Boot Camp — The First Day

~ 3 ~

Parris Island

Several hours passed as we sat quietly in our chairs. Some dozed off, but I was much too apprehensive to sleep. Suddenly the outside door burst open with a loud bang and in walked three Marines wearing those same strange hats. They were screaming at us to sit up straight with our hands folded on the desk. I thought to myself, Why does everyone here shout?

One of them spoke in a loud and forceful voice. “My name is Staff Sergeant Bresnahan and I am your senior drill instructor. The two Marines standing to my left are your junior drill instructors, Sergeant Collins and Sergeant Handschumaker. For the next four long months, we will be your father, your mother, your preacher, your teacher, and your girlfriend, but I can assure you, you will not screw us. You will run everywhere you go. You will not speak unless spoken to and the last word out of your sleazy civilian mouths will always be “Sir.” Do you understand me?” We all answered, “Yes, Sir!” which was not loud enough so he asked again and again until we were all screaming at the top of our lungs “Yes, Sir!”

SSgt Bresnahan continued his instructions to his new recruits. “When I call your name you will sound off in a loud, clear voice “Here, Sir!” and get your slimy civilian asses up out of my chairs, grab all your belongings, and double time outside where yellow footprints are painted on the deck. You will plant your two slimy civilian feet on two of the footprints. You will stand there with your head and eyes glued to the back of the head of the sleazebag civilian in front of you. Do you understand me?” We went through the same routine again repeating “Yes, Sir!” numerous times until the windows rattled.

As names were called, Sgt Handschumaker was at the door screaming at each recruit to run faster. Once outside we were cantankerously greeted by Sgt Collins who pushed and shoved us to the front of the four lines of yellow footprints. Since our names were called alphabetically, I was one of the first to endure the junior DI’s wrath. I could hear screaming and yelling from inside where recruits had not sounded off, “Here, Sir!” at the decibels SSgt Bresnahan required.

The rest of that day was total chaos. From that initial site, we were herded to a building quite a distance away. When I say herded, I mean herded—like animals. SSgt Bresnahan was leading the way at almost a runner’s pace while the two junior DIs yelled and screamed at us to keep the formation closed up. We were tripping over one another and falling down; some even walked out of their shoes, but did not dare ask if they could go back to retrieve them.

We entered a building with large bins, a towel laying in each. We individually stood in front of a bin, undressed completely, and wrapped the towel around our waist. We packed all of our belongings into a box addressed to where it was to be sent. When I say everything, I mean everything went into that box. We could keep nothing even though many of us brought toiletries. Watches, rings, necklaces—every item we brought with us from home went into the box.

While all this was being done, the DIs were running across the top of the bins screaming for us to hurry, shoving stuff into the boxes, and creating more chaos and frustration.

The senior drill instructor demanded, “While you’re about it, stuff all of your slimy civilian ways into the box as well. You won’t need them anymore!”

While we were all standing naked, except for the towel wrapped around our waist, someone came down the line and wrote a number on our chest. We were told to remember it. We then entered a room where several barbers eagerly awaited. When the kid in front of me got in the chair, the barber asked if he wanted to keep his sideburns. He hesitatingly answered, “Ye … ye … yes, Sir.” The barber told him to hold out his hand whereupon he laid each of them in the kid’s palm. Each shaving of our heads took approximately one minute to complete.

We then were treated to a cold shower and issued our new Marine uniforms and other gear. (Marines call their field uniform “utilities,” not fatigues like the Army.) From there we were herded across the huge 1st Battalion parade ground to our barracks. However, we were now carrying a heavy sea bag stuffed with all of the items we had just been issued.

We were designated Platoon 129 of the 1st Recruit Training Battalion. I learned that the hat DIs wore was called a “campaign cover.” Girls wear hats; Marines wear covers.

From A Fellow Marine

Many men have served long and distinguished careers as officers and enlisted Marines. We are extremely fortunate when an officer such as Colonel Jim Bathurst is able to share his career from private to Colonel in We’ll All Die As Marines.

His experience as an enlisted man provided valuable insight into leadership traits of his superiors that helped shape his personal leadership philosophy as an NCO/SNCO/Officer. Opinionated, willing to stand up for his principles, taking care of his Marines, and “thinking outside of the box” to accomplish his mission are prominent themes throughout his career.

Anyone who has served in the Corps, especially during the same time span of the Colonel, can relate to many of his experiences. More Marines with Colonel Bathurst’s character, integrity, and dedication are needed in today’s military as the services are inundated with “change” proposed by politicians with no military experience and no comprehension of what combat is all about. An enjoyable read about life in the Old Corps.

Nicholas S. Romanetz
Colonel, USMCR (Ret)

Author’s Note: Thank you very much for the review Nicholas. I find it amazing that we never actually met face-to face; however, I am positive that on many occasions we were within shouting distance of one another during our careers. Our Corps is simply too small for that to never have happened. Semper Fi Nick, JB

From “Doc” Weed

RVN CorpsmanI just finished reading Colonel Jim Bathurst’s: “We’ll All Die As Marines.” Loved the book! I believe it should be read by anyone thinking about enlisting, or accepting a commission in one of our uniformed/military services. As a former FMF Corpsman, I can attest that there is something unique about Marines, and Col Bathurst gives the reader an in-depth look into what it’s like to be an enlisted and an officer, and the trials and tribulations of choosing a life serving our country in both good times and bad. Thinking back on my career in the VA working with veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Panama, Haiti, Desert Storm, OIF, OEF, and peacetime there is timeliness in the Colonel’s message for current and future active duty Americans.
I was privileged to serve my first 3-4 months with “Sgt B” during his last 3-4 months in second platoon, Echo Company, 2/1 in Vietnam. As the platoon Corpsman, I was focused on the health of my Marines from passing out Malaria pills, checking feet, holding sick call, to treating the casualties of war, both physically and mentally. While most of my Marines were LCpls or below, I also spent time with the platoon commanders and platoon sergeants, and later as the company Corpsman I spent time with our “Skipper,” Captain Thomas Pratt. I saw first-hand what the enlisted Marines expected of their leaders, and I was able to witness the effect of the burdens those leaders carried on their shoulder’s 24/7. Colonel “B” will have you laughing, cheering, and yes, at times, crying as he sheds light onto how one goes about helping young Marines achieve greatness in both war and peace.
The period after Vietnam was a very dark period in our military’s history. For example, how does one motivate and train young infantrymen when Marines have shout “Bang, Bang, Bang” when training because there is no money for blank ammo as the author describes, and I once heard from a former enlisted Marine who chose to get out after telling me an identical story. Despite the racial tensions, fiscal deprivation, drug abuse, and a host of other morale degrading effects, Colonel Jim and his comrades brought the Marine Corps through it, and today the Corps and its current Marines are as good, if not better, than their forefathers.

As a former Fleet Marine Force Corpsman, I am proud to say: yes, “We’ll All Die As Marines”

John (Doc) Weed

NOTE: Doc is still to this day helping Marines (and other service members) through the VA deal with the effects  war has on the human psyche. Thank you Doc for all you have done and still do! Semper Fi Sir! “Sgt B”

From Pr Web

Many military memoirs can be inaccessible to civilians unfamiliar with the armed services. They can contain confusing acronyms, assume the reader already understands rank structures or can often be written in a self-flattering light; the book being a means to an end in a political race or similar motivations.

This is not so with retired Marine Col. Jim Bathurst’s new memoir titled We’ll All Die as Marines. Bathurst painstakingly re-wrote the initial draft after realizing that the military lingo can be very confusing to laymen. He did not write this for himself, but rather to try to instill the qualities of leadership that he has learned throughout his career from a troubled private who had just dropped out of high school all the way to a colonel with incredibly demanding assignments.

“I wrote this in the hopes of guiding young marines, both enlisted and officers, so that they can consider my advice about the demanding requirements of leadership and possibly to learn from the mistakes I made and the successes and opportunities I’ve worked toward,” Bathurst said. “I hope to continue guiding future leaders on any kind of career path.”

High-ranking officers are not well known for their artistic endeavors, but Bathurst chose to write a more abstract memoir than is usually found in a military post exchange. He wrote about every rank with shifting perspective.

“The chapters are written from the perspective of my rank during the time I’m discussing,” Bathurst said. “I wanted each ‘me’ throughout my career to be able to speak for themselves. I tried to tell about my time as a private through the eyes of a private.”

We’ll All Die as Marines sounds like a morbid title, but it is not. It is about the Corps, not corpses. It is about the love and commitment to the organization and people to which Bathurst freely gave his time, blood, and spirit. Filled with humor, advice, tragedy, frustration, and all the triumph that Bathurst was able to experience in his nearly 36-year career, he says he did not once think about retirement until the day, 36 years after boarding a bus for boot camp, he felt that he had done his duty.

Visit his website at:

We’ll All Die as Marines — One Marines Journey From Private to Colonel
By Colonel Jim Bathurst, USMC (Retired)
Available in softcover, hardcover, and e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iUniverse

NOTE: The author sells the hard cover, personally inscribed, to all Marines at a deep discount and he eats the postage. Contact him at

Leatherneck Magazine May 2013

We’ve got a whale of a book to recommend to all you gung-ho leathernecks. Colonel Jim Bathurst’s huge memoir is truly a treat to read and consider. In fact, I enjoyed reading every page of this fully packed professional, yet very personal narrative. Bathurst rose from a high school dropout and Marine boot to the exalted rank of gunnery sergeant before gaining his commission as an officer of Marines. His story will speak strongly to each and every Marine.

Marine General Peter Pace, the 16th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted in a dust-jacket comment, “Reading Jim’s book is like coming home!” And Gen Pace, I fully agree!

Initially, this wide-eyed boot set his cover on becoming a first-class Marine “gunny,” the early role models he admired most. Joining in 1958, he quickly adapted to the ways and ethos of his beloved Corps.

To young Bathurst, the Corps was not only a career, but a way of life. Starting off as a communicator, he continually sought assignment to the infantry field. His first overseas duty assignment was at Marine Barracks Yokosuka, Japan, where he spent his tour in a picture-perfect guard section. This formative experience would serve him well throughout his career. By 1962, the young corporal donned our Corps’ distinctive campaign hat and took to the field at Parris Island as a Marine drill instructor.

In early 1966, he arrived in Vietnam. Now an 0311 “grunt,” he joined Company E, 2d Battalion, First Marine Regiment north of Da Nang. Active patrolling, avoiding booby traps, and ducking Viet Cong snipers were the names of the deadly game in “Indian Country.” For most of his combat tour, Sgt Bathurst, or “Sgt B,” as the troops called him, in effect, served as their platoon leader. His stalwart actions in I Corps earned him a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with combat “V,” and the award he did not wish to earn, the Purple Heart. There, his actions and instincts fully demonstrated he was a capable leader of Marines in combat.

Upon returning to “the world,” he was tapped to join the leathernecks at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., the “oldest post of the Corps,” steeped in the Corps’ time-honored history and tradition. It was there that Jim was promoted to his long-sought grade of gunnery sergeant. But soon, his previously hard-won field combat commission came through. The newly promoted Mustang was awarded his gold bar and commenced a new and exciting part of his storied career.

Wise beyond his years, he excelled in each of his new and challenging assignments. Over the years as he gained promotions, he became known as an expert problem solver.

As a major, he turned around the sagging reputation of the Marine Barracks located at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif. The turnaround was so successful that the base was written up in a “Post of the Corps” article in the August 1981 Leatherneck magazine. By the end of his three-year tour, the IG inspection of the base, now considered unnecessary, was canceled. Maj Bathurst proudly wrote: “They were actually going to skip us, something I had never heard of happening throughout my career.”

Before being promoted to lieutenant colonel, Bathurst was assigned to square away the drooping morale and production in Recruiting Station Chicago in the 9th Marine Corps District. Using long-tested leadership experience, RS Chicago was transformed into a star recruiting area and rated as the top RS in the district for 19 straight months.

Rewarded with top-level school at the Naval War College, LtCol Bathurst received his master’s degree in national defense and strategic studies. Then he achieved the dream of any hard-charging Marine officer – battalion command. LtCol Bathurst took command of 2d Bn, 6th Marines. The battalion was special with a reputation rooted in World War II, when it was known as “Huxley’s Harlots,” and highlighted in the Leon Uris novel, “Battle Cry,” and the movie, “Battle Cry.”

Promoted to colonel, he was sent to Landing Force Training Command Atlantic in Norfolk, Va. There, he developed a riverine fast-attack assault boat capability for the Corps. As you might expect, this caused nervousness within the local East Coast SEAL command, and Bathurst pulls no punches in his descriptive dialog about the assignment.

Upon retirement in 1993, Col Jim Bathurst settled in Montana. During the winter months, he trekked to warmer cl mes where he had ample opportunity to reflect on his time as a Marine.

In summarizing his life and career. Jim Bathurst says it best: “[T]he Corps was not a job, a career, or even a profession; it was – and still is – a way of life.”

This grand tome is a sparkling tribute to the life and times of an “Always Faithful” Marine’s Marine, it’s jam-packed with significant lessons for leaders. The book keeps the leatherneck book lover focused on our Corps’ values, history, and traditions.

When finished, I simply hated putting this electrically charged book down. Indeed, it was the best military memoir I’ve ever read. Thank you, sir. For a brief moment in time, I felt young again.

Robert B. Loring

“Red Bob” Loring, a Marine veteran and frequent Leatherneck reviewer, is a prolific reader of Marine-related books. He is a deeply committed Toys for Tots volunteer.