Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

A Parris Island memory: Attending Catholic Mass

Yesterday was the 36th anniversary of my departure for Parris Island for Marine boot camp, and while the memories have mostly faded of that time when a scared 17-year-old kid from New York City plunged into the maelstrom of the Marines, there are some memories that stay with me.

Basic training, once it began in earnest, was not the most conducive place for any kind of thought. As a recruit, you were basically marched from place to place, subjected to an experience – a training session, a medical session, a supply session, feeding, close-order drill – and then marched to the next one.

Lose yourself in your own train of thought, and you might miss a pivot or a command, and bring the platoon to a shrieking halt, to the dismay of the drill instructors. Even in the squadbay while shining your boots, a moment of inattention could bring down the wrath of the drill instructors. As drill instructor Sgt. William Bostic would say – and I can still hear him saying it – “Woe be unto the privates.”

So Sunday religious services were an escape from the hour-to-hour hell that we lived in, and while I lost my faith years later, I still remember how much I enjoyed the break. Catholics made up a pretty good portion of the recruit population, as I recall, and we marched as a combined unit of several series in different phases of training to the chapel on Sunday morning.

We were sort of let off the leash. Of course, we couldn’t talk to the Woman Marine recruits, who were on the other side of the chapel and protected – or so it seemed to us – by a lake of fire. But we could look, and talk amongst ourselves as we waited for the chaplain to arrive and begin the Catholic service.

Well, I guess one Sunday we got a bit boisterous because I was sitting and talking to the guy next to me, and I realized suddenly that someone had taken the microphone, and began yelling in an enraged voice. It wasn’t the chaplain.

A man in civilian clothing who I realized must have been a retired Marine had stepped down into the area where the chaplain walked around while he gave his sermon, unclipped the microphone, turned it on and began berating us as being the worst-behaved group of recruits he had ever seen in all his 40 years in the Marines.

The place grew quiet as he vowed to tell the drill instructors about us and our behavior. Then he put the microphone back in its place, turned it off and walked back to his seat. I swear, after that, you could have heard a pin drop.

I don’t recall any fallout from this incident. But that I can still remember it all these years later, and see in my mind’s eye the guy holding the microphone and yelling at us, shows that some events stick with you forever.

And that’s a Parris Island memory.

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August 4, 2014 - Posted by | Education, Life lessons | , , , , ,

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