Rides on Parris Island
turned seventeen in Mobile, Alabama on New Years Eve 1941.
He was alone sitting in a bar when a Marine Corps recruiter befriended
him. He seemed a fatherly figure when Bob most needed one. He
told Bob a lot about the Marine Corps the more they drank
the better it all sounded. That recruiter told Bob that Parris
Island featured southern belles, real Scarlet OHara types,
and canoe rides almost every night along the beautiful coastal
islands of South Carolina. He described palm trees swaying gently
in ocean breezes. Bob was slightly under the height requirements
for the Marines, being just under five-foot four, but he was tough
and toughened by his recent experiences in Chicago. He had worked
since he was four or five years old at hard labor, chopping wood,
working in the fields. He was all muscle. Most of his life had
been hard, and his flesh reflected that conditioning. If I
hit someone, hed go right down. You know, if a drunk
was looking for a fight in a bar, hed always pick
the smallest guy, usually me, and hed get the surprise
of his life. Id pick the guy up and buy him a drink.
recruiter could certainly see all the necessary attributes in
Bob, and these were the boys who joined the Marines. They were
street kids, tougher than most and usually loners, misfits in
some way, needing something more than their mundane lives could
offer. They had little to lose, or so they thought.
Marine always remembers his recruit training. January 1, 1942,
I was on a recruit train headed for Parris Island, South Carolina.
When we pulled in the depot, I had my feet up on the seat next
to me, and the Drill Instructor got on and said, "Put your feet
down." I sat up straight as I could, and he said to us, "From
now on forget about your church. I am your Jesus Christ." And
God-dammit, he was. He told me, "Dont ever say you
are a Marine until you leave boot camp." I dont remember
too much else. We were hustled here, hustled there.
first thing they did was march everyone over to the barbershop.
The barbers asked us how we wanted our hair cut and proceeded
to shave it all off. Then the recruits went on to the supply depot
where I was handed a pile of clothes, blankets, and supplies.
The only item they fit me for was shoes. Everything else was an
approximation. We were assigned a bunk and told not to sit on
it. We were shown how to make it up right.
we went to the mess hall to eat. We were making jokes and laughing
it up, discussing our new haircuts. That was the last time we
laughed on that stinking island. Just for the record, there were
no canoes like the recruiter in Mobile had promised me. After
chow, we were taken back to the barracks while taps was played.
The lights then went out. It seemed like minutes when reveille
next morning the sergeant came in and said, "Off and on. Off your
ass and on your feet." He told us to assemble outside in five
minutes, shaved and all. After breakfast and morning calisthenics,
we were ready to drop again. At that point the DI informed us
again that we would not be called Marines until we completed boot
camp. Next we started to learn to march in cadence, cadence meaning
everyone putting the same foot down at the same time.
would be hollering Hup, toop, tree, four, and when
he saw someone out of step, he would come up behind him and jab
him in the butt with a small knife. The man would then have to
pull down his pants and bend over. The DI carried a bottle of
Iodine in his top pocket, which he slapped on the cut. That hurt
worse than the jab. If the drill instructor called your name and
you didnt answer him "Sir," he would punch you.
stopped marching long enough to receive the first of many shots.
They hurt like hell. Wed get a huge lump on our arm.
Thered be big guys there six foot tall. Theyd
pass out especially after the tetanus shots three
of them youd get a lump on your arm, and you
could hardly raise your arm. The Goddamn Sergeant would get us
out there with our rifles, up and down, up and down Holy
Christ some guys six foot tall they couldnt
take it. They taught us to absorb pain and not recognize pain.
We never knew what we were being injected with except for hatred
and anger. We learned to hate that DI pretty early. Hate was a
good thing then. It didnt take long for the indoctrination
to set in. They changed you period. You were no longer human.
You were a killing machine.
the third day, we were issued 1903 Springfield rifles covered
with grease called Cosmoline that had protected them since World
War I. We were taken to a trough with some chemicals in it, and
we had to wash the rifles until they shined. After the metal was
all cleaned, including the bore, and all polished, we started
rubbing the stocks with linseed oil for about five hours. Our
hands were red and blistered as we rubbed and rubbed. When we
finished, the stocks looked like fine finished furniture. They
started out like a board you would buy at a lumber company. We
were then told to memorize the rifle serial number right along
with our service serial number. I still remember my service serial
general attitude among drill instructors was always to
keep the men a little unhappy the idea was to push
them beyond their endurance without totally breaking them down.
There was quite a lot of physical abuse in the old days. Your
fate as a recruit really depended on the temperament of your drill
instructor. Some were clearly sadistic and some were just trying
to do the job that needed to be done. This practice of physically
abusing the recruits was by no means universal in the Marine Corps
even back then many NCOs felt strongly that it was totally
unnecessary yet they needed to get these recruits under
their spell and quickly. Their survival would depend on it. During
wartime recruit training was cut back from twelve weeks to only
eight weeks not a lot of time to prepare a man for the
greatest challenge of his life. The training was always tough,
and it had to be. The recruits continually needed to be stripped
of any human qualities not absolutely necessary for survival in
combat. Those days and weeks were a constant process of dehumanizing
activities; however, the brainwashing followed a well-designed
plan. The recruits needed to follow every order without question
or hesitation, no matter what they were being told to do. Bob
remembers well scrubbing the floor in his quarters with a toothbrush
during those first few days on the island. Eventually they all
took turns doing this.
were marched every day for weeks until we were ready for taps
and lights out only to be woken up at one, two, or three
in the morning and marched again. We never got liberty while in
training. We werent allowed to make phone calls or
even write letters. I guess this was necessary for a complete
brainwash, from human to war machine, and later on, to remove
all feelings except a terrible anger.
day the DI would make us raise and lower our rifles over our heads
for hours. Some of my fellow boots would pass out. If someone
forgot to shave, the DI would call for a double-edged razor, first
rub it on cement, and then dry shave his face. He looked like
a cat scratched the hell out of his face. We even slept with our
rifles. We had to stack our rifles up in a series of 3 or 4 and
the man that caused the rifles to fall would have to sleep with
them in his bunk.
also had to do things like guard the laundry or run up and down
the company street yelling, "I am a gooney bird" while flapping
our arms like wings. We learned we were expendable but our equipment
was not. We needed to endure any hardship or pain and fight on.
got the biggest surprise of my life one night when my platoon
was called out around ten oclock. We thought we were
going on another drill. All the drill instructor said was "Pack
up everything." We packed up all our gear, and he said, "These
are the trucks youll be taking. So long, youre
through with boot camp." He didnt even tell us where
we were going on the trucks. The DI actually hugged each one of
us and said goodbye. That was the first time that bastard had
showed any emotion whatsoever. I guess he knew what he had done,
but I wondered about that hug for the longest time. I guess Ill
never know. Im sure he realized he had changed us.
It was very strange.
was no graduation ceremony or recognition of any kind other than
the DIs sendoff. They left in the middle of the night to
guard against the possibility of spies disclosing information
about troop movements. Bob was elated to be leaving. He was now
a Marine headed for Tent City, near New River, North Carolina,
now known as Camp Lejune.
they got to Tent City, the streets were filled with mud, the sky
overcast, and the winds icy. This winter weather seemed incongruous
since they had arrived at New River to further their training
for fighting in jungles. Bob was assigned to the First Marine
Division, H Company, 2nd Battalion, First Marine Regiment, called
H-2-1. It was a machine gun company. I learned how to take
a machinegun apart and put it back together blindfolded. I learned
every part. They were WWI vintage Browning 1916 water cooled,
firing about two hundred fifty rounds per minute.
First Marine Division was formed in February 1941 from what was
then the First Brigade and parts of the 5th and 7th Marine regiments.
Throughout the 1930s the Marines had pioneered and honed
techniques in amphibious warfare culminating with training exercises
in 1940-41 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and later, from the summer
of 1941 through the summer of 1942, in New River, North Carolina
at the newly formed Tent City. The Marine Corps had purchased
over 100,000 acres of wetlands around New River for this continued
to Bob, the training exercises were always strange, designed to
put everyone off balance. One night they sent us out with maps
and a compass with directions to set up our guns. At command we
started scissor firing, and we could hear farm animals, chickens,
cows, and horses. The target that night was the barn of a farmer
who had refused to sell his land to the government for this camp.
This happened more than once, and each time the next morning that
particular farmer would be asking, "Where do I sign?"
Sometimes wed go out for weeks at a time on maneuvers
called bivouacs. We slept in tents, two men to a tent. We were
right on the ground. All we had was a blanket. We were too young
to know hot or cold.
go so far as to put ten cases of beer on a hill, and wait until
midnight. Then theyd say that the platoon that gets
up there and gets the beer, gets to keep it well, we would
use anything to get there clubs, fists, belts, buckles,
rocks we all fought each other to reach the top. Christ,
the next day at sick bay, thered be lines of Marines
with bandages all over.
remembers the nights well. He loved this stuff. There were many
such contests. It didnt seem to matter how brutal they were.
Yet, this training was by no means haphazard. These Marines had
to learn to survive anything the enemy could throw at them.
among different squads were common all aggression was encouraged.
There was an old circus tent the Corps had procured under which
7500 Marines could sit and enjoy various athletic contests as
well as homemade variety shows and other forms of entertainment.
These men had their own unique improvisations their favorite
weapon was a belt wrapped around a hand with an exposed buckle
acting like a brass knuckle. Many of them would get cut up pretty
badly, but theyd laugh about it the next day. The training
was always tough, from the grunts right up to the pilots
even during flight training in the WWII era, for example, the
Marine Corps lost twice as many pilots in training than they did
City was extremely hot and humid in the summer and bitterly cold
in the winter. They were living essentially in swampland, with
each tent heated by a crude kerosene stove. "If the stoves did
not set tents afire and they often did they would
at some time or other cover everything, including the sleeping
men, with sooty smoke." (1) At night the tents were lit with only
one dim light bulb, which frequently dimmed off and on with the
fluctuations of a local power grid supplying electricity to the
base. The floors of the tents were laid over wooden platforms
with gaping holes in them the men often stuffed whatever
they could find though those holes for insulation. (2) The story
of the First Marines in those days was one of doing without or
making do until the needed supplies arrived, if they ever did.
They would learn that lesson well
we got our first liberty, we were told the legal age of consent
in North Carolina was twelve it was posted in the barracks.
At that time we got $17.00 a month salary, but it went a long
way. Beer cost five cents, a whore cost fifty cents, and if you
got to the whorehouse late, the madam would let you stay with
the girl all night, eliminating the fifty-cent cost of a hotel
room. For a buck and a half you could have a really good time.
were too many bar fights to remember, usually a bunch of drunken
Marines going at it. I used to drink with a Marine buddy named
Pado. He would drink about eighteen to twenty glasses of beer
at a nickel a glass. All of a sudden hed throw the
glass down on the floor and look around. Hed say
to any number of rednecks in the vicinity, "What are you looking
at?" Those locals didnt like us anyway, and usually
a fight would start about fifteen of them to about two
of us. I always said to myself Im never leaving with
Pado again, and the next weekend, hed say,
"Lets go" and Id go with him again.
Our Battalion Commander, Bill Chalfont we called him "Billy
1-2-3" proudly said "Thats my men"
when told of any really destructive event. If anyone had a complaint,
the Captain would ask, "Whats their names?"
He couldnt put anyone on report without names.
emphasis during training in the spring of 1942 was on amphibious
landings. Except for the cold weather, the swamps around New River
were actually perfect training grounds for later jungle warfare.
Bob remembers many days of drilling, practicing landings. From
the transport ships theyd climb down cargo nets into
small landing craft called Higgins boats. Each boat held about
forty Marines and was made of steel with four-foot high sides.
The top was completely open. They even needed to do this in the
dark, not an easy thing with the seas rolling.
you climbed down, you could hear the Higgins boats banging against
the side of the transport ship. When the bang sounded close enough,
youd just let go and hope to land in the boat.
Some who went down too far got their legs smashed in between the
transport ship and the Higgins boat. The lucky ones would
make it to the beach, establishing the beachhead. Wed
stay put for days in the same clothes with the jiggers eating
us alive. When we were trained to endure anything, we got the
word we were shipping out.
McMillan, George. The Old Breed. Washington: Infantry Journal
Press, 1949, page 9.
(2) McMillan, 9.