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.

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