At the time, there were approximately 11,000 recruits going through training, with platoons marching, running, and crisscrossing all over the island, responding to the guttural cadence of their D.I.s. Common sights were drill instructors in recruits' faces, shouting insanely, dressing them down, like volcanoes about to erupt. They emphatically impressed upon you with their extreme sensitivity that you were not at your grandmother's house for Sunday brunch. The sweet language, the complimentary, creative phrases they whispered in your virgin ears, and their tender loving care were an earth-shattering experience that would have made a gorilla blush. A D.I.'s evil eyes could have brought a charging rhino to a screeching halt.
You were a maggot. You were scum. You were the lowest form of life ever to set foot on this planet. It was commonplace to see recruits getting hands on preferential treatment for not measuring up to what those instructors considered to be acceptable Marine Corps standards. I remember thinking that to be that evil, my senior D.I. had to have been breast fed by a crocodile.
Every day I promised myself, "They are not going to get me today," but invariably, they got me worse than the day before. It took all my athletic ability and all my will power to make it through. On top of everything else—the drill field, the sun-baked physical fitness area, the obstacle course, the bayonet course, the rifle range, the gas chamber, the judo course, the swimming pool—there were the infamous sand fleas, biting every exposed part of your godforsaken body. Smacking a sand flea was the unpardonable sin. If you were caught, you had to dig a six-foot grave for it and hold a funeral ceremony with a lot of pomp and ceremony directed by the D.I.
They tore you down to bare-bones humility, and then gradually rebuilt you into a Marine. It was a beyond pain experience, but you grew at a terrific rate, becoming something far greater than what you ever thought you could be. The day I graduated from boot camp was without a doubt the most euphoric day of my life.
The invitation to go back to Parris Island and participate in an education workshop was a welcomed opportunity. When I arrived on the island this time, and I saw the main gate and smelled the swamps, my heart started beating wildly. The first stop was the receiving area, retracing old steps, starting with the unforgettable "yellow foot prints," reliving my youth and the drama of that first night. The thing that shook me up the most was when I heard a sand flea yell to his cousin, "Hey `Tiger Teeth,' look who came back for more!"
I would have liked to have seen the old Quonset huts—now replaced with brick barracks—but I realized that everything changes with time. The guys from World War II were looking for the tents, claiming that they were in the "old Corps." One World War II veteran was not going to be happy until he saw recruits being tortured like he was. Had there been Marines there from World War I, they most likely would have been running around in frustration asking, "Where are the alligators? When we were down here, we slept inside the alligators' stomachs, and they spit us out at reveille. You guys from the ‘new Corps' are nothing but a bunch of greenhorn boots. You didn't have it as tough as we did."
It was an unbelievable, nostalgic experience. I had reservations about whether the training was still as challenging. I didn't want to be disappointed. Like everybody else, I wanted the price of the "Marine green" still to be copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears.
When I saw the first platoon being drilled on the main parade ground, and I heard that unforgettable cadence and the guttural commands booming out from the D.I.s, my entire body vibrated with emotion, transporting me back to my own marching days. The platoon of recruits was sharp, practicing for graduation. As the D.I. addressed them, they responded with that old familiar, "Sir, yes sir, aye, aye sir." Then suddenly the Parris Island Marine Band emerged, also practicing for graduation, playing "The Marines' Hymn." It sent chills down my spine and I began to choke up. Only other Marines know that overflow of powerful emotion related to hearing "The Hymn." I truly realized and reflected upon all the things the Marine Corps has done for me. It has carried me through every conflict and over every obstacle in my adult life.
Drill instructors and officers, both male and female, escorted us around the training areas. The instructors were uniformly impressive and highly motivated. The recruits were equally respectable in their performance in every area of training—close-order drill, the swimming area, the confidence course, the rifle range, and the pugil sticks on the bayonet course, to mention a few. Spirit and discipline were as alive and kicking as ever. In fact, in all areas, the degree of difficulty was more technologically advanced than it was in 1956.
Overall, I felt that today's Marine—considering the more stringent enlistment requirements and level of training—is more intelligent and equally well trained, resilient, and adept as Marines have ever been. The only differences I could see between the 1950s and today are the absence of the extreme, physical, tender loving care, and the elevation of the old creative language to a more professional demeanor. The Marine Corps colonel in charge of the recruit training regiment explained the current philosophy, saying, "We take a young man or woman who has a unique spirit like a burning ember, and develop that ember into a full-blown fire of a Marine, with greater emphasis on values of teamwork—for God, the Corps, and the family."
The sign over the door of the West Chester, Pennsylvania, recruiting office says it all: "Most doors open with knobs; this one takes guts."
Mr. Concordia , a freelance writer and retired schoolteacher, served as a corporal in the Marine Corps from 1956 to 1958.