A Day in Marine Corps Boot Camp

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Every Marine remembers their time in Boot Camp. Throughout the Corps history, we all have our stories. The day we met our DIs for the first time, and the day we stepped on the yellow footprints.
It was 2 am on December 10, 1968. About ten of us had just landed in San Diego, California. We met up with a bunch of other fellas from around the country, all waiting to be picked up by the Marine Corps. Together, we made up a large group.
While we waited, we joked around, laughing, smoking and just having a good time. Finally, a lone marine showed up. He started talking to us nicely while he collected our paperwork. When he finished he asked us to follow him outside to a bus that would take us to the depot.
Still smoking, chewing gum and laughing, we did as he asked, right into the waiting arms of several screaming marines wearing Smokey the Bear caps. We knew these were the DIs.
At the top of their lungs they shouted for us to get on the bus, throw away our smokes and swallow the gum. On board, they continued to yell, bellowing out orders, “Sit down. Don’t move. Keep your eye balls glued to the shit bird’s head in front of you. You move your eyes, I’ll rip them out and shit down their sockets.”
Then one DI would go to a man and stick his nose in his face and scream. “You hear me, asshole?”
No one wanted him in their face. No one moved. We were in shock, and when we arrived at the depot, we exited the bus and stepped on the famed yellow footprints. The same footprints every marine that ever became a marine before us had stepped on. It was our first proper attention. We had begun Marine Corps Boot Camp.
That day will always be in every marine’s mind, but that’s not my day in Boot Camp. No, my day came on a quiet Sunday morning. Our platoon had just marched to the chow hall for breakfast and stood at attention while we waited for the DI to give the order to enter. When the order was given, the platoon moved smartly, and immediately assembled where we picked up our trays. As the recruits moved through the line, it was done by a left side step. There was never a choice of food. What was put on the tray is what was eaten. No words were ever spoken in the mess line and there was never a downward glance to the tray in your hand. When a recruit reached the end of the line, a beverage was placed on the tray and he moved to a long table where his squad sat. Each platoon had four squads, four tables. Each Recruit remained behind their seat at attention until the platoon was ready to sit together. With the tray still in their hands and their eyes straight ahead, everyone waited for the order from the DI, “Ready…sit!”
Well, being Sunday, as on all Sunday mornings, the base newspaper was left on the table for each recruit. Like a fool, I decided I could get away with a quick peek. Nothing gets past the Marine Corps DI. My senior DI walked up behind me and quietly said, “Get your ass back to my Duty Hut, you piece of shit!”
I set my tray down and ran as fast as I could. When I arrived at the duty hut, I snapped to attention next to the hatchway and stood there for the next 30 minutes or so. Finally I began to hear the familiar cadence “Left, Ridal, Left, Ridal, Left, Ridal, Left,” getting louder and louder as my platoon approached.
The platoon marched right in front of me and halted. When the Senior DI ordered dismissed, I swallowed hard. The senior and his assistant walked right past me into the duty hut without ever saying a word. Time went by and I sweated waiting to be called in. I knew I was in a world of shit. I waited and every minute was like an hour of hell. Finally he called me in, “Get in here shit for brains.”
I ran in and stood in front of his desk yelling out just as I had been taught. “Sir, Private Greenberg requests permission to speak with the senior drill instructor, sir.”
There was silence as he moved from behind his desk and stood next to me, his face close to mine. “Speak, “he said.
“Sir Private Greenberg report…” Before I could finish another word, he shoved me hard and I bounced off the lockers, six feet across the room. He moved directly in front of me and squared his face with mine. Then, in a low but deliberate tone he asked me,
“What the hell were you thinking, Private?”
“Sir, the private wasn’t thinking, sir.”
My eyes were straight ahead but I could see a vile smile on his lips fade when he spoke, “Look at me dirt bag.” Not sure he was serious. I slowly obeyed and lowered my eyes to my Senior Drill Instructors face. The smile was gone. The look was now anger, no, more like rage. Then he said the words I never will forget, “Not thinking will get you killed in Nam!” He gut punched me and I doubled up and dropped to a knee. By my collar he dragged me to the hatch and threw me out his duty hut while yelling out an order, “Squat thrust until your eyeballs pop out.” I quit counting after 75 and he ordered me to stop sometime after.
Some might think this type of punishment is cruel. But to this day, I remember what he said, “Not thinking will get you killed in Nam.” Did I make mistakes in Nam, sure I did, just read my book “Silent Heroes, A Recon Marines Vietnam War Experience,” but I didn’t make the big one. Either way, this was A Day in Boot Camp I will never forget.
Gunny Rick
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