The Rock and Racks by Norm Spilleth

Left to right, PFC Phil Liguori, PFC Norm Spilleth, PFC Bill Jones, in the second deck squad bay of the VMA-212 barracks wearing our 782 gear after returning from our physical readiness test, sometime in 1963. photo from Norm Spilleth

Left to right, PFC Phil Liguori, PFC Norm Spilleth, PFC Bill Jones, in the second deck squad bay of the VMA-212 barracks wearing our 782 gear after returning from our physical readiness test, sometime in 1963. photo from Norm Spilleth

We called it “The Rock” and counted the days when we would rotate back to the land of the big PX. Hawaii wasn’t exactly the paradise we expected. The Marine Corps Base at Kaneohe is on a peninsula that forms Kaneohe Bay, with the Pali Mountains as a backdrop. The Air Wing enlisted barracks were a group of two story flat roofed, stucco buildings with open squad bays that were connected by breezeways. The VMA-212 barracks had the MPs on one side and the helo boys from HMM161 on the other. Next to the HMM-161 barracks was the mess hall. The front of the buildings faced a grassy drill field ringed with banyan trees. On the other side was the MAG-13 headquarters and to the right was Kansas Tower on top of a hill. The barracks had an upper and lower open squad bays divided into six bunks (or racks) that formed cubicles by standard green wall lockers and a central corridor.

Mosquitoes were picky eaters

Each rack in the barracks had a mosquito net which was a necessity on the “Windward Side” side of the Island. The mosquito nets were needed because of the mosquitoes that were bred in the swamps between the base and the mainland. Those bugs were huge. One night, I forgot to put my net down. About 0300, I felt a thump on my chest. Looking down, I saw a Kaneohe mosquito turning over my dog tag to check my blood type. Not only were they huge, they were picky eaters.

VMA-212 barracks in the background and three of our guys out tanning, photo from Norm Spilleth

VMA-212 barracks in the background and three of our guys out tanning, photo from Norm Spilleth

Pebble beach

Our barracks were two stories tall with open squad bays and roll open windows all around. There was also a wide ledge outside between the first and second stories. On the first floor (deck) there was the duty NCO office and a recreation room with TV and stereo. The roof was accessible by ladder from inside and the surface was covered with crushed rock which we called pebble beach and used for sunbathing. The problem was that it was off limits. Nobody was allowed up there. We would get warned by the duty NCO from time to time that we were observed on the roof by guards in Kansas tower who scanned the base with binoculars looking for trouble. Then we would move to the walkway above the breezeway that connected the barracks. Getting a deep Hawaiian suntan was a major preoccupation. We came up with our own mixture of baby oil and coconut oil that gave a really dark tan. After two years, we were all bronze Gods waiting to wow the ladies when we got back to the land of the big PX.

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

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

45 comments


  • Jerry Morstad

    I was with 5th/7th Comm in Nam drove the wrecker for most of the time. We left Nam together as a unit summer of 71. A lot of the motor transport rolling stock was in bad shape. My wreckers front wheel drive and front wench did not work but a Marine adapts and overcomes right. Cpl Morstad


  • Al Johnston

    I arrived in Hawaii in early September 1961 and was assigned to D-1-4. Has I remember the company commander was Captain Murphy. In the early part of 1962 the August draft was transferred to C-1-4. Company commander was Captain Steel. I was in the third platoon under Lt. Brown. We usually won most of the organized grap-ass meets. We had many competitions within the 1st battalion and Delta company was always our greatest competitors. I left Hawaii in August 1963. I got out of the Corps on February 26, 1965. I missed Vietnam by about a month.


  • Lyn Hunter

    I was with Charlie Co. 1st Battalion 1st Marines from Sept. 1964 – Jan 1965 stationed at Camp Pendleton CA. The 1st Battalion was at Camp San Mateo . In 1965 we started training as a Raider Battalion in anticipation of the Vietnam build up. We did rubber boat training at Camp Delmar with 1st Recon and also trained at Kanehoe Bay Hawaii and Pearl Harbor ( where we had the distinct pleasure of going aboard the Submarine SS Cusk to do simulated night raids) to be launched from its deck onto some still nameless beaches somewhere along the coast of Hawaii. My platoon commander was 2nd Luitenant Russell Sutton. Give me a shout if you are a Charlie 1/1 guy.


  • Scott Powell

    One last note on the barracks. They have all been torn down and replaced with various structures. For awhile, the one of the three I lived in lined up near the base PX, you could see the footprints of the foundations on Google Earth. That was several years ago. Google earth has updated the images and now there are new buildings where the old barracks where located. When I was there 1959-1962, across the street from the barracks was a large empty field. It is no longer empty. Also, the former main gate is now an auxillary entrance to the base and looks closed on Google Earth.. There is a new new main gate and entrance to the base.


  • Jerry D.

    Spent 3 days on Okinawa on the way to Viet Nam in August of ’65 and 5 days there on the way back to CONUS in August of ’66. Just about enough time to get drunk, get laid and buy a Bulova Accutron watch. Tried to get there from 29 Palms in ’63 but the 1st Sgt. said I couldn’t have the billet. He would however let me extend my enlistment a year for BES at MCRD San Diego. Best decision of my life.


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