2 august 2020

Boot Camp


On the 18th day of June, 1941, the Santa Fe Scout left Chicago's Dearborn street station at 11:30 PM. On board were 6 new Marine Corps enlistees, heading for San Diego, and 8 weeks of recruit training.

Of the 6 of us, I was the youngest. A man named Bain was in charge of the detail, and he was in his late twenties. The draft had been in affect for over a year, and a lot of men were opting for enlistments rather than be drafted into the Army. Such was the case with Bain. The only other person I can still recall was Bob Zulpo. He was about a year older than I and we just seemed to gravitate to one another. I was a strange looking character wearing white duck riding britches, and black riding boots, white sateen shirt, the standard garb of the thrill show set. Thank God I had a change of clothing, for I soon got the idea I was just a little too outre, and made a change into slacks, but the boots were my only footwear. The trip was quite uneventful, except it was my first encounter with sleeping in a train birth, and the meal tickets were limited in what entrees could be ordered.

We arrived in San Diego at about 11 AM 21 June, and were directed to the bus, and after a 10 minute ride were deposited outside the gate of the Depot. Bain presented our orders to the sentry on duty, and soon a Corporal arrived and escorted us to a large tent located at the South end of the parade field, where a group of 10 or 12 men were sitting, and we were told to sit and be quiet. Shortly, another Marine arrived and yelled for us to fall in. I must say we didn't know from fall in, but stumbled around and did what the others who have preceded us were doing. We were clustered into a sort of a mob and herded off to the mess hall. It was my first encounter with the Marine Corps mess hall, and I was impressed. Roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, bread and butter, cake and pie, plus ice cream, all served homestyle, and you could eat all you wanted. Never had I seen such food in such quantity. I was in my glory. I had come home at last. That night we were placed into a casual barracks, and instructed in the art of making up a bunk, and were told that we were to be picked up by our drill instructors the following day.

Let me explain that this was the pre World War II Marine Corps and the methods of training were not of the shock and reconstruct style in use today. It was assumed that you were a man and had enlisted of free will, and they treated you like a man. I can report of no abuse or mistreatment during my boot camp. This is not to infer that it was a cakewalk, it was tough, and one had to measure up. The days were long and hard.

The next morning we were formed into what was to be known as the Platoon # 67. We were the 67th Platoon to undergo training that year. Our drill instructors were a Sergeant Otto, a Corporal Bob Mason, and a Corporal Bob Eubanks. As usual I was the tallest person around and in forming the platoon I was positioned as right guard, a position in which I was to be an utter failure. We were then marched to the barber shop were we underwent the ritual haircut, which serves two purposes, it promotes hygiene and creates uniformity. We were also run through the showers and issued a set of clean underwear, dungarees, socks, and a pair of hob nailed boots, and thus attired, we marched over to the Quartermaster for our clothing issue. We were issued uniforms, both winter and summer service, six complete sets of under clothing, socks, shoes, both field, and dress. More dungarees or utility clothing, 782 gear (pack, poncho, shelterhalf, cartridge belt, leggings, etc.) We were also issued a rifle, Springfield, Model 1903, bold action (my rifle was serial number 313930) then dragging our sea bags, we were marched to a tent area located at the south end of the depot where we were installed in 2 main tents. My tentmate was to be Bob Zulpo. We then went to the Post Exchange where we were issued what was to become our most needed and used piece of equipment, and without which none of us could have made it through the coming days and weeks. THE BUCKET.

The bucket was not truly issue, as we were required to pay for it, and its contents. It was a standard galvanized iron pail, and in it we found a scrub brush, Fels naptha laundry soap, two bars of Lifebuoy bath soap, 3 bath towels, toothbrush and toothpaste, shaving gear, shoe polish and brush, six bags of Golden Grain cigarette tobacco and rolling papers, wooden matches, a package of tie ties (brass tipped cords which were used to tie our laundry to the line in lieu of clothes pins), a rifle cleaning kit, and our Bible, The Guide Book for Marines. The bucket was used for washing clothes, as a place to sit, as a method of transport, and on occasion as punishment, one would be required to place it up on his head and go through the area informing one and all that he was a shithead. Its uses were many and to this day I feel it's the one piece of equipment which was and is indispensable in the making of a Marine.

Within the next few days platoon 67 had acquired 37 men needed to start training and our schedule began. Close order drill, Manual of arms, the learning of the General orders, Military courtesy and discipline. Marine Corps history and tradition, hygiene, weapons nomenclature, field training, and a whole gauntlet of trials and tribulations. I vividly recall standing my first inspection, and Sergeant Otto pointedly asking if I had shaved that morning, and me answering "no."

The dialog went as follows:

Sergeant Otto: "Did you shave this morning Private?"

Me: A shouted "NO SIR"

Otto: "Why didn't you shave Private?"


Otto: "Why don't you shave Private?"


Otto: "Did you purchase a razor and shaving gear at the P.X.?"


Otto: "Why did you purchase these items Private?"


Otto: "The Marine Corps in its great wisdom seemed to feel that you needed these items, and if we feel you need them, we also feel you should use them. One of the requirements for becoming a Marine is to be a man, and men shave, so listen up real good Private, as I'm only going to say this once. You are supposed to be a man, and if you are going to be a man in my MARINE CORPS, BY GOD YOU ARE GOING TO ACT LIKE ONE, AND YOU WILL SHAVE EVERY DAY. Am I making myself clear to you Private?"


The same situation applied with the tobacco. The Marine Corps in its wisdom gave us tobacco and we were to smoke it. The smoking was not really enforced and as long as we had our bag of tobacco on our person we were playing the game according to the rules. The training was rigorous and usually went from a 5 AM reveille to a 10 PM Taps. Our days were filled with drill, inspections, and class room instruction. We washed our soiled clothes daily, and woe unto he who displayed a pair of skivvies showing any sort of a stain, or as it was referred to as a hashmark. It taught one to be extra careful and exercise great caution in doing the paperwork following a head call. Two or three evenings a week, we went to a movie at the outdoor theater, this of course depended on the drill instructor. If he was in a good mood, it usually resulted in either a movie, or relaxed evening devoted to letter writing and attending to personal affairs. If he was displeased, or if we had made a foul up of the training day, it could result in an evening of close order drill, running laps on the grinder, or even in extreme cases, taking our buckets down to the waterfront and attempting to bail out San Diego Bay. Other evenings were spent cleaning weapons, and polishing gear. The only real problem I had in those first weeks of boot camp was the morning ritual of learning to shave without losing too much blood. I was never again questioned about shaving as I wore the proof in my daily nicks and cuts. It was painful, but I eventually learned.

We were quizzed daily on the subjects taught, and were required to know certain things word perfect and to be able to recite them on request. My serial number was 314750, my rifle number 313930. I knew the 11 General orders by heart, as I knew the words to the Marine hymn. I could finally name and identify the rank insignia of the Marine Corps and Navy. Thomas Holcomb was the Major General Commandant. I studied history and knew of the glorious exploits of those who preceded me in the Corps. I became familiar with the routines and I can honestly say I enjoyed Boot Camp and the camaraderie we felt for one another. I had at last become a part of something useful and worthwhile. I developed friendships within Platoon 67, which endured the test of time. I can still recall the names of those whom I had that sense of being: George Merrifield from Seattle, Barnes Dunn from Birmingham, DW Dunn from Alabama (they were not related). Jack Huddleston from Tulsa and Bob Zulpo from Chicago. There were others, but these were my inner circle. I at last, had peers. During our second week of training Sgt Otto received orders to report to the Marine Barracks, Guam, and Corporal Mason was named as our senior drill instructor. In all my subsequent years in the Marine Corps I never met a Marine who measured up to the image I had of him.

In our fifth week of training we were trucked up to the rifle range at Camp Matthews where we were again housed in tents and underwent the week of snapping in, prior to actually getting to fire our prized weapons. During that first week at the range we also fired the pistol range and had familiarization firing of the BAR at the 1000 inch range. On the weekend of our first week we were assigned as runners and as target pullers in the butts for a civilian rifle match being held at Camp Matthews. I was detailed as a runner and had the opportunity to see some of California's top shooters in action. I know I pictured myself as going on the firing line in the coming week and doing every bit as well as they. I was to be sorely disappointed. After all the snapping in and 3 days of practice firing where I was more often than not in the black, I choked up on record day and fired a borderline Sharpshooters score.

We returned to San Diego and prepared for our final week of training and talked of nothing but what assignments we would receive and of those we desired. Some were hoping for China duty, while others, myself included, had expressed a desire for assignment to Sea School and eventually duty at sea. One evening we were marched across the parade ground to the barracks housing Radio School, and tested for potential radio operators. I can recall Corporal Eubanks telling those of us who he felt had a chance of Sea School, to not even attempt to understand the dots and dashes we would be hearing. It seems that Radio School had first shot at Recruit assignments. We had our final inspection, and the Color of the Blanco was white, so we Blancoed our 782 gear, and rolled our stovepipe blanket rolls and with our World War One type helmets we fell out in Summer Service Uniforms for inspection, and to pass in Review for the first time as United States Marines.

It was just 2 months since I had boarded the train in Chicago. I had completed recruit training, I had learned to shave, and no longer looked like the loser in a knife fight, I had passed my first test, and receive my desired assignment. On August 17 I entered Sea School and began my second training phase.