09 December 2008

EVERY CLIME AND PLACE

When I returned to ISU for my sophomore year, I immediately checked the University Union calendar for the scheduled visit by the Marine Officer Selection Officer from Recruiting Station, Chicago.

In November 1965, a new Officer Selection Officer, Captain R. Richard Thrasher, USMC, made his first trip to the ISU campus. I was waiting in the parking lot of the Student Union when he arrived, and helped him carry recruiting materials into the building. He was freshly returned from Vietnam where he had commanded Company F, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines during its March 1965 landings at Danang. (Ten years later, in March 1975, I assumed command of Fox Company, Ninth Marines at Camp Schwab, Okinawa shortly before Danang fell to the North Vietnamese Army. In October 1975, I reported to Company F, 24th Marines in Milwaukee as the Inspector-Instructor. The Inspector-Instructor of 2/24 in Chicago was LtCol R. Richard Thrasher. It’s a small Corps!)

On 22 November 1965, the second anniversary of JFK’s assassination, I took the oath of enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and was assigned to the Platoon Leaders’ Course. The PLC was an officer-candidate program designed, in part, for colleges and universities that had no ROTC programs. The PLC candidate had no military duties prior to commissioning except two six-week sessions at Officer Candidates School at Marine Corps Schools (now Marine Corps Base), Quantico, Virginia. One other benefit that was repeatedly touted to us was that, as enlisted reservists, we were earning “longevity.” It took years for me to figure that one out. Stay tuned.

In the summer of 1966, I was ordered to attend the PLC, JR. course. Our flight out of St. Louis was delayed by 24 hours due to a national airline strike, so we arrived at Washington National Airport at about 9 pm on a hot Tuesday in mid-July. As we waited for the bus that would pick us up and deliver us to Quantico, several “elderly” ladies (in their 50’s, I would guess) took an interest in us.

When the bus arrived, a Sergeant disembarked and pleasantly said, “OK, Candidates, pick up your gear and find a seat on the bus.”

The ladies wished us well, and I remember hearing one comment on “that nice young man who is taking such good care of the boys.”

As the bus door closed and we moved out, it began! The “nice young man” and another Sergeant turned into quintessential NCOs. Initially, they must have been told that we were deaf, because every order and instruction neared the 100 decibel level. Because they were often given with the Sergeant's mouth only millimeters from our ears, we were able to hear them despite our presumed deafness.

We were informed that we were the lowest form of life on the planet, lower than whale excrement on the floor of the Mariannas Trench. Under no circumstances were we Marines. We were not fit to be the pus in a pimple on a Marine's posterior and any thought to the contrary had better never even enter our pea brains!

We were to “sit at attention,” a contradiction in terms that I have never been able to fathom. Not a sound was to leave our miserable mouths, now known as “filthy commodes.” We would speak only if spoken to. The only acceptable responses were “Yes, Sergeant,” “No, Sergeant,” and “Aye, Aye, Sergeant.” Although all windows (“portholes”) on the bus were closed and the humidity began to rise to equal the temperature (high 90’s at 10 pm, er…”2200”), under no circumstances were we to sleep.

I soon learned a valuable skill, the ability to sleep "at attention" with my eyes wide open.

We arrived at the transient barracks at OCS at about 2300. We were hurried into an empty bunkroom, issued two sheets, a blanket and a pillow case and instructed to “make up those racks,” i.e., steel bunk beds aligned along both sides of the "squadbay." The first effort nearly reduced one of the Sergeants to tears.

“I am a good Christian man! I am, candidates! So why has God punished me by sending me helpless, hopeless, hapless vermin like you people?”

I already liked him—he was a wordsmith. Fortunately, I never found the time to express my appreciation. I say "fortunately" because OCS backs up on Chopawamsic Creek, a tributary of the of the Potomac. It is a tidal stream and the muck and mire are three feet deep at low tide. I doubt if anyone would have ever found my remains after such a presumtuous conversation!

Finally, by 0200, we had made up our racks to some semblance of acceptability and we were allowed to actually test them. That is, we had “30 seconds to get out of them scummy civilian rags, right down to them scummy civilian skivvies, and fall in at the foot of them racks. Then, when I give the order, you will fall out and get in the sack. Fall out. Nooooooo. Out out out. What was that? WHAT was that? Now fall in and when I give the order, fall out and get in the sack. Arrrghhh! Outoutoutout! You people could screw up the Lord's Prayer. If you want to play, we have all night. Now fall out!"

Ah, sweet success. We were now to be granted the privilege of two and a half hours sleep, but not until we had said our prayers. “God bless the Marine Corps. God bless the Commandant of the Marine Corps. God bless our two sergeants and please forgive us for causing them so much distress, and feel free to strike any of us dead who might think that we were Marines, worthless whale dung that we really were. And God bless Chesty Puller.”

It occurred to me that perhaps he had been a seminarian in another life.

By the third try, we finally achieved a volume that made it possible for God and the sergeants to hear us.

The lights went out.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

2 comments:

Rev Dave said...

Sounds a lot like the opening chapters of Philip Caputo's "A Rumor of War", which I'm sure you've read. (I think he was a few years ahead of you in ROTC, boot camp, and the like--he landed with the first Marines in Vietnam.) Heading from a nice college campus to the Marines must have been like landing on the moon.

Looking forward to the next installment of your memoirs.

Full Disclosure: I'm a Navy brat, but I'll withhold my Dad's opinion of the Marines for now.:-)

Mac said...

Dave:

You really had to be there to appreciate the full extent of the experience. *>)

I read Caputo's book when it first came out. Some of it is good, some not so good. Jim Webb's Fields of Fire (very loosely based on our battalion--1/5; he was in Delta Co, I was in Charlie) is better.

My Dad was Navy blue all the way, although he made 5 opposed landings with the 1st, 2d, and 4th Marine Divisions. As such, he is considered a brother in Upsilon Sigma Mu Chi.