Surviving the march and earning my stripes

By: Robert Lee - Contributing Columnist

In the Marine Corps of today, you have a 72-hour class that is called the Crucible — it is very intense training. In my days on Parris Island it was called Elliott’s Beach, and it lasted for a week.

This was where you were taught how to patrol, make booby traps, throw grenades, live-fire machine guns and find mines. There were a lot of sleepless nights during that week.

There are four squads in a training platoon during boot camp. I had been squad leader of all four squads at different times in training. I also had been fired from all four of those squads.

Now that we were at Elliott’s Beach, I had picked up the highest position in the platoon. I was now the guide. I carried the pike with our platoon flag on it. It is also called the Guide Arm. I was at the top of the heap — I had status . It didn’t last long.

We were at the infiltration course. This was where you had to do the low crawl under live machine gun fire and pass demo bunkers (demolition bunkers are where explosives are blown). It was up to the guide to make sure that all of the platoon had made it across or had at least started on the course before he could start his crawl.

I had done my duty; I was the last to get started. I did not know that I was the last man out of our series of four platoons.

When I had made it across, our Senior Staff Sgt. Still was waiting. In his mind, I had let the whole platoon down by being the last man across the course. He grabbed me by my collar, popped me in the back of the head and fired me again. It was to the end of 1st Squad I was sent.

We still had about three days left on this exercise. The Senior made sure I paid for being the last man. I caught guard duty every night until we got back to main side.

On the last day of Elliott’s Beach we, force-marched for 10 miles, in and out of every trail on Parris Island. All of the recruits were about to drop — little food and even less sleep had taken its toll on us all.

The bugs had eaten us alive and we were all in very poor shape, but we still kept on going. We had no choice.

On the way back in, I was still at the back of the squad. I was dirt in the eyes of Staff Sgt. Still, but that did change.

As we marched, I saw one of the recruits was going to drop out, so I took his rifle. We were halfway through the march, I took another rifle. ‘How much more, how much more?’ was all I could think to myself.

We were within the last mile. I saw one of the guys who I went in with fall. Tim Hill was his name. I stopped to help. I took his pack.

At this point, I had my rifle, two packs and two other rifles. I can’t tell you why I was able to do this — I only know that I had never dropped out of a force march and it was not going to happen now.

When we got to the barracks, the Senior walked to the back of the platoon and saw me standing there with all of this gear hanging off of me. It was at that point that I could do no wrong in his eyes. The guide was fired and I was rehired.

As I have said, it was a love-hate relationship between the two of us. He had seen something in me that was above and beyond what he had seen in the others. That is the reason why I received my stripes when we graduated . There were four others who got their stripes also.

I am not saying that I was any better than the others. I just tried harder.

It would be some years later and I would meet Staff Sgt. Still again. He did remember me. As we spoke, I asked him, “Why did you put me through pure hell in boot camp?”

His response was: “I know your father and I wanted to see if you could take it.”

All I could do was smile. These lessons have served me well all of my life. These three months I have written about not only follow me, they follow every man who still today calls himself Marine.

Robert Lee is a concerned citizen and former U.S. Marine who owns and operates Rockingham Guns and Ammo.

Robert Lee

Contributing Columnist


This column is the final installment of Robert Lee’s four-part series on his experience as a Marine Corps recruit in boot camp. The first column was published on Saturday, the second on Tuesday and the third on Wednesday. Lee’s regular Saturday column returns in this weekend’s edition of the Daily Journal.