The Sentence of a U.S. Marine Story by James G. Watts
Posted By: Ray Hoppe 02-23-11
Rumbling down a bumpy dirt road in the back of a six-by on a rainy day, some 20 persons huddled together, soaked to the bone. They either tried to sleep or just stared quietly out the back of the open tarp and into the gray drizzle as it passed them by. But who could sleep? Every time the truck hit a bump those inside were slammed up against the rails that held the tarp, or against the steel bed of the truck. Finally, somebody broke the silence with the questions, “Hey man, how long you got left?”
“Thirty years, bud.” “Thirty years! Hey guys, we’ve got a lifer on our hands. I’ve only got 1 ½ years left.” Somebody else said, “I’m a two-digit midget! Twenty-two days and a wake up. Short-time, big-time!” By this time everyone was talking. “Yea, buddy! Can’t wait to get outta the suck! Just a few months now and I’m a free bird!” “Yep, it’ll be great to be out in the free world again!” Listening to this conversation, an outsider might think these guys were a bunch of convicts. But these aren’t convicts. These are U.S. Marines. None of them will ever get out of the Corps. Even those who choose to end their active service will never leave the Corps; that is, the Corps will never leave them. It all begins when the spirit of a fighting man is attracted to the propaganda that floats around. Posters that say things like, “Be Proud -- Be Marine!” “Maybe You Can Be One of Us -- The Marines” “Want Action? Join The Marines!” “Marines … Air, Land, Sea, and Space” “Do You Have What We’re Looking For? -- The Marines”. Inside a certain type person, there is a yearning to take this challenge. “Can I be what it takes? Do I have what they’re asking for?” Then, only a percentage of those take the next step; they find themselves talking to a Marine Corps Recruiter. Next thing they know, they’re getting off of an airplane in San Diego, CA, or Charleston, SC, in the middle of the night. They go check in with the Marine Liaison at the airport, and are surprised that the friendly, smiling, attitude that their recruiter had is gone. The Marine hands back the recruit’s orders and snarls, “Outside, down the sidewalk, you’ll see a green bus. Get in all the way to the back, fill in every seat, and keep your mouth shut!” - - the indoctrination has begun.
The bus ride to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot is solemn. It’s dark outside, and most of the recruits have never been to the area before. They are easily disoriented. The bus goes through a few gates and stops in the middle of some old buildings. A Marine Corps sergeant steps on the bus and shouts, “When you get off this bus you will be handed a sea bag. Hold it open and run through the line. One of each item will be put into your sea bag. Then put your feet on the yellow footprints, and keep your head and eyes to the front. You’ve got 30 seconds to get off this bus!”
That second, the yelling begins and there’s a mad rush for the door of the bus. While standing on the yellow footprints waiting for their turn to get in line for the initial haircut, there are some loud slamming noises inside the building. Then loudly, “I said keep your head and eyes to the front recruit!” Everyone is thinking, “Are the stories we heard true? Did someone just get clobbered?” But no one dares to look. That night, “Taps” at 0400; reveille at 0530. Somebody mumbles, “Where’s the welcome my recruiter said we’re gonna get?”
The recruits are welcomed by their drill instructors (DI’s) a week or so later. In-processing is over and now the training begins. The initial meeting between the DI’s and the platoon is a dramatic one. In it, the crux of what the DI says to the platoon can be summed up in this: “You do what you’re told and you’ll have no problem. If you don’t, you can stand by!”
The next 10 ½ weeks will put an imprint on the recruit’s mind that will never leave him. Ten and one half weeks of constant, 24-hours a day, seven days a week, indoctrination. Some call it brainwashing, others training, still others testing or evaluating. Anyway it’s looked at, this period irreversibly changes lives. Never given time to think; always pushed to do things faster and faster. “What’s the matter with you boy? Can’t you do anything right?” “Sir, no sir!” is the only reply. It isn’t until later, sometimes much later, that they realize the reason for it. Everything has a purpose. They are joining themselves to what is known through the world as the most elite fighting unit the world has ever known. During these three months, recruits are formed into something they weren’t before, and they are given a common ground that keeps them together yet separates them from the rest of the world. Every Marine knows when the Marine Corps was born, what the Marine Corps motto is, what the Marine Corps emblem is and what it represents. Every Marine today knows who “Chesty” Puller was.
When boot camp is over and after the platoons are dismissed, the DI’s will shake the hand of any recruit who approaches them, and for the first time, call them “Marine.”
Between the realization that they are now members of the world’s finest fighting force, and the playing of “The Marines’ Hymn” by the band, a pride swells within the ex-recruit that at least brings a chill down his spine. From there, Marines go different ways. A few develop bad attitudes toward the Corps. Some spend the next 20 to 30 years in it, some try to put it behind them, and some are forced to leave. But what do you do with a man who has been taught to “locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat?” (FMFM 6-5, The Mission of the Marine Rifle Squad, p. 1.)
When the war is over or when the training’s done, and a Marine leaves the autocratic society of the Corps to return to the “free world” Marines so often talk about, there is an adjustment to be made that some never completely make. No matter what they choose, anyone who has been through the indoctrination will always be proud. It’s because of the worldwide reputation of the Corps. It’s also because when a person leaves the Corps, he will never again experience the level of “esprit de corps” that exists among those men.
“Esprit de corps” is defined as the common spirit existing among the members of a group, inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and a high regard for the honor of that group. It’s this spirit that makes the Corps what it is. This spirit is the reason the Germans called U.S. Marines “Devil Dogs” at Belleau Wood. This spirit is why Marines destroyed in three days what the Japanese commander at Tarawa said couldn’t be destroyed in “a hundred years.” This spirit, this love for God, Country and Corps, is what has compelled so many Marines in the past to totally disregard their own safety to save the lives of their comrades in the heat of battle. And, this spirit is why one can never forget the Corps once they know it. “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
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