6: Running Awfully Close To The Wind.

Sunday noon[1]

Dear Girls–darling girls!

You have really been wonderful to me–writing so often that I always get a letter at every mail call–the envy of the squad–and such swell letters–light, gay, and funny. The best ones you have ever written, Mother, and yours are as good or better than ever, G.

I hope you all haven’t been worried, but honest to John, I haven’t had a minute. I have never worked so hard & long as I have this last week. Really, you have no conception–I didn’t, of how much one can do. Every minute of the day, and the day is 24 hours long.

They turned the screws on this last week, and it will be worse next–then gradually easier after that, so I’m told. And worst of all I haven’t been at full functioning power so far–when the last week’s shots wore off I got a slight case of dysentery–partly the change of water & food I guess, but I had a continuous stomach ache for 3 days–then the shots again, and now everyone in my bay has a cold & sore throat, and I think I’m getting that too.

Also I got into trouble last week–while marching, I brushed off a mosquito that was biting hell out of my ear, and the sarge ordered me to write out the position of a soldier at attention (125 words) 100 times & hand it in the next morning. Figure out this total–and I am a slow writer anyway–I sat up all night, of course, under a dim red light in the john. Just made it then, so didn’t have a chance to clean my rifle; so with 2/3 of the rest of the platoon I had to write out the care & cleaning of the rifle from the Garand book–taking 2½ hours. Then, because nobody in our platoon could roll a heavy marching order for the first time in ½ hour, we rolled them and marched with them all Saturday afternoon, and [have to] turn in two diagrams of it tomorrow. We’ve got the toughest sarge in the company, and he boasts that he’s bounced more men out of this class than any other man in the outfit. One’s gone, two more are going next week; and Stock, the Yale boy, has been canned already.[2]

I haven’t had any warnings yet, but he’s got his eye on me on account of the attention thing. He liked it, though, that I sat up to do it. And I have been made squad leader for the weekend, though that doesn’t mean too much; everybody gets it in time. I’m not in danger yet, but another boner and I will be. Believe me, it puts you on edge–I’ve been running awfully close to the wind for the last few days. I figure that if I get through the next week all right, then I won’t have too much trouble from there in.

One fifth of it is gone now, thank God. Officer’s Class is a breeze compared to this. And the climate–Lord–I have never been so hot, and it’s always this way. March for five minutes and your shirt is sodden with sweat–five more minutes and your pants are wringing wet. I have been perspiring so heavily that believe it or not, it runs down my legs and into my shoes so much that it squishes.

That’s swell about your job, Gretch–but I’ve gotta go now­–study–we had three exams last week and six next. Tomorrow we throw hand grenades for four hours.

And daddy was right–that bayonet practice is the worst of all–God!

All love,

Phil

Editor’s Notes:
“The Battalion rises abruptly at 0540. On the dying notes of the bugle comes the bellow of the day’s duty officer–’off your cots and into your socks.’ A sleepy-head lingering in bed has his cot jerked up and down by an irate non-com. Tumbling into clothes and grabbing rifles men fall out by 0550. Then comes roll call. The men push and heave the nine-pound demons until arms are ready to drop off and the rifle seems weighty as a mortar barrel. Those dawn-light calisthenics are for hardy souls. All survive and sprint around an endless block before returning to the barracks.

“Then to shave, wash, completely dress, sweep and swab the deck and down to mess formation in fifteen minutes. After chow, back to the cleaning detail, tidy bunks, lock lockers, and away for the first formation of the morning at 0730. There are generally four hours of mixed class work, practical instruction and drill in the morning. Then chow again at noon and back to the books or the weapons for another three hours beginning at 1300 and ending at 1600. Home for a brief glance at the mail, if any, and then three quarters of an hour of supervised athletics. Back to barracks, wash, dress for evening chow and if one hasn’t landed in any black book during the day, he is free to do what he chooses for the evening.

“Candidates generally choose to clean and disassemble rifles, polish shoes and belts, study lessons, write home, shoot the breeze, attend the free theater or do washing. After a few attempts at ironing shirts, most men prefer the Post laundry. Taps come at 2200 and lights go out. There are always plenty of PFCs scurrying around in the dark, caught in the midst of a letter, a shoe detail, or with rifle parts strewn all over a bed. Each of the four companies has a school room and lights are on there until 2300. As a last resort, there is always the Head (Marine for washroom) where the sleepy PFC can study, write and polish undisturbed.”

– excerpt from “Marine Corps Candidates’ Class” in the 12th Reserve Officers’ Class yearbook, 1942.

Candidate Wood wound up in First Sergeant Thompson’s “black book”. He got off comparatively easy: a favorite trick at Parris Island was to march an errant boot’s entire platoon into the marshes or to the beach, there to be eaten up by flies and mosquitos–and heaven help the Marine who itched.

3marines
Three tired candidates at Quantico. Phil (at left) and Roy Wood (no relation, at right) flank an unidentified buddy. Note the PFC stripes on all three Marines.

William Manchester, who entered OCS in 1944, recalled a “good chit/bad chit” system for grading candidates. Classroom proficiency might net a candidate a good chit, but tucking his tie into his belt (an Army custom) might erase it again. Candidates struggled mightily to keep the minutiae of military life in mind, while undergoing intense physical training–including “that bayonet practice.”

An officer candidate at Quantico runs with fixed bayonet through a live-fire exercise. USMC photo.
An officer candidate at Quantico runs with fixed bayonet through a live-fire exercise. USMC photo.

The training regimen was no joke: to lead Marines, the future officers had to be uncompromisingly tough, and many candidates met the same fate as Jack Stock: washed out, there one day and gone the next. A post-war study, Marine Corps Ground Training in World War II, found that the majority who failed the course did so due to a lack of leadership capabilities, rather than academic failings.

Some of the rejected wound up as Marine enlisted men, others dropped out of the service altogether. Less common were those who quit for personal or moral reasons; Phil would later lead one such man (Steve Hopkins) into combat, and two others (Eugene Sledge and William Manchester) would later write classic memoirs of their time in combat.

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_____
FOOTNOTES:
[1] Letter not dated, but recorded by GWW as August 10, 1942. This would make sense, it being about the end of Phil’s second week of Candidate’s Class.
[2] Undaunted, Jack Stock turned around and enlisted in the US Army, going on to serve 34 months overseas in Europe. He survived to complete his studies in 1947, worked as an attorney, and rose to prominence in Connecticut Democrat politics in the 1950s as a State Senator from Bridgeport.

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