Home Veterans Bootcamp in the Vietnam Era: Part Two

Bootcamp in the Vietnam Era: Part Two

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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.

Photo taken of Ed while training at Camp Pendleton aboard the Rifle Range.
Photo taken of Ed while training at Camp Pendleton aboard the Rifle Range.

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.

***Read the next article in the series***

Ed Heinkel Author and US MarineAbout 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!

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Events you have written about are very similar to Ft. POLK ,La. Training Center for the Soldier to Viet Nam,greetings on the board. I was of the impression ya’ll didn’t use the expression awol and it was the 3 S’s. nevertheless Heinkel your last name is what caught my attention. Do you have 2 other brothers the older was in the scouts ? Lived in Dallas , Texas? Ben ( RVN) 69/70.

  2. Good reading and brought back memories. Our non-qualifiers didn’t start over but had fire watch every night until graduation. After graduation we were put on buses and sent immediately to Camp Geiger N.C. for several weeks of ITR training. No time for beer drinking in between. I graduated from P I in March of 68 and began a glorious tour of the Nam as an 0311 in September of that same year..

  3. I remember when the Parris Island tragedy happened in 1956 (I was on active duty in the Army at the time), which overhauled the USMC training program…which impacted all military across the board! I personally witnessed the basic training changed, at some training facilities, quite dramatically…for the better! The various drill instructors were themselves re-trained and as a result, they were able to give quality training to recruits to produce a well-rounded, well-trained, ready for combat type of individual…but having been done so with compassionate treatment which did not break the person’s spirit or humanity!

  4. Over forty years since being discharged and I still try to the best of my ability to live wrth integrity,standards,and morals.I do on occasion as we all do fall short at times.However I pick myself up and continue onward.Always go forward and never backward or sideways.When I hear the Marine Corps hymn and pledge of allegiance I still after all of these years get goosebumps.This story has taken me back many years and refreshed some old memories reminding me all over what the Corps played a large part of molding me into what I am now and what the finished man will be when my time is at an end.It also still gives me hope for our great nation knowing that we are still out there and still making Marines out of good young men and as long as that continues then we will endure and come out the other end strong.Semper Fi.

  5. No matter how your life goes, with all its’ twists and turns, once you graduate from Boot Camp, you are a Marine forever. I learned to love Ice Plant and the Grinder. Semper Fi Brothers!

  6. “Special Infiltration Course” in boot camp? LOL. Your D. I. pulled a fast one on you. There was no such thing. You were sent to the “Motivation Platoon.”

  7. Semper Fi Marines! Welcome home. Parris Island grad, Plt. 2010 August 1968. ITR at Camp Geiger and than Camp Pendleton Ca. for Artillery Schools training and staging for Viet Nam . Arrived in Nam Feb. 69 up in I Corps not to far from Da Nang. Was attached to Third Maine Division, they pulled out at end of 69 and tranfered to another firebase in 70 and with 1sMarine Division. While at Parris Island had a shot for overseas (99% of us had WestPac orders) They next morning had a reaction to the shot. Was feeling dizzy after doing the count off and a few push ups. Was just about to ask the DI for permission to use the head and blanked out. Woke up looking us at the lights and was hauled off for medical attention. My fellow recruits said i passed out an attention and turned my head as i hit the deck. Hit the side of my face but other than that returned to my platoon..later that day my DI called me to the desk in the middle of the squad bay and made me stand at attention while he chewed my ass out for NOT asking for permission to pass out. Said he would have every swinging dick in the platoon piss in their scrub bucket and try to drown my ass if that every happened again! Hard Core.

    Semper Fi Devil Dogs!

  8. mcrd s.d. april68-june68
    Rodarte, choked on his own puke while on a run. He held it in so not to display weakness, he died and the corps covered it up.
    Harris, at the rifle range caught cheating on push ups got kicked in the head several times full force his head was a mess large cuts and abrasions. Taken to the hospital and another cover up.
    I was hauled into the duty hut, a recruit was in there crying his ass off the bastard d.i. ordered me to pull out your dick crazy!! He then shouted out to the balling recruit you want out of my marine corps suck his dick!! You want out of my marine corps suck is dick!! Thankfully, he didn’t the two bastard d. i.’s then, commenced to beat the hell out of the recruit for not going along with the program!!
    Borja, kicked in the head full force with a karate type kick, because he fell asleep in the classroom.
    Borja, a non qual on pre qual day the bastards shoved his head in the shitter and told him he was nothing but a piece of shit and that he needed to be flushed down the shitter!! The expression on his face while in the shitter was a one of terror!! I was an eyewitness to this sick brutality!! This is my truthful experience of what I witnessed and then along came Nam, and you may know what went down over there.
    To this day I loathe the marine corps!! No semper from me!! Overall, it was a very dishonorable experience, what happened to keep our honor clean, what a farce!! To all of you who don’t like this, fuck ya!!

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