Marine Corps Boot Camp, 1942

From The Fighting Bunch, by Chris DeRose (St. Martin’s, 2020), Kindle pp. 58-59:

Bill [White] saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time from boot camp. “A big pile of water,” he decided, like an oversized pond back home. But he couldn’t stop looking: the waves rushing in and out, water as far as he could see. “It was something else,” he conceded privately. Bill strained to see the ocean without anyone catching on. He didn’t want to look like a “dummy” for being too excited.

“Man!” Bill couldn’t believe his new wardrobe. “Two pairs of dress shoes, three pairs of field shoes.” Back home he had a pair of “run-over brogan shoes” that had to last until his toes were sticking out. Now he had five pairs of shoes and new pants and shirts, “a dozen socks,” a “dozen pair of underwear, undershirts.”

Bill felt “on top of the world.” All the recruits did. They came from all over the United States but had being poor in common. Back home it was “thin gravy with a fork!” Now they sat at long tables and ate the best meals of their lives. “They passed the beans and chicken and everything right down the line; you got all you wanted to eat. Man, this is something else!” Bill realized that he had never been full before. He had to sign up for war before he’d ever sat down and had enough to eat. Another revelation was soon to follow. When the marines appeared to be doing something for your physical comfort, expect the worst.

“The training was hard,” Bill said. They “lived in the boondocks” and ran five or six miles every morning at sunup. They staged raids and war games. Bill and the recruits went on forest hikes—fifty or sixty miles over three or four days. “You’d think your feet was wore off plum up to your knees,” he said. “It never seemed to quit.” They never walked anywhere. It was always a run. They ran up hills with drill instructors shooting live ammunition at their feet.

There was a new vocabulary to learn. Underwear was “skivvies”; the bathroom was “the head”; “782 gear” was named for the form you had to sign. There were rough incentives to get things right. Drill instructors wouldn’t think twice about hitting you with a stick. Rarer but not unheard of was a punch in the nose. If you dropped your rifle, they’d make you sleep on eight of them. Bill, who as a little boy had bucked the rules at North City School, regularly got into it with his instructors. He spent a lot of time restricted to bread and water and cleaned plenty of dirty plates on “kitchen patrol.” It helped straighten him out “a little bit,” he admitted. Bill resolved to be just good enough to avoid getting kicked out of the marines.

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Filed under economics, education, food, military, U.S., war

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