Parris Island Marine
Beautiful Beaufort by the Sea,
26 miles from Yamassee.
Parris Island will surely be
Hell Island for recruits like me!
A recruit's descriptive name "Sandy Rock" for Parris Island was appropriate. The Corps knew what it was doing so long ago when the island was selected for recruit training. There was no way off that island except out the Front Gate with Marine orders. I feel sure that many of the missing recruits that were listed as deserters actually drowned or otherwise succumbed to the elements while trying to escape the hells of boot camp. I have seen huge sharks swimming close to the shores of the island. If a deserter drowned during an escape attempt, the blue crabs would have picked his body clean in only a couple of days. Before the bridge was built, there was no way on or off the island except by boat.
Marine Corps Recruit Training would take the new Depot arrivals and treat them much like a recycling plant processes aluminum cans. Civilians from all colors, creeds, and backgrounds were mixed together in a unit called a platoon. They were herded in mass to medical for physicals, immunizations, showers, shaves, haircuts, green Marine clothing and then crammed into a squadbay with steel bunk beds for 86 recruits. The recruits were run from one process to another while being verbally assaulted every step of the way. Individual identity was lost. The indoctrination was designed to tear the recruits down mentally to their raw material like an aluminum can being crushed and heated until reduced to molten metal. The first week of training succeeded in transforming the inductee into a human being ready for the rebuilding process. The remaining seven weeks of boot camp molded and shaped the recruit into a basic Marine for graduation. The young man became imbued with a strong love for God, Corps and Country. Sometimes the breaking down period caused a recruit to flee the mental and physical torment. Nearly all recruits survived the emotional strain to graduate as Marines.
I recall driving onto Parris Island one beautiful Saturday in 1966. After going through the Gate, I drove the winding causeway to the main island. As Range Company Commander I didn't have to work on Saturday. There were duty officers to take care of the weekend activities. Something nagged at me to leave the wife and three kids and go check on recruit marksmanship training. I had recently been transferred from CO of a recruit training company to the rifle ranges. The United States was increasing the War effort in Southeast Asia and the Depot was pumping out recruits at a war time rate. Recruit training had been shortened from 12 weeks to 8 weeks.
When I reached the island proper, I drove past a PT field on my right just before the right turn to the Third Recruit Training Battalion headquarters. I looked to my right and saw a gathering of people in the middle of the nearest PT field. I recognized a recruit surrounded by a circle of about seven men. Some of the men wore athletic garb, but two had on the smoky bear hats of Drill Instructors. The men on the circle were lunging at the recruit who was whirling and flailing at his opponents. The totally bald head, tennis shoes, and white tee shirt identified him as a recruit probably in the hell of his first few days on the island. I wheeled the green 57 Ford convertible hard right and careened through the roadside ditch and over bushes toward the PT field. As I bounced toward the ominous circle, I saw that the recruit had a bayonet in his right hand held in a chest high cutting position. Those in the circle kept lunging towards the recruit in the center. Obviously they had caught him trying to escape and he was defending himself with his issued bayonet. I spoke out loud, "God! Get me there in time!" I knew if the recruit cut anyone with that bayonet there would be no way to salvage him.
The gas pedal was floored but the two hundred yards went like slow motion. I braked to a stop in a cloud of dust and with my car door already swinging open. I jumped from the car and shouted, "Get back! Move away! Get away from him!"
A Marine on the circle said loudly, "Captain, you stay back. This guy is AWOL and dangerous!"
A physical training instructor in sweat gear said, "We know how to take care of this Hog. Keep away from him or you'll get hurt."
Striding up to the circle, I continued to order the Marines back. "Move back! Get completely away from him! I am ordering you to step back!"
One Drill Instructor persisted in discouraging me by saying, "We'll take care of this guy! Captain you just stay away!"
The Marines reluctantly backed away from the crouching recruit as I walked into the circle and up to the recruit. I extended my right hand palm up, and said quietly, "Private, give me the bayonet." The recruit's eyes darted around the widening circle of men and returned to eye contact with me. I said, "Hand me the bayonet. We have to be going." The recruit placed the bayonet in my right hand. I said, "Get into the car."
I took his arm and guided him to the passenger side of the car. Opening the door with my right hand, I steered him into the seat with my left hand. He started sobbing. His shoulders shook as tears streamed down his cheeks. I shut his door and turned toward the men in the widened circle. The eyes and faces of the men reflected astonishment and disbelief. I said, "Carry on Marines." I went around and got in on the driver's side of the Car. I placed the bayonet on the seat between us. The seven Marines stood silently in the dusty field and watched us drive away.
I said to the recruit, "Private, who do you belong to?" Stifling sobs, he blurted, "Third Battalion." His shoulders continued to shake with his sobs. I drove to the Third Battalion duty officer and wrote a statement of the incident. I told him of the recruit trying to escape the island and using the bayonet to avoid apprehension. I contacted the private's commanding officer and asked that the recruit be disciplined, but I recommended he be given a chance to become a Marine. I knew how serious the infraction was but I also knew that the bravery he demonstrated was of value to the Corps.
The recruit was given Non-Judicial Punishment and sentenced to two weeks confinement at the Correctional Custody Platoon. CCP was the equivalent of a civilian jail. After the recruit was released I checked on him several times during his training. He was a model recruit. He worked hard in all phases of his training. I watched as he shot expert at the rifle range. I have often wondered if he fought the brave fight in Vietnam after he proudly graduated as a Marine. I cannot find his name now. Hopefully he survived the war and served as a career Marine or returned to civilian life as a positive contributor to his community and our Nation.
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