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The Drill Instructors Are Tough

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Drill Instructor Cpl Spelling Caricature by Bob Loon

Here’s a caricature I did of a very tough D.I., Cpl. J.L. Stelling, Platoon 218, MCRD, San Diego; graduated 13 May 1964.

“Cpl. Stelling, if you read this, I just want you to know that you did a great job of turning the Platoon 218 “mob”, as you sometimes referred to us, into hard-charging Marines. Semper Fi, Sir!”

Over the years, people have asked, was it really that bad? Was it really that hard?

Here’s how my brother and I explained it in my book, EXCITEMENT! Shot At And Missed:

Ken laughed. “People who haven’t experienced Marine Corps boot camp don’t really understand what it’s like. People say, ‘Awe, you’re just exaggerating!’ or ‘It couldn’t be that bad!’ Well, you and I and every other Marine knows it is that tough!”

We remained silent for a moment more, memories flooding our minds. Then Ken continued, “But you know what, it was worth all the pain, humiliation and BS. I guess, in a way, it really was interesting and definitely life-changing. I suppose training schedules have been changed and updated over the years but the mission has not changed. Training civilians to be Marines is the goal, and the DIs do a great job. Just look at our history!”

“But, as you know, the rough, insane stuff is just a part of the entire program. The goal has always been to weed out those who don’t match up to the program. The marching, the running, the pull-ups and sit-ups, history lessons, yeah, even the crazy stuff… it all adds up to a finished product that fits the Marine Corps mold: the creation of new Marines. Yes, it truly is an interesting and life-changing experience.”

Is it really interesting? Absolutely! Life-changing? Absolutely! But, ask anyone who has passed through the hallowed sand pits of MCRD, no matter the era, whether it be at San Diego, California or Parris Island, South Carolina, if they would do it all over again, and the deafening roar would most likely be a resounding, Hell No!

At the same time, those who have experienced and overcome the rigors of ‘boot camp’ would undoubtedly also say that it was probably one of the greatest experiences of their lives. Doing things that most people can’t even contemplate doing brings about a metamorphosis that changes civilians into hard charging, Gung Ho Marines, troops who learn early on that following orders and accomplishing things that seem impossible lead to ultimate success. The Marine Corps prides itself on its hard-Corps, iron-clad, rock-hard discipline as the only way to train men to be warriors. To become a member of this exclusive group, recruits are pushed to their limit and beyond – physically, emotionally, psychologically and academically. Every recruit is goaded, pushed, harassed and cajoled to succeed. They are constantly screamed at and many times humbled into succeeding. The standards of excellence are set very high. Failure is not an option!

The Drill Instructors are tough, strict and, above all, not willing that any should fail. But some do. Why? Because everyone is not cut out to be a Marine! Period! Are Drill Instructors happy when a recruit washes out? No, of course not!

So, what is so ‘special’ about MCRD, and the personal sense of pride, anyway? And why do impressionable young people choose the Marine Corps?

There is a mystique about Marines. Ken joined because he wanted to be a Marine. I joined because I wanted to be a Marine – like my brother. The reasons for joining the Marine Corps are too numerous to even try to explain. But the bottom line is this: all who make it through to the end are transformed, mentally and physically, into United States Marines! Ask the parent of a new Marine, what they think of the transformation that has taken place, and the inevitable response will be something as simple as, “Wow!”

Each day at MCRD seemed like a re-incarnation of the previous day’s screaming and yelling from the frothing mouths of the DIs. There seemed to be no other rationale then the realization that we were continually treated like cr-p by those maniacs.

“As I said before,” Ken confessed, “there were many times when I wondered, but didn’t speak openly, of course; How could any normal human being treat other people so shabbily, so crappy? Prison would probably be better then this! Is there no dignity left in the world?” He laughed. “But, of course, the screaming, the shouting, the shoving and the absolute, iron-fisted discipline is just a part of the program. And of course, it works!”

“Anyway, through it all, graduation finally came in September! Ah, what a great day that was! Survival of the fittest really exists! Yeah, that was a really great day. I had survived! I had completed my course and survived!”

Semper Fi
Bob Lonn

37 comments

I arrived August 1st 1967 at 12:00 am and said to my self what the f— did I do but I stuck with it and finished boot camp a better person an Honorman of platoon 1041 Thank You Staff Sargent Shear staff Sargent Warner and Gunny Padilla you gentlemen were makers of real men super marines. Does amybody know know whatever happened to Sgt Shear, Sgt Warner Or Gunny Padilla my hero’s. PFC A.R. Hernandez from Glendale Arizona

Tano Hernandez,

C’mon! Somebody out there must remember! Please post a reply (or more). email: djlandauer@aol.com

Sgt. (E4) Don Landauer,

Volunteered to visit this nice place called MCRD SD in September 69, Platoon 3172. Yes, raining like hell while we jumped off the grey cattle cars and hearded to the yellow footprints. Was told by my brother who also went through MCRD two years earlier… keep your eyes straight ahead and mouth shut! Best advice I’ve ever received from anyone but it still didn’t help when our platoon was a cluster fu@# on the drill parade deck and then the orders “get on your knuckles” and give me 50. Oh yes, good ol’ boot camp. They still had the quantsa huts then and we had plenty of practice doing the duck walk with foot lockers on our heads around them. Memorable time at Edison range snapping. A few of us idiots didn’t leave our weapons (M-14) on safe when we went to chow one afternoon. That night the SDI called 8 names, one of which was mine, to report to the duty hut with our laundry bags. We lined up and were ordered to place them over our heads then one-by-one the DI’s would pull us in and close the hatch. The sound of what was happening in there was pretty bad (much more than screaming). The door opened and the next recruit in line had to drag the previous one out. It sucked being the last one in line (me). Will never forget that. Just know this, I am as proud today as the day I received my EGA and earned the title of a United States Marine. I am also proud to be a family of Marines, Dad, Brother, Myself and my Son. Semper Fi till the day we die!

Jeff Weigandt,

Danny, I was there at MCRD at the same time as you. Graduated Plt. 133 in April ’66. Where you issued a sweatshirt and shorts? If so, what color for each?

Donald Simmons,

We all honor your father’s service and what he went through on that volcanic island. In my humble opinion, since “uncommon valor was a common virtue”, everyone who stepped on that island should have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Donald Simmons (USMC 65-69),

I don’t know what kind of training D.I.’s go through but it must be pretty extensive. They don’t miss a thing and have an answer for everything. I too finished school at 17 in May of ’69 and left for boot June 26′ 69. Arrived at MCRD San Diego, assigned to Plt. 2119 . I can remember once being in formation for chow and the D.I. chewing out a recruit in the front of the line on the left column, without thinking I shifted only my eyes to see who the poor soul was and next thing I know the D.I. was headed my way. How he saw me I still don’t know. I was on the opposite column about half way back. He was hollering & screaming and asking what I was looking at. The rest of the conversation went as follows. “Nothing Sir”. “Oh so I’m a nothing now”. “The D.I. Sir”. “Why? Do you like me?”. Not knowing what else to say & wanting to say the right thing.”Yes Sir”.”Why? Are you queer for me?” “No Sir”. “Do you love me?” Again wanting to say the right thing. “No Sir” “Oh so you don’t love me.” Why not?” It didn’t matter what you answered to a D.I. It was never the right thing to say. That’s the way it was with any of the D.I. s that we had. They had an answer for everything and anything you said was always wrong !!! USMC boot camp is one experience that anyone who goes through will never forget !!! The D.I. s are what make it all so memorable. Semper Fi !!! Do or Die!!! OORAH !!!!

Mario Mata, Cpl.,

Warren, Those were interesting days! Very rewarding! Semper Fi!

Bob Lonn,

Graduated from High School May of 1958, 7 days later Marine Corp Base San Diego. I was 17 and what an experience that was. Never had been out of Minnesota and DI’s yelling and in our faces calling us sh.tbirds etc. Platoon 147.The first night in receiving barracks my buddy and I were on the top bunks I said “What the hell did we get in to now” Now some 58 years later thinking that was the best thing that I have done. And wish I could do it all over again. Yesterday I pulled out my wallet with a Semper Fidelis sticker on it and a guy said” Thanks for serving” I left the Marines after 3 years a Cpl E4. Spent time in Calif, Camp Hauge Okinawa, And 3 times to Fuji Japan.Thank You Marine Corps

Thomas M Loch,

They must have ran out of those red sweats…That’s all I had…No yellow, and Don’t remember getting off of the bus, and standing on yellow foot prints either…PLT. 258 MCRD SDC

George Williams,

i went thu boot camp sept 1957 it was rought then anyone out that went then teddy39@mtcnow.net

larry foulk,

I would like to know if anyone out there had any of the following Sgt’s as their Drill Instructors at P.I. and if so do you know if they are still around. Sgt. W.H.Hilton , Sgt. J.S. Payne and Sgt. W.T.Pope.

L. Tokach,

Yes I have memories of Parris Island but from 1942. No yellow shirts. No yellow foot prints. All of us are not kids. Boot Camp was shortened then, need Marines for the Big War, Do not know for sure if I would like to do it again, but I am happy I did it changed my life and out look forever, Once a civilian now a Marine Forever.

W. G. Schroeder MGYSGT. Ret.,

I went in on Feb 1952 PI, Sr DI Was SGT McDanials He Was One Hard AZS Marine Tough as Nails Second Hat was to me, Mean & Nasty. Sorry I am, I Don’t Remember his Name after a Few Weeks. All I could think of was Beating Hell out of Him OR Worse For About The First 15 -20 Years after my Discharge from The Corps > I Still hated the Thought of him – Sometime after that I spent some time chatting with an Ol’ Salt – after that conversation I Realized > I owed Him My Strength And They Both made me a Marine & A Man With All the Attributes one needs To Make it Through the Marines & Through Life If & When Life Kicks ya in the teeth – and It will from time to time There was one of two times when Just After my Heart operation – I Couldn’t move from the bed With my Eyes Closed Had the feeling I couldn’t move – In my minds Eye – I Saw him Him Swagar Stick in hand Saying ” Get Your Azs out of Bed or I’ll Brake Every Bone in Your Body – within Seconds I was our of bed & Walking with help – Without that Experience in Boot Camp, I might not ever Recovered – I O U a Great Debt For getting me through many a Situation – Just Remembering those Words – Thanks To YOU Both & to EVERY DI who Made Us Better Than we Were When we Met You

Joe Hackett, Class of ’52,

I started mcrd San Diego in 1962 platoon 214 and had been looking for a change of direction of life. Not being that physically fit had a lot of work ahead of me. I wanted the right to wear that uniform and achieved it with determination to give up. I believe that was the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my whole life. Only marines get that can do attitude that stays with them the rest of their lives. We are a special breed that have had our Dna permenantly changed. That’s why nobody understands us and looks at us like we’re too patriotic and trained killers. We don’t take no for an answer as we have been taught to do the difficult first and let the army clean up afterwards no pun. Back then if a teenager would get in trouble at home with the police the judge would give a choice of a jail sentence for minor crimes or the marine corps enlistment. I’m sure that many were turned into productive citizens. Keep up the good work with this website it has been a great reconnection as we are the few and proud SEMPER FI .

William Knapp Lance Corporal 1962-64. 11-3rd. Btn Hqtrs battery,

I enlisted as a private after graduating college in June 1960. I declined an offer to apply for jet fighter pilot school. I get air sick. I just wanted to be in the infantry with my feet on the ground. I had always wanted to be in the Marines and when I enlisted my old man cursed me out, but I said I am over 21 and my signature is legal—or—- leave me alone! The Corps put the grit in my gut and I could never pay them back in a hundred years. I am 77 now and having bad health problems out of nowhere and I have always felt as I cross that final river my last thoughts will be of my wife, my dog and the Corps. I got my butt kicked all over the place, but accepted it without a complaint. I made E-5 in my 5th year and left at the end of my 6th year. I have always regretted not staying in for a career. I tried to re-enlist in the reserves when I was 42 and they wanted me. I was still doing 60 push-up, sit-ups, etc and running 10 miles, but Headquarters Marine Corps said no even with a good record. Too old. I have learned that people from other services just don’t understand the bond that we Marines have throughout our lives with one another. I was in platoon 152, 1st BN at PI. I found a guy after 55 years I had been at PI with and the first thing he said, “Do you still do a lot of push-ups?” We sure had a good laugh. Our senior DI got court martialed for taking ‘flight pay’ from the men, but he was one hell of a great DI. It was sad. Our junior DI, Sgt. Jimmy E. McCall was the best DI I had ever encountered. He loved the Corps and he trained us hard, but what a great job he did. Sadly he passed on a few years ago. Americans owe the service men and women a great deal, but I have always thought the Marines were the best there ever was. Though I wish all the military people good luck I can only say from my heart Semper Fi to all my brothers and sisters in the finest branch of the American military. Buzz Alpert.

buzz alpert, E-5 1960-66,

Is this SSgt Baker DI Platoon 1119 August 1970?

Tom VINER,

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