Saturday, July 31, 2010

Waiting to Break

My recent posts have been a little somber and it's time for a little change of pace. This brick was part of the front steps of our old house. I looked down and thought it was going to break off. When I looked closer I thought the green running the length of the crack looked interesting. Of course, I had to take a photo of it.

this looks much better if you enlarge it

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cheap Silverware

The last time I ever made an attempt to speak to my mom about my childhood, she simply swept aside my concerns and feelings. I knew it was going to happen, but I tried anyway. The last words she had to say on the subject were, "Why do people always blame their parents for their problems?" I wasn't blaming her for anything. I just wanted her to tell me she was aware that my childhood was utter hell.

Cheap Silverware

I agreed to meet
Not for her
But for me
It had been two years
Since we'd last seen each other
And more than one
Since we'd spoken
All for good reason
She showed love 
And affection
Like it hurt her

Her motherly words
Sounded not unlike
The tinny clatter
Of the cheap and pitted
Strewn between us
On the scratched formica table
In the greasy spoon cafe
That she selected
Because she liked the pie there


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Follow up to Yesterday

I should have included this with yesterday’s poem.

As you may or may not know (depending on how long you’ve read my blog), my mom was an insane and brutal woman. She hated me because she hated my dad. I hated her because she abused me.

I don’t know why, but I felt some sense of responsibility related to helping her out when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I take it back; I do know why, I did it because I was dysfunctional as all hell.

I checked in on her a couple of times a day. I either brought her food, or cooked it at her house. One day I walked into her place and caught her trying to shoot herself in the head. I knew she carried a pistol in her purse and I had taken it away from her for just this reason. I had no idea she had a spare.

She couldn’t take the safety off and was trying to figure it out when I walked in the door. I took it away from her. I also discovered that she had just cut all of our family photos and her cash into tiny pieces.

Maybe it was the wrong reaction, but I got very angry at her. I was going well out of my way to help a woman I didn’t even like and she was going to have me walk in and discover her dead, with her brains splattered on the wall? She was in no pain at this point, so maybe it was to be her final act of hatred towards me.

I went through her medications (most of which she used recreationally), found the strongest she had, poured a glass of whiskey (she had plenty), set them in front of her, and walked out the door.

Of course, she didn’t use them; it wouldn’t have been dramatic enough of an exit for her…

If you don't already know why I would do this, I ask you to read my family and childhood related blog entries.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Slowly Turning Out The Lights

I wish you could remember
The day I walked in on you
Fumbling with the pistol
Confused and bewildered
It’s hard to load a gun
When the tumor in your brain
Won’t allow you to recall
Your own name

The agony of your life
Brought you here
Too many excesses
Nothing in moderation
Especially your brutality
The cancer actually merciful now
Blocking out your pain
Slowly turning out the lights


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Winter Moonlight

Winter moonlight
Casts an ivory glow
Upon your hair
As it lay web like
Across my pillow
The night has taken you
I lay waiting for dawn


Monday, July 26, 2010

Very Odd Building

You've gotta enlarge this one

One of the strangest design features I've ever seen on a building.  When I rapped my knuckles against it, it seemed totally hollow. I also think it could be climbed.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bellagio Atrium

enlarge for best effect

Some of you probably know that this "room" is usually full of flowers, plants, and fountains. Somehow the only photo I took in there was this one...

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I really need to finish importing the rest of the posts from my now defunct photography blog. Although there are some comments attached to them, most of you haven't seen the photos before.

enlarge for best viewing

Friday, July 23, 2010


I took this photo while laying flat on my back in the middle of a semi-busy sidewalk

enlarge for enhanced viewing

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Poetry - A New Page

A New Page!

From time to time I've posted original poetry on my blog. It's been quite a while since I've posted any, so I'm sure most of the folks who follow my blog now, have never seen, or read any of it.

Taking advantage of blogger's new page options, I've created a new page that contains links to all the poetry on my blog. It also has the names of poems, not yet posted, or in some cases, not yet finished.

If you'd like to catch up, or read some of them, you can click on the word "poems" that is right below the header (and above this post).

Thanks!  I hope you like it...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Time Memories

One hot summer day (many years ago), John Avoletta (RIP), Scott Jamison, and myself were out in Scott's ski boat all day drinking and cruising around. We started at the Long Beach Marine Stadium and drank our way about 20 miles south to Huntington Harbor and back. There are a few bars along the way that have their own docks for those who feel the need to drink and navigate the high sea.  That is what we did.

On the return trip, we were already "three sheets to the wind" when we arrived at Marina Pacifica in Long Beach, to stop at yet another watering hole. Houlihans was a very large and crowded bar that had it's own dock. Scott and John went directly into the bar. Because I had very recently "checked the prop" and was still wet, I told them to go ahead, because I wanted to dry off and change out of my trunks and into my shorts.

A few minutes later, I entered the very crowded bar. When I came through the door, everybody stood up and gave me an loud ovation. I didn't understand, until I looked to my rear and noticed that the wall facing the water was all glass. the entire place saw me in my birthday suit while I changed.  I never even noticed the windows...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bee Invasion

A short time ago, buymebarbies and I heard an odd noise.  We looked out the front window and saw this...

please enlarge

Obviously they were bees. They swarmed around the front of our house for a minute or two and then started landing on an inside branch of a pygmy date palm in our front yard.  After about 15 minutes there was a huge squirming mass of them formed into a ball.

We were worried because there are many kids and families who walk in front of our house every day. We called the city thinking they would send someone out to take them away. Wrong!  The lady said to leave them alone.  She also told us that bees swarm like this because a "new" queen has been born and the colony must split up. They are only looking for a new home. They don't want to stay in a palm tree, so they are just spending a day or two until they find a more suitable place to live.  In the meantime, because this isn't their "real" home, they aren't territorial and won't be aggressive at all.  They won't sting anything or anybody, unless they are attacked.  Leave them alone was her advice.

We left them alone and the next morning I watched them start to buzz around and then fly away. Once they started to leave, it only took about two minutes until everyone of them was gone.

I was happy to see them go, because I've been stung many times in the past. Somehow I manged to avoid it this time...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Backyard Sunsets 6

Last Thursday it was in the mid 90's here. We had hot sun, black clouds, lightning, thunder, rain, brushfires, and rainbows. Put them all together and we had this...

please enlarge for best viewing

I PROMISE these photos are not touched up or enhanced in the slightest bit. The ocean is just over the hill in the distance.  In addition to the light shining directly at us from behind that hill, it also reflects off the ocean which is only a few miles away. A double whammy of light.   Add a little smoke in the air from the brush fires and oh man!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Good Link

You may or may not have noticed that I follow a wide variety of blogs. Sometimes, when I feel a blog is under-appreciated, I like to share it.

I already know that some of you won't give this blog a glance, but some of you will. If you are interested in the subject, or if you participated in the subject as either a kid, or an adult, you will be AMAZED...

The blog I want to introduce to you is "The Great Canadian Model Builders Web page." The blog is run by Warren Zoell. He is not just a model builder, he has elevated model building into an art form. The detail and paint work is amazing. In addition, he also provides very short narratives that relate to the actual full-size item.

Warren started the blog to chronicle his projects for himself. I somehow stumbled upon it and was amazed. If you are at all interested in the subject, or like when any subject is taken to it's zenith. Then this is for you....

PLEASE do me a favor and check it out!

Friday, July 16, 2010

American Fast Food in Tokyo

First off, don't be alarmed that there is American style fast food in Japan. For every McDonald's, there are a ton of street food vendors and traditional cafes and restaurants.

Two-story McDonald's in a neighborhood shopping area

Local flavor menu. Notice the egg on the hamburgers.

People everywhere love the colonel. In Japan the chicken is sprinkled with goma (sesame seeds).

We had some ice-cream here.  It was darn good!

We couldn't bring ourselves to eat any fast food. It made no sense.  
Because most of buymebarbies relatives still live in Japan, we mostly eat home cooking when there.  Last time there we also ate at a fantastic Russian restaurant,  a Korean BBQ, several Japanese places, and a Chinese restaurant. All were excellent. But nothing topped the home made meals. Not only did it save us a ton of money, it is also nice to live as they do.  The Japanese food you find in American Sushi Restaurants is available everywhere in Japan, but it's not how they eat everyday.

I almost forgot about the pizza! Yes, they have pizza, but it is not quite the same. The crust was identical, but that's where the similarities end. We ordered two of them. One was a squid pizza and the other was a mayonnaise. The squid was pretty good, but by the time I was done with one piece of mayo pizza, I was about ready to lose it all...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Elephant Story

I really appreciate all the heavy reading being done on my blog lately. I'm going to continue to take it easy on all of you for a few more days.

This is an Incredible story about an elephant's amazing memory.

In 1986, Peter Davies was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from Northwestern University .

On a hike through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air.

The elephant seemed distressed, so Peter approached it very carefully.

He got down on one knee, inspected the elephants foot, and found a large splinter of wood deeply embedded in it.

As carefully and as gently as he could, Peter worked the wood out with his knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down its foot.

The elephant turned to face him and with a rather curious look on its face, stared at him for several tense moments.

Peter stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled.

Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned, and walked away.

Peter never forgot that elephant or the events of that day.

Twenty years later, Peter was walking through the Chicago Zoo with his teenage son.

As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Peter and his son Cameron were now standing.

The large bull elephant stared at Peter, lifted its front foot off the ground, then put it down.

The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man.

Remembering the encounter in 1986, Peter could not help wondering if this was the same elephant.

Peter summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing, and made his way into the enclosure.

He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder.

The elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of Peter legs and slammed him against the railing, killing him instantly.

I'm thinking it probably wasn't the same elephant...

thanks Diane

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Japan Color 08

Spring time in Kyoto

Many textures

Cherry blossoms and Maple leaves

Monday, July 12, 2010

New Pages

I've created two new pages on my blog over the last few days. Under the main header (or just above this post) there are four links to pages, one of them is for Boot Camp and one is for Vietnam.

Most of you haven't seen or read the Vietnam posts. I promise that there is very little blood and gore. It's mostly just a continuation of the crazy things that happen to me.

The Boot Camp page contains links to my blog entries that relate to stories about USMC Boot Camp.

The Vietnam page contains 44 links to my blog entries that relate to stories and poems about Vietnam. Crazy stories in here.

Now if you are interested, you don't have to dig for them...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On a Lighter Note 2

Somebody sent this to me today.
No one was hurt. I promise you!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

ITR - More ITR - Old Smokey

I had no sooner posted my last entry when I realized I forgot one of the best things that happened in ITR (infantry training regiment).

Well, it may not have been the "best" thing, but it was certainly the funniest thing!  Far less funny for those poor bastards who were involved in it, but rolling on the ground funny for those of us who weren't.

One particularly gloomy and overcast morning we were making our way up the fire break that went over "Old Smokey."  "Making our way up" is a relative term because the ground was wet and slick, so we were actually struggling to keep going.  Walking, climbing, or crawling. But always upwards!  I was pretty much busy in my own little private hell, just trying to keep up the pace; one foot in front of the other.  The only sounds to be heard were the muttered curses and labored breathing of those ahead and behind me.  At least those were the only sounds until the all hell broke loose...

A guy uphill from me either lost his footing, his balance, or both.  All I know is he was rolling down the trail very quickly, and picking up speed as he went.  That was bad enough in itself, but he was knocking guys down as he rolled. As he rolled past me, he was screaming and had a look of terror on his face.  He wasn't actually "rolling," it more like a half roll, half bounce. He still had his pack and gear on and it made for a very rough ride down the hill.

Shortly after he passed me he knocked another guy over backwards...downhill...

The second guy joined him on his trip down the hill.  It was both terrifying and hilarious at the same time.  I know, I know...I'm a sick bastard, but I couldn't help it.  It was like these two were rolling down hill like human bowling balls, on some perverted bowling alley knocking down human bowling pins as they went.

They actually didn't roll that far, but there were plenty of bruises to go around. Thankfully nobody was badly hurt.  We laughed about the incident for the rest of our infantry training and beyond.

To go back to the previous post in this series, click here

ITR - Infantry Training Regiment

Sgt. Frank Bignami

For the life of me I can’t remember if we got a short leave after boot camp or we had to go directly to infantry training. I “think” we went to infantry training. Either way we left MCRD with our once-worn dress uniforms and thinking we were bad ass Marines. That may seem like a negative, but that’s exactly what they wanted us to think.

Boot camp took place at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Infantry training took place at Camp Pendleton about 30 miles or up the coast. I was assigned to Lima Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Training Regiment. In boot camp we trained as a platoon. In infantry training we trained as a company (4 platoons). I remember arriving at the barracks area (Quonset huts again!) and noticing that we were surrounded by hills. I just knew we’d be humping and running around those hills until we dropped. I was certainly proven to be right about that.

Because I had been promoted out of boot camp I was given the assignment of platoon leader (or something close to that). There was a troop handler who was really in charge, and they had us (the trainee “platoon leaders”) to do some of their grunt work. You could tell the troop handlers from everybody else because they wore brightly colored helmet liners most of the time. I think my Sergeant’s helmet was green metal flake. I know his name was Frank Bignami.

The troop handlers didn’t let us forget that we were fresh out of boot camp and didn‘t yet know squat. They weren’t as mean as drill instructors and didn’t expect us to act like recruits but they still made sure we knew our place.

If one of us called them Sir, they would let us know straight away that they weren’t officers, and to just to call them by their rank and name. The first time I spoke to Sgt. Bignami I called him Sir and he told me that he had too much integrity to be an officer. I thought that was a great and funny line, I never forgot it.

Sgt. Bignami could be pretty stern with us but he did a good job helping us make the transition from boot to marine. He was usually a pretty good guy (compared to Drill Instructors) and was fairly nice to us most of the time, but he did do one thing to me that I resented. I’ll get to that later.

The best things about ITR were the weapons. If there was a weapon we each didn’t get to personally use in ITR, I can’t remember what it was. We shot bazookas, LAW rockets, grenade launchers, machine guns, rifles, and pistols. We got to throw grenades and set up claymore mines. We got to shoot at rifle ranges, live fire simulated patrols, and at night. We pretty much shot the place up. That part was an absolute blast.

We also did a whole lot of humping around Camp Pendleton.

Camp Pendleton is a huge place, and very hilly. When the company is moving from one place to another we generally marched there. When we got off the paved roads and into the hills the instructors would give us the command to “route step.” In a nutshell that means even though you pretty much stay in your company formation while marching, you no longer had to stay in step. This got to be very interesting when doing it in the hills. If you were the first platoon you just walked up a hill and down the other side. But if you weren’t with the first group to go over the hill you tended to bunch up at the bottom of the hill because the people in front of you slowed down as they climbed. By the time you got to the top of the hill you had to literally run like hell to catch up with the formation because the people in front of you were speeding down the back side of the hill while you were still waiting to climb the front side of it. It was hard work being anywhere in the formation but the front of the first platoon. The further back you were, the harder it was. It was hard enough when the weather was good, but when it was bad, and the trail or dirt road was muddy, it was incredibly hard. As luck would have it (bad luck that is), my time in ITR coincided with a very rainy period. Well, rainy by southern California standards that is. We were slipping and sliding all over Camp Pendleton.

The things I liked best about ITR were the weapons training and that I lived close enough to my home town to make it there fairly often. Don’t get me wrong, there was also misery to be had in ITR as well. The star of that show was a bump on the map called “Old Smokey.” Old Smokey was very steep hill. It was hard to climb anytime, but with full gear on it was extremely hard. With full gear on and when it was muddy it was hell and almost impossible. Although it was officially known as “Old Smokey,” most trainees referred to it as “Mount Mother Fucker.” Happily we only experienced it a couple of times.

I remember one time I was trying to heat up a “c-rations” meal with “heat tabs” and it was so rainy I did it under my poncho. It was like being in a gas chamber and I was starting to get overcome by the fumes. Thanks to Sgt. Bignami who saw what I was doing and stopped me, I was probably saved a trip the medical unit or worse. You'd have thought that my experiences in the boot camp gas chamber would have wised me up on that subject.  Oh well...

As I said, it was rainy and cold during my time in ITR. However wee were rolling along and were about half way through. One morning after reveille I walked back through my platoon’s Quonset huts making sure everybody had made their racks and was out of the heads and on their way to formation. Every thing was in order so I went out to the company formation. There was one guy missing from the formation and Sgt. Bignami said that the two of us would go looking for him. I was thinking he might be in the head. We walked through there and the guy was no where to be seen. He asked me if his rack was made up and I told him that it was. He said maybe the guy had gone AWOL. We walked back to his Quonset hut and I’ll be darned if the idiot hadn’t climbed back into his rack. I had just been in there about 10 minutes before and the guy wasn’t there. He must have waited until I’d walked through and then snuck back into the hut and then into his rack. Sgt. Bignami didn’t believe that I’d checked. I told him I did, but he didn’t buy it. I guess he felt that I was the one that needed to be punished, so he took the platoon away from me. I was so pissed!

Occasionally people are promoted out of ITR if they do a really good job. That’s exactly what I’d been doing. But I guess he saw it differently. It was actually easier just being one of the grunts instead of having the extra responsibility, so I guess he did me a favor. All in all, my time in ITR was a blast. I loved the weapons, I loved being outdoors, and I learned a lot.

Fast forward about 20 years…

I was working for the Postal Service as a supervisor in a large mail processing facility in Long Beach, California. One of the positions in my chain of command was the director of mail processing. That guy in that position was working somewhere else for an extended period of time. To take his place they were running a few different people through his spot. I was out on the workroom floor doing my job when the current person on detail walked up to me and introduced himself. He asked me some questions about the job and then walked away. I was left with the feeling that I’d met him before. The next day I spoke to him again. I told him that I was sure we’d met before. He didn’t think so. So we started the where did you go to school? How old are you? Etc…

He then asked me if I had been in the military. I told him I had, and that I was in the Marine Corps. He told me that he had been in the Marine Corps also. But it seemed like our paths had never crossed. That night I went home and looked through the few pictures that I had from my time in the Marine Corps. I looked in my boot camp book, he wasn’t there. I looked in all the individual photos I had, he wasn’t there. Then I found a mailing tube mailed to my home from Camp Pendleton many years before. I opened up the tube and took the rolled up picture out of it. It was a unit photo with all members of my ITR company in it. Right in front, there he was! The guy in the green metal flake helmet liner was the same guy now in charge of me at work. Frank Bignami.

The odds against our paths crossing had to be pretty slim.

Whenever Frank and I spoke, the subject of ITR eventually cane up. We seem to have slightly different memories of our time together. He has no memory of me of course, but he swears that he was a good guy. I always tell him that he’s a good guy now, but not so much back then. I think I’m the one who is right, but I have to admit he did a very good job helping us transition from boot camp to the regular Marine Corps.

I'm pretty sure that Frank Will read this and I hope he gets a kick out of it.

To go directly to the next post in this series, click here
To go back to the previous post in this series, click here

Boot Camp Epilogue

Irresistible Force Versus Immovable Object

If you read the prior 15 boot camp entries you should be very familiar with Drill Instructor Valdez.

In case you were wondering, I used his real name. I'm hoping that one day I'll receive either a comment on my blog, or an email from him. While it is certainly true that he may not remember me at all, I'm betting that he does. If you don't agree with me on that point, I didn't do a very good job covering the battle of wills that went on between the two of us. Even though he clearly had the advantage because he could abuse me physically without fear of retaliation, I feel that I more than held my own because of my steadfast refusal to give in to him.

When boot camp was finally over, I felt that I had the upper hand because he never really figured out what I was about and why he couldn't "convince" me to bend to his will. He badly wanted me to be a screw up, but I wasn't. He openly tried to get me to hit him on many occasions, but I wouldn't. The fact that he actually had a part in my being promoted in boot camp, further demonstrated that he didn't have a clue about me.

My next 2 entries relating to "Infantry Training" will serve as the bridge between my time in Marine Corps Boot Camp and my time in Vietnam. At this point I'm thinking that there will be approximately 20 entries related to Vietnam.

Although I will be softening up the language a bit and omitting most of the gore I saw in the Vietnam entries, I can't bring myself to change much else. It was a brutal place. I make no excuses or apologies for my actions and behavior during that period of my life. I was who I was.  I'm happy to say I'm not that person now...

To go directly to the next post in this series, click here
To go back to the previous post in this series, click here

“End of Boot Camp” USMC Boot Camp -- Part 15

(credit: unknown)

As much as I hated having to start boot camp over from scratch, it did give me an advantage over all the other recruits. I knew what was going to happen before it happened.

I’d already had most of my injections and managed to stay out of trouble except when Valdez was on duty, then I couldn’t do anything but be in trouble. I was his whipping boy. Everybody in the platoon knew he had singled me out and the other drill instructors knew it also. I know this because when he was off duty they used me in a leadership role, to demonstrate how to do things to the other recruits. But in the eyes of Valdez I could do nothing right. He must have made me do 10 times the calisthenics that everybody else had to do. I’d also estimate that he punched me at least 10-15 times during the course of boot camp.

I was in excellent physical shape when I got to boot camp, but Valdez was making a brute out of me. It seemed like the more he piled it on me, the stronger I got. I eventually reverted to my old safety zone of disassociation that I mastered while being raised by a crazy woman. After a while the man had no effect on me at all. When he came in, I checked out. I began to feel that I was in control, not him.

He could scream at me all he wanted, I wasn’t listening.  His abusive and vile words just beaded up on my face, ran down my body, and collected in a puddle at my feet.

He could punch me, but I wouldn’t react, I couldn’t feel anything. I'd just straighten back up and look right through him like he wasn't there.  My mother could give him a run for his money in the physical abuse department. I already knew how to take pain.

He could make me do calisthenics all day, I wouldn’t quit. By the end of boot camp I'm sure I could out perform him or anybody else in my platoon with ease.

He was just too stupid and self absorbed to realize that I wasn’t really there.

It seemed as if he eventually started to believe that I was squared away, and along with the other DI‘s put me in for my first promotion. He came to believe that I had fantastic self discipline, he told me he‘d never had a recruit survive what he put me through. I'm sure he was mostly patting himself on the back though.  What he did was mistake my ability to take abuse and disassociate, with self discipline.

I actually did get a promotion out of boot camp. Only 6 out of the 60 platoon members got promoted, and thanks to Valdez I got one of the spots. On graduation day he actually had the nerve to congratulate me, and tell me I did a good job. I just turned my back on him and walked away. He had no control over me at this point, so I had no reason or obligation to acknowledge his existence.

Besides, other than the fact that he beat the hell out of me on more than one occasion, and exercised me into the ground every time he saw me,  I won…

To go directly to the next post in this series, click here
To go back to the previous post in this series, click here

"The Rifle Range” USMC Boot Camp -- Part 14

Photo taken on qualification day. I was kind of a brute in those days

Range book showing perfect score at 500 meters (or 1640 feet)

In addition to all the other skills you are expected to master in boot camp, you must also be able to fire a rifle accurately at a target from several different distances, and from several different positions. In my day, the combat rifle issued to Marines was the M-14. Although it was a bit heavy, it was very rugged and dependable. In the hands of the right person it was extremely accurate up to distances of 500 meters and more.

There were no range facilities in San Diego so we had to travel from MCRD to Camp Pendleton, the sprawling Marine Corps base near Oceanside, California. Our first few days were spent learning about the rifle range, our rifles, and how to shoot with accuracy. The “dry firing” method of training was eventually replaced by live firing. Each day at the range how we shot was charted into a range book. We practiced on Monday thru Wednesday, had pre-qualification on Thursday, and Qualification day was on Friday.

All Marines were expected to qualify with the M-14. There were three levels of qualification. Expert, Sharpshooter, and Marksman. You couldn’t graduate from boot camp until you qualified at one of those three levels.

Having my own rifle for most of my life gave me a advantage over a lot of the recruits in my platoon. Although I’d never live fired an M-14, I did know how to relax enough to make accurate shots. Actually, I shot a bit too well. On Thursday, I shot extremely well. Best of all, I shot a perfect 10 for 10, all in the bulls-eye from 500 meters. One of the pictures above is from my range book. Each of the ten shots is individually announced and charted as you shoot them. When the range coach saw my score he made them check off my individual shots on the target again. It checked out and everybody was excited, including me.

After we got back to our temporary barracks that night even Valdez seemed happy about it!  As he reported my success of earlier in the day to the rest of the platoon they were also excited because it is very rare for anybody, recruit or otherwise, to shoot a perfect score from 500 meters. If it had been Friday instead of Thursday, I’d have easily surpassed the Expert threshold.

After Taps sounded and it was time for lights out the fire watch came to my bunk and said the DI’s wanted to see me in the duty hut. He also told me that when I got there I was not to pound on the door, but just walk in. As I approached the door Valdez motioned me inside.

“Remain at attention and don't say a word until I tell you to Tillett.”

I stood as silent and still as Lot's wife, while wondering what was about to happen to me. Every other time I was alone in the duty hut, bad things happened.

“Tillett you did a great job out there today. You had the highest pre-qual score that any of us has ever seen by a recruit, and we assume you will do equally well tomorrow. You should have no trouble qualifying as expert” “Are you nervous about tomorrow?”
“No sir!” I replied, shocked that Valdez would compliment me about anything.
“That’s good, because we may ask you to do some work for the platoon tomorrow” he said while looking at me with a raised eyebrow. “Do you know how close the competition is for honor platoon Tillett?”
“No sir” I answered.
“It is extremely close, how we do tomorrow at the range and on our final drill will decide which platoon wins” he explained. “You know that we want to win very badly don’t you Tillett?”
“Yes Sir” I answered while thinking of the beatings he gave when he caught some guys not studying when they were supposed to be. Oh yeah, I know how bad he wants it.
“It seems that you are the platoon’s best shot Tillett, and we may need you to qualify a few others besides yourself.”
“Tillett, I’m only going to say this once, and then you are going to forget that I ever told you, do you understand me?” he said in a serious tone.
“Yes Sir.”
“You are going to shoot the 500 meter segment for at least 2 other recruits tomorrow” he said in low voice. “I’ll already have the their names printed on tape. When we need you we’ll change the tape on the back of your jacket and on your weapon You better remember who you are supposed to be, if one of the range personnel calls you by the other guy’s name, based on what the tape on your back says.” “Do you understand Tillett?”
“Yes Sir.”
“Tillett two more things, you had better not shoot a perfect score for any of those sorry sacks of shit, because it would look suspicious, and you better not cause them not to qualify!” he threatened.
“Yes Sir” I replied.
“Are we clear Tillett?”
“Yes sir!”
"One more thing Tillett, if this all works out and you do what is needed tomorrow, we will recommend you for sniper school."
"Yes Sir!"
"You would like to go to sniper school wouldn't you?"
"Yes Sir!"
“Good, now get the hell out of my sight!”

I didn’t know how to feel about what had just happened. I was complimented by some of what he said, and I was proud of what I’d done that day at the range. But now that sick bastard wanted to me to help him? He had some nerve. He had to know how I felt about him. I sure knew how he felt about me. Should I do the best I could? Should I do badly on purpose to screw Valdez over? Should I refuse to shoot for anybody else but myself?  There was also the issue of sniper school.  Would I really like it?  Could I really live with killing people that couldn't even see me? I guess it was better than having them shooting at me also, but still.  How would I feel about it after the war?

I lay there going back and forth in my mind for a very long time. I think I’d just fallen asleep when a DI came in to the room and started yelling for us to get out of our bunks and be on the platoon road within fifteen minutes. After we finished morning chow, trucks came to take us to the range. I still didn’t know what I was going to do until we got there. I decided that I’d do what Valdez asked of me. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one involved in this. The platoon commander and other DI’s must have known also. Surely they would all be at the range that day.

I shot most of my segments without them asking me to do anything. One thing happened that I didn’t expect though. I was nervous! I hadn’t been nervous at all the day before, but for some reason I didn’t feel as confident. Maybe it was from lack of sleep, or maybe it was because of what they were going to ask me to do.  I had just finished one of my segments when Valdez told me I was needed at 300 meters. I had to shoot for two different recruits there. My first two shots weren’t even close to the bulls eye. I forced myself to relax and made up for the bad shots with several good ones. Apparently there were more people struggling than they anticipated, because as the morning wore on, my name changed so many times that I thought someone was going to become suspicious of the ripping noise the tape made as they changed it.

I was finally at the 500 yard prone segment and before I got to shoot for myself, I had to shoot for two other recruits. Each time Valdez leaned down and told me exactly what score was needed.  At this time a lot of the guys were done shooting and they all knew what was going on.  I felt the pressure of them knowing. As earlier, the first couple of shots were terrible and I had to do some good shooting at the end to get the scores Valdez demanded of me. It was a struggle, but I finally got the last guy qualified.

Finally, it was time for me to finish up my own day with the 500 meters segment. I was exhausted and drenched with sweat. Valdez told me that I had to get a particular score for us to win the rifle range portion of the platoon competition. It meant that I’d need almost all bulls eyes for us to win. I couldn’t relax and I didn’t get it done. We ended up tied with another platoon for the rifle range competition. I didn’t get my expert badge, but I did ensure that everyone in our platoon qualified. Valdez was pissed at me, but didn’t say too much, because without me we’d probably have finished in last place instead of tied for first.

When it was all said and done, I realized that I had been used in a major way. They really didn’t give a crap about me. If I had been caught, I’m positive the DI’s would have said they didn’t know anything about it.  Me and the guy I was shooting for at that time would have gone to the brig and probably received dishonorable discharges for cheating.

If I hadn’t done so much high pressure shooting for other recruits and only had to worry about myself, I’m pretty sure I would have qualified as an expert. To this day I wish I would have refused to do what Valdez told me to do, or made sure that I got lower scores than he demanded.  Or maybe even put one of those shots right through his forehead.

Chalk up a major win for Valdez…

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“The Blanket Party” USMC Boot Camp -- Part 13

When the Platoon Commander was out of earshot, everybody started talking at once. It only took a couple of minutes to figure out who he was talking about and what he wanted us to do. There was another person missing from our blood letting today. It was the "fire watch" who was on duty while the card game was going on. Apparently the platoon commander kept him back with the card players because he wanted us to take care of him. We finally got it, if the fire watch had done his job, none of this would have happened in the first place.

Okay, we knew who the PC was talking about and we knew what he wanted done. He wanted the platoon to take care of him. To a marine or soldier that means it’s time to have a “blanket party.”

When the targeted guy is sleeping, a blanket is thrown over his head. He's then held down so he can’t see who is beating the shit out of him. In this case they majority agreed that everybody would punch him once. I of course seem to have the need to piss people off, and said that I thought that was a chicken shit idea. If he needs to be beaten, then just beat him.

I was in the minority on the subject, so the poor bastards fate was decided. I told them I wouldn’t take part in it. I’d "beat the shit out of the guy myself face to face," if they wanted me to, but I wasn't going to have any part of a blanket party. One of the guys said that if I "didn’t take part, maybe they’d have to deal with me also." I said "do what you have to do, but as soon as it’s over, I’m coming after you first."

I knew it wasn’t going to happen to me. These guys had seen me go through more crap and taken more punishment from Valdez than all of them put together. They knew I wasn’t afraid of any of them, not even as a group. Some other folks who agreed with me, chimed in that they’d have more than just me to deal with if they tried anything. I told them that I wasn’t going to try and stop them from doing it, but I wouldn’t take part in it. Several others now agreed with me. But there was still way more than enough to have their party, and they agreed to do it that night.

The next morning at our first formation it was obvious that the blanket party took place. The guy could barely walk and his face was bruised and swollen. Those idiots should have taken a hint from the drill instructors and avoided leaving marks on the poor guys face.

 I ran into one of the card players many months later in Vietnam and his skin was still discolored from the beating he took from Valdez in boot camp.

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“Handball” USMC Boot Camp -- Part 12

As I said earlier, while the broom stick beatings were taking place the Platoon Commander wasn’t around. However, bright and early the next morning he personally took us out for close order drill (marching). The guys who had been beaten weren’t with us. We marched around the parade ground for a while and when he was marching us back to our platoon area he took a different route. We had no idea where he was taking us until he halted the platoon and then gave us the command to face right. He didn’t say a word for at least a minute. He turned his back to us and just stood there. We were in front of the handball courts.

His earlier warning rang in my head like a bell.  I was sure that we were about to get an object lesson, and I was very sure it was going to be more painful than playing his “air raid” game.

He gave us some commands to peel off by squads and enter the door of one of the fully enclosed courts. He then split us up, two squads on one end and two on the other. He said that on his command we were to trade ends and do it quickly. He produced a whistle and blew it. We all scurried from one side to the other. He yelled that it wasn’t fast enough. Do it again! He blew the whistle. We did this several times. It was getting very hot and humid in there and he wasn’t giving us any time to rest. Again and again, faster and faster.

He finally gave us the ultimatum. If we didn’t change ends in less than 10 seconds we’d regret it. He told us that to get that far in only 10 seconds we’d have to quit being so polite. He wanted us to quit going around each other, and start going through the guy in front of us. It started to get violent. People were doing everything they could to speed it up. People were starting to get hurt. It was so hot and humid now in the court that everybody’s utilities were soaked. We never made it in 10 and he finally gave up. But not without a threat. He said he had another treat in line for us the next day. Crap! The thing about it was he never seemed mad, he acted like he was just doing his job.

The next day after we finished our morning training we were told to change into our PT gear (gym clothes) and report back to the platoon road in formation. We were back out there very quickly.

He said “if you liked playing air raid and handball, you’re going to love today’s game even more!“
“Does anybody know why we’re out here?” He asked.
“Do you mean to tell me that not one of you girls know why we're out here?
More silence…
“Okay, then I’ll tell you! You are out here because you all sat by and let this fucking platoon fall apart! You sat by and did nothing while some slimy pieces of shit were grab assing instead of studying for the practical exams!”

He then made squad one and two line up shoulder to shoulder, one squad on each side of the platoon road. He then made squad three line up behind squad one, and squad four line up behind squad two. He said we would have only 5 seconds to exchange sides. The road was much more narrow than the handball court. We were standing shoulder to shoulder and there was no room at all to squeeze between the recruits on the other side.

We all knew what was expected of us, and when the whistle blew all hell broke loose. The sounds of bodies slamming against each other, sounded like we were at a football game. It took about five tries, but we finally made it happen quickly. But not before there were several minor injuries and bloodied faces.

He got us back in formation and marched us out to the parade ground. He then told us to take a knee and pay close attention to what he was going to say. He asked us who was missing from this ordeal. The names of the guys who caused all this by playing cards instead of studying were mentioned. He said no, and asked us if there was anybody else. Nobody knew what he was talking about. After a few minutes he said he was going back to the duty hut and when we figured it out, and figured out how to take care of the problem ourselves, the platoon guide would march us back to the platoon area. He turned and left us there alone...

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“Even More Valdez” USMC Boot Camp -- Part 11

I would be remiss if I failed to tell this particular story about Drill Instructor Valdez. It’s the one story that doesn’t pertain directly to me. I’m so happy it didn’t, because it was one of the most brutal things done to recruits that I’ve ever heard of.

At night there is always somebody assigned to “fire watch” duty. There are a couple of reasons that this is done, and one of them is extremely valid. If there is a fire or some other emergency, the fire watch wakes everybody up in time to evacuate.

The "platoon" I was assigned to was in direct competition with three other platoons that make up the training "company." The competitions consist of close order drill, rifle range, inspections, physical testing, and practical examinations on several subjects. The training for most of these things is pretty much cut and dry and the drill instructors are closely involved with it. The only part that actually involves some discretionary effort is related to studying for the examinations. There wasn’t enough time to study as a group, so we had to study at night instead of sleeping.

We had just finished a round of exams and our platoon didn’t fare very well on a few subjects. One of the drill instructors noticed that several recruits all did poorly on the exact same exams. So the DI’s started an informal investigation. Apparently one of the recruits (under pressure) assigned to fire watch duty during the late night study sessions, told the DI’s that a small group of recruits had been playing cards instead of studying. Guess what? Yep, it was the same names that drug the entire platoon down with their poor exam results. First off, where did they get a deck of cards? Second, why did the fire watch rat them out? Third, what the heck is going to happen to those poor bastards? We couldn’t imagine what Valdez was going to do, but it would be severe for sure.

That evening the five recruits were called into the duty hut one at a time. The Platoon Commander was on duty but left before the “punishment” commenced. I’m not sure why he left, but I believe it was to ensure that he could deny knowing about it (plausible deniability). As I said the recruits went to the duty hut one at a time. The were asked if they had studied on the nights in question or if they had played cards. I guess they knew the jig was up because they all admitted to it.

Here is where it gets ugly. They made each of them bend over a desk and then beat their thighs and butt with a broom stick. We could hear it happening. Whenever one of them would cry out in pain they were screamed at to shut up.

I clearly saw that when one of them came back his thighs and butt were bleeding. It was something like you’d see in a horror movie. It was brutal. They could barely walk for several days. The DI’s let them stay in the huts until they could move around. They weren’t allowed to go to sick call either. These drill instructors should have gone to jail for what they did. But of course nobody would turn them in, because in those days it wouldn't have done any good.

They all told us that Valdez did most of the beating.

In my time in the Marine Corps I never ran into a former or current drill instructor that didn’t have a mean streak in him. But Valdez was the one of the most sadistic, evil, and demented bastards I’ve ever met in my life. That statement is true to this day. I would have liked to run into him in Vietnam.

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“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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