Saturday, July 10, 2010

“The Gas Chamber" USMC Boot Camp -- Part 10

One of the training segments in boot camp involved the use of gas masks. We were told this was an important part of our training because the “Viet Cong” might attack us with gas while we were in Vietnam. I never heard about them doing this either before or after I went to Vietnam, but for some reason they taught us to use them anyway.

One day they issued us the masks. They came in canvas bags. We had to take them out of the bags and check them out to see if they were air tight. My mask looked like it was old enough to have been worn by Chesty Puller himself, sometime much earlier in the century. It was old and very worn. I’m pretty sure they were WWII or Korean War surplus.

Then they told us we would be wearing these masks while in a gas filled room. The gas would be regular CS (tear gas) combined with burning “heat tabs” that were normally used to heat food.

We went into a small cinder block building known as the “gas chamber” in small groups. We were then told to break the seal on the mask to get a sample of what the CS could do to us, and then re-seal the mask. That would show us that the masks actually worked and allowed us to breath. What they didn’t tell us was that this is where the “instruction” stopped and the boot camp fun and games started.

I was in the third group to go in. That allowed us to see part of the first group come out of the far side of the chamber. They ran out of the room without their masks on and were throwing up and gagging like they were going to die. The DI’s were screaming at them not to rub their eyes. They were then allowed to rinse off their faces and hands in running water.

When it was my group’s turn to go in they told us to get our masks on, walk into the building single file and stand along the inside wall of the room. There appeared to be plenty of gas in the room already but they were adding to it as we entered. Once we were all in place and the door was closed we were told to break the seal of the mask and keep it that way until told to re-seal it again. I remember that my first couple of breaths weren’t too bad, but then it hit me. It was like breathing fire! We were then told to tighten up the mask again and breath regularly. Although my lungs still burned I was at least able to breath.

We were then instructed to rotate the masks onto the top of our heads and stand there until told otherwise. We were also warned not to hold our breath. I like several other people, totally disregarded that order and held mine as I removed the mask. It became very clear who was holding their breath and who wasn’t in about 5 seconds. Those who were breathing were coughing and gagging like crazy. Those of us holding our breath just had burning eyes.

What had seemed like a good idea only seconds before quickly became a bad idea, a very bad idea. The instructor just waited us out. I remember when I finally had to breath, and did so, I thought I was going to die. I’d never felt anything like it. The instructors then walked along in front of us and told people individually to put their masks back on. Those of us who held our breath, were not told to do so. Okay, not too bad we’ll be out of here soon enough. At least that’s what I wished would happen. Much to my surprise those of us still without gas masks on were ordered to start doing jumping jacks. Now I’m not only thinking I was going to die, but also what an idiot I was not to know that they knew people were holding their breath, and knew just how to deal with it. Idiot!

I know we only spent several minutes in the gas chamber, but it seemed like an hour. My group (the idiots) didn’t even get to put our masks on as we were told to leave the room via the second door. When I got outside into the clean air I still couldn’t breath. My eyes were running, I was gagging and throwing up, and thick snot was running out of my nose. I noticed that everybody else was doing the same. If the gas hadn’t made me sick, the sight of all that freely flowing mucus would.

When we were semi-cleaned up and taken back to our platoon area we had to clean all the puke and snot out of our gas masks. This caused a lot of additional gagging.

One poor bastard in one of the other squads apparently started to put his mask on before he was told to, I was told that it was pretty clear he was panicking. They stopped him and he started really freaking out. He tried to get to the door and the instructors stopped him. It got to the point where he was crawling on the concrete floor trying to get to the door. The instructors were dragging him back by his feet.

I didn’t notice until later that the guy who freaked out was no longer with us. Another successful weeding out job by the DI’s…

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  1. Please tell me somehow this story ends with these men being held accountable for their actions. This is just unbelievable horror.

  2. Tim - I wish I could tell you that. But in those days, this behavior was ignored by the brass, if not encouraged...

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