I had been thinking for a while about joining the Marines. Then one day I suddenly made the decision. My mom was the first one to get the news. “Mom,” I said, “I’m gonna enlist in the Marines.” I guess she knew I was serious, because I don’t remember that she was too opposed to it or tried to talk me out of it. I quickly got out the phone book to find where to go, and on that very day I talked mom into driving me down to the Marine Corps enlistment building, downtown Minneapolis, to get signed up. I was very excited.
I don’t remember exactly, but I don’t think it took very long. It’s my guess that they were eager to sign guys up during that time of war (1969), and the requirements were quite low. If you could walk and breath, you were in. Seriously, there were only two things I remember about the recruitment: the short physical exam, including shots, and all the paperwork.
The next day—or maybe it was a couple of days—I was off to boot camp at Camp Pendleton, in San Diego, California. I don’t remember the airplane ride or the bus ride to the base, but I do remember being instructed, loudly and rudely, to go and stand on the “yellow footprint.” So, all of us recruits very willingly fell in line. From that time on we did just what we were told. It was dark, maybe about midnight, and we stood there at attention on those yellow footprints. I dared not move, or even look around. I just waited for what I would be instructed to do next. Some guys, by the look on their faces, seemed afraid and almost shocked. As I remember, I don’t think I had that same emotion, but I was tense—and also very prayerful. I remember praying over and over again Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” I was trusting God that what I was going through, and whatever I was going to go through, would all work out for God’s good purpose. That was my firm belief. I had no worries about it.
Well, finally, after what seemed to be at least a couple hours of standing at attention on those footprints, we began to be processed. That is, we were marched over to a place where we were measured and given all the clothes and supplies we needed for boot camp. I didn’t mind the process, but I didn’t understand why many of the workers were so rude to us, calling us “maggots” and worse. It all seemed so unnecessary.
I don’t remember exactly all that went on that night, besides getting our gear, but I’m sure I was ready to retire. Eventually we did get put to bed. We were led into what was called Quonset huts and were given brief instructions that we were not to talk after lights went out. Suddenly, after only about ten minutes to undress, someone shouted, “lights out!” The lights went out, and it was quiet. No one dared to say a word.
Only about two hours later our drill instructor stormed in, turned on the lights, and started banging on the inside of an empty garbage can and yelling, “Get up you maggots! Get up!” We were told, in so many crude words, that we had only so many minutes to do our business, shower and shave, and get outside in formation for roll call.
That morning, while it was still dark, we were introduced to the first full day of boot camp. I’m not sure what all happened on that first day, but I imagine we were given more instructions; and haircuts were definitely in order. We had to look like Marines, so I think that happened first. It only took a few seconds to shave our heads with those big clippers. It was brutal! Then, I suppose, we were instructed on how to make our beds—with tight hospital corners, and also how to fold our clothes and pack our foot lockers. Those were the basics. Other instructions were given to us along the way. Soon we would be settled into a daily routine.