Terry Thomas

The Mess Hall

Mess Hall: By Terry Thomas

I arrived in San Diego at sunset on my way to join the Marine Corp. I had already signed all the papers and once off the plane I was walking around the airport with this big vanilla envelope under my arm. A well dressed soldier approached me and asked if I had joined the Corp and I nodded yes. He then directed me to a door and told me to take a seat on the bus that had USMC written on the side. And I did.

The bus was almost full of young men and everyone was talking about this or that when two Drill Instructors came aboard and closed the doors behind them. The first word spoken was “Shut Up”. And we did, it was quite as church inside that bus.

The DI’s then began with something like this. This is not a field trip nor are you still in school. So don’t raised your hands, don’t ask any questions and most of all do not speak unless you are spoken to.

I think I understand why what happened next was suppose to happen. When the DI’s finished their speech they asked if there were any questions and some kid raised his hand. Bad move, I mean really a bad move.

The DI’s moved quickly towards him and started screaming at the top of their vocal range. They called him everything you can imagine and then some. They wanted to know after having a little fun with him if he did not understand what they said about raising your hand.

He replied “You” and that was all he was able to say before they verbally unloaded on him again. The word you, or ewe type of you was a term for a female sheep and they really let him know that.

The word you was forbidden in boot camp if you wanted to refer to someone in that manner you were to use their rank or rating. An example would be instead of saying, but you told me so. You had to say the drill instructor told me so. You was forbidden and all of us were reminded of that many times during basic training.

After all the fun was over they did ask again if anybody had any questions but it fell on death ears. They then proceeded to tell us what to do upon the buses arrival at the camp. There were hundreds of yellow painted shoe prints on the asphalt and when we left the bus we were to find a pair and put our feet on them and stand still.

The foot prints had toes pointed outwards slightly a position your feet would learn to find many times everyday of your life in the Marine Corp. So when the bus stopped and the doors opened we were be yelled to hurry up and find those prints.

They looked newly painted I would imagine from some of the boys from the Motivation Platoon. A little break from moving sand around all day.

By now it was several hours after dark and we were led to a building where through the door we went only to find a lot of people waiting in front of us. We stood for hours with no place to sit and several warnings about leaning on the walls. When you finally made it out the other door the only thing missing was your hair. Yep that was the barber shop and it only specialized in one type of hair cut, short.

So now we were led to the next building and once again through the door we went just to stand and wait in line. When I finally reached the open screened window a Marine ask what my boot size was and I was given a new pair of boots. The next window gave me my clothing I would wear while in boot camp and the last window gave me my bedding. Then out the door we went and formed four rows deep and twelve boys wide each row.

We were turned and told to march although we had no idea how to do that. But you could hear the DI’s commands, left, right, left. And his screaming when one of us was not in step to his calling.

It was now sunlight and as we walked to where ever we were going I could smell food and see the line of men waiting there and I thought finally we get to eat. I was wrong.

They marched us to a little paved road that had Quonset huts lining both sides and we were told to stop. There were four DI’s there and each one took one row of the twelve boys and led them into the huts.

Once inside we were told to choose our bunk, strip out of our civilian clothes and put on our military clothing along with the new boots we now had in our procession. And then we were told to fall out outside and line back up exactly like we were when we arrived.

Once everyone was back on the road and in the right position we were turned right and marched out of the area we had just visited. I thought breakfast at last. I was wrong again.

Once we rounded the corner of the road it ran for what seemed like forever along a chain link fence. And we were introduced to running. Now the Marine Corp did not care about body size, color or style as they had forty eight young men of all types and several of them were over weight, I mean a lot.

So down the road we went in what was called double time with new boots that hurt with every step, no sleep, no water and no food since what ever you ate the evening before you left home. I later learned the mark where we turned around and heading back was ¾’s of a mile. So the entire run was only 1 ½ miles.

On the way back one of the larger boys fell out, bent over gasping for air and holding his side. I figured we would just stop and wait until he caught he breath. I was wrong again. The DI turned us around and made us run back to where he was and then we had to run circles around him while the DI took pleasure in screaming at him and calling him names. Blaming him for making the rest of us suffer because he was no more than a little school girl.

I think that got to him as he started running again and we made it back to the corner of the road. Once there we were stopped and marched back to our huts. Blistered feet from the boots, at least mine were one on each heel.

We were told we could drink from the faucet at the wash bin and once done fall in on the road for chow. Chow was the Marine Corp word for food and I did not need and interpreter to tell me that. It was also told to us at that time that no one could smoke until the DI’s light the smoke lamp, which was just a phrase they used to OK smoking. It did not light for seven days.

Once we reached the mess hall, the Marine Corp terminology for a café we found ourselves once again waiting behind what looked like all of San Diego’s population. And so we waited. While waiting the Di instructed us on what to do and how to act.

We were to get a food tray, go through the food line bring that tray to the table where he would be standing. We were instructed to stand in front of our chairs until Grace was said. After Grace was said we were to sit down and eat. And when told to stand up, we would get up and exit the door and following the pathway around to the back of the mess hall where we would empty our trays. Then report back to the front of the mess hall for formation. And all of this would be done on a run.

We were so dang hungry we didn't care; we would have run backwards as long as we could eat. So finally standing in front of that chair, looking at that food and the smell, man the smell was heavenly at least to me.

Then came the command. Bow your heads and we did. Pray and we did. Sit and we did. Eat and we did, at least for about 5 seconds and then the command came, get up and we jumped to our feet. Get out and we left on the run.

The good news was it was about two hundred yards around to the back of the mess hall and we shoveled in that food on the run I even put my bread roll inside my shirt for later and gulped down my milk.

My first meal as a Boot in the United States Marine Corp.

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