'Tis Me! ^
When last I wrote, leaving my 10 readers languishing...my younger self (see above..my hubby politely fuzzed out my name when scanning the photo, but it's me) was about to enter the "halls of Montezuma", so to speak. So, shall we continue the joyride?
Our "real" drill instructors" who would take us through the remainder of boot camp, arrived at the end of a full week of "forming", during which we learned to awaken at 4:45 and run around like chickens with our heads cut off, learning how to speak in Navy speak and organizing ourselves.
Oh...and getting HAIRCUTS of course. We did not have it as bad as the guys, who are famously butchered by barbers...but they did shave the back of my neck. Here's the scoop...formally, the regulations just say you have to keep your hair up--above your collar. So, ostensibly, you could put it in a bun. Reality was, that there was not freakin' TIME to put it up, and running just made it come loose. Only one girl in our platoon kept her hair, and she was constantly being harassed about it. DI's would pull out any visible bobby pins before an inpection...taunting her...and then the Lieutenant would come for the big inspection and subtract points for her "unsat" appearance. Not worth it.
How hard can "forming" be, you ask? Well, most personal items were boxed and saved for us, or sent home. We would not, unlike any other service branch, wear one stitch of civilian clothing, outside of underwear, for the next 12 weeks. We learned to march everywhere we went in formation. "Forty inches back to chest". We stamped all of our belongings with a rubber stamp with our first initial and last name. We were called by our last names only. New for me. My sister was there with me..."E" as opposed to "T" preceded our last name for her. We didn't tell them we were sisters. If we had...that would have drawn particular "attention" from our forming instructors. Divide and conquer, you know? We divided ourselves so they didn't have additional reason to focus on us. They found out eventually, but we weren't gonna offer up this little tidbit ourselves to be tormented with. The yelling was so constant, you can't imagine.
Finally our "real" DI's took over at week's end. They knew how to focus, those women. The "real deal" was so surreal that even 20 years later I dream of the red head among the team...Sgt. Prieur...pronounced "prior"...as in the life I had had before then. SSgt (Staff Sergeant) Trammell was more petite, brown haired and cute...but hell on wheels just like the rest if you pushed. Our Senior Drill instructor didn't figure heavily...Ssgt Saunders...a looming, presence, sandy haired, bit older, with glasses. It was Prieur I feared most. I really became her "special" case eventually.
My favorite D.I. was Corporal Mayo. How she got to be a drill instructor at that rank is unsure...we were probably her first platoon. What made her wonderful was her incredible wit. Her lanky dark sillhouette, was not as frightening as my nemesis, the redhead. She yelled...but always seemed to reserve some element of humor to herself. She was the best cadence caller of the 4. Sounded like spirituals...sounded like the blues, and it is really. God how I loved to march. I had been in marching band for years...played flute, had no trouble telling right from left or moving in formation with real flow. "Snap and pop" as they called it. Even later drill with rifles was easy for me. Worked up some arm strength, that's for sure!
Marines "gliiiiide" when they march....none of that "Navy Swagger". That swingy Navy marching style ("nuts to butts"...the guys would say), closely packed and swaying like a ship at sea...was to be avoided at all costs. Part of that "love--hate" relationship between the Corps and the "squids". Mayo would yell..."You're making me sea sick!" and we had to still our upper bodies. Your arms were to swing and fingers to be in a "natural curl". Your boot heels came down HARD...percussion to the cadence. You'd be surprised how many people simply cannot march in formation, and follow commands. We had competitions in drill...and certain girls would be left out, put on rifle watch duty, simply because they could NOT get it. It took STYLE. We had one girl, who could not, when marching, swing her opposite arm to the leg moving...you'd think it was a natural movement, but she couldn't duplicate it in formation, instead moving with a "John Wayne" amble...left leg, and left arm together, right leg and right arm together...think "Yosemite Sam", pacing off to draw and shoot....she looked just like that. But, I was really good at it...it was meditative and put me in a trance. With Mayo at the back of the plattoon, I'd have marched to hell and back.
And Parris Island, South Carolina is a special hell...one for idiots who signed the dotted line... I went to boot camp in a Carolina summer y'all. It was hawwwwwt. For a high plains, Rocky Mountain chica like me, that place was a sweltering, stifling hades. I have asthma, though then it was undiagnosed, and man I felt like I was suffocating. The heat is an entity in South Carolina. Sand and sand fleas, skeeters and sweat.
It wasn't just the weather stifling us. You bounced out of your rack at 4:45 to the banging of a metal trash can and sprang to your feet, turned your head to the right as the lights came on and answered the shout, "COUNT OFF!" with your number. "Racks" arranged in rows, you counted off in a zigzag-- port to starboard in, order, "1,2,3,4...72"...if you missed, forgot your number or simply dropped to the ground in a faint...we had to all start over. Fainting?...yes...very common in the first week. You can't imagine the jolt of adrenaline and rise in blood pressure that accompanies that sort of wake up and jump to the floor. (The guys fainted too, we swapped stories in the "fleet" later.) The constant yelling. The grimace that came to your face as some somnambulant imbecile down the line fucked up AGAIN... You coudn't piss until the count off finished, and then, in shifts, a few at a time.
Sadly, in the platoon next door...the intensity was too much, and an 18 year old recruit in our sister platoon not only fainted, she had a stroke, and later died on the 3rd day of our training. Really. No shit. We heard the sirens and the Corpsmen EMT's came to get her after midnight one night. Rumours were rampant. Whispers and conjecture. They called us to an assembly some time later and told us about her death. She had high blood pressure...shouldn't have been recruited at all...I don't remember her name. How very sad....and it gave everyone pause. But we all went on. God knows why, seems insane now!
Brushing teeth, washing face, dressing...total of 5 minutes. Belt, boots and everything. Rack made. I learned to sleep on top of the covers and get up early to go to the bathroom in peace. I was always awake and ready when they came in...don't need an alarm clock to this day. You had to move fast. Boots not tied by time to leave, you were given IPT...that's "incentive physical training"...you know, the famous prerogative of the D.I. to yell, "Get down and give me 50"...push-ups that is. Usually, actually, they would yell different exercises at you and you had to perform as they shouted madly, "Mountain Climbers, Mountain Climbers, Side Straddle Hops, Side Straddle Hops, Bends and Thrusts,no, Sit-ups!" Until you were sweating heavily and panting before dawn... nottalottafun.
I was lucky to be quite "under the radar"...smart enough to not screw up and to keep my eyes where they belonged. ( No "eyeball fucking" the area, people, scenery or PARTICULARLY, the D.I's) The platoon was an interesting bunch. Lots of us were Latinas, mostly Boricua. Not as many Mexican-Americans like my sister and I. I had never met a Puerto Rican before...their accents tickled me. Their Spanish is sort of "drawly" to ears accustomed to the Norteño dialect we heard back home. Lots of African Americans. A Nigerian, and several Dominicans. You don't have to be a citizen to serve in the U.S. military, did you know that? In fact, it is a path some take to BECOME a citizen.
Our first platoon leader, Santiago, who carried the guidon, or little flag that precedes each platoon, was a New York Boricua who was, essentially, deaf. Platoon leaders are chosen because they show "leadership potential". Gung ho and very "squared away"...she wanted to be a Marine a great deal...some recruiter had obliged her despite her hearing problem. When cadence was called from the back of the platoon, she couldn't hear, and would fake it, sometimes heading off to the right when "left-face" was called. It was hilarious really. Sadly for her, when this was discovered...quickly...she was dispatched home with a "general discharge". Lucky she.
Continue. Everything had to be fast. Responses, movements, answers to questions. Learning? Instant. Say the wrong thing...you exercise, then repeat. Morning to night. Meals...column by column...last getting less time than first in...sometimes getting 3 minutes or so to shovel food in. Off to PT. Hours. Old school calisthenics. Running, running, running. Sun so hot. Sand fleas. Don't slap...if seen you'll run more. No looking around. Run in formation. Me in front because I was less likely to "drop out" there. They'd found my weakness...I was slow and weak at running.
That's where Sgt Prieur excelled...she saw everything. She was 6' or so and solid. Loud. Eyes in the back of her freakin' head. Once she knew I couldn't run...by God, it was her special calling and privilege to TEACH me how. Through sheer terror. I believe I can probably trace some hearing loss to her constant attention. She'd run beside me yelling, "You'd better not THINK of dropping out of my formation!....YOU'D BETTER NOT" directly into my ear. It hurt. So I ran faster.
Following PT, we'd shower fast, dress and head to the parade deck for drill. Following that, we'd attend some class...probably Marine Corps History, or NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare)Training, for which we'd have a MALE instructor...and that was actually sort of intoxicating. They'd only instruct, not yell...and they always smelled so deliciously, of after shave. (Funny how you miss men if they aren't around!) If a platoon of guys ran our direction, from the other side of the island, we were made to "about face" so as not to look directly at them. they also had to do this. Rare was the occasion when we interacted with the guys. One of them tossed me a tiny "mash note" from the dishwashing window as I dropped off my tray one day in the chow hall. They had to do mess duty and some were put in OUR chow hall..they probably considered that a treat. That note was a hell of a daring move. One guy yelled words of encouragement to me in PFT individual run..."Keep going girl!" he said.
In Marine Corps history, we learned about a strange sort of universe in which only Marine exploits are treated as historically important. Belleau Wood, where the Marines were christened "teufel hunden" , or "devil dogs"; about such luminaries as "Chesty" Puller and Smedley Butler...heroes of the Corps. We learned about the Marine Corps' inception, in Tun Tavern, Philadelphia, 1775 on 10 November. That's an anniversary celebrated Marine Corps wide, with an actual formal ball every year. Always a blast really.
We later picked up rifles from the armory, and learned to strip and reassemble them very quickly. We learned ALL about those rifles...the muzzle velocity, range, all sorts of specifics.
We learned Marine Corps and Navy rank structure and our chain of command up to the President. All of this goulash was called our "knowledge" and we were expected to recite it aloud while waiting anywhere...such as waiting our platoon's turn to enter the chow hall. "My junior drill instructors are blabbity blah; my senior drill instructor is blada blada blah; the company commander of "X" company is..."; and on and on and on. We carried a little field manual in our pants pocket to study from if we ever had a "spare moment" waiting.
At each day's end, at about 7:30 pm., we got an hour of free time. They'd have mail call, hygiene inspection, where you'd line up in front of the drill instructors, hold out your hands and show them, turn, show the soles of your feet and indicate "Private XXX, No problems ma'am". The purpose being to keep injuries to a minimum, to check for foot problems, which were endemic (plantar fascitis, tendonitis...those boots will kill your feet) and watch for skin problems like cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the skin.
Finally we got an hour to read letters, shine our boots and actually speak to each other...the DI's left the squadbay entirely. This hour felt like heaven. No radio. No T.V. No internet in those days, though I hear that recruits can now communicate via internet.
If it sounds psycho, it is. There is a documentary out there of Marine Boot Camp (guys) called "Ears, Open, Eyeballs, Click." Here's just a tiny taste of "forming"...and I can promise you...the women were not any softer on us.