Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

A Parris Island Memory: The Transition

I had seen the films shown in the recruiter’s office, which showed young men like me as Marine recruits, but I worried about something.

How would I handle the transition from 17-year-old civilian to Marine Corps basic trainee? Would it hurt? Would I be hurt?

A fellow who had been drafted into the Marine Corps during Vietnam lived in the neighborhood where I hung out with my friends, and he had said that on his first night at Parris Island, he had apparently ticked off someone in supply and spent the next couple of days with a fat lip. I was determined to avoid getting hit, if at all possible.

As the days of July 1978 passed and then August began, it was a really scary time for me. I was putting up a good front, but was scared of what was ahead, but didn’t want to look like a coward. My friends had put up a nice party for me, and on the morning of Aug. 2, 1978, my father drove me to the recruiting station. The recruiter picked me up and took me to the Armed Forces Entrance and Examining Station at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. I had been there before, for my initial physical exam, and lined up with my paperwork.

The Army corporal looked over my papers, and said to me, “You’re a day early. Come back tomorrow.” I was taken into an office, where after a few minutes an Army sergeant walked in, looked through my file, then opened a drawer and tossed me a subway token.

I went home and called the recruiter, who said it was a mess-up, but that Aug. 3 would be the real day. My parents saw it as a sign, but I figured it was nothing.

Sure enough, the next day when I showed up and handed in my folder, I was taken to a room with other recruits heading to all the services. After a while, we were given our oath, then sat in a waiting area for buses to the airport. I noticed that the Army, Navy and Air Force recruits had suitcases with clothing and other items. We who were bound for the Marines were told to bring nothing at all. In fact, I think they would have preferred that we show up naked so we would have no reference to our former lives at all.

Arrival at Parris Island was a surreal experience. It was something like 2:30 in the morning, and I remember sitting at a desk in a classroom doing paperwork, signing this and that, and watching as two Marine recruits walked in. I was shocked. They were wearing sateen utility trousers, white undershirts and helmet liners, also known as “chrome domes.” The drill instructor of the receiving barracks said something to the two, they said, “Yes, Sir” and walked out of the room.

I realized I would soon turn into them, and wondered about the transition.

One aspect of the transition that I always found interesting was the first breakfast. Before we were relieved of our hair and our civilian clothing, we were allowed to eat in the chow hall. We stood out like nothing you can possibly imagine. The drill instructors were, of course, totally squared away and sharp; and even the first-phase recruits looked like they had it going on, but we civilians in our jeans and T-shirts, with a growth of beard on our faces (those of us old enough to have facial hair) and a look of exhaustion in our eyes, stood out like sore thumbs.

Everyone stared at us, and we stared back but then looked away in fear. This was our fate. It scared me so much.

After breakfast and a trip to the head, the real fun began. I still remember lining up for the first haircut. “Tell the man if you have any lumps on your head,” we’d hear from receiving barracks recruits who had arrived before us. I didn’t, but guys who did were bandaged up and moved on. I looked in the mirror and there was a bald, scared gnome looking back at me.

Then we were issued our uniforms, and our civilian clothes disappeared into bags for storage. By 3 p.m., we were Marine recruits with fresh buzz-cuts and sateen utility uniforms that hung on us. We wore boots on our feet, and were told that someday, if we were worthy, we could “blouse” our boots. In the meantime, our trouser legs hung down, signifying to all that we were at the bottom of the bottom of the barrel.

We heard talk about something called “graduation” from the place, but that seemed an eternity away.

And that’s another Parris Island memory.




August 6, 2014 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , ,

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