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Day 1...

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I mentioned that during this period of sequestration I was writing about my Marine Corps experiences.  Also more stories of my boyhood with my brother Leon.

Day 1 is a day every Marine experiences on the first day of boot camp.  I have sanitized it as best I could using 'wna' as 'word not allowed'.  I hope I haven't missed one.

Day One

Yesterday the sergeant was smiling and joking with us as he led us to one of those $1.09 steak places on Market Street to buy as all dinner.  There were five of us.  We had met at the recruiting station that morning and filled out and signed papers and took our oaths of enlistment and did a lot of sitting around just waiting.  

After lunch we took a battery of tests the smiling sergeant said would classify us for certain jobs in the Marine Corps.  We had all, of course, selected the jobs we wanted, but as the sergeant said, there were no guarantees.

After our steak dinners we walked several blocks to the train station where we would board the Southern Pacific Lark. The overnight train between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

We spent most of the night playing pinochle or hearts with the smiling sergeant.

Now we were in Los Angeles.  The sergeant led us to the military dining facility in Union Station where we had a hurried breakfast and then waked to the train platforms where we boarded the silver Santa Fe train that would take us to San Diego and our first day as Marines.

In San Diego the sergeant said goodbye to us as we got off the train and then climbed into the back of the truck waiting there to take us to the Marine Corp Recruit Depot.

The truck stopped outside a low building.  The driver dropped the tailgate and told us to go into the building.  There were other guys just like us sitting at school desks.  We found empty desks and joined them.  We were apparently the last bunch to arrive.  

Behind the partition in front of us we heard typing and people talking.  Then all of a sudden a pen came flying over the partition and landed on the floor.  One of the guys picked it up.

Then this huge, burly, Marine with lots of stripes on his arm came in smiling and very nicely asked, “Who’s got my pen?”  The fellow that picked it up jokingly said, “Identify it.”

The smile disappeared from the sergeant’s face and he grabbed the guy by the collar and dragged him behind the partition screaming, “Young lady, you’re going to be my first wna-bird.”  Then we heard an awful racket and pounding and the sergeant loudly berating the poor fellow.

I would later learn that every drill instructor’s office had a metal wall locker with the door taken off.  Boots and wna-birds (that’s us) that offended the DI’s sensibilities would be ordered into the office and bounced up against that empty wall locker several times.  There was no pain involved but it sure made a hell of a racket. 

Welcome to the Marines!

We became Platoon 412.  Thirty nine of us, most just out of high school, some drop outs, some older guys who joined up for some reason or other, all of us confused and frightened.  What had we gotten into?

We spent the afternoon filling out more forms and papers.  Then a pair of corpsmen arrived with a tray full of syringes and we had to line up for our first shots.  A couple of the guys fainted dead away just before or when the corpsman jabbed the needle in his arm.  Many had never had shots before.  

Sergeant Martinet told us to fall out in front of the building.  We got up and began walking out.  Sergeant Martinet began screaming.  “I said fall out in front of the building.  When I say fall out I mean now, not next week.  You will run out and fall in as fast as you can.  Do you hear me!” 

Some one said, “Yeah, we hear you.”

“Who said that!”

No one spoke up.

By then we were kind of standing in a line in front of the building.

“When I say ‘do you hear me’ or anything else you will all say, ‘Sir, yes sir!’  Do you understand?”

“Sir, yes sir!”

“I can’t hear you!”

Sir, yes sir!

“And when I ask you a question you will always end the answer with sir.  Do you understand?”

Sir, yes sir!

“OK ladies, I’m taking you wna-birds to lunch.  We are going to march to the mess hall so try and stay in step.”

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Have any one of you wna-birds been to college?”

Two of our group raised theirs hands.  Sergeant Martinet pointed to one and told him to go the front of the line and asked him what his name was.


“Your full name Mike Wna-bird and loud enough so I can hear you.”

“Mike Spencer!”

“Mike Spencer what?”

“Mike Robert Spencer!”

Sergeant Martinet got nose to nose with poor Mike Spencer and started screaming again.

“Mike Robert Spencer you have to be the dumbest college boy I every met.  What did I just say about answering questions?”

“Mike Robert Spencer Sir”

Sergeant Martinet smiled and said, “Well at least the college boy is trainable.”

“Oh my God.” I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Sergeant Martinet continued, “Well Mike Robert Spencer college boy I assume you know how to eat with a knife and a fork and a spoon?”

“Sir, Yes Sir!”

“Well Mike Robert Spencer college boy you are going to lead us through the chow line and then take a seat at the empty table at the rear of the mess hall.  And all of you uneducated wna-birds will watch him eat using a knife and a fork and a spoon and see if you can get the hang of it.”

So we raggedly marched to the mess hall, grabbed our mess trays and went through the line and got our chow and had lunch after Sergeant Martinet had Mike Robert Spencer college boy show us how to use eating utensils.

After lunch we raggedly marched back to the low building and went inside and took our seats at the student desks.

A captain entered the room and gave us welcoming speech.  He seemed pretty nice.  He then introduced us to Gunnery Sergeant Martinet and said he would be our drill instructor for the next sixteen weeks.  We already knew him and I don’t think any of us were happy that he was going to be our constant companion for four months.

The captain left and a staff sergeant entered the room.  Sergeant Martinet introduced him as Staff Sergeant Brooks.  He was going to be the assistant drill instructor.  Sergeant Brooks was dressed in a well pressed khaki uniform and campaign hat just like Sergeant Martinet and he had a riding crop he kept slapping against his leg.  He was making his point.

Sergeant Martinet left the room and Sergeant Brooks told us to fall out in front of the building again.  He demonstrated the facing movements, how to do an about face, and the commands forward march and halt.

He then gave us a right face.  Most of us turned right but a couple turned left instead.

“I see some of you wna-birds are stupid too and don’t know your left from your right.”

One of the men who had turned left started to turn around and Sergeant Brooks said, “Hold it right there wna-bird!  Did I tell you to move?”

“Sir, No Sir.”

“ All right you wna-birds.  You do nothing unless Sergeant Martinet or I tell you to do something.  Do you understand?”

“Sir, Yes Sir!”

Then Sergeant Brooks walked through the ranks up to the man who he had just berated for trying to turn around.

“Hold out your right hand and make a fist wna-tbird”

The young man held out his right hand and made a fist.

“Stick out your thumb wna-bird!”

Then Sergeant Brooks took a piece of string out of his pocket and tied it around the poor chap’s thump.

“This is you right wna-bird.  Do you understand?”

“Sir, Yes Sir!”

“Do you think you can remember that wna-bird?”

“Sir, Yes Sir!”

Sergeant Brooks then repeated the drill with the rest of men who had faced the wrong way.

Once we were lined up correctly Sergeant Brooks marched us to a Quonset Hut that would be our home until we went to the rifle range at Camp Matthews later in our training.

He told us to assemble in the quarters.  We lined up in front of the bunks that were stacked two high.  In front of each bunk was a green foot locker and a galvanized bucket.  There was also a foot locker and a galvanized bucket under the window between the bunks.  On each bunk was a rolled up mattress.  Then we learned they weren’t bunks, but racks and that our quarters would be called a squad bay.

Sergeant Brooks said, “The man on the right gets the upper rack and the man on the left gets to the lower rack.  The footlocker at the foot of the racks belongs to the man in the lower rack  The foot locker under the window belongs to the man in the upper rack.  Do you all understand?”

”Sir, Yes Sir!”

“I can’t hear you wna-birds!”

Sir, Yes Sir!

Then Sergeant Brooks proceeded to instruct us on Marine talk. It wasn’t a floor but a deck.  It wasn’t a ceiling but an overhead.  It wasn’t a door but a hatch.  It wasn’t a stairway but a ladder.      
“Now grab your buckets and fall out on three ranks according to height.”

We grabbed our buckets and lined up in formation outside.  Not quite as ragged as we were that morning but Sergeant Brooks still had to change some positions, calling each man he had to shuffle around a ‘wna-bird’.

Sergeant Brooks marched us to the edge of the base near the runway for Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s airport.  We were standing in a big field of sand.

Sergeant Brooks told us to fill the buckets with sand.

We looked back and forth at each other wondering what was going on.

“Fill those buckets with sand wna-birds!  Don’t make me tell you again!”

“Sir, Yes Sir!”

We dropped to our knees and began scooping sand up with our hands and filling the buckets.

We heard an airplane coming down the runway.  A United DC-3 was taking off.  We all stopped to look at it; every one of us wishing he was one it.

“Do you wish you were on that airplane wna-birds?”

“Sir, Yes Sir!”

“Well, you’re not.  But you love it here don’t you wna-birds?”

“Sir, Yes Sir!”

When we had filled our buckets with sand Sergeant Brooks marched us back to Platoon 412's barracks.
He told us to go inside.  We ran inside carrying our buckets of sand and stood in our positions beside our racks.

Then Sergeant Brooks told us to start throwing the sand around the squad bay.  We looked back and forth at each other.

Sergeant Brooks took a bucket from the man closest to him, grabbed a handful of sand, and threw it up on the air.

“Start throwing sand wna-birds!”

“Sir, Yes Sir”

We started throwing sand all over the inside of our quarters.  It was landing everywhere.  The racks were covered with sand.  The deck was covered with sand.

Then Sergeant Brooks assembled us outside and took us to the mess hall for dinner.

When we returned to the barracks and lined up in front of our racks Sergeant Brooks told us to clean up every grain of sand we had thrown around the squad bay.

“The head is at that end of the squad bay.  My office is at this end of the squad bay.  In the head is locker with cleaning materials.  In the head is a wash tub with running water.  Now turn to wna-birds and get this pig pen cleaned up.”

“Sir, Yes Sir!”

With that Sergeant Brooks retired to his office and we began cleaning up the sand.

Sergeant Brooks came in from time to time to check our progress and pointing out places we had missed. 

It was dawn by the time we finished and Sergeant Books was satisfied.  We hadn’t slept in two nights.  We were mostly awake on the train the night before and we got no sleep this night spending the entire night cleaning up the squad bay.  We were leaning against our racks asleep on our feet.

There was a corrugated trash can next to drill instructor’s office end of the squad bay.  Sergeant Brooks came out with an empty Coke bottle and started rattling it around inside the trash can.  You have no idea what a racket that makes.  That woke us up.  And that would be our revile call for the next 16 weeks.

Sergeant Martinet came in and told Sergeant Brooks he could go home.

Sergeant Martinet had us fall out outside our quarters on what he called the ‘grinder’. The paved street just outside.  Over the next six weeks we do a lot of close order drill in that grinder.

Day 1 was over.

Day 2 would be spent getting our issue.  Our uniforms, our toiletries, and our bedding.  We would march to the barber and get our heads shaved.  A competent barber can shave your head in less than a minute.

Sergeant Martinet would show us how to make our racks.  How to arrange items in the foot lockers.  How to fold our clothes.  And how to stack our rifles in the rifle racks in the middle of deck and warned us not to forget our rifle numbers.

Finally it was time for lights out and some sleep.

We got into our bunks and Sergeant Martinet turned out the lights and said, “Goodnight wna-birds.”

“Sir, Good Night Sir!” 

The lights came right back on again.

“Aren’t you wna-birds asleep yet! Get out of your racks and give me ten!”  We all got on the floor and did ten push ups, or as many as most of us could do.  Then we climbed back into our racks.

The lights went out again

“Goodnight wna-birds!”

You could hear a pin drop.

Just before I dozed off I prayed, “If there is a God in heaven please send an angel down to carry me back home.”  

It didn’t happen.

By the way, I have never forgotten my rifle number.  It was an M-1 Garand.  351822 and was made by International Harvester. It weighed 9.5 pounds.  By the time I graduated from boot camp it became a constant companion.


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The tires are worn.  The shocks are shot.  The steering is wobbly.  But the engine still runs fine.

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I know you must have seen that 1957 movie "The DI" with Jack Webb - if not, you should try to see it... 

 BTW, I was never in the military, but went thru the physical at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, NY in 1971 (they classified me 4F for a medical condition).

 And I for one, in all sincerity, Thank you for your service...


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Noel, thank you for sharing part of your memoirs.

I like idea of bouncing a would-be wise@ss off a wall locker for effect :laugh:. Sadly,I cannot somehow imagine that such an act is carried out in the present day, because of offending feelings etc... :blush:

2 hours ago, birdguy said:

By the way, I have never forgotten my rifle number.

Would part of that not forgetting be due to the Rifleman's Creed? 

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Watch the movie "Full Metal Jacket." In this movie, a real Marine DI, turned actor, breaks in a bunch of new recruits. This will give you a feeling of what it was like back in the supposedly "good ol' days."


Bill Clark

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12 minutes ago, HighBypass said:

Would part of that not forgetting be due to the Rifleman's Creed? 

"This is my rifle, this is my gun. One is for shooting, the other for fun."

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Fr. Bill    

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As a long retired serviceman here in UK, that has given me such a laugh.  Just as I remember it too.  Thank you and Best regards.

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Very Best Wishes,

Dr T. Maurice Murphy

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Such memories, and very well put Noel.

OCTU in the RAF was very similar, where cadets were the lowest form of life, and treated accordingly, but we became very good at cleaning and polishing.

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John B

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My Dad taught me the Rifleman's Creed when I was 8. We were on the range, and I referred to my single shot .22 rifle as a gun. I only did it once. Dad was a retired Army Master Sargent, WWII vintage.



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Outstanding post Noel. You are, indeed, a great story-teller.

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No so due to the rifleman's creed, Mark, but more being asked to repeated every time I went to inspection arms.

I saw the DI with Jack Webb years ago.  Not as good as the boot camp scenes in Full Metal Jacket because TV and movies were more sanitized back then.


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The tires are worn.  The shocks are shot.  The steering is wobbly.  But the engine still runs fine.

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Noel, forgive my ignorance but what doesn’t wna-bird mean and how is it pronounced? I googled it and couldn’t find anything on that term and I’d never heard it before.

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WNA stands for Word Not Allowed.  I had to sanitize the story to publish it here.  It stands for a four letter slang term for excrement.


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The tires are worn.  The shocks are shot.  The steering is wobbly.  But the engine still runs fine.

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18 hours ago, sbclark said:

Watch the movie "Full Metal Jacket." In this movie, a real Marine DI, turned actor, breaks in a bunch of new recruits. This will give you a feeling of what it was like back in the supposedly "good ol' days."


Bill Clark

But if you are going to watch Full Metal Jacket, watch it on DVD or if it comes on a pay movie channel.  The version seen on broadcast, satellite, and cable stations is heavily edited. 

Edited by stans

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On 12/3/2020 at 10:49 AM, birdguy said:

By the way, I have never forgotten my rifle number.  It was an M-1 Garand.  351822 and was made by International Harvester. It weighed 9.5 pounds.

Noel, while I no longer remember my rifle's serial number, I do remember my original Service Number: RA11937707 (RA = Regular Army). I was terribly unhappy when they changed over to using one's Social Security* Number. I was darn PROUD of the RA prefix, as it announced to the world that I had volunteered and not waited to be drafted.

Another reason for my unhappiness was the huge potential for identity theft because of this new practice by the armed forces.

NB: Service numbers were eventually phased out completely by the social security number; the Army and Air Force converted to social security numbers on 1 July 1969, the Navy and Marine Corps on 1 January 1972, and the Coast Guard on 1 October 1974.[4] Since that time, social security numbers have become the de facto military service number for United States armed forces personnel.

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