Do you ever wonder why sailors and Marines call it “boot camp?” Some say the term originated when "old salts" of long ago scrubbed the decks of wooden ships in their bare feet. Over time the multiple blisters would harden. The Armed Services began issuing clothing which included new boots.
Marine boot camp is unique. Upon arrival at Parris Island, South Carolina, we met our Drill Instructor Staff Sgt. Samson. He immediately informed his misfit crew of civilians that we were not Marines. He told us we were the lowest of all creatures – “similar to whale turds at the bottom of the deep sea.” He described his job as changing us in 10 weeks from this sickly group into the most feared fighters in the world. He was a veteran of WWII Pacific Island campaigns and the Korean Chosin Reservoir – “The Frozen Chosen.” His commander was the most decorated in Marine history, “Chesty” Puller. The Marines First Division was surrounded by five Chinese divisions whose mission was to completely finish the Marines as a fighting unit forever. When “Chesty” was informed of his unit being surrounded, his comment was “They sure as hell won’t get away from us now!”
SSgt. Samson was with us 24/7, never out of his sight. We were told, with no exception, not to be permitted to “mainside PX” with civilians and real Marines. The only time we were allowed to see females was on Sunday when we would be excused for church services. There we would see the female recruits, and they could see us as well. The first week our appearance resembled prisoners – clean shaven and hair cut to the skull. The female Marines wore green dresses below the knee, white sweat sox with Cuban-heeled shoes, short hair and no make-up. Trust me – they did not look attractive, and I’m certain they were not too impressed with us either!
However, as the days became weeks, at about a month in, they suddenly began to look pretty good to us.
Soon, volunteers were sought to go to the section of training for the women Marines for a work detail. Immediately, about 10 teenagers eagerly awaited the assignment.
When we got to the assigned area, we found no women but an entire barracks loaded with double bunks and no mattresses. We were told to get the mattresses, pillows and linens at Supply and prepare the bunks for the newly-minted women expected in about two hours. We quickly learned NOT to volunteer!
Sunday was also wash day for our laundry. We were given a bar of Ivory soap a stiff brush, and bucket with our initial clothing issue. The cost of this and our 25 cent haircut was deducted from our first month’s pay of $52.50. We had wash racks outside of our barracks and spent the day scrubbing our skivvies and utilities. Sunday was also the day to spend time writing home and playing a little football – well, throwing a field shoe as the football. The D.I. spotted this and came up with another idea. He arranged a game of football between our platoon and another. He told us we best win the game, because he had bet the other D.I. a case of beer for the winner. Fortunately, both platoons were happy with the tied 6-6 outcome.
Following many hours of close order marching drill, all members were able to qualify as marksmen with the M-1 rifle, and we somehow made it to graduation. We were pinned with the eagle, globe and anchor emblem. This qualified us to receive a salute from any “Boots” during the short time after graduation. It also gave us a 10-day leave back home and then reassignment to “advanced infantry training” at Camp Pendleton, California. We followed that up with three week of cold weather training in the high Sierras in northern California at Pickel Meadows.
Most of us then ended up in a replacement draft for Korea – ready to kick enemy butt!