RBT's Personal Journal

1937 - Boot Camp and Sea School

1937 - Boot Camp

1937 - Boot Camp [click to enlarge]
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Boot Camp

On September 21, 1937, I left Lewistown, Montana on a Greyhound bus to Seattle, WA to enlist in the Marine Corps. When I arrived at the recruiting office I was told they couldn’t take me because their quota was filled for the month. When I told them I had no money to go home, which I didn’t, they wired Washington and received approval for my enlistment. They also had to wire my folks for verification of my birth and obtain their permission for me to enlist. I passed the physical, enlisted on 22 Sept 1937. and left for San Diego on the Union Pacific train. I was provided a sleeping birth and Government chits for all of my meals. I still remember how beautiful it was on the whole trip, particularly thru the mountains and valleys, and along the coast of Washington, Oregon and the orange groves of Southern California. Of course, I didn’t recall any of this from our family trip in 1924.

It was a bit of a rude awakening in getting off the train in San Diego, CA and experiencing my first contact with a Drill Sergeant. My DI was Sgt. Reuben L Tyson USMC. He was tough, fair, and a picture book Marine. Actually, many years later his picture was on recruiting posters.

Needless to say, boot camp was tough. First thing we got was a “free” almost shaved haircut and delousing shower. Then issued a World War I tin helmet, a pair of boots, two sets of WWI two-piece underwear, socks and khaki uniforms, a bucket, scrub brush, and a bar of laundry soap. We also were issued personal items such as toothpaste, comb, and a straight-edge razor which, along with a 20 cents medical charge, were deducted from our first months’ pay of $21.00. Even though we had taken physical exams at the recruiting stations we were examined again and had a thorough dental check.

Early 5:30 reveille, running, marching, some class room work and group punishment if any one messed up. One time punishment was to take our issued buckets, hike down to the bay, fill the buckets with wet sand and bring them back to the barracks area, and ordered by the Corporal DI to dump them. Sgt. Tyson came out and said what are you doing messing up the area and ordered us to take all of that wet sand back to the beach where it belonged. I must admit that I wondered many times why I had gotten myself into this but I stuck it out.

Every afternoon before chow (dinner) we had to scrub our clothes. Outside of the barracks were table-like scrub racks, soap, our individual issued buckets, and scrub brushes. One older recruit didn’t believe in daily showers or scrubbing his clothes. If he showered at all it was in his underwear. When we complained to Sgt. Tyson that the guy stunk he said he didn’t have to live with him. So, several of us ganged up on the guy and put him in the shower and scrubbed him with sand and those brushes. We made sure the guy didn’t catch any of us alone because he was older and much bigger than us. A few months later at Mare Island I did run into him but he had either forgotten about the scrubbing or didn’t associate me with it.

At the end of boot camp, we were sent to the rifle range which was located where the University of San Diego is now located. We were loaded aboard World War I trucks. The trucks were chain driven and had hard rubber tires. I really enjoyed firing the various weapons - the bolt action Springfield rifle that was issued to us, the 45 cal. Pistol, the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and the TSMG (Thompson Sub-machine gun).

After boot camp, we, of course, had a parade in connection with our graduation. My folks came down from LA to see me. After the parade, we were told to get in a group that we preferred -- aviation, motor transport, music, sea duty, etc. I joined the music group as I wanted to get in the Marine Corps band in Washington, D.C. A Captain Brown came over and said “Son, what are you doing here” I told him why but he said “Come with me, you're too damn big to be a music”. So much for career management. That’s how I got into sea school and my ambition to be in the Marine Corps Band evaporated.

We had our first liberty immediately after graduation so I joined my folks and we drove up to Point Loma for the rest of the day.

Sea School

Captain Brown, referred to as Big Foot Brown, later a Brigadier General, was the CO of Sea School and Carlos Martinez was the First Sgt. Most was classroom study about Navy protocol and Marine duties aboard ship. At that time, you had to be at least 6 ft. tall to be selected for sea duty. Sea school was sure easy after boot camp. None of the in-your-face-harassment used in Boot Camp.

There was no swimming pool for training and no questions about one’s ability to swim. Guess I didn’t think too much about going to sea duty even though I couldn’t swim a stroke.

Pre USS Portland

Enroute to the USS Portland
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A couple of weeks later my Aunt Laurel chaired a big DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) meeting in a hotel in San Diego. She invited me and had me sit at the head table with her and the dignitaries including the Commanding General of the MCRD. There I was in my dress blues a great big PRIVATE. Embarrassed or not, I don’t remember.

After completing Sea School in late November, I sailed to Long Beach, CA aboard the USS Chaumont, a Navy Transport to join the Marine Detachment on the USS Portland. Even though I was in my dress Blues I had to serve what was called mess duty waiting on tables in mess hall. Only time I ever had to do that duty.