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on the (round) circles, gentlemen!

March 15, 2011

The next stage of my Marine training was at Camp Pendleton, a massive chunk of

choice real estate that keeps L.A. from gobbling up San Diego.  This time as we piled

out of the bus, we were graduates of eight weeks of hell and expected the respect

that should earn.

Unpleasant surprise.  Our new handlers weren’t D.I.’s by title, but were by attitude.

They began yelling at us before our feet actually touched the ground we would be

constantly covering for the next month.  In boot camp we started on a pair of

yellow footprints.  At Infantry Training Regiment (ITR) it was white circles.

“On the (round) circles, gentlemen!”, they recommended.  At least we’d been pro-

moted from maggots.

ITR was looser than boot camp.  We didn’t have to say “sir” to anyone but officers.

We had weekends and most nights off.  A friend and I took the first opportunity we

had to visit my cousin and her family in suburban L.A.  We went to the shiniest

symbol of what we’d soon be fighting for: Disneyland.

But during the weekdays we humped the hills and learned to use all types of extra-

vagant weapons, like M60 machine guns, Browning Automatic Rifles, grenades and

bazookas.  It was explained to us that if you stood directly behind a bazooka when it

fired, you would lose your hearing because your ears and the rest of your head

would be vaporized.  I appreciated helpful hints like that.

All this was called familiarization fire, or fam fire.  Nearly all terms in the Corps get

truncated or abbreviated because Marines don’t trust long words — except mother


Throwing grenades was fun if done correctly.  We stood in a neck-deep pit with an

instructor one at a time.  He showed us how to pull the pin, hold it to our chest, give

it a heave and duck down.  All of us got it except one.  There’s always one.

He pulled the pin and held it right, then dropped it.  The instructor jumped out of

the pit, pulling the klutz with him and covering him up all in one move.  He started

to yell “fire in the hole” (See?  All monosyllabic.).  He only got out ” fire i–” when the

grenade exploded.  They survived, but we never saw the klutz again.

That, fortunately, was the most dangerous part of our time in ITR.  We got more

honed.  I learned to trade the four cigarettes that came in each box of our field

rations for the two chocolate discs.  Some of us who didn’t complete our drown-

proofing in basic training had to go to the base swimming pool to finish.

Drownproofing is a method to keep one from drowning, oddly enough.  You float

in water with your face under the surface, arms dangling.  When you need a breath,

you use minimal effort to kick a leg just enough to break the surface and take a

breath.  Repeat as necessary.  We had to do it for 15 minutes to pass.  I found it easy

to learn, mainly because if you tried to grab the edge of the pool, an instructor

would smash your hand with a pole.

After the four weeks, we were really leathernecks.  Every Marine, even a reservist,

was trained as a rifleman, a “grunt”.  However, many of us, like me, went on to more

training.  Those designated as true grunts, the 0311’s, went on leave and then to the

Republic of South Vietnam.  I spent four weeks learning to be an administrative

clerk, not yet knowing what that meant in a combat zone.

The only thing remarkable about that training was that my son was born then.  I

had a two-week leave after admin school so I could gather my wife and infant and

report to my first duty station in Marietta, Georgia.  My first contact with my family

was tender yet tentative.  I held my son for the first time.  I’ll never forget that mo-

ment.  He farted on me.

And he has yet to apologize.


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