I became enthralled by the Marine Corps after reading Battle Cry by Leon Uris as a young boy. This tale of heroism and valor (based on the author’s own experience) of the Marines fighting in the Pacific in WWII left a deep impression on me. It was a seed that began to mature when I enlisted and headed off to boot camp. I have struggled for years to adequately describe my thirteen weeks aboard Parris Island and my introduction into the real Marine Corps. It is a complex tale that requires a great deal of background information to capture even a little of the experience. The closest on screen depiction I have ever seen to the actual experience, at least psychologically, is Stanley Kubrick’s movie Full Metal Jacket.
Coming aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island (there is another Recruit Depot in San Diego but they don’t really count) is a descent into a physical and mental maelstrom from which I was sure I would never escape. For every new recruit it is a perilous journey down a dark dangerous road with no streetlights, no road signs. He/she (they also train Women Marines at Parris Island) is left with only their will to endure. As soon as the bus stopped a very angry red-faced staff sergeant rushed aboard insisting we were only fecal matter, making deprecating remarks about our mothers and the uncertainty as to who fathered us. He loudly insisted with great vigor that we get the hell off his bus and step into the yellow footprints (painted with the heels together and the feet splayed at the all important 45 degree angle) on the asphalt. Then it was through the infamous door with the sign above it which reads “Through This Portal Pass Prospects For The World’s Finest Fighting Force UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS.” Personally it was more akin to a descent into Dante’s Inferno.
Upon arrival everything familiar is deliberately either taken away or modified as part of the process of breaking us down so they could mold us their own image. One of the processors wrote what looked like “bEll” on my hand. It was my platoon number. I was to join First Battalion, A Company, Platoon 1139. Following the initial haircut (during which the mad barbers rendered us bald in about the time it takes to sneeze) the real dislocation began to set in. All our clothing and belongings were put into storage until our graduation or pre-graduation discharge. It was a time of transition for the Corps so we were issued four uniforms, two of the old solid green sateens and two of the new standard camouflage.
By this time I had been up for two days with no sleep and was in just the right condition for the indoctrination to begin. The old/young me was ready to be replaced by a physically fit, aggressive, confident young man who bore little resemblance to the drifting, undisciplined, long haired slacker. I eventually discovered much later that while I did change in many ways the demons that were to haunt me for years to come were very much alive and well beneath the spit and polish exterior. In the Corps I found many kindred spirits willing to tag along on the road to addiction and disintegration. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to Parris Island.
After being issued all the other gear we would need for the next three months it was time to meet our drill instructors.
Here is a photo of me some time after graduation. I am flanked by my brother Terry (shirtless) on the left and an old family friend, Charlie Wolf, on the right.