Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Letters from Bootcamp, Installment IV

July 22, 1975– Dear family,

How are things back there in 3-hours-ahead-land? Its 10 o’clock at night here right now, that means its 1 o’clock back there. You’re probably all sleeping.

Gail, go ahead and finish that painting; I’m not sure which one you are talking about though. Those pictures of Kevin Raquepaw are pretty ridiculous. That’s why I like them. I’ll probably send them back home sometime for safekeeping. I’m going to keep that picture of the family in my wallet so I won’t forget what everyone looks like. Would you believe I was beginning to struggle to bring an image to mind of what you all looked like after just 3 weeks? Send some more pictures of things back home. They’re fun to look at. I got grandma’s letter yesterday; tell her she’ll be getting one from me soon. Keep sending word on the garden and trees, etc. How are the grape vines and willow trees I planted? It’s good to hear Dad is coming along now. Dad, you take the same advice you gave me and don’t let it get you down. One thing I’ve found that helps around here is not taking everything absolutely serious.

We had our first phase physical fitness test (PFT) today. The platoon placed last in the series. We did pull-ups, sit-ups in two-minutes and the 3 mile run wearing combat boots. To max it, you have to do 20 pull-ups at 5 points a piece (for 100 points), 80 sit-ups in 2 minutes for 100 points, and run the 3 miles in 18 minutes or less for 100 points. They take off 1 point for every 10 seconds over 18 minutes. I only did 12 pull-ups (bummer!) for 60 points, 80 sit-ups for 100 points (right on!) and ran the 3 miles in 18 minutes 20 seconds, which placed me 4th out of about 165 guys who ran in my heat. That gave me a combined total of 258. The average score for our platoon was only 170. To graduate, you only have to do 3 pull-ups, 45 sit-ups in 2 minutes and run the 3 miles in 28 minutes or less. Heck, Kevin (my 14 year old brother) could do that. So the physical requirements for the Marine Corps really aren’t as tough as everyone thinks.

Our platoon still hasn’t come around, although now I’m pretty sure they’re not going to recycle us. It was just my luck to get stuck in a platoon like this one out of all the platoons here. After today there’s only 64 more days before graduation, which is Sept 24.

Last night I had actual outside guard duty. My post was to walk around some Quonset huts to prevent or to discourage privates from going AWOL, and to stop vandals too I guess. My watch lasted from 2330 to 0100. If anybody came on or near my post I’d have to sound off, “HALT! Who is there?” Then they’d say who they were, such as “Corporal of the guard!” Then I’d say, “Corporal of the guard, advance to be recognized!” We had to wear field jackets over our utilities and ammunition belt and canteen over the jacket. We also carried our rifles. They don’t fire because the firing pin has been filed; we just use them for drill and handling. Those rifles are a big responsibility. Their actual value is only $185 a piece, but down in Mexico, not far from here they fetch $1500 to $1800 a piece. I’ll say one thing for guard duty, it’s no fun, especially when you have no idea what time it is or how soon you’ll be relieved.

Being a rat, I get to look over everything in the duty hut wastebasket. I found a roster of the entire platoon with our GCT scores on it. I believe it’s a general knowledge test. I’m sending it home for you to keep for me. It’s pretty interesting to compare my scores with everyone else’s or to compare who I thought was intelligent and who was kind of slow. If SSgt Trevino, my platoon commander, found I had it after he threw it away, he’d kill me. (I was proud because I had some of the highest scores).

Well, the constipation problem cleared up, but now I’ve got a new one—blisters. I’ve got to go to sickbay tomorrow to see about them. They aren’t that bad, after all, I ran 18:20 for 3 miles with them. The DI said that they could get infected, so I’ve got to go.

I’m beginning to get used to the routine here now. Would you believe Mark Colpean has 6 or 7 blackmarks now in his folder? I’ve got just 2.

After next Saturday, I won’t be getting a chance, I don’t believe, till the following Saturday to write many letters. That’s when the platoon has mess duty up at Camp Pendleton. Well, it’s getting late.

Love, Phil

(Reading the letters from this point forth, it seems that by this stage in my training I was feeling very much at ease with the regimen. I think I was beginning to realize that not only was I mostly “smarter than the average bear;” I was also physically superior to most of the other recruits. I excelled at pretty much everything that was thrown at me, so if I could hang tough and get through to the end, I knew I would be just fine. This Marine stuff wasn’t all that hard after all it seemed.)

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July 26, 1975– Dear Mom, Dad, Gail, Kevin, and Mary Kay:

Sorry it took so long to write. Did Grandma Spear tell you our platoon took first place in drill? I can’t believe it! Ask grandma, I haven’t got time to go into it.

We have mess duty now at Camp Pendleton at the rifle range mess hall. We get up at 0500, go the mess hall, stay there till 1900, come back to the squad bay and hit the sack at 2030. That’s 16 hours of work. My job is a real doozy. I’ve got to clear up and replenish the DI’s tables. They get pretty mean sometimes, but I’ve developed ways of avoiding their yelling usually.

Today I wasn’t even allowed to go to Mass. Out of all the Catholics, I was the only one worried about it. I kept thinking they’d let us go to church right up to the last minute. They don’t stop for anything at that mess hall. Next Sunday I’m going to go to the confessional and ask the priest about it.

It’s been about a week since I’ve had a mail call. I sure am hungry for news of back home or from anywhere. We’re pretty cut off out here.

When we moved to Camp Pendleton from San Diego, I got to see California or part of it for the first time. If you asked me, I’d say they screwed up what I saw. It’s all too built up and over developed; its man-made ugly.

In five weeks, after this 1 week of mess duty, 2 weeks of rifle range and qualification, and 2 weeks of Infantry Training School (ITS) we go back to San Diego for 25 days; then I come home.

How’s dad? How’s Gail’s softball team? What’s the Pacer’s mileage now? Are you running Kevin? If you’re not, don’t wait any longer; run now not tomorrow. Don’t worry about the sun or if it’s raining or anything, just go and run. How’s the Cross-Country team doing? Are they meeting yet?

Well, I’ve got to hit the rack now. It’s 1905.

Love and write soon, Phil

P.S. Sorry it’s messy, but I didn’t have much time.

(Notice my quick comment referring to my platoon actually WINNING our initial drill competition! Unfortunately, I described my excitement over it and the account itself in a letter to my grandmother, a letter that no longer exists. Just the same, I described the improbable event in a post last year; I encourage you to check it out. It’s called: “Sheer Exhilaration.”

Notice how upset I was that I wasn’t allowed to attend Mass. I could not believe it. I was literally in shock. I had NEVER missed Mass before, and to me, I had committed a big sin by not going, even though it wasn’t my fault. When I was finally given the opportunity to go to confession about 4 weeks later back at San Diego, I confessed my sin to the priest. He practically laughed at my distress and told me not to worry about it. I was stunned. I have to say that his nonchalant attitude at what I thought was a big deal forever changed me. Remember, I was just a good Catholic kid steeped in the teachings of the church and NO ONE misses Mass if at all possible.

This was just my first full day of mess duty. It sounds harmless enough, but the moment of my complete and utter breakdown took place during this week of sheer hell! I’ll talk more of that most likely in the next installment of "Letters from Bootcamp.”)

2 comments:

Shoshana said...

Reading this, I am almost tempted to post some of my letters to my husband. We were writing to each other first before we got married.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hmmmm, that MIGHT be interesting!