro in a harbor on Okinawa at the very beginning of the largest exercise by the Corps to that day – Operation Blue Star – and the battalion was still loading. By a freak accident I was knocked into an open hatch on the mess deck and fell a couple of decks to the hold, landing in a sitting position, feet hitting first, then butt and slamming backward to bounce my head off the steel. As a side note, I vividly remember the actual fall and had no fear – just an overwhelming anger telling myself what a dumbass I must be to be in that situation. It didn’t knock me out but did knock every ounce of air out of my lungs. The corpsmen, not knowing how severely I might be injured, got me on a stretcher and I was raised by rope to the deck, put on a motor launch and rushed ashore to be taken to the emergency room at the Army hospital. I was conscious the whole time but obviously in a little shock.

Great care had been taken to try to not move my spine for fear it was shattered and might kill me. They got me on a table in the emergency room and a minute or two later the head surgeon of the hospital arrived to check me out. The first thing he told the nurses, male and female, was to cut my clothes off so there would be no reason to move me unnecessarily. No problem. I could buy another set of utilities and skivvies. But when the guy with the scissors moved to my feet I spoke up. “Don’t cut my boots.”

He stopped and looked at the Doc who snapped “Cut ‘em off.”

Again, the guy goes for my boot and I said, a little irritated, “I said, don’t cut my boots!”

The Doc is now agitated that his order is being contradicted by an E-3, f**king 19 year old Marine. “You cannot be moved until I can examine you to see if your back is broken!” and to the nurse “Now cut the damned boots off!”

The guy goes for the boot. I start trying to sit up and, in a very loud, disrespectful tone, “I said don’t cut my f**king boots!”

The Doc, afraid he’s about to lose a patient says “Okay! Okay!” and I relax as he tells the nurse “Just cut the damned laces and see if you can ease them off without killing him.” He turns to the others and, shrugging his shoulders like “What can I do?!!” he mutters “F**king Marines”. He was one highly pissed bird colonel but I still had my prized boots.

Sgt Grit wants to hear from you! Leave your comments below or submit your own story!

20 comments


  • LCpl Robert Wiser

    Sure would love to get a hold of them boots. They were the best.


  • william cropf

    In reply to William McWhorter.
    I was a L/cpl with Marine Aviation Squadron VMA-531 on Operation Blue Star. We billet at Ping Ton, Taiwan during the course of the operation. Was station at Atsugi,Japan east camp prior to deployment…


  • Daniel Miller

    Love the story! laughed my butt off. I got out in ’76 and started working toward my career in Law Enforcement. In 1996, 20 years after I got out, I too had a medical emergency where a nurse was going to cut my right boot off due to a fracture of my ankle. I told her “Don’t you dare cut my boot off!” She told me that it was going to hurt if they pulled it off. I said “I don’t give a s#%t, pull that F@&*ker off but don’t cut it off!” I really shouldn’t have talked to her that way but she understood. Semper Fi!


  • Herbert E. Brown II SSgt (ret)

    Boon dockers and combat boots. Yes sir, remember them well. Was so happy when I first saw the Mexican Suede on the boon dockers because I figured they would never require a shine. WRONG! Zippo lighter, alcohol, cotton balls, water, Kiwi ox blood polish, (two coats) Kiwi black shoe polish, (one coat) and a ton of elbow grease later and those suckers shined like glass. The Marine Corps has a reason for everything. In this case, I was told much later that the purpose was to make you more aware of where your feet went. If your boot touched ANYTHING, it would scuff up the nap on the boot and it would stick out like a sore thumb. This was Parris Island, Dec 59.


  • William McWhorter

    I can appreciate that the subject under discussion here is “spit-shined boots”, and it’s not my intention to detract from that, but, I’ve noted that twice in these comments “Operation Blue Star” was mentioned. I “rotated” to Okinawa with H&S, 1/5 for a 13 month tour with the 3rd Mar. Div. from late 1959 to late 1960. While there we participated in three amphibious landing operations: one in Nov./Dec. of ’59 to Japan, and two others during ’60; one to S. Korea, and one to Formosa (Taiwan). One of these operations was “Blue Star” but I can’t recall the names of the other two, the order they were in, or their dates. I think one might have been named “Sea Hawk”, or something similar sounding, but I draw a total blank on the rest (a “senior moment” perhaps). Is there anyone, out there, reading this that might help me fill-in these blanks ? I hope I’m not out-of-line in making this request here & now, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity. I thank you in advance for any assistance you’re able to provide. Semper Fi


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