William White

Brain-washing a Poet To Become a United States Marine

Although I hadn’t known it then, I was a frustrated poet, seeking “something” which resulted in a dumb mistake. I enlisted in the Marine Corps during the Korean War.

After a long train trip, I joined other recruits at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, where we were assigned to receiving barracks and a rack (bed or metal military cot).  Immediately, the sergeant in charge showed us how to make a bed the Marine Corps way. Then he told us to empty our pockets on our rack. All I had was a billfold with two dollars. He took that, and did the same to the other recruits. Most lost greater amounts of money, along with switchblades and brass knuckles.

 “But these are my personal items,” said one recruit.

“Hit the deck asshole! Give me twenty-five pushups. This is the Marine Corps. You ain’t got no personal items!” The sergeant yelled. “Money can’t buy anything here. You will be issued military scrip and weapons when the Marine Corps wants you to have them.”

Then we spent a few days cleaning the barracks, the heads (restrooms and showers), and collecting garbage while waiting for other recruits to arrive to form our platoon. None of us had experienced the thrill of having our hands in a commode before. We got to sleep in till 5:30 a.m. (0530 hours) when the sergeant woke us beating on a garbage can yelling: “Reveille! Turn loose your cocks and grab your socks! Reveille! Get the fuck up!”

Those who did not get up immediately were rolled to the floor, mattress and all. Dangerous if you slept on the top bunk.

The Marine Corps was paranoid about cigarette butts lying on any surface. Since I didn’t smoke, I spoke right up smiling: “Sergeant, I don’t think it’s fair I have to pick up butts, since I don’t smoke!”

 “Hit the deck shithead,” he yelled. “Give me twenty five!”


“Give me twenty five pushups!”

I did 25 pushups easily, so he asked for 25 more. Trouble was, I still smiled after doing the pushups. Again the sergeant seemed upset. I explained I couldn’t help it. He just shook his head and walked away. After that, I was always on the cigarette butt “policing” (policing meant picking up all debris that didn’t belong, anywhere.) detail.

 Paranoia carried over to “grass.” Grass was any outside surface not a street, sidewalk, or walk way. It could be real grass, sand, mud, or muck. YOU DID NOT WALK ON THE GRASS! God help you, if you were caught. I thought all this nonsense would end when we started training in the real Marine Corps, so I was more than ready for our “12 weeks of hell” to begin.


Finally we “went on schedule.”

“Welcome, gentlemen, to United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot,” the officer said.  “I’m Lieutenant Cox.  The United States Marine Corps is the finest fighting outfit in the world.  Consider yourselves lucky to be granted the opportunity of becoming United States Marines. I hope you are all men enough to meet the challenge.  If you’re not, we don’t want you.  In any event, we will soon find out.

“As your platoon leader, please feel free to ask permission to speak to me about any problems your drill instructors cannot handle. Now I will turn you over to the capable hands of Staff Sergeant Bianco and Corporal Baker. Good luck, gentlemen.”

“Attens-hut!” the senior drill instructor yelled and saluted the officer.  The junior drill instructor also came to attention and saluted.

“Anybody bring their mother with them?” Corporal Baker asked. No one answered and a few laughed.

But Sergeant Bianco, the senior drill instructor (DI), did not laugh. Instead, he waited until the lieutenant disappeared behind the barracks. Then he said nothing but began pacing back and forth in front of us.  He was a stocky-built Mexican-American with an enormous chest full of ribbons and very large arms.  He had been in World War II and the Korean War and got a Purple Heart for each. His skin was dark along with his eyes. There was an ugly white jagged scar down his right cheek. Suddenly, he stopped pacing and glared at us.

“Shitbirds!” he yelled. “Nothing but goddamn shitbirds! We got rednecks, niggers, spics, chinks, wops, and, maybe some fucking queers. Most of ‘em probably have to squat to piss. Jesus fucking Christ! Corporal Baker, take a look.  See if you can find a man among them.”

The corporal, a tall, lanky Korean War Marine, also with plenty of ribbons on his chest, strolled among us not happy at all.  He came back to the sergeant and shook his head.  “Fucking shitbirds.  Not a goddamn fucking man we can make a Marine out of.  Fucking disgusting!  One gook could kill the whole goddamn herd with his bare hands.”

“Goddamn it!” Sergeant Bianco roared throwing his pith helmet so hard it popped on the sandy street.  “Not one of ‘em would make a pimple on a good Marine’s ass!”

Again he paced back and forth in front of us yelling: “Goddamn! I’ve never seen such a fucking group of shitbirds in my fifteen years of fucking service! Goddamn it! And you bastards want to be in my Marine Corps! How goddamn disgusting! Jesus fucking Christ! Now fall the fuck in four ranks!”

Most didn’t know what a “rank” was. I sort of took my time because I was waiting for God to strike these poets of blasphemy down, but God didn’t bother. Instead, I was hit hard on the head by a pith helmet that belonged to Corporal Baker, as he yelled: “Move your goddamn mother-fucking ass, shitbird!”

The DIs arranged us in four lines according to height. Since I was only five feet, seven inches tall, a “feather merchant” in Marine Corps parlance, I ended up second from the end in the third rank.

“Tens-hut!” bellowed the corporal.

In five minutes I heard more profanity than I had heard in my entire life, and God did nothing about it! I was a Sunday school boy who had stumbled into hell!

Now, a Negro recruit, who was standing in the front rank, scratched his nose.  Suddenly, he was hit with the sergeant’s pith helmet.

“Goddamn it, you nigger shitbird,” roared the sergeant.  “When you are at attention, nothing moves, not even your eyeballs.  And you will be at attention until I give you at ease!”

“Sorry,” the Negro said.

“Who gave you permission to speak?  You fucking shitbird,” the sergeant yelled grabbing him by his shirt and shaking him violently pulling the recruit’s face within two inches of his face.  “A Marine is never sorry!  When I speak to you, shitbird, the only answer I want from you is:  ‘Sir, yes, sir!’ or ‘sir, no, sir!’ Do you understand that, boy?”

“Sir, yes, sir,” he said.

“What?” the sergeant roared.  “I can’t hear you!”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“Louder! I can’t hear you!”

“Sir, yes, sir!” the Negro yelled.

“What’s your name, shitbird?”

“Sir, my name is Washington Carver Brown, sir!”

“It’s Private Brown, stupid!” the sergeant yelled.  “Now what’s your name?”

“Sir, Private Brown, sir!”

Down the rank the other Negro recruit made the mistake of raising his hand and speaking:  “Sergeant may I speak with you?”

The sergeant was all over him.  “You stupid nigger!”  He roared knocking the recruit to the ground.  “What did I just tell you?  When you are at attention, nothing moves!  Now you stupid feather merchant, get up.  Stand at attention!”

The recruit, a short, plump, tan-skinned man, a lighter color than the sergeant, got up and stood at attention but said:  “I’m not stupid, I’m a college graduate.”

“Well, well, Corporal Baker,” the sergeant said.  “Get this shitbird’s name.  We got us a college graduate.”

Corporal Baker came over and put his face one inch from the recruit’s nose.

“You stupid, high-yellow nigger, what’s your fucking name, Rufus?”

“Sir, Private Welborne, the Third, sir!”

The corporal laughed.

“Another one of those, Sergeant Bianco,” he said putting his hand over the recruit’s face.  “Listen, you nigger shitbird.  When you want to speak to a drill instructor, you do it in this manner:  You say:  ‘Sir, Private Welborne, the Third, requests permission to speak to the drill instructor, sir.’  Do you understand that, stupid?”

“Sir, yes, sir,” came the muffled reply.

“I can’t hear you, shitbird!” the corporal yelled.

“Sir, yes, sir!” again came the muffled yell.

The corporal shoved his hand violently and again the recruit fell to the sand.  “Get up off your ass, shitbird!”  The corporal drawled.  “Stand at attention.”

The recruit jumped to his feet and stood at attention.  “Sir, Private Welborne, the Third, requests permission to speak to the drill instructor, sir!”

“Speak, shitbird!” the corporal roared in his bass drawl.

“Sir, I resent being called a ‘nigger,’ sir! It takes away our dignity.  We are Negroes, sir.”

“Well, fucking, well,” the corporal said.  “Sergeant Bianco, did you hear that?”

“Private Welborne, the Turd!” the sergeant roared.

“Sir, yes, sir!”

 “Get your nigger ass over here.  Front and center.”

When the recruit arrived in front of the sergeant, he shook him violently.  “Stupid nigger,” he growled.  “When you report to a drill instructor, you say:  ‘Sir, Private Welborne, the Turd, reporting as ordered, sir.’  Say it, shitbird!”

“Sir, Private Welborne, the Turd, reporting as ordered, sir.”

“I can’t hear you!” yelled the sergeant.

The recruit yelled as loud as he could.

“Private Welborne, the Turd,” Sergeant Bianco growled.  “You have the dignity of a fucking duck.  You know what a fucking duck is?”

“Sir, yes, sir.”

“Do you know the sound a fucking duck makes?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“Make that sound.”

“Sir, yes, sir! Quack! Quack! Sir!”

“I can’t hear you shitbird!”

“Quack! Quack!”

At this time some of us other recruits laughed.

“Did you fucking hear that, Sergeant?” the corporal roared.  “These fucking bastards actually giggled like a bunch of fucking cunts while standing at attention. They think it’s all a fucking joke!”

“Disgusting!  I’ve never seen such a sorry fucking herd of shitbirds in all my life,” the sergeant moaned.  “Private Welborne, the Turd, get your black ass back in ranks.”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“All right, girls,” the sergeant yelled.  “Down on your haunches, like fucking ducks.”

Some recruits who did not immediately respond were knocked to that position by the corporal’s pith helmet.

“To a fucking Marine, there is nothing fucking worse than undisciplined, unled civilians,” Sergeant Bianco growled.  “Now you herd of worthless fucks are not even civilians.  You are fucking lower than that. Lower than rednecks, niggers, spics, chinks, wops, and fucking queers.  From this time forward you will either duck-walk or double time everywhere you go. I’m going to make Marines out of you or, goddamn it, I’m gonna kill every fucking one of you! Do you fucking understand that, shitbirds?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” the platoon yelled in unison.

“I can’t hear you!”

“Sir, yes, sir!” we yelled.

“Platoon of fucking ducks,” the sergeant roared.  “Forward, march!”

We duck-walked until we came to rows of Quonset huts.

“Ducks, sound off!” the sergeant yelled.

“Quack! You fucking shitbirds,” the corporal drawled.  “Quack!”

Our quacking resounded against the corrugated metal of the Quonset huts. I wondered what hell I had gotten myself into, especially since the Marine Corps looked on individualism with disdain. I was one stubborn sonofabitch who would just have to learn to play their game. Since I always smiled at the wrong time, it was going to be interesting.


Two Quonset huts became our homes. A Quonset hut is like a huge corrugated metal drum cut in half with four windows on each side and two windows and a door at each end—no head (restroom facility). It, along with an outdoor row of water faucets over a rub board metal sink where we would wash our clothes, was at the end of the blacktop street separating the rows of huts. The racks (beds) were two high in two rows sitting on a concrete floor. Each recruit had an olive drab wooden footlocker in which to stow his gear. In the walkway between the rows of bedding were racks to store our rifles.

Cpl. Baker marched us to the barbershop where we were all scalped.

Then we marched to supply and were issued our rough-leather field marching shoes, dungaree uniforms, and covers. (A cap was a “cover” in Marine Corps jargon.) But so everyone would know we were first week “Boots” we could not remove the tags.

We also got a two-gallon galvanized bucket and a scrub brush for washing our clothes. If a recruit had not shaved to the DI’s satisfaction, the DI gave the recruit a razor, put the bucket over his head and told him to dry-shave. If a recruit smoked without the “smoking lamp being lit,” he might get to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes with the bucket over his head. Two gallons of sand is quite heavy to carry while marching so you will remember your left (bucket of sand) from your right.

Sgt. Bianco punished one recruit for some infraction (real or imagined) and had him run back and forth from the heads carrying a mess-kit spoon-full of water to a bucket some 100 yards away one Sunday morning. He told the recruit he would run till he filled the two-gallon bucket.

“You fucking shitbirds want to be United States Marines?” Sgt. Bianco yelled.

“Sir, yes, sir!” We tried to yell in unison.

“I can’t fucking hear you!”

“Sir, yes, sir!” We screamed.

 “You fucking people are fucking fucked!” Sgt. Bianco yelled.  “There’s no fucking way you can get into my Marine Corps. But, goddamn it, I’m stuck with you! Fucking scum! My orders are to make you United States Marines. But what can I do with garbage like you?” He walked back and forth in front of the platoon fuming. “Jesus fucking Christ! I’m fucked! Goddamn it! I’m fucked. So you’re fucked! I’m going to make fucking Marines out of you or kill every one of you fucking worthless bastards!”

We believed him! Although I smiled, I was scared. What Sergeant Bianco had so profanely said was like the Oriental proverb: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over, thus wise men say the path to salvation is hard.”

After medical and dental exams, x-rays, and a series of shots we were issued equipment (called 782 gear). This consisted of: a field marching (transport) pack, cartridge belt, bayonet with scabbard, M1 rifle, mess gear, containing a meat can with cover, and knife, fork and spoon; a canteen and cup with cover; a first aid packet (That contained: a dressing for a wound, sulfa pills or powder) and pouch; a poncho; a shelter-half (half of a tent) with a pole, five pins, and a guy line; plus, a steel helmet with fiber lining; a gas mask; an entrenching tool.

Our basic infantry weapon was the Garand M1 Rifle (U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30 M1). It weighed 9.5 pounds, had a clip capacity of 8 rounds and a maximum range of 3500-5500 yards. It came fully coated with cosmoline, a very sticky substance like axle grease applied after World War II to keep the metal from rusting. It did that, and was hard to remove even with cleaning solvent.

And this weapon was a RIFLE. Heaven help you, if you called it a gun! There were always some recruits who erred. As usual, the DI had a cure for this memory loss. The recruit was ordered to grab the rifle in one hand and his penis in the other and run around the platoon holding his rifle high and shouting: “This is my rifle!” Then lowering his rifle, he was ordered to squeeze his penis shouting: “This is my gun!” Doing the same routine: “This (the rifle) is for shooting, this (his penis) is for fun!” Doing this exercise for a couple of hours usually cured any memory loss.

If you happened to drop your rifle, the only forgiveness would be if you hit the deck at the same time in a dead faint. Otherwise you might be soon dead! Or that’s what we thought, anyway!

Then we were tested for intelligence. (Most of us, at this point, thought it a waste of time. Would anyone with intelligence join the Marine Corps?) Other tests for specialization were given. One was for radio. We listened to Morse Code and tried to send and receive it. I didn’t have a clue.

We immediately began classes on the M1 rifle, as well as, first aid, shelter tent pitching, and physical training. Drill instruction continued each day. Progress slow. Again Sgt. Bianco paced heavily back and forth in front of our platoon so angry it seemed black smoke and fire poured from his nostrils with each breath yelling: “Goddamn it! Shitbirds! Nothing but fucking shitbirds!” He threw his pith helmet and hit a recruit in the first rank almost knocking him down. “Corporal Baker take these girls for a waltz around the parade ground!”

Waltzing was running around a mile square blacktop drill field with a DI who was in such good shape he could do it all day and night.

Meanwhile, every recruit drew fire in some way from the DIs, either physical or mental, or both. In the beginning some of us had a hard time learning our left from our right as in: “right face!” Invariably, some would turn left, and, of course, the DI, in charge, would have a solution. Some recruits carried a rock in the corresponding hand or the DI would fill one front pocket of the recruit’s dungarees with sand. These pockets were deep, the sand got heavy after a day of marching. For these individuals, the DI would give them extra drill with commands like: “by your sand pocket, march!” Or: “Rock, face!”

Even though Private Welborne, III, was a college graduate, and we would have called him, “a nigger,” where I came from, I felt sorry for him. (He had his “color” and I had my “smile” as a cross to bear.) He, also, had a hard time remembering his left from his right. Corporal Baker hung a cardboard sign suspended by a grass rope that read front and back: “I’m a college graduate, but I don’t know my left from my right!” Also he was a little pudgy, so the DI made Welborne run around and around the platoon as we marched, yelling again and again: “I’m Private Welborne, the Turd. I’m a college graduate, but I don’t know my left from my right!” He was losing his “individualism” along with some unneeded fat.

Later, I became friends with Private Gary T. Welborne, III, son of a Los Angeles’ attorney, because he had the top bunk above mine. Gary had a pre-law degree and had been accepted to law school when the president had sent, “greetings.” Gary was drafted into the Marine Corps, which did not endear him to the drill instructors. A “Real” Marine was supposed to be a volunteer.

My turn came when Cpl. Baker ranted because our last names were the same. “I’m not going to have a fucking feather merchant (someone short of height or not up to the task, in Marine Corps lingo) shitbird (could be anyone that didn’t measure up) with the same name as mine! Do you understand, Private Baker?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“Why are you smiling, shitbird?” Cpl. Baker yelled two inches from my nose. “You think this is fucking funny?”

“Sir, no, sir! It’s something I can’t control, sir!”

“Scowl!” he yelled.

Sir, yes, sir!” I scowled.

“When I’m in charge of this platoon, Private Baker, your name will be Private Scowling Shit and you will scowl!”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“You understand, Scowling Shit?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

At the next formation Sgt. Bianco was in charge. Cpl. Baker stood to the side. The Sergeant was looking us over. He stopped in front of me. “What’s your name, shitbird?”

“Sir, Private Baker, sir!”

“What was that?” Growled Cpl. Baker.

“Sir, Private Scowling Shit, sir!”

“Jesus fucking Christ!” yelled Bianco. “This stupid shitbird doesn’t know his fucking name!” He moved down the rank. I almost laughed.

“Stupid Scowling Shit grinned, Sergeant,” my namesake DI yelled.

Sgt. Bianco moved smartly in front of me. “You stupid shitbird, did you fucking smile?” Bianco screamed two inches from my nose.  “You think this is a fucking joke?”

“Sir, no, sir!” I tried to scowl.

“I can’t fucking hear you!”

“Sir, no, sir!” I screamed.

“You stupid shitbird, when you are standing at fucking attention nothing moves! Not even your eyeballs! You got that?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“Take your cover off and bend over!”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

Sgt. Bianco hit me on the head with his fist and knocked me backward to the ground. “Now get your fucking ass back in ranks!”

Unfortunately for the platoon some unknown members had laughed.

“Did you fucking hear that, Corporal Baker,” Bianco yelled and went into a tirade which ended with him throwing his pith helmet into the ranks. “Corporal Baker take these giggling girls for another waltz!”

Now duckwalking replaced the waltz.

“Down on your fucking haunches!” Cpl. Baker barked. “Ducks forward March! Hut, two, three, four! Hut! Quack! Fucking ducks, quack!”

We fucking well quacked.

Later with our groin muscles almost tied in knots he marched us counting cadence: “One, two, three, four, I love the Marine Corps! Sound off!”

“One, two, three, four, I love the Marine Corps!” we yelled.

“I can’t fucking hear you!”

This time we screamed! Strange, I was beginning to like it. That should tell you something about me.


Well, I don’t like it,” Gary said. “I think Sergeant Bianco and Corporal Baker both enjoy using that slur on us Negroes because of their backgrounds.”

“It just a game,” I said. “They’re trying to break all of us black, white, red or yellow, one way or the other. Don’t worry about it.”

“Well, I’m going to show you what an education can do,” Gary said. “I’m going to stop those two from calling us Negroes, ‘Niggers.’”

I laughed. “How are you going do that?”

“I’ll show you,” Gary said.

At the next formation Gary requested permission to speak to the drill instructor.

“Speak, you high yellow nigger shitbird,” Corporal Baker roared in his southern drawl.

“Sir, Private Welborne the Turd requests permission to speak to Lieutenant Cox, sir.”

“What? You nigger shitbird I wouldn’t advise it!” the DI roared and came over and hit the recruit with his pith helmet. (It was unheard of that a “boot” asked this, but Gary said later he might need the same experience in a courtroom.)

“Sir, is the Drill Instructor denying me Captain’s Mast, sir?”

“I will relay your request to the Sergeant,” the corporal roared and the remainder of the afternoon Private Welborne, III, double-timed around and around the platoon yelling at the request of Corporal Baker: “I’m a nigger shitbird. I want my mama!”

Later, after the evening meal, there was a roar from the DI’s quarters. “Private Welborne the Turd, you nigger mother-fucker, get your black ass down here!” Sergeant Bianco’s voice boomed.

Gary looked at me and grinned. “This is it,” he said and grabbed his dungaree cap and ran quickly to the DI’s hut. He knocked three times on the door.

“Who the fuck is it?” thundered the voice.

“Sir, Private Welborne the Turd reporting as ordered, sir!”

“Nigger numskull, get your black ass in here!”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

Gary told me later that Sergeant Bianco grabbed him and shook him. “So you’ve requested a meeting with the Lieutenant, shitbird?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“Well, I don’t like it,” he roared. “It makes me look like I’m not doing my job. It makes me mad! When I get mad, I kill!”

He dragged the recruit over to a metal clothes locker and pushed him in and locked the door. “Attens-hut! In place, double time, march!”

After a few minutes the DI yelled: “Shitbird, halt! Why do you want to see the Lieutenant?”

“Sir, it’s a personal matter, sir!”

“But I’ve got the feeling it involves me and Corporal Baker,” the sergeant yelled. “And I don’t like that!”

He kicked the metal locker and it fell to the concrete floor. The sergeant opened the door and Private Welborne was flat on his back, and his chin was bleeding.

“Get the fuck up!” he yelled. “Corporal Baker, take this nigger to sickbay. He slipped and fell.”

The cut required four stitches.

That night just as the platoon had settled in their racks after another hard day the DIs came in yelling. “All you shitbirds outside! On the double!”

The DIs doubled-timed the platoon around the parade ground for two hours. We recruits only got the required four hours sleep that night. The next morning began with duck-walking half the length of the mile-long parade ground and double-timing back and forth which put almost unbearable physical punishment on all of us. Private Dewitt of the first squad fell from the ranks to the asphalt parade ground.

“Platoon, halt!” Sergeant Bianco barked. “One of you girls fell out.”

The sergeant marched the recruits back to Private Dewitt who was doubled up in pain on the pavement gasping for breath.

“You, shitbird,” Corporal Baker yelled in his deep-voiced drawl as he booted the man in the rear. “Get your fucking ass back in ranks!”

The recruit tried to get to his feet as the corporal booted him almost into a standing position. But his legs folded and he fell to the pavement where his body heaved in one last painful gasp and died in a moaning jerk. An ambulance picked up the body.

“You shitbirds feel sorry for that man?” the senior DI growled.

Some members of the platoon yelled: “Sir, yes, sir!”

“What did you say?” he growled. “Down on your fucking haunches. Ducks, forward march! Shitbirds, a Marine does not feel sorry for any man, or anything, living or dead!”

One hundred yards later the sergeant yelled: “Now do you fucking shitbirds feel sorry for Private Dewitt?’

“Sir, no, sir!” the platoon yelled.


The next morning Private Welborne, III, had his Captain’s Mast. Lieutenant Cox immediately had a session with the DIs.

Afterwards the DIs gave our recruit platoon a very rough day. That night after the normal 2200 (10 p.m.) lights out and when we were in our racks asleep, they got us up for two hours of close order drill. Then Sergeant Bianco ordered Private Welborne, III, front and center.

“Private Welborne the Turd, I am going to tell the other shitbirds what you’ve been up to, I will grant you the privilege to correct me if I am not telling the truth, you understand that, you nigger shitbird?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“Private Welborne the Turd has requested Captain’s Mast with the Colonel,” Sergeant Bianco roared. “This shitbird thinks he is an individual and not part of the platoon. He has charged that I am being prejudiced because I refer to you niggers as ‘niggers.’ He has requested mast with Colonel. Isn’t this true, shitbird?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“Get your black ass back in ranks!” the sergeant yelled.

Another recruit requested permission to speak and it was granted. “Sir, you mean we have been doing extra drilling because of Private Welborne the Turd, sir?”

Sergeant Bianco didn’t answer but grinned as he dismissed the platoon.

The next morning Private Welborne, III, requested permission to see the DI. He appeared before Sergeant Bianco with a badly beaten face and two black eyes.

“What happened to you, shitbird?” Sergeant Bianco said grinning.

“Sir, I slipped in the shower, sir!”

“Well, what do you want now?” he growled.

“Sir, I would like to withdraw my request for mast with the Colonel, sir!”

“Get you black ass out of here!”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

The following Sunday as we scrubbed our clothes I noticed the swelling had gone down in Gary’s face.

“Thanks for saving me from the mob,” Gary said. “They might have killed me if you hadn’t intervened.”

“Yeah, you sure showed me what a ‘nigger’ with an education can do.” I said laughing. “But you’ve got guts.”

“On the contrary, I did exactly what I said I would,” Gary said. “I never said it would be easy. But as you might not have noticed, the DIs are not calling us Negroes ‘niggers’ any more.”

“Hey, you’re right, come to think about it,” I said looking at Gary with some admiration but laughing.  “You prefer ‘high-yellow, black mother-fucker,’ I suppose?”


Ten weeks later, after the rifle range and the gas chamber we graduated as “cold-blooded killers,” so they told us. Sgt. Bianco spoke almost choking up: “You are now United States Marines! You will be fucking United States Marines till you die. And I would be proud to serve with every fucking one of you! Good luck!”

Cpl. Baker shook my hand and said: “No more Scowling Shit! Good luck, PFC Baker! Marine!” I almost wanted to sing a couple verses of the Marine Corps Hymn.

PFC Welborne, III, got his orders to report to officer’s candidate school.

“So, the next time I see you,” I said shaking his hand. “I’ll have to salute you.”

“You bet your white ass,” he said. “Good luck.”

 Most went to extensive infantry training. I had only two weeks of that and then went to artillery fire direction school. Afterwards, on the troop ship to Korea, I wrote a poem trying to appease the gods for what we were about to do. I should have written more.