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Tale of a Dramatic Drill Instructor
Submitted by: Ron “Tank” Rotunno
Pride in the Marine Corps arose from the depths of Sgt. P.D. Crocket’s soul. You saw it in his eyes when he was singing “The Marine’s Hymn.” He looked like Kate Smith when she sang “God Bless America”. That summer of 1965 was hotter and more humid than usual at Parris Island. Sweat poured off everyone as Crocket realized he had a flair for acting, for the dramatic; even for comedy. But his leadership technique was unique. His goal was indoctrinating the recruits with discipline, and he achieved it one way or another.
The platoon was standing at attention for chow one day in July. “Attention” meant attention. They looked like the honor guard at their posts in Washington. Then, one recruit broke the command. Private Polanski moved his eyes, and eye movement was a big “no, no”. With the platoon locked in position, he easily stood out from the others. Crocket spotted the movement and yelled, “Why are you moving your eyeballs, Boy?” to which Polanski replied, “I don’t know, Sir”, immediately locking his eyes to the front and proper position. “Oh, we have a funny boy here!” He then hollered for Polanski to step up front and stand at attention in front of a group of Drill Instructors. Again, he hollered, “You’re not only funny Polanski, you’re a hazard waiting to happen.” Then he ordered Polanski to stand at attention, which was met with a hearty, “Aye Aye Sir!”
Half an hour later, Polanski was in trouble again. D.I. Crocket, was out to motivate that boy one way or another. Everyone was standing tall in front of their bunks inside the barracks, Crocket at the center of the platoon. Polanski was standing, heels locked, at the south end of the squad bay. “Hazard Boy!” yelled Crocket. “Yes Sir!” “Front and center on the double!” “Aye Aye Sir!”, said Polanski racing up in front of the D.I. “Lock your heel, Boy!” “Yes Sir!” “I can’t hear you Private, say it louder!” “Yes Sir!” “I still can’t hear you. LOUDER, HAZARD BOY!” “Y-E-S, S-I-R!!”
At that point, Crocket barked out close-order drill commands to Hazard Boy: “Right face, right face! Left face, left face! About face, about face! Right face, forward march! 1-2-1-2-1-2, mark time, mark, and HALT!” This cadence continued in Crocket’s deep voice.
Polanski was again face to face with his superior. Crocket read him the riot act on motivation, proper attitude… “One more screw up, Hazard Boy, and you’re going to Motivation Platoon. That 6’6″ Drill Instructor will shape you up with intensive callisthenic work-outs….all day…hundreds of exercises…..running…..standing at attention….”
Then Crocket commanded, “About face…get out of here!” “Aye Aye Sir!”, and Polanski stood at attention, like stone, like the Statue of Liberty. Next came time to harass Pvt. William L. Barker. Barker was the platoon “House Mouse”. He was ordered to clean the D.I.’s house (living quarters), to clean his rifle, shine his shoes, take his uniform’s to the laundry, and make fresh coffee. On another typical boot company day, Crocket summoned Barker: “House Mouse!” “Yes Sir!” “Get up here Damnit!” “Aye Aye Sir!” On the double, Barker took a front and center position in front of D.I. Crocket, who hollered “Lock Em!” The response, of course, was “Aye Aye Sir!”
On a rainy day, as an extra duty, the House Mouse sang the “Rain Dance Song.” That July day just happened to be a rain-filled one- for the House Mouse, it was filled with more intimidation. “We want to go out and drill today Baker!” yelled Crocket, “sing us the Rain Dance Song, loud and clear!” “Aye Aye Sir!” replied the House Mouse, and he began his chanting: “Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day. Rain, rain, go away. We wanna go out and march today. Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day.”
So went Marine Corps boot camp in the summer of 1965. D.I. Crocket led in singing “The Marine Hymn”, at 2200 hours. Would the “Hazard Boy” or the “House Mouse” look back and find Crocket’s impromptu nicknames comical or amusing? Perhaps not. Would all the recruits look back and recognize a certain dramatic flair in Crocket’s training? Probably. Discipline was the chief virtue, and somehow, someway-dramatic or intimidating-Sgt. Crocket developed espirit des corps. That entire platoon would remember.