An Old Gunny remembers … the Parris Island days
by Capt. Jack T. Paxton, USMC (Ret.)
Khaki flannel shirts: When worn with dress blue trousers, white belt and white barracks cap cover, we called them undress blues and we were something else! Of course the only time you could wear this outfit (illegally) was on leave. The more salty among us would manage to remove the flannel fluff with our razors. Sharp? You bet. Of course it also took about half the life of the shirt but it sure held a mean military crease!
Shavin’ The Greens: I picked up a pair of dress green uniform trousers in the PX a while back and couldn’t get over how smooth the material felt. In the early ‘50s our wool greens came with a healthy knap to assure long life. Of course one of the first things we:”salts”did was to “shave” the knap to get right down to the wool base. Like the khaki flannel shirt, removing this knap also removed about a year of trouser value. Then, just before an inspection or liberty, we would turn the trousers inside out, take a bar of wax and run it down the reversed creases. Turning the trousers back to right side out we would then take a hot iron and seal the wax into the creases. We would do the same thing with the jacket blouse. Sharp! You bet!
Brown Shoe Marines: Met a guy in Wal-Mart not long ago wearing a cap with a Marine emblem and made the comment: “Nice cover.” He smiled, replying he hadn’t heard the term “cover” since he got out years ago. I found out he enlisted back in the late 1940’s as I did but only served four years before getting out. “Oh,” he said, “You were an old brown shoe Marine, too.” He didn’t note my puzzled look as we went our separate ways. About four hours later it dawned on me that back in the early days in boot camp we were issued dress shoes that were brown – not mahogany brown -- light brown. Why? Probably because the Navy bought most of our supplies and they wore brown shoes with khaki, ergo, we got the leftovers. We were issued a bottle of shoe dye and one of the first tasks was to daub the shoes with this mahogany dye, then light the liquid with a match and burn the dye into the shoe. Once we had the desired shade we would take rubbing alcohol or after shave lotion and get rid of the excess dye. Now we were ready for spit-shining. Yep, I was a brown shoe Marine!
Junk On The Bunk Inspections: Every once in a while the memory will play tricks. I was filling out a dry cleaning list recently when I remembered how important laundry lists were to me as a young Marine on inspection days. Remember the panic when you discovered that, in trying to save a few bucks for liberty, you hadn’t replaced those two worn-out khaki shirts and a junk-on-the-bunk inspection was coming up? Sweat it? Nope. You just filled in a laundry slip and indicated the two shirts were being laundered. Then you placed the list where the shirts would be laid out and hoped for the best. You wondered just how stupid the inspecting officer had to be not to catch on to that trick!
Parris Island Bivouacs: I don’t know if they still require it but I remember our first boot camp bivouac out at Elliott’s Beach. We made up field transport packs and headed out for two days away from the heat of the Second Battalion grinder. Man, were we tickled to see all that fluffy Spanish moss hanging from those big Cypress Trees! “Great stuff to sleep on tonight,” I told my tentmate as we attached shelter halves before heading further into the boonies to work on fire team tactics. We should have known that if the moss provided any comfort our drill instructors would have forbidden it. Not a word from them. Not even a smile as the whole platoon busied itself gathering the spongy moss before bedding down for the night. I’ve had chigger bites since but nothing to match the ones we received after a night’s sleep on Spanish moss!
Liberty Call: Stationed at Parris Island following recruit training had its advantages. As a fledgling writer with the BOOT Newspaper, liberty meant Savannah! Old hands will remember in the early ‘50s there was no bridge connecting the islands between Beaufort and Savannah. In those days few had cars. You rode a bus to Beaufort, then rode another bus 75 miles to Savannah. Only NCOs were allowed to wear civvies.on liberty. Our uniforms in those days were made of cotton, wash khaki that we would starch so stiff. you had to punch your fist down the trouser legs. Then, standing on a locker box you would slip on your trousers taking great care to disturb as little of the starch as possible. Your buddy would tie your shoes to keep you from bending over. You went through the same routine with your khaki battle jackets – similar to the old Eisenhower jacket. When bloused, most Marines looked somewhat pregnant. Did I mention our starched khaki field scarves? What a trick that was tying one around the cross bar of your “spiffy” where it remained until the starch wore out. During the hour-plus bus ride you stood, holding on to a ceiling strap so you wouldn’t rumple before hitting the first slop chute. After that it was “Katy Bar The Door!” Some of the old salts of that era used to sew pockets shut on both shirt and trousers because you were never supposed to carry anything in them. Wallets and cigarettes were relegated to your socks. In those days the best way to stop guys from bumming was to pull a pack out of your sock, then offer a sweat-stained smoke. We all wore-tailored shirts to which inspecting officers turned a blind eye.
Integration In The Corps: Occasionally in Leatherneck I see letters questioning when the Corps became integrated. Many claim it didn’t take place until the 1960s. Not so. Our Platoon 16 that formed in the Second Recruit Training Battalion in January 1950 had two black Marines. I have often wondered since whatever became of them. Surely anything after what they went through in boot camp would have been a piece of cake! I wish I could remember their names because these were two young men that endured a very difficult three months not only from the drill instructors but, I’m ashamed to say, from some of their platoon mates.
Green-side, brown-side: Proof that 10% never get the word always came when putting together field transport packs. You could always count on 5 or 6 falling out with their ponchos wrong side out.
Reserve Call-up: Shortly after the North Koreans invaded the South, the Corps made a recall of reservists. One morning we woke up and there were thousands of reservists unloading from buses onto the parade decks.