Military stories from past to present, both wars.


April 27th, 2006 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

You really take for granted the emotions a young man or woman feels when they join the military. I mean, from where we are in life, a 3-year commitment is nothing. Know what I mean, time flies by. Most of the time when a neighbor’s kid is going away to boot camp you might say “Oh Johnny, you take care and don’t let the Marines get you down too bad.” Just stop and think about what is going through this kid’s mind at the moment. It’s mixed emotions, kind of like the anticipation of dating the hottest girl in school but knowing that her big brother is about to kick your butt for the next couple of years that you are dating. The fear of the unknown, yes, but putting on a front that you have taken up the challenge to serve your country in the one of the finest fighting forces in the world. Now, when you are alone with just your thoughts, it begins to eat at you, “Have I made the right choice? Am I nuts? Oh God, I signed a contract– what have I done???”
Yes, these thoughts went through my mind as I started working construction at the beginning of summer and the date approached that I was slated to go to Officer Candidate School located in Camp Upshur, Virginia, adjoining Quantico Marine Base. I had signed up to attend the P.L.C. (Platoon Leaders Class) which means you opt to attend for either two six-week summer courses during college or one ten-week session.

My recruiter said, “Hey, just think of this as an internship for the summer where you get to keep the cool clothes if you decide not to come back.” Compounding my fears was the fact that a friends’ Pit Bull bit me on the face four days before I was to leave, tearing my upper lip in half, and I didn’t know if they would allow me to stay for training although it didn’t worry my recruiter who only wanted the credit for shipping me.

The Doctor said that they couldn’t stitch it up and for me to just keep the butterfly bandages on it. To get in shape for OCS, all my buddies were out running six miles a day and hitting the gym. Do you think I did any of this??? I couldn’t, I was too tired from pushing Georgia buggies (like a wheel barrel) full of concrete as I helped build the tall office buildings in Ballston Commons in Arlington, Virginia. After running around all day in the heat and humidity of Northern Virginia, you’re set for anything.
Well the day of departure arrived and with a large farewell dinner at the Bell household, my father parted with the following sage advice. “Son, be outstanding, but don’t STAND OUT and you should be O.K.” I’m thinking that, with my busted swollen lip, I wouldn’t stand out at all. He had taken me to Henderson Hall Marine Base for a goodbye “high and tight” Marine haircut the day before, so I was set there at least. Mom dropped me off at National Airport with my little bag, a bad haircut and my crisp civilian clothes on my back. I was told to wander around and look for a Marine in uniform, and ask if he was taking the group to OCS. I found this thick, muscular Corporal standing there with a group of forty-some guys. He was very nice and all smiles as he guided me into the herd of fellow college students. The smiles went away as we boarded the bus out front and he was no longer in the view of the general public.
“SIT DOWN AND SHUT YOUR PIE HOLES,” he began as he paced up and down the bus, “MY NAME IS CORPORAL LITTLE, (he wasn’t little!!) AND YOU WILL ADDRESS ME AS CORPORAL LITTLE, DON’T CALL ME SIR YOU MAGGOTS.” This went on the whole trip down to Quantico as he explained in a very loud voice the do’s and don’ts of his bus. It turns out that half my bus was from Ohio and the other half from California. Later, this would prove to be an interesting mix.
Moving from my seat after what felt like a five-hour road trip in a big white Marine Corps school bus, we got off and were broken up into platoons for our company. In a flurry of haste, you are shuffled around into alphabetical order and told to stand on top of a pair of yellow footprints painted on the asphalt at a forty-five degree angle. This is where the fun starts. Our Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Westgrove was at least 6’ 4” and unfortunately had the face of JJ from “What’s happening,” an old 70’s T.V. show, so I kept expecting to hear out of his deep voice was “DDDDYYYyyynnnnnoooomight.”
We were all lined up and told to dump out our suitcases for a contraband inspection. The first guy in line was named Anders, a tall lanky surfer boy from Huntington Beach, California, with long blond hair that went down to his shoulders. His dad must have given him the speech about “Stand out son, it’s good for you.” The guy next to me was Barns, then me, Bell, and so forth. SSgt JJ slowly walked up and down our line inspecting what damaged goods he had to work with.

He looked down at his clipboard and said, “When I call out your name, I want you to sound off like you have a pair.” The first guy on the list is Anders, “ANDERS,” still looking down at his notepad, in a loud booming voice the reply is “YOO, YEAH, HERE MAN.” I froze with anticipation of this guy getting his head cut off right there, two guys away from me. SSgt JJ just walked up and looked at our surfer boy, “Anders, you and me, we’re going to have a real good time this summer.”
Returning to his clipboard, “BARNS” (a prior enlisted guy), “HERE PLATOON SGT!!!” Easy for me to follow that lead, “BELL,” “HERE PLATOON SGT,” then he looks at my face, “WHAT DA HELL HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE, BOY? I figured that the best answer was the short one, “Bitten by a Pit Bull Platoon Sgt.” He made a note next to my name and said “YEAH, THAT’S WHAT THE RECRUITER TOLD YOU TO SAY HUH? WELL BOYS, WE HAVE A SCRAPPER HERE”. OH MAN, I’m thinking that I am so screwed. For the first couple of days after that, no one would come near me for fear that I might attack them or something.
The names keep rolling off the list till I hear “SWEET JESUS, WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE???” Out of normal reaction, I turn my head not knowing any better as I see three Marines descend on this huge Italian-looking football guy. They are holding up a huge dildo, lots of leather and some crotch-less women’s underwear. “WHAT IS YOUR NAME MAGGOT?” the lead Marine starts into him. The red-faced, stammering two hundred and forty-pound linebacker (from USC it turns out) says “Sir, my name is DeRosa.” Oh boy, as a history major, I learn fast from others’ mistakes. First, these guys work for a living and are not called “Sir.” Next you never refer to yourself in the first person, it’s always “This Candidate requests permission to speak etc.” I learned a lot from the others mistakes right off the bat.
Now SSgt JJ, as I’ll call him, proceeds to interrogate this guy. “O.K. muscle head, you one of them funny guys from L.A., land of fruits and nuts???” “No Platoon Sgt, I just have some Jerkoff friends that…” JJ is looking down at this guy, only inches away and screams “What did we just tell you Maggot, don’t use ‘I,’ ‘me’ or ‘my’ in your sentences.”

They do this to teach the rest of us who listen, what to say. The Marines are kind of funny like that. Now it’s 11 a.m. and the temperature is rapidly climbing. I’m used to it, but still sweat like a whore on “dollar night.” The funny thing is you never see these guys sweat as they run around yelling at us. They must be supermen!!! Turns out they had Scotchguard™ back then and they would spray the inside of their uniforms and trousers so the sweat just puddled up in their shoes or the towels they had wrapped around their calves and you never saw them in a pitted shirt. The other secret is that they take turns going into their office a.k.a. “Headshed” to change their shirts out. While you, average “Joe the ragman,” are running around soaking wet, they appear to be nice and dry. Mind games… I love it. Here is a shot of my bunkmate in our Sunday best. This was back before they had women out in the sticks of Upshur.

Well, that is day one, more to come…

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