Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

The Marines teach me a lesson

I joined the Marines in December 1977, after I turned 17 on Nov. 1, 1977.

Of course, I was still in high school and didn’t report to Parris Island for their idea of fun and games until Aug. 3, 1978, so in the meantime I was counting down the days until I went, and telling the girls how I was going to be a Marine. It didn’t impress them as much as I thought it would.

I thought I could get through Parris Island by being Vinny, a combination of quiet and garrulous that had worked in the past. Boy, did I have a hell of a lot to learn.

Most of my life, I was able to talk my way out of stuff, but there came a day in basic training where all the BS and all the talk couldn’t get me out of a situation. In the process, I learned a lesson about life and disappointment, and how sometimes no matter how bad your situation might seem, someone else has it a lot worse.

I had just finished the first phase of basic training, and they had Platoon 2066 run the Marine Corps’ Physical Fitness Test, the PFT. You had to pass the first phase PFT to continue to the second phase of training, which was marksmanship. Failure to pass that PFT meant you’d be dropped from your platoon and sent to the Physical Conditioning Platoon, or PCP, until you could pass the test.

I approached the sit-ups with my usual lackadaisical attitude, but unfortunately that didn’t fly with the drill instructors at PI. I soon found myself with Sgt. William Bostic, one of the platoon’s drill instructors, overseeing me as I packed my gear, and he took me to the office where the first part of my transportation to the PCP would begin. I was stunned and horrified. I mean, Platoon 2066 and Sgts. Bostic and Holden (sorry, I forgot his first name) as well as SSgt. Vinson were harsh taskmasters, but they were the devil I knew. I was being sent to the supervision of total strangers, and on Parris Island your friends were all you had, even if they were not really your friends but your instructors, who could order bends-and-thrusts, pushups, side-straddle hops, forever, begin.

Bostic walked me to the office, and told me to sit down outside at attention. I didn’t move my head, but I was eyeballing the area, and that made me more depressed. Four platoons had graduated that day, and there they were, full-fledged U.S. Marines in summer service Charlies, walking around the area, buying Cokes and loading their seabags onto the buses for the ride off the island, to the airport in Charleston and flights for post-basic leave, while I was sitting there wondering if I’d ever experience life off the island. The things you think about at age 17.

It’s weird to look back 32 years and remember what I felt that day. It was like the world had caved in on me. I was in a situation I couldn’t talk my way out of. Worse, I had no idea what awaited me.

Bostic emerged and told me to follow him as we walked to the reception area for the recruits being shipped to PCP. I think he assured me that if I did well, I could come back to 2066. I was far from the best recruit in the platoon, but I tried – if not always my best – to do what I was told. That’s why today I wouldn’t last five minutes in the Corps.

At the office there was a glum-looking recruit with his gear spread out. Included in the gear were shirts for the summer and winter service Alpha uniforms, which were only issued to third-phase recruits who would graduate soon. He was coming back from the Special Training Detachment, which consisted of three platoons, the PCP (where I was headed, aka the “fat bodies”); the Marksmanship Training Platoon, aka the “shitty shooters”; and the very, very dreaded Correctional Custody Platoon, or CCP. They didn’t have a nickname. There isn’t much to laugh about the latter.

The recruit who was coming back had been in CCP, and Bostic decided to have some banter with him.

Bostic: “Hey, Private. You look lost. Where’s your platoon?”

Recruit: “Gone, Sir.”

Bostic: “Yeah, they went bye-bye, didn’t they? They graduated. And you went to CCP.”

Recruit: “Yes, Sir.”

Bostic: “So Private, why’d you end up in CCP?”

Recruit: “Disrespect to a Drill Instructor, Sir.”

That exchange made me feel better, though I was still a very terrified boy of 17 in a world that was so strange.

I don’t remember if Bostic picked up the recruit, but probably not because the recruit was being cycled back to the start of third phase.

As for me, I knew that it would be a long time before I ever saw third phase or civilization again.

While the guys in 2066 had fun at mess duty, I got into the routine of the PCP outfit. Soon I was racing through the PFT and knocking out sit-ups like mad. I wanted out of there so bad.

We’d see the CCP recruits, and they really had a rough go of it. They spent all day filling sandbags, and in the chow hall they were not allowed to talk while they ate, and when they finished they had to sit at attention with their hands in the laps until everyone was done.

The rumor was that they literally had to make their beds before going to sleep at night, and disassemble them in the morning. When they moved, they had to announce “Step, Sir,” as they stepped off with their left foot.

My only real encounter with CCP was one night when I had to stand firewatch in their barracks. It was horrible to pace up and down the rows of racks with the sleeping “prisoners,” and I suddenly noticed that there was a recruit standing next to his rack. He had to piss, but it was less than an hour before reveille and no one was allowed to make a head call before an hour past taps and before reveille. I told him to just hang on and get back into the rack. If I let him go, it would have been me sleeping in one of those racks.

I awoke the Drill Instructor on time, and as I left I could hear the recruits taking apart their racks, including a loud clang as a part of a rack hit the floor. It was a relief to be back at PCP. We were prisoners, too, but of a lesser classification. Hell, by comparison we were free.

I felt very fortunate, and it definitely motivated me to behave myself in the future.

At PCP, we got to qualify with the M-16A1 rifle, and I remember coming back from the range with my marksman badge and getting the news that there was going to be a PFT for all those who qualified with the rifle. I changed into my PT gear and ran through the PFT like a madman, passing with flying colors, and was soon on my way back to the mainside. But would 2066 pick me up again?

They were coming off two weeks of mess and maintenance duty, and sure enough it was SSgt. Vinson, the Senior Drill Instructor, who claimed me and a few other PCP miscreants. I was sent to the rear of the squad bay with the other “pickups,” but everyone knew me and treated me better than those other pickups.

I remember that I was unpacking as the platoon arrived in the barracks, and later that day we got a trip to the “Rose Garden” for not being motivated enough. Still, it was good to be back with 2066, and I graduated from Parris Island on Oct. 31, 1978, the day before my 18th birthday.

So, what lessons did I learn? I learned to stick with the program, try hard at everything, and not try to slide through anything. I also learned to never let setbacks cause me to do something self-destructive. It’s never so bad that it couldn’t be a lot worse, so be thankful that it’s not worse.


July 10, 2010 - Posted by | Life lessons | , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I just barely made the third pull-up, was scared to death of winding up at PCP, thank god I made it. Platoon 132 Parris Island March 12th, 1975

    Comment by Steve Davenport | September 14, 2013 | Reply

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