With the clothing and equipment issue, recruits received a small red Marine Notebook with printed inserts. The inserts included such information as the chain of command –- from the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense down to our company officers. We stowed the red notebook in the right rear pocket of our utility trousers. When “at ease” in formation, the DIs had us study our notebooks. Sometimes we recited from them.
I added a few items to mine. In the first shock of boot camp, I wrote an old girlfriend back in New York City. I asked her to copy out two of my favorite poems from Lewis Carroll: Jabberwocky and The Walrus and the Carpenter. I memorized those instead of the chain of command.
Then I created my own calendar on blank paper in the notebook. Like a prisoner, I checked off an X for each day from September 13 to December 12, our day of release, hoping to make it. This was the date we all strove toward. Now the day had arrived.
Much training had taken place after we left the rifle range. We continued to take classes in subjects such as History and Traditions of the Marine Corps. We suffered an interminable series of shots from the Navy Corpsmen, along with physical and dental exams (there were men in our platoon who had never seen a dentist). We underwent bayonet training and fought each other with pugil sticks – poles with padded ends. On Thanksgiving Day, we spent the morning learning the basic principles of hand-to-hand combat before our Thanksgiving Dinner.
Along the way, we had our pictures taken, which showed quite a difference from the mug shots of September. Individual photos pictured us in dress blues although we did not own dress blues. The Marine Corps would have sold blues to us for $80, as I recall. To simulate dress blues, the photographer dressed us in bibs with no sleeves and clapped a white cover on.
The entire platoon posed on bleachers near the two-mile grinder for a group photo. The author is fifth from the platoon’s right in the second row.
“The first son-of-a-bitch that smiles,” Sergeant Guinn told us, “I’ll kick his teeth in.” (In a company picture of our series taken in January at the 2nd Infantry Training Regiment, Camp Pendleton, one Marine grins out from the ranks. At least he was not from Platoon 373.)
I had made it through rifle exercises (like barbells but with an M-14), hundreds of push ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and squat thrusts (most for punishment), obstacle courses, and rope climbs. I passed the swimming test (recruits from cities like Chicago did not know how to swim).
I even received extra conditioning. Those who scored more than 120 on the GCT (general classification test) received the dubious privilege of forming a detail to march to the officer indoctrination lecture. This happened every week or two, but I had not then read Catch-22 and could not appreciate what was happening.
We spent an hour each time in a classroom listening to an officer urge us to apply to OCC (officer-candidate course). Then we lined up at a table where a non-commissioned officer told us why we did not qualify for OCC (in my case, the glasses). Then we rejoined the platoon, where the duty DI had us do pull-ups on a chinning bar outside the duty hut. On the way up, he occasionally slugged me in the stomach.
“Are you officer material, sh__head?” he shouted.
Sergeant Guinn didn’t want anyone to have a swelled head.
I was pretty sure I could pass the physical-training test after this extra conditioning. For me, the last great fear was the Combat Readiness Test, which included a three-mile run. In August, I had run a mile a day at the Rice track during the summer before work. But I had twisted an ankle the first or second week in boot camp.
The Combat Readiness run required pack and helmet and rifle. The test also required a rope climb, many step-ups on a box, crossing of a water obstacle, and a fireman’s carry. This meant we ran about 25 yards, picked up another recruit, slung him over one shoulder, and then ran back with him.
The three-mile run presented the final test. One member of our platoon – if I recall correctly, he was Private John J. Durkin – suffered from walking pneumonia. He had evaded sick bay to try to graduate on time. Now he was required to run three miles with his lungs filled up.
The platoon jogged together along the route in a loose formation, rifles at sling arms. But Pvt. Durkin fell further and further behind. A tall man, who ordinarily marched near the front, he stumbled along at the back of the platoon after a mile or so.
Sgt. Guinn was running at the platoon’s rear. He relieved Durkin of his rifle. Whenever Durkin seemed to falter and slow down, Sgt. Guinn hit him between his shoulder blades with the rifle butt. Durkin finished the run with the rest of us. All passed the test.
We stood our final, 11th-week inspection in winter-service dress uniforms. All leather and brass glistened. We had received our shooting
medals, and I had the delight of pinning on my badge as a Rifle Expert. Then we made it to graduation, a brief ceremony with a speech by a high-ranking officer in front of the Depot Chapel. The DIs had selected Private T. E. Worth as the platoon honor man, which earned him a free set of dress blues and promotion to Private First Class.
Some of the new Marines had family at the event. The rest of us savored our four-hour base liberty.
We strolled around the Recruit Depot. We went to the PX by ourselves and drank our first soft drinks in three months. We also smoked many cigarettes, I am afraid. There was no DI to light and snuff the smoking lamp.
That was our first freedom since September 13. We treated ourselves until 4:00 p.m., when we reported back to the Quonset huts to pack up for Camp Pendleton. There, to our surprise, we would come to miss San Diego and the Recruit Depot.