Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day putting into practice one of the skills I learned when I was in the Marine Corps. I do not recall if I picked it up during the twelve weeks I spent at Quantico, Virginia, in the Platoon Leader Class (PLC) prior to getting commissioned; or at Basic School after I was commissioned where I spent 6 months again in Quantico learning the necessary skills to become an effective Marine officer.
Basic School was not as difficult as PLC back in those days. The Marines used the 12 weeks of PLC during the hot Virginia summers to weed out those it did not think would become decent officers. We were called candidates and given enough rope to hang ourselves. In the latter six weeks I believe we started with over forty candidates in my platoon and a little over twenty completed the course.
The lieutenant in charge of training us for those weeks was named Joe Waters. He was mean. unsmiling and demanding. At the end we had a little farewell party. At the time a popular song was Waterloo by by John D. and Marijohn Wilkin. We wrote our own words to the tune and asked: “when will you meet your Waters Joe” indicating it was something to dread.
PLC memories involve putting together candidates from the South, quite a few from Mississippi, with ones from the Northeast like Massachusetts and neighboring states. We got along well even though I did not understand some of the words spoken by the Mississippi guys and they found fun gathering around me having me pronounce words they wrote down on a piece of paper. I can still see them coming up to me with sly grins on their faces with a piece of paper on which was written the word “banana,” asking me to pronounce it, and breaking into uproarious laughter when I did with my Boston accent.
Thinking back you had young college age kids from the South and those from the North going through intensive training, drilling for hour after hour, hiking over the mountain trails, running obstacle courses, etc. One thing that you did not have was any disputes over the South versus the North. No one spoke of the Confederate cause or the Civil War. We looked upon each other as Americans, nothing else, who volunteered to serve in uniform to protect our nation.
As officers at Basic School there were a great many from the South and the North. I was part of a fire team and the four other guys were Southern Baptists. They all told me they could not vote for Kennedy for president because he was Catholic but my being Catholic was all right with them. We got along great. There again there was no talk of the South and the North’s troubles. There was no sectional hate which we see today; we all had a common purpose to serve our country, all of it.
I often wonder if the military puts aside sectional differences as we did way back then. Rather than looking first to better our country we are now like two nations: the red states and blue states. That is why I believe doing away with the draft was a huge mistake. No longer do young folk from different sections of the country get to meet other Americans. Without knowing what makes people from other areas tick it is easy to dislike them.
Anyway I thought of those things today and how a nation divided against itself cannot stand. We do have a greater good which is preserving the nation I served back those many, many years ago.
Oh, before I leave, I must mention the skill I learned in the Marines that occupied me most of the day. It is ironing clothes.