Friday, September 15, 2006

Letters from Bootcamp, Installment I

Thirty-one years ago this summer I went through Marine Corps Basic Training, or bootcamp, as it's commonly known. A few years back my mom gave me all the letters I'd sent to her during that approximate 3 months of time. I'll present them as installments. You might find it interesting to read what I wrote home about all those decades ago as a fresh-faced teen-man only having just turned 18.
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June 29, 1975 -- Dear Mom, Dad & everyone else:
I'm here in San Diego trying to do whatever my DI's say. As long you don't make any mistakes it's okay. I'll be sending one letter a week. Gotta go. (no time) Phil
P.S.: We haven't started any of the physical training. Not until after we're all processed. I'll write again in a week.
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June 30, 1975 -- Dear Family:
This is the first time in my life that I have actually looked forward to the end of summer. If all goes well, the platoon should graduate 78 days after the 9th of July.
The weather isn't too bad here in San Diego. Because we are so close to the sea, the temperature doesn't get that high. Also, there is normally a refreshing breeze off the Pacific that feels real good when we're drilling.

So far we haven't done any physical training as we are still processing. It's not too enjoyable because we must wait around until our turn. When we wait, it is in formation and we can't move at all under threat of pushups or mountain climbers. My heels and knee joints are quite sore from this lack of movement. My heels hurt more from marching.

I had trouble on my civilian clothes, that is sending them home. I'm not sure they'll even get there. We were supposed to lick some tape and clse our boxes, but my mouth was completely dry. Another problem was the inventory. I forgot to mark the items down on the form. Who knows what problems that will cause.
Love Phil
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July 2, 1975 -- Dear people at home:
I'm sitting here on my footlocker with 85 other privates in their skivvies and shower shoes just before bedtime. The time is almost 1930 hours or 2230 (10 pm) where you are. I'm writing this letter before I've even been able to mail the first one yet. I hope to mail them all tomorrow.

You should have seen us the first second the bus came to this base let us off. It was after 12 midnight or so, and there were 4 or 5 drill instructors waiting to confuse and scare us. We all raced off the bus with our hearts beating like mad to the barber's chair. They took 5 seconds to shave our heads. I can't remember what I looked like with hair.

We're starting to learn to march and all that good stuff like "about face!" and "at close interval, dress right dress!" etc.I have the unfortunate honor of being one of the platoon rats. There are four of us, one is a Korean named Choy who is the "King Rat," one is black, another is Chicano and the white one. Our job is to clean the duty hut, which is the room where the DIs and platoon commander sleep.

I have firewatch for the first time tonight from 0100 to 0200. I'm sending a Red Cross card that I was given to send you in case you need to contact me. Here is the address for letter written to me:
Pvt Phil Spear
A Co 1st R.T.Bn. Plt 1076 M.C.R.D.
San Diego, Calif 92140.
Did you get the postcard I sent from the hotel in Detroit? It was the only one I liked in the lobby. That's about all for now.
Semper Fidelis with Love, Phil
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July 3, 1975 -- Dear people back home:
You wouldn't know me at all if you saw me. The hair is gone from my head except for 1/4 inch, my voice is hoarse from constant yelling and I just look different in baggy utilities.

The platoon commander said we would all be allowed a telephone call home next week on Monday. I'll probably talk to you then.

Besides the platoon commander we have 3 drill instructors. They all take turns making life miserable for all of us.Tomorrow (Friday the 4th) we start physical training or P.T. Today was day 3 of processing. So far we've filled out a ton of paperwork, marched all over the place and had our bodies examined from head to toe. Yesterday we were tested to see what kind of jobs we're qualified for. If I didn't score high enough on those tests then I might not qualify for aviation.

Did you ever get those pictures that I sent in to get developed? In your next letter, or whenever, tell me how they turned out. That reminds me, send as many letters as you would. Just make sure you copy the address exactly.

The meals at the messhall are tasting better. The first morning meal I was so nervous I could barely eat. The first few days I couldn't make my body relax. I'm finally learning to do that a little when the DIs or platoon commander aren't harping at us. I wonder what they're like in their personal life? By the language they use, you can sure tell they don't have any respect for women.

How is the garden doing? I've got a full 20 exposures of film in my instamatic, so take a few pictures of the garden at various stages or of the individual vegetables so I can see the outcome of this summer's crop. I never realized how much I love gardening til now. The trees and shrubs here are entirely unrecognizable here. About the only plant I can really identify is Bermuda grass.

Don't forget to send all the letters you want to the address I put on the envelope.
Love, Phil
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Wow! This stuff really brings it all back in a flurry, but it also reminds me of the things I DIDN'T write home about. I did a lot of self-editing, if you know what I mean. For those who might know some of the references mentioned:

My civilian clothes: It’s funny how I obsess over my civilian clothes. I continued to worry about the clothing I wore when I reported into bootcamp thinking that when I placed them in that cardboard box that they were being shipped home. Actually, they just storedthem for us until we left MCRD one way or another, either as graduated marines or still as civilians.

MCRD: stands for Marine Corps Recruit Depot…at the time there was one recruit training center in San Diego and the other at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Platoon Rats: After the first day or so, they started referring to the four of us as “house mouse,” which quite accurately depicted us. Every morning we scurried around the small apartment cleaning the drill instructor’s bathroom, making up his “rack,” or bed, and generally keeping it spick and span. All four of us, were small in stature; I was the tallest at just over 5’7”.

Semper Fidelis: Latin term for Always Faithful, the Marine Corps motto.

Firewatch: refers to guard duty. We took turns, for one hour at a time throughout the night watching over and patrolling the squad bay area.

7 comments:

niceheart said...

I noticed that the letters have gotten longer since the first one. :)

My mother also gave me the letters I have written to her when she went to work abroad. I was only 16 then. And I agree, it's very interesting to read what your thoughts are at a young age. I just wish I had also saved her letters to me.

Shoshana said...

It's always interesting to read old letters years after they're penned.

Do you find yourself wanting to edit the composition?

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hi Niceheart and Shoshana, I wonder what it means that the first ones to comment here are both female?

It IS interesting to read what we've written from so long ago, almost like climbing into a time machine. Sometimes too, as I'm reading my 30 yr old thoughts, it feels like a different person wrote them.

Niceheart, I DO happen to have a stack of letters written to me by family and friends from about 1976 to 1977. The particularly precious ones are the few from my grandmother, gone since 1987.

Shoshana, I admit I do have to resist the temptation to edit, but I don't think I will, other than to leave out the inane.

Anonymous said...

I ran across your posts. I was in the same platoon as you at the exact same time. SSGT Trevino was our Sr. Drill Instructor and SGT's Elbin and Threadgill were the Jrs. What a life shaping experience that was.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Outstanding. Who are you? I still have the "yearbook" with all our names and pics. I hope it all went as well as it did for me after that "shaping experience." Get back to me; I'd love to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Steve Kernan. I was just one of the average guys in the platoon. Nothing about me stood out...was just trying to get through the darn thing. Went on to be a court reporter and stationed in Okinawa and then Camp Pendleton. Got out after 3 years went to college (Nebraska) and have lived a good life since. Married, 3 children...no complaints. Most certainly time in the Corps...and particularly boot camp, shaped me to be disciplined on the things I did not want to do. Hope you are well.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hey Steve. You know, I still have my Platoon 1076 Graduation Book and checked out your photo. Hell yeah, I remember you well. Its good hearing from you. If you've read any more of my blog you'll know I did 5 yrs in the Corps and 22 more in the Air Force after which I retired here to the Philippines 10 years ago and been here ever since. I'm doing okay, although physically I was doing a lot better when you knew me back in the day. Semper Fi Brother.