USMC Field Exercises


After completing Boot Camp and Individual Combat Training I was assigned to my permanent duty station, The First Service Battalion of the First Marine Division stationed at Camp Pendleton California.  We were first located at Area Twenty-five, Camp Rio Hondo, located on a small platue over looking a usually dry streambed.  It was a pleasant little camp consisting of two camps separated by a medium sized parade ground that I do not ever recall using in our stay there.  Our side had all the different service units and the other the Truck Transportation division.  We were the repairmen for small arms, artillery, optical equipment and such.  We lived in old quansit huts painted a horrid green.  Our shops were new      metal workhouses.  It was a good duty station, with an excellent Mess Hall.  Meals were served family style at large picnic type tables; Instead of the traditional stainless steel mess trays we ate of heavy-duty stone wear plates.  Breakfast was served by the chow line but lunch and dinner was served by sitting at the table and the food was already on the tables and you served yourself and when a plate was empty it was held in the air and the guys doing mess duty would retrieve it and bring it back filled.  This was the only place I ever saw this type of mess hall.  I served my share of mess duty there, as we were a small battalion so we were frequently placed on this duty.  This was in the day when potatoes were still pealed and I did my share.  I was often placed on the salad bar making the salads, as I had what the chef cook called an artistic flare.  This is where I met one of the younger cook who was from my Joplin Missouri only 18 miles from where I was born, this was to pay off later as you will see.  But this is not what this story started out to be about.

      I joined the unit in early December and took my first leave of absence for two weeks to include Christmas and returned just after.  In early January we were all bussed over to the main area where our headquarters were located and ushered into a large auditorium where we were first addressed by the Unit Commander A Colonel Stam (I remember him because he had a sixteen year old daughter who stood on the review platform at the unit parades with him, she was a blond) (remember I was only 18 at the time so it made a lasting impression).  He told us what a grand adventure the Marine Corps had in store for us.  Then a Master Sergeant took over and told us how Doctors and Lawyers paid hundreds of dollars to go camping for two weeks like we were going to do. Hoha I hope their trip went more smoothly than ours did.     After much preparation and loading of trucks we were loaded on to buses like sardines and hauled of to San Diego Ca. to the Navy yards where we were off loaded and marched to the waiting transport ships.  Damn to a kid who never had been on a rowboat those damn things looked big.  We were marched up gangplanks and herded below decks where we got to choose our luxurious accommodations.  A two by six foot canvas bunk (a piece of canvas rope lashed to a steel frame) stacked six high.  I wisely chose the top bunk of course I had to climb up the side of the other four bunks to reach mine but no one climbed over me.  Also once we got under way the sea sick guys did not puke up if they could not get out of the confined area in time Oh yes there was only two feed of space separating these canvas coffins bunk to bunk.  Mama might not have raised the sharpest tack in the box but I could always size up a situation pretty fast.  We sat in port for two days after boarding while the rest of the convoy assembled, this was a large operation.  This was in the days when the helicopter was still in the development stage for service use so we were still learning amphibious landings.  We were herded to the mess halls three times a day where we are standing at small narrow steel tables off of the standard steel tray food was mostly chipped beef gravy on toast (shit on a shingle) or beans (navy of course) and a hard roll, not to appetizing and once the ship got under way with thee guys sick in all we were really ready to get off these damn ships. I visited the PX on board and they had six rolls of 126-color film with processing included for $1.50 each I bought them all.  When the ship got under way and we hit the open water many of the guys were hanging over the rails or in the heads getting sick.  I felt a little queasy at first but quickly adapted.  We were allowed on deck as long as we did not interfere with the sailor’s duties.  There was much trading of insults between the two branches of service much of it pretty rough.  I was sent to g some cleaning material with a sailor who took off running down the companionways.  Hard on his heels so I would not get lost he hit a ladder at a dead run catching it with the hells of his hands and the inside of his shoes he slid out of sight so fast I damn near fell down the hole in the deck.  This was how it went between us young guys that defend our country.  I used to wander to the fantail and watch the sharks that followed the wake of the ship waiting for the garbage to be dumped over board.  I also saw my first Porpoise jump together across the bow of the ship.  One morning we awoke and went on deck to find that what looked like every ship in the navy had joined us over night.  I wondered if this is what it might have been like for my Uncles.  Of course they were getting ready for combat, not playing war games like us.     Finally we were herded on to deck with our helmets, packs, rifles and all the gear we had shared our little two by two by six spaces with.  Over the side of the ship into the small landing barges with the waves bouncing every thing around down we went the ship would go up and the barge down then the ship went down and the barge up and they kept going apart then together sometimes as much as six feet at a time you had to try to judge when to let go of the net and drop into the barge (these nets were woven from one-half inch rope into one foot squares,  the nets were about ten feet wide and were hung over the side of the ship to the barges twenty feet or more below).  Some guys were caught between the two boats and injured and other fell from the net into the barge with injuries.  We thought the worst was over when we finally pulled away from the mother ship.  But no! We were transported over to another ship where we had to reverse the process and climb back up the net to the deck of a second ship.  I cannot remember what it was called but it was packed with our service vehicles our shop trucks and such.  The front opened and a deck was lowered and a pontoon bridge was built at the shore where we off loaded.  We came ashore to a wide stretch of sand untrampled by any sign of anything.  As we waded the final feet of water we were greeted by a team of umpires who wanted to know who the hell we were??  Seems the Navy in its efficiency had landed us before the infantry.  Just a hundred yards across the sand in the chaparral and brush was hidden the aggressors from Twenty Nine Palms awaiting the assault of the Fifth Marine Regiment> It was finally determined that we were not there and did not exist, we were told to hunker down and pretend we were not there.  It was a glorious sight sitting there watching the infantry come ashore in the landing barges and wade through the surf firing their weapons while the Navy provides a healthy barrage of covering fire.  Then the aggressors began firing in return.  While some of our guys were playing cards.  I had one guy lying behind my toolbox firing at the enemy while we carried on a conversation as to why I was just sitting there.  Finally the battle moved inland and we loaded our stuff up and proceeded to move in land.  Then began a week and half of one foul up after another.  Eating cold C-rations most of the time, everything was fairly OK except for the sausage and gravy; you just could not make this stuff eatable.  The C-rations had dated on them from the Second World War.  This was the same stuff the guys ate then and in Korea.  I have a healthy respect for those guys and what they went through for several years instead of a couple of week like I did.  Yeah it was cold it was January and the winters were not as mild back in the fifties as they are now.       Yeah there were other times out of the shops like the Yucca Flats and the bomb experience.  And I volunteered for every one that came along.  And yeah Steve Twenty Nine Palms is coming up soon, hang on. My hats off salute to our troops in every action since the fifties and our guys and gals serving now. (We had very few gals in my time and none in the field).     You people are the best we have. Until later ramblingbob 

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2 Responses to “USMC Field Exercises”

  1. Steve Says:

    Somehow or other our shop came off that LST,or maybe a different one, at about 2200 in a open 6by and the water came up over the bed and soaked everything we had. Yes that was a real camping experience!!!!

  2. ramblingbob Says:

    Well Steve the LST we came off of had a pontoon bridge made of floating sections they hooked to gether from the ramp to near the beach. And I walked down the floating bridge to the beach and only had to wade maybe twenty feet or so.Got wer to just above my knees, my boots were soaked for several days in thet janurary weather I did not change them because I hated those damn boondockers, they rubbed my ankels raw, But yeah I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything, of course would not want to relive them.

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