BOOT CAMP, Rifle Range
It was April 2, 1956, MCRD, Parris Island. Our platoon was at the rifle range for qualifications. We had been there for about three weeks and it was Qualification Day with our M1 Garand. We had been practicing with live rounds for the past two days and I was scoring Sharpshooter. However, I had shot Expert the day before with a score of 221 and was hoping to do the same today. Other than that, yesterday was a day I had rather forget. I was so excited about scoring expert that I got up from the firing line and closed my bolt, a safety violation. I’ve seen it before and I was about to pay the price. My Drill Instructor was right behind me, I turned and he grabbed my rifle, pointing it at me. Are you sure this thing is empty numb-nut? I think I turned white and replied, Sir, yes Sir. He turned facing the targets and pulled the trigger, click! You know what this means now, he said. I was about to join the M1 Thumb club. I was right-handed, so I placed my left thumb into the open chamber while he released it home. I then placed my left arm down to my side with my rifle hanging from my thumb. The pain was gone because the thumb was numb now. Then I walked the firing line to demonstrate what happens when you forget safety rules.
Qualification Day, I was finishing up at the 500-yard distance. I had four rounds left with a score of 209 (220+ was achievable) with 5 point per round for each bulls-eye. Even 12 points for every 3rd ring would do it. Then it happened! With two rounds left in my clip and two loose rounds on the ground. I fired a Maggie’s Drawers. The round kicked up the dirt in the butts. I was shocked. This prone position was the easiest and most stable firing position. Every round I fired from here so far was a bulls-eye, until now. I checked everything and re-checked. Then took extra time to squeeze off the last round in the chamber. Took a deep breath and let half of it out and fired. Another miss! What the hell is wrong! I’m not going to make expert now.
I was pissed. Something was wrong with my rifle. I raised my hand for the Range Officer. I explained what had happened and asked him to call down to the pits to confirm all my previous shots were all bulls-eyes. He told me I was correct and to step back to the Armory and have my weapon checked out. Sure enough, my operating rod was bent and rubbing against the stock troughing the muzzle off. It wasn’t me. My rifle was repaired. I asked to have my two rounds back because it was a malfunction but was denied. I pleaded my case, but to no avail. I was very upset and told to back to my position to complete my qualification, 219, yes, two more bulls-eyes and one number short of expert, a sharpshooter. As I was about to get up, I noticed my fellow Marine on my left from our Platoon, his face was down in the dirt. I asked him if he was ok. He looked up at me and said that he was not going to qualify and knew he would be in for a rough time from the DI’s.
Every Marine better qualify or end up with a blanket party. I asked him what he needed. He said he had his last two rounds left but was only hitting the two and three rings. He needed two bulls-eyes to qualify for marksman. He looked frightened and nervous. I didn’t think he was going to make it. So, I told him to toss his two rounds over at me. I looked around and no one was watching. For a moment I thought, I have two rounds and the target is still mine. Even one shot would qualify me for Expert. I loaded the first round into the chamber and looked over at him. He looked at me, concerned. I shifted my position and fired at the target, bulls-eye. Then the second, another bulls-eye. He qualified, Marksman. Besides, I knew I was an Expert Rifleman. And if he remains in the Corps, he’ll get a chance to try again someday to re-qualify on his own. Was I wrong in what I dd? I didn’t think so. After all, it’s what we are all about. Having each other’s back SEMPER-FI.
Several days later, Sunday morning, April 8th 1956, our Platoon was making preparations to leave P.I. after completing Basic Training. We had Graduated the previous day and I was now a Marine, and for the first time our DI’s treated us as one of their own. We were falling out in front of the Barracks having a cigarette break and waiting for busses to take us to the Train Station to go on leave. Our Barracks faced the street leading to the Rifle Range. Suddenly there was a commotion on the street in front of us. Staff cars and MP’s were flying by along with an Ambulance. A helicopter was also overhead going in the same direction. Next there was a TV News van. At the time we didn’t know what the hell was going on. We boarded our Busses and left. Later that day when I reached Grand Central Station in New York City the newspapers told the story:
“Marines Drown at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island S.C. April 8, 1956
Staff Sergeant Matthew McKeon, a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, marched his assigned platoon into Ribbon Creek, a swampy tidal creek near the Rifle Range. It was night time and dark when the platoon, dressed in full packs, marched along the creek bed, but many strayed into deep water, resulting in the drowning deaths of six recruits”.
Two year later I re-Qualified, shot a score of 222, Expert (same Rifle).