Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Some things never change...

LATimes story about some ree-croots' first day in the Marine Corps.

(the recruiter) Diazdumeng hugged each one and whispered encouragement. "Hey, you'll do great," he said. As the recruits reached the door, he yelled out: "I love you guys!"

The intake officer, a thin, intense woman carrying a clipboard, sang out in a saccharine tone: "Oh, isn't that sweet! He loves you!"

Well, maybe some things do change a little...

The center's commander, a Marine major, gave a long motivational talk, stressing educational opportunities and pay -- $1,500 a month for most recruits -- that with increases in rank would accumulate to $100,000 over four years in the unlikely event they saved every penny.

I got $73 a month, but I got a big raise after 10 days when they kicked me up to $78. Performance-based, no doubt. Later on, as an E-4 with over 2 years service, I got $212.50. I certainly didn't join to try to make a living, but some guys were after the three hots and a cot. I never saw $100 all at once during my whole enlistment. I take that back - a coupla times we got paid in cash, and there were many thousands of dollars laid out on a table, guarded by several well-armed Gunnies, like someone was gonna scoop it all up and make a break for the front gate three miles away.

The only things the single guys needed money for was laundry, smokes, toiletries, and beer. There weren't many married guys in those days. Today, the recruits have to pay for their uniforms and God knows what else that we got with the deal. The Marine Corps provided the necessities of life instead of Halliburton.

The driver warned the recruits, just before reaching the Marine depot at dusk, that a drill instructor would soon rush aboard and "go crazy."

Me and three other guys got driven in the back of a pickup from the San Diego bus station. The only warning we got was that the gate guard looked at us and shook his head. The first five seconds off the truck, we all thought we had just committed the biggest mistake of our lives.

All night long and well past dawn, they followed orders. Recruits were selected at random and ordered to scream the same instructions at each of the 458 recruits processed that night.

I drew 'firewatch' my first night, which meant I stood outside the NCOIC's office staring at the clock above his desk. Every fifteen minutes I took a walk around the building to make sure it wasn't on fire. I got a small victory in that I snuck a smoke on one of my tours. Scared me to death to do it too, but I felt like I really got over on 'em.

Still, they had no regrets: They yearned for their eagle, globe and anchor -- the Corps symbol pinned to the chest of each newly minted Marine. And as corny as it sounded to some of their friends, they wanted to serve their country.

I just wanted to be a Marine. I don't think I realized I was serving my country until about twenty years later.

Only the details have changed in 44 years. These kids will emerge from the other end of MCRD as Marines just like they always have. Most of the ones who survive will be just as proud of it in later years as I am.

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