Saturday, September 23, 2006

Letters from Bootcamp, Installment III

When “Recruit Spear” wrote the following three letters, “he” was in his second and third week of basic training. Mentally and psychologically he did not feel like he was doing well—he felt very depressed, but primarily he was homesick. His three drill instructors had him absolutely convinced that in the history of MCRD San Diego, his platoon was the worst by far. It seemed as if neither he or his fellow platoon mates could do anything right, especially when it came to drill. Personally, he had “failed” once in an almost “unforgivable” way, especially in the eyes of the Marines, when he had not properly secured his rifle one evening. The DIs never stopped threatening “dire consequences” if the platoon did not get their act together. Imprisonment, “breaking rocks,” and worse, “recyclement,” all awaited them UNLESS they started to perform. Private Spear was so stressed that he hadn’t been able to “go” for the three weeks he’d been there, a problem the Navy almost worsened by trying to give him exactly the wrong medication for it. Just the same, he was beginning to “feel” like a Marine after being “inculcated” with the skills and attitude necessary to kill another human being with a bayonet or a rifle butt. Semper Fidelis.
July 8, 1975 – Dear Mom, Dad, Kevin, Gail and Mary Kay:

I finally received your first letter today; send as many more as you can get off. The other guys are getting 3, 4, even 5 at a time; about 3 more a week would be enough for me.

Well, tomorrow starts my T-Days or training days. I made a big mistake today. We received our rifles and we each locked them up. We were supposed to put a cable through the middle of the rifle and then secure it with a combination lock. It was only the second time I’d done it and I missed wrapping the cable around the bar on the rack. I know you can’t picture it, but anyway it was a major offense in the Platoon Commander’s eyes. About 30% of the platoon made the same mistake. It means I’ve got a mark against me in my folder. Three marks and you’re dropped from the platoon and you go to a disciplinary platoon called CCP. They get up, eat a C-ration, break rocks for 8 hours, eat another C-ration, take a shower and hit the rack. It really frightens me because mistakes are so easy to make here. You’re always rushed and yet you’re expected to forget nothing and then you’re threatened with things like I just told you.

Mark Colpean has a mark against him too; he was caught talking in the ranks while we were outside of the phone booths yesterday. John (John Roe,also from my home town), who’s always cutting up, never gets caught. Mark and I are really trying. If you know anyone who wants to join the Marine Corps, tell them to forget it. Tell them to join the Air Force or the Navy. I’m going to stick it out. I haven’t anything else to do. They keep you in boot camp till you do finally graduate, no matter how long it takes.

If my letter seems depressing, it’s because I’m depressed. We get about 30-45 minutes a night for letter reading and letter writing, so keep ‘em coming. Include in your letters all the local news and newspaper accounts. I’ve no idea what’s going on in the world. Also, if you can send some photos, I’ve got a place to keep them. I don’t care what the pictures are of, the family, the dogs, the garden. Just send a few.

Well, it’s time to turn in. I’ll write again soon. (And so will you, I hope).

Love, Phil

P.S. I really enjoyed your letter. It was postmarked July 3 and I just got it today, July 8. What kind of phonogram were you talking about? I never sent any phonogram?
July 11, 1975– Dear Dad and Mom I just received your letters (the second one):

I really wish I could be home now instead of here. With Dad in the hospital and the garden just coming in, I could really help out. Make sure you keep me informed on Dad’s condition, and if you ever have to get in touch with me immediately, just call the local Red Cross and give them my address and they’ll contact me fast.

Dad, I want you to use your mind to heal quicker! You’re not the kind of guy who likes to languish in a hospital. Right now there’s nothing I wouldn’t like to do more. By now, you’ve probably checked out of the hospital; I sure hope so.

Right now, as I’ve said earlier, doesn’t look too good. We’re a little behind the rest of the series. A series is made up of 4 (sister) platoons. If our drilling doesn’t get together we may get put back by as much as 3 weeks (groan!!!)

I just learned that although I’m a contract P.F.C. (private first class), if I don’t graduate in the top 10% of our platoon of 78, I can forget it.

Today is T-3; that means if everything goes normal we only we only have 75 more days to go out of 78. (end of July 11).

July 12, 1975—Again, I really enjoyed your letters; keep them coming. That letter from you, Dad, I especially enjoyed. The same time I received yours I got one from SSgt Wright (my Marine recruiter back in Saginaw, Michigan). It was a letter of encouragement; he also sent 2 postcards for me to write him on. I’m beginning to adjust to this type of life. There’s only way to describe it. You wouldn’t believe how shocking the change is from civilian life to this military one. My only real problem right now is that my glasses keep falling off and that scares me because of the likelihood they’ll break. I wish we’d go to the PX so I can buy a pair of eyeglass bands.

Well, has anyone gone to see any movies lately? That’s one of the major things I miss. What’s really maddening is that the depot theater (which is a huge majestic building also used for church services) is only about 250 yards away. I’m really looking forward to seeing a real movie again after I graduate, not to mention TV and freedom.

Keep writing. Love, Phil.
Saturday, July 19, 1975– Yesterday I went to sickbay for constipation. It’s been about 2 weeks now that I’ve been this way. When you combine that particular malady with the rigors of bootcamp, you have nothing but misery. The corpsman, when I told him my problem, wrote Kaopectate on my pharmacy slip. The pharmacist also asked me what my problem was and then looked strangely at the prescription order before taking me back to the corpsman. It seems that he mistakenly gave me medication for diarrhea. Did he ever look embarrassed! That was two days ago. I got 6 pills called Senokat that I’m supposed to take 2 of, every 3 nights. This is the 2nd night, and I still feel terrible. Have you ever tried to do pull-ups, sit-ups, and run 3 miles when you’re 2 weeks constipated?

Our platoon is still terrible. We have initial drill in 4 days, and we sure aren’t ready for it. The DIs don’t help much. They keep cutting us down and degrading us when we make mistakes, because they’re embarrassed at how bad we are. As a result, our motivation is at an all time low, and our DI is talking about going to the series commander to try to get us recycled. That means we’d have to start our training days all over again, and we’d be split up. Today was T-11, or training day 11 of 78. Our DI got so mad during our initial drill practice that he stalked off the parade ground. I think our problems would clear up if only we could just march together. The front end of the column gets ahead or behind of the front. Or, we’ll start to rush the cadence, and that really gets the DIs mad.

As it is, I have no idea whether or not this platoon will continue or not. If it does, then this Saturday we leave MCRD for Camp Pendleton. The first 7 days there we’ll have mess duty. After that we’ll have 2 weeks of infantry training. That will take place only if our platoon is kept intact. I’m beginning to doubt that it will be. This problem we have isn’t something that all platoons have. It was just my rotten luck to be put into a platoon that can’t seem to function together.

We had our first inspection today. Was that ever a harrowing experience! The Series Commander, Capt Rivers, inspected us and asked us questions. He just couldn’t find anything right with us.

We go to church tomorrow. Dad’s right. I’ve never been as religious as I am here. I’m determined not to fall into the foul mouth habit that the recruits get into here by example of the DIs and even the officers.

I have fire watch tonight from 2330 to 0030. Fire watches guard the squad bay at night and make sure the rifles are all locked. Also we count privates. So, every half hour we sign into the logbook the rifle count as well as the “privates on deck” count. If we sign it in a wrong rifle count, even if it was human error, we go to jail for a couple of weeks.

Today we had our second close combat class. We had our first class the day before yesterday. So far we’ve learned 6 killing and disabling moves (3 with the rifle butt, and 3 with the bayonet) and how to pivot right, left and to the guard position. They sure make you want to go out and stab somebody. (I guess that’s the Marine psychology working on me).

Well, I’ve got to sign off. Love, Phil

P.S. What’s Grandma Spear’s address? Do you think she’d like to hear from me?

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