I subscribe to a weekly newsletter called Sgt. Grunt. It is published weekly on Fridays by a one of us Marines who never quit being a Marine after we quit wearing the uniform. It has a store site where you can purchase Marine related items, but mostly it consists of short letters, remembrances and salutes to us marines active and inactive.
You have probably figured I’m a old bird by now, but some of these letters really remind me just how old I’m getting to be. For instance recently there has been a spate of entries regarding the old boot rifle training camp at Camp Mathews. This camp no longer exists as one of the letters noted last Friday. The old Marine stated his platoon was the last to do rifle there in 1964. This was where the recruits at the San Deigo Recruit Depot got their live fire training. I did my rifle training in nineteen-fifty-six. Camp Mathews was located north of San Deigo in what is Layhola now. It sat just off old highway 101 on the east side of the road. It was a series of rolling hills and gullys, with the rifle ranges located in the lowest valleys.
We were bussed up to Mathews in old grey Navy buses, with our rifles and duffel bags. We lived out of the duffel bags for the whole duration of the time spent there. I disremember if it was four or six weeks, but it was a pain in the a$$. We were quartered in row after row of eight man squad tents. These were erected over a plywood floor with a outside frame of two by fours, with the heavy five inch octagon pole in the middle supporting the whole thing. If you ever saw the TV series MASH that was what our living quarters looked like. Except we did not have the mesh siding like they did. On hot days we could with permission roll the sides up (seldom given). At night they were rolled down and secured it was almost not worth the trouble to roll the sides up. We had eight canvas army cots in each tent around the outside edge. Each day was started with the cleaning and police our tents and entire area with the walks swept and the dirt Lawn raked.
In boot camp we had no first name unless there was someone else with the same last name then a initial was used. In our platoon we had two sets of brothers and a set of cousins. They were known a big Decker and little Decker, Plugh 1 and Plugh 2 and Riley 1 and Riley 2. But I deviate from my story, one night we had turned in with lights out, now after lights out there was no talking allowed. One guy named Robert Washington chimed out with goodnight Bob seven times. One other asked what the hell you doing? He replied I just thought all of us in this tent is named Robert, a thought that had escaped us all. About that time the drill instructor stuck his head into the tent and blared “Bob up and kiss my A$$, And give me fifty pushup’s”. This was September and early November, hardly more than a mile off the ocean. It was hot in the days but bitterly cold and often foggy at night. We had these old cots with the thin canvas bottom two sheets replaced weekly and the two thin wool blankets we had brought with us. It got cold at night. Each tent had a kerosene heater in it which when we were allowed to light them were useless in these tents and most of the time they would not ignite and when they did gave off a vile fume that was sicking. We burned by day and froze by night but they were making tough Marines out of us kids.
let’s talk about the fun and games all day every day was spent learning how to aim and fire the weapon. Hours and hours of snapping in, practicing aiming and squeezing the trigger. then exercises to strengthening the arm mussels which left you arms so exhauted you could not hold the rifle steady. March or run from one site to the other and if the DI was pi$$ed maybe you duck-walked with your rifle over your head. Seems like we did a lot of duck-walking, every so often we fell out with our duffel bags on our shoulders and duck-walked up and down some crappy hill. We had one poor black guy who had been in the Marine Corps Reserve. He had his full issue of clothing winter greens, summer khakis and being from Chicago even the heavy wool overcoat. His bag weighed way more than the rest of us. The DI gave him no breaks, sweat would pour off his head and soak his clothes. I do not know how he survived it.
On Sundays all through boot camp you could attend church service on base in formation. We were allowed to purchase a certain number of Sunday newspapers for a few short hours on Sunday morning this was the only contact we had with the out side world other than our letters from home. Sunday was grab a$$ day, we would be marched off to some remote area and usually be pitted against another platoon in some form of rough game. Usually shirts against skins, in some contest which usually consisted of us all jumping into a pitt andtrying to eject the other side out by force. Of course your DI was not happy if your platoon lost. The one I hated the most had a huge six foot diameter ball we had to try to push past a goal line. I was run over by the ball and trampled under foot more than once and once used as a battering ram. At that time I was six foot tall and weighed one-hundred-eighteen pounds, just a long stick.
We finally fired for qualification and this phase of training was over and we were to return to the depot in San Deigo. the rumor was we were going to hike back so I convinced the guys we needed to fill our canteens. We never kept water in them for some reason, but many followed my lead. We lucked out and were bussed back to base. About half way the radiator on the buss we were riding in overheated. After pulling to the side of the road and watching the rest of the convoy fade into the distance we asked the young driver if they carried jerry cans of water and he said no. We were standing around scractching our a–es and heads. I stepped up and handed the driver my canteen and said use this. He laughed at me and said that ain’t enough. To which I replied well there is thirty of us. So there we stood along side highway101 with a line if young Marine Boots handing a navy pog our canteens and we made it back to base thirty minutes late. Of course the Di blamed us for being late.
Well those days are long gone and so is Camp Mathews. Tucked into the memory of a old Marine Boot. Got to rambel now ramblingbob