It was about 2 AM when the bus came to an eery stop.
I heard the air brakes make that sound that says “done, all done.” I felt the vibration of the engine stop. It was all quiet.
We had crossed a small bridge about 10 minutes earlier. The tinted windows offered nothing to see in the blackness. We could have been in Times Square or in the middle of Kansas. We were in neither.
We were on a small island off the coast of South Carolina.
We were on Parris Island.
There had been chattering and joking among us on the crowded bus as we’d made our way through the darkness of a South Carolina night. But that had all died down and quickly stopped after we crossed that bridge. Like Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar.”
No one was saying anything anymore. The concern that I’d had hours ago when I’d landed in Charleston, had steadily grown into fear that I could feel in the pit of my stomach. I saw the same thing on the faces of the other guys on the bus. I wondered if they saw the same thing when they looked at my face.
There would be no time for group discussion or personal reflection. Hell was about to be unleashed.
The bus doors opened and suddenly Drill Instructor Sergeant Hayes appeared and no one made a sound or a move. I had never seen anything like this kind of man in my life. The famous Campaign Cover on his head, tilted down and forward so that just the top edge of his eyes were barely visible. His khaki shirt, pressed and perfectly tucked into his olive drab trousers, were adorned by ribbons and stripes on his sleeves indicated that he was a Sergeant of Marines. The edges and creases of his uniform were so sharp you could have cut yourself on them.
You could feel everyone holding their breath. I held mine too.
And then he opened his mouth.
In less time than it has taken me to write this sentence, he yelled, with a tone of voice I’d never heard before, the kind that comes from the depths of the underworld and only becomes more menacing as it fills your ears. Shocking and completely unbelievable. Within the 30 or so seconds he yelled, I heard every foul word I’d ever known — and learned a few new ones — come out of his mouth and somewhere within all of that he told us that we were not worthy to be on “his” island and that we were to get off “his” bus and get our “scummy-worthless-civilian-puke-feet on ‘his’ yellow footprints.”
Then he looked at us with a look that says doom and said, “DO IT!”
All of us trying to get off “his” bus at once, everyone throwing themselves forward in an effort to comply, only making matters worse, creating an intended bottleneck at the front.
What awaited me, and the other 80 members of the platoon we would become, as we got off the bus were the things of nightmares and your worst fears come true. The thick humid air was full of sand fleas and the sound of the yelling of other demonic Drill Instructors, probably 15 in all, as we came flying off the bus, trying to locate those yellow footprints painted on “his” deck.
Let me tell you about those 15 Drill Instructors. They all looked just like Sergeant Hayes and they all sounded just like Sergeant Hayes. And they were ALL, every last one of them, FULL of anger and hatred for everyone of us. As if we had just spat on something sacred.
At one point there were four Drill Instructors on me like pit bulls! One in front of my face. One for each one of my ears. And one directly behind me. The three, inches from my face, were each yelling the foulest and most humiliating things I’d ever known could be said to and about another human being. The level of contempt that they had for me is beyond my ability to describe it. No one has ever hated me with such fury.
And what of the Drill Instructor behind me? While this was going on in front of me, he was hitting me on the back of my head with a swagger stick, a sort of leather riding crop with brass coverings at each end. As the sand fleas feasted on my exposed flesh.
I could not move or flinch while all of this was going on. All the while standing at the POA, the position of attention … which, I was told, was unfit. I was told that I stood like a coward and that I was completely pathetic … that I wasn’t worthy to even imagine the title of “Marine” much less ever say “Marine” aloud. The sewer that was my mouth was filthy and unfit to ever say the word “Marine,” I was loudly informed.
And all of this by 2:15 AM.
What were the next few minutes to bring? What was the next hour to bring. What were the next three months going to bring? My mind could not fathom it.
There were 80 of us who, that night became known as Platoon 398, India Company, Third Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.
For short, we were simply Platoon 398.
Over the next three months, the 80 members of Platoon 398 became just 32.
Only 32 of the original 80 graduated. Only 32 became Marines.
What had happened to the other 48?
I couldn’t say for sure. Some were sent home. Some were injured during training and were sent to the hospital. Some were “recycled” into platoons behind us in training because they weren’t cutting it, yet showed some promise and were being given a second chance.
So proud were we to be among that 32 that some said they’d get the number tattooed on their arms. So proud I was when, three months later — months that were much like those first 15 minutes — on graduation day, my Drill Instructors, including Sergeant Hayes, shook my hand and said, “Congratulations Marine.”
It was the first time I was called “Marine” … and my eyes filled with tears and my heart with pride and joy.
My son Matthew is a Marine. And now my youngest son, Nathan, has announced that he is joining The Corps too.
Nathan and I spent a lot of time together recently driving to Quantico, VA. I told him that I envied him. That I wished that I was on that bus again … crossing that bridge … about to start that odyssey all over again.
He looked at me like he was sure that I was lying or being sarcastic.
I was neither.
That experience has more to do with the man I am today than anything I’ve ever experienced. The experience of a lifetime awaits him and I envy it!
What made the difference in the 32 of us who graduated and became Marines, and the 48 who didn’t. A lot of things, for sure. But without exception, determination and persistence. “I will NOT quit! I will NOT fail!”
Your goals probably aren’t exactly the same as mine were when the bus that carried me to Parris Island came to a stop that night. But achieving your own personal goals will require the exact same thing! The EXACT SAME THING!
Determination and persistence!
I see people quit and give up all the time. Sad. Sad. Sad. “Tony, it’s too hard. Tony, it’s too early. Tony, it’s too hot. Tony, it’s too cold. Tony, it’s too dark … ”
For them, it’s always too something … There is no shortage of excuses or reasons to give up … and no shortage of people to blame for their failures. Giving up is easy. Quitting is simple.
But I see people succeed and achieve all the time too! Great! Outstanding! Awesome!
For them, it’s always possible … There is no shortage of reasons to keep on keeping on, to not give up, to not give in, to not yield, to not quit. Sure it’s hard. But are we ever proud of that which came easy, that cost us nothing?
If you have set a course for fitness, health, and weight loss … don’t quit! Don’t quit!
Whatever your goal is …
Please … don’t quit. You can do this! Do not yield. It will literally change your life! Give no audience to the voice in your head that is telling you to quit and take your ease. Success is closer than you think. Take it one day at a time. You can do this, I promise you!
It’s the difference between 32 and 48.
MOUNT FUJI TOMORROW
The 0530 class will meet at the parking garage on Zach Curlin (Mt. Fuji) on the campus of the U of M. No 0530 class at Christ Methodist.
0645 AND 0830 CLASS NEWS!
The 0645 class is up and runnin’!! This is a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class and will follow the same routine as the 0830 class!
The 0830 class will go on hiatus for the summer at the end of this month. This Friday, May 29 will be the last class until the end of the summer
SUMMER SCHOOL SPECIAL
Have a student who’d like to join USMC Fitness BOOT CAMP for the summer? Special discounted program for summer student recruits! Email me for details!
ZOOM THROUGH THE ZOO
Congratulations to the following Boot Campers who ran the Zoom Through the Zoo 4 Miler last Thursday evening!
Way to go everyone! I hope I didn’t forget anyone. If you ran it and I inadvertently left your name off the list, it’s because I don’t like you and I just want to taunt and torment you! OK, seriously, I apologize. Let me know.
Determination and persistence!
To your continued good health and fitness,
Sergeant Major Tony Ludlow
USMC Fitness BOOT CAMP, Commanding
4888 Southern Ave
Memphis, TN 38117