by Joe Holt
Gilbert was a funny fella. He wasn’t a
joker by any means, but he had an attitude
that always made me smile. Odd? Yeah, I guess, but he had a calm, slow talkin’ way about him that sorta stood out when everybody else in our Marine Corps was so damn excitable. I’d rarely seen him show off, but more than once I’d seen him be the instigator of agitation for the sole purpose of his own entertainment. Gil could be a real shit disturber, that’s for sure. He wasn’t mean. He just couldn’t let things get too boring.
Gilbert and I went through Sea School together. Most of the fellas in our Sea
School class had recently returned from tours in Vietnam. A salty group. Not your
normal Sea School class of squared away PFC’s, but a herd of NCO’s that didn’t have the intensity that is normally associated with such a squared away outfit. All in all we gave it a good effort though.
One portion of our training for sea duty was attending the three day Fire Fighting
School. The Navy reckoned this was necessary so we’d be prepared to deal with any shipboard fires. I’m pretty sure all sailors had to go to this school, but there sure weren’t many Marines. The school was crawlin’ with sailors, thousands of’em, but there were only ten or fifteen of us Marines. We definitely stood out from the crowd. This condition only made Gilbert all the happier. He loved to mess with sailor’s minds, and in this place there were sailors as far as the eye could see. It’s hard to explain how Gil reacted to all these sailors, but one event does stand out. Gil outdid even himself.
All instruction at this school was given outdoors. We pupils would sit in bleachers. Gil and I had been sitting in these bleachers for an hour or so for some class or
another. When the instructor told us to take a break Gil stood up and announced to
anyone in the immediate area in a clear voice, “I gotta take a dump! Where’s the head around this outfit?”!
The sailors were naturally slightly intimidated by this Marine Corporal with the
bravado to boast of his impending bowel movement, but this resulted in total silence by all in attendance. Most of’em looked at Gil like he was slightly nuts, which wasn’t far off the mark, believe me. I was impressed with the effect this had on the group and I felt Gil needed just a bit of support to add a certain legitimacy to his request so I said, “ Ya know what Gil, me too. I’m about ready to bust. There’s gotta be a head around here somewhere. Let’s go find it.”
Now I didn’t necessarily need to make a head call at that point in time, but I was
more than willin’ to keep up appearances so Gil and I clambered down from the top row of the bleachers and confronted the Petty Officer in charge.
“Where’s the nearest head!”
Gil had such a sense of urgency in his voice that the sailor instantly started giving
us detailed directions. I had to smile at the situation. This fella was so determined. So exact. He told us to go down this street then take a right, then a left, then through the double doors to the mess hall, then through the mess hall through another door on the right. Perfect. Quick. Practiced. We were impressed.
I took a first step in that direction when Gil blurts, “Fall in Corporal Holt!”
At this point I have to take a moment to refresh everybody’s memory of Close
Order Drill. The Marine Corps is proud of it’s tradition of military bearing and
discipline, and nowhere is this more evident than it’s use of Close Order Drill. In 1967 Marines marched everywhere. If there were three or more Marines on their way
somewhere, they marched in formation. If there were even two Marines, they marched in step. Marines never straggled. Marines did everything “by the numbers”, which meant that any and all movement was performed in unison. No matter what task was being attempted, the Marine Corps had a drill for it. To an outsider this appeared silly, but to us it was just the way things were done.
Drill was an art in the Marine Corps. It wasn’t just yellin’ commands. There
were certain ways to do things. Certain voices used. Certain attitudes. For instance...to get a group of men to march you first had to have them “Fall in”. Then you had to have them come to “Attention”. Then “Right Face”, and so on. No movement without the proper command. All this with a degree of authority. The “Command of Execution” was that part of a command that actually started things movin’. “Attention” would be given in two parts. “Atten....TION”! “Right Face” would turn out to be “Right...FACE!” The second part, the louder part, is the Command of Execution. Once a guy starts practicing his Close Order Drill the Command’s of Execution tend to get a mite indistinct.
“Atten...HUT” or “Right...HAAYH! We always knew what was meant, but to an
outsider it may have seemed harsh guttural blurt.
To Gil, sailors were outsiders.
So when Gil said, “Fall in Corporal Holt!” I had to smile. Gil was showin’ off.
These sailors knew as much about drill as my Granny, and could care less.
Since there were only two of us there was no military necessity to march, but Gill
was in a mood and I wasn’t gonna let him down. He and I stood side by side and started off. With a loud clear voice Gil started, “Forward.....HAARH!!
Then he started to count cadence. Loudly.
“Trip to yer lep, Ohp, trip to yer lep! Lep. Lep. Lep.”
I couldn’t help but smilin’. The sailors were stumblin’ over each other to get out
of our way. Gil kept a straight face which made me smile all the more. As we
approached the end of the street Gil barked, “Column right.....HAARH!”
Gil was gonna keep this up all the way to the head! I was lovin’ it! My smile
turned to giggles. It’s hard to march, much less keep a military bearing, while your
gigglin’. Down the street we marched. “Column left....HAARH!”
We had an audience by now. I swear there were sailors following us just to see
what we were up to.
“Trip to yer lep, Ohp, trip to yer lep!”
We got to the double doors of the mess hall. Gil got inventive.
“On my command, open door....HAARH!”
“One step forward....HAARH!”
By this time I was gigglin’ like a girl. All the sailors in the mess hall immediately
stopped what they were doing. All eyes followed us as Gil continued.
We marched toward the door to the right, and as we approached it some sailor was
coming out. He was so startled by the site of us that he held the door open so we didn’t miss a beat as we marched through.
“Trip to yer lep, Ohp, trip to yer lep! Column...HALT!”
The door swung closed behind us. What we saw before us was a line of sinks on
the left and a line of stalls on the right. Twenty or thirty of’em. Ten or fifteen sailors
lookin’ at us like we’re from Mars. Some combing their hair. They stopped in their
tracks. One guy coming out of a stall. He froze. I’m tryin’ like hell to stay at attention, but I’m laughin’ so hard my guts are hurtin’ from holding it in.
“On my command, three steps forward.....HAARH!” His command of execution
in this relatively small room made everybody in the place jump about an inch. This last maneuver lined us up abreast of two stalls.
“One step forward....HAARH!”
As the stall door swung closed behind me I fell apart. I started laughin’ so hard I
damn near peed myself. But Gil wasn’t done.
As I turned around in that small stall my laughter bordered on hysteria. Gil was a
star. He was playin’ this for all it was worth. To this day I have this image of those
sailors in that head staring at those two stalls.
“Drop drawers...HAARH!” All this echoing from his stall.
And finally, “Ready....SEATS!”
As I sat there on the commode, all snottin’ myself from laughin’ so hard, I heard a
few of the sailors laugh, but at that moment Gil shouted one more command from his
“Alright you turds....FALL OUT!”
I thought I was gonna die.