That evening, about ten of us got together as quietly as possible. We took a bar of soap, wrapped it in a towel and went to the hut where the screw up was and then beat the crap out of him with the soap. This was called a blanket party. The next morning Hernandez was feeling better and he discovered this man all black and blue at formation and asked what happened. The recruit answered that he fell out of his bunk.
It was now our third week and things were not getting any better. We were running farther and drilling was getting more intense. It seems that there were at least two or three constant screw ups in our platoon. The drill instructors started getting more pissed off at the same two or three people. The platoon was getting more upset at these same individuals. We all started warning them of the consequences that could happen to them if they didn’t straighten out. Well I guess it was just too much for both of them. The following morning when Hernandez walked into their hut, he found both of them in bed together. The dummies fell asleep together.
All hell was about to break loose. Hernandez made me go get Tagalari. We were called to formation where the two men were called to the front. Hernandez ordered them to their knees and asked them if they were queer. They both replied and said yes. I don’t think that the drill instructors believed them. Tagalari came around the platoon and stood before the men, unzipped his fly, and harassed them beyond belief. Of course this made most of us laugh, which caused us all some pain.
The two were escorted to the Commanding Officer’s office leaving the rest of us with 50 pushups. We never saw the two men again. One way I guess to get kicked out of the Marines is to do something like that.
In the next couple of weeks, we had two more men try something to get out of boot camp. Both tried to make it across the San Diego air strip that was almost right next to the Quonset huts. Jet liners land and take off every 6 minutes; the possibility of making it across was doubtful, as told to us by the drill instructors when we first arrived at boot camp. The only other way to go A.W.O.L. (absent without leave) was to try to cross the freeway which was harder than crossing the airstrip. Obviously the best way was to finish and graduate from boot camp.
You know that when you are given a choice between squaring things away at the huts or running five miles as a group, you choose the latter every time. We knew that we were being brain washed as we always were given this option a couple times a week. We always chose to run.
Receiving letters from home and writing them could be a chore in boot camp. I say a chore, because they demanded that you write home every week. Receiving letters (mail call) could be fun, or it could lead to push ups. Usually letters from girlfriends with the S.W.A.K. on the backside of the envelope would mean pushups… where you’d have to kiss the envelope however many times the Drill instructors said. If there was a picture of your honey sent along then you had to open it up and show everyone in the platoon. It was then placed on the Hog Board.
I couldn’t wait for boot camp to be over with. The ten weeks did not go by fast; the clock seemed to slow down. Every time you saw a jet take off, you wished you were on it. The one company of jets was called PSA and each jet featured a line painted toward the nose and under the cockpit, making it appear like a smile. That would tick me off. My imagination would lead me to believe that everyone on those jets was smiling at me and waving goodbye. I wanted it to be my turn.
Not all of boot camp was bad. One of the times I enjoyed was qualifying at the rifle range. We were to try to qualify with the M-14, which was the weapon of choice at that time in the Marines. I would later in the next year have to qualify with the M-16, the newest weapon.
I had fired a 22 long range rifle in boy scouts, so I thought I knew it all. Wrong! The 22 was like a cap gun, a toy compared to the M-14. This rifle had a big recoil and a loud sound. We learned to adjust the sights and about the Kentucky windage. I also learned to break down the rifle for cleaning and believe me, you did not want to fail an inspection. We had several days of training on the range.
We also learned about the all-mighty Sand Pit. The Sand Pit was where you would be sent for a little motivation. This place was not necessarily any place in particular. Just a spot the drill instructor would pick out in all of that sand. The Sand Pit was hell of its own kind. One individual or a whole platoon could be sent to the Sand Pit. I personally learned about the Sand Pit while being sent there by Hernandez. He did not like my tone when I answered him.
Hernandez escorted me to the pit and when I arrived, I had to do one hundred bends and mothers. While I was doing the exercises, I smacked a flea on my arm. Hernandez screamed at me like I had just killed his best friend. “What did you just do?”, he exclaimed. I told him that a flea was bothering me and that I killed it. I learned that in his Marine Corps, there were two protected things provided by God to this world. One was the flea and the other was the rattle snakes that were found everyone on the base. These things were protected: kill them and you pay. I paid for killing the flea by being assigned guard duty for the rest of our time at the rifle range. I believe that I wanted to kill alright. just not any fleas.
The dictionary describes “Pit” as a hole it the ground, hell. “Sand” as from the desert. “Sand Pit” = Desert Hell
I qualified as a Sharp Shooter, I almost made Expert, but just missed by a couple points. The people who did not qualify were required to start training over again. Firing a weapon with some accuracy is important in the military.
We were back in San Diego and boot camp was back to the same crap. We were only a few weeks away from graduation. We were given the meager reward with being able to unbutton our top button. To us however, this was a really significant deal. We were veterans, as far as new recruits were concerned. Blouse unbuttoned at the top, starched cover, shined boots. When we drilled, we were as close to perfect as a platoon could get. This made our drill instructors very happy. Things were easier, however, one little mistake and you would be called out and made an example of.
I had a cousin that was also a Marine and he was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. He came to my graduation but my family couldn’t make it. That would be a very expensive trip. Dusty had been in the Marines for a couple years and I hadn’t seen him in a lot more than that. It was good to have someone there for the ceremony.
Just before graduation, we had formation and the Commanding Officer presented promotions. There were only a small handful of us that were promoted. I was now a PFC. this would be my first meritorious promotion. Not bad for being King Rat. I would have to get all my uniforms sent off to have their first stripes stitched on.
I was all packed to leave and it felt great. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. I said my goodbyes to Tagalari and Hernandez. It felt good not be looked down as a recruit. I met up with both of them at the airport and we all had a beer together. Hernandez was really human after all, he thanked me for being there for him when he needed his medication. They told me I would go far and to keep my head down if I made it to Vietnam.
About the Author: Ed Heinkel signed up for the Marines in 1971 because his father hated Marines, as he was a sailor. He went to Boot Camp in San Diego (Hollywood Marine) and spent most of his time at Camp Lejeune. Ed trained at Norfolk, VA for Atomic Demolitions Munitions and caught a float in Okinawa, Japan. He rotated back a year later and was stationed with Forest Troops and traveled to Vieques, PR for the last 6 months. Ed was discharged honorably after four years, married his sweetheart, and has been together with her for over 38 years. He’s a salesman by trade, but writes whenever he gets a chance. His first booked was published in December, Climbing To The Top!