Fifty-nine Years Ago Today

Teddy Wood (now deceased) and I boarded a train at around 0900 headed south. That day is permanently etched in my brain housing group, never to be forgotten. Here’s a sneak peak at my book as to what happened as the day moved on.

Chapter Two (Excerpt)

I had been entrusted with a large, sealed manila envelope. I was to deliver it to someone in charge when we arrived at our destination. He informed the group that I was in charge—my first responsibility as a future Marine.

I don’t remember much about the train ride except that we were assigned to a specific car where we were told to remain for the entire trip. I recall that some of the boys brought along a considerable amount of beer smuggled in their baggage. They shared with some of the others, but I was much too nervous to do any drinking. I remember one of the bigger boys boasting as to how he was going to breeze through this training—he wasn’t about to take any guff from the drill sergeants.

With each stop along the way, our car became more crowded with more boys on their way to this infamous place with an exotic-sounding name—Parris Island.

Most of us were asleep when the conductor shouted out that this was our stop—Beaufort, South Carolina. I stepped off the train with a cigarette in my mouth. The next thing I knew it flew off somewhere into space with what I thought were a few of my teeth. This cantankerous Marine fellow, wearing a hat I’d last seen on a bear with a shovel in his paw on National Forest Service posters, was screaming for us to do something. I had no idea then how symbolic that hat was nor that I myself would someday wear it.

Everyone was running in circles, bumping into each other, falling down. The greeting Marine was screaming, “MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!” which we were certainly doing, but had no idea where to. I heard someone crying out for his mother. Another boy was screaming for help—surprisingly, it was the one who bragged about not taking any guff from the drill sergeants.

It was unbelievable. Absolute chaos ensued. Finally, after several minutes of the Marine shouting at us, he pointed to a building. We all ran towards it, jamming the doorway, attempting to get through it and out of the way of the wrath we had encountered.

Inside the building were steel beds stacked two high and bright lights in the ceiling, shades hanging over them. We were told to get in a rack. What the hell is a rack? we wondered. I didn’t recognize anything that might be a rack, so it was sheer chaos again as we all tried to figure out what exactly it was this fellow was directing us to get into.

Finally, someone jumped onto one of the steel beds whereupon we all followed suit; some beds even had two boys squeezed together. The Marine yelled, “FREEZE!” There was total silence except for the springs of the steel beds squeaking slightly as we all lay very still. He turned out the lights, and slowly paced up and down the center of the room while telling us we were shit, slimy civilian shit. We were in for one hell of a time when morning came, he warned, so we’d best get some sleep since it would be the last time we’d sleep for the next four months.

Welcome to boot camp!

I don’t know how long I slept or if I even slept at all, but suddenly the lights came on and a loud banging sound awoke everyone as a Marine was screaming at us to get in front of our racks. The large metal trash can he’d thrown was still rolling around the floor as we scrambled from our supremely uncomfortable beds—now to be known as ‘racks’. We were then herded outside onto a greyhound-type bus. I had no idea what time it was except that it was pitch black and cold.

As I was boarding the bus, I remembered the manila envelope, which I had absent-mindedly left lying on my rack. I was to have surrendered it to the appropriate person upon arrival—my first responsibility as a Marine and I’d blown it. I really did not want to approach the Marine in charge, but I had no choice since I had to retrieve that envelope. I reluctantly approached him to tell him that I “needed to go back into the building to ….” I never finished the sentence. He was screaming and spitting saliva in my face. I had no idea what he was saying, but I sure wasn’t going to ask him to repeat it. He shoved me towards the building. I ran in, found the envelope, and scrammed back outside. By the time I returned to the bus, I was the last one to board thereby forcing me to sit up front next to the ill-tempered, Smokey Bear hatted Marine. I developed goose bumps as I took my seat, so close to this fearsome devil that I was expecting him to chew my head off just for kicks.

I distinctly remember the bus passing through a gate and seeing the Marine sentry smiling as we drove past. It was a long ride from the gate through swamps on both sides of the road. I could see nothing out the window—no lights—nothing that gave a hint of civilization.

We finally came to some buildings whereupon we were herded off the bus into a classroom filled with school chairs, the types that have a small desk attached to them. There were several other Marines waiting there for us.

After much shouting for us to find a seat and sit our slimy asses in it, they had us fill out a post card addressed to our parents. We were told to write them that we had arrived safe and would write again later. Then they hurried us into another part of the building where we went through a line with a metal tray held out in front of us while someone piled food onto it. We ate in total silence. When we finished—mind you, this was not as leisurely a breakfast as we had been accustomed to at home—we were herded back into the classroom.

The sun was just rising on our first morning as recruits—literally as well as symbolically.


PS. From this day on my life changed forever!


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