A couple of weeks into the training schedule it started to rain. And rain. And rain some more. Cold. Mud. Just overall misery. I was sure the weather was somehow called down on us by some shithead in the sky.
As the rain started so did my descent. It began with a runny nose. Then a cough. Then a fever. As the weeks went by, when wed run, I was the bubbly, snotty, wheezing one. Everybody could hear me. On night runs you could hear me for miles. Honest! I never went to sick bay. Not that theyd let us, but I always felt sort of noble when other guys did.
Our training would be complete in time for us to get our first leave before Christmas. I wasnt gonna let anything keep me from Christmas leave. Every time Id cough guys would look at me in horror. Sometimes bits would fly out. That was really embarrassing. Nobody wanted to sit near me at chow, let me tell ya. I kept telling myself I could make it. Come on, Christmas!!!
Two high points. Believe it or not, one of them was the gas chamber. We all remember the gas chamber, now dont we girls. Theyd walk twenty or so of us into an old quonset hut with our gas masks on. The object of this travesty was to teach us about gas masks, but we all know it was nothing less than torture. The room would be so smoky with tear gas you could hardly see ten feet. We were told to remove our gas mask, sing the Marine Corps Hymn, then put our gas mask back on, clear it, then march calmly out the door. (The hatch! The hatch!) Nice theory, but in truth, when the masks came off, we all gagged and snorted. Couldnt see. Eyes burning like hell. Minor convulsions. Some guys fell to their knees. All eight sinus cavities would drain simultaneously and immediately. I found this to be personally beneficial. For the first time in weeks, as I finally got outside, I could breathe. My head had cleared. I sometimes wonder who had to clean that quonset hut. I would hope they just used a flame thrower because I know I left a quart or two of mystery matter on the deck of that place. This concept disgusts even me, believe me.
The other high point of ITR was one particular mail call. My granny had sent me some licorice. I loved licorice. Still do. Long ropes of black licorice. They didnt have that kind of licorice in many places back then. I think it was Sees Candy. Of course I shared it with my buds, but I hid some in my footlocker for occasions when I needed to spoil myself. This little box of licorice made me feel wealthy somehow. A high point Ill always remember, which leads me to the real story.
Our last Friday. Training was over. We were turning in our 782 gear, squaring our areas away, then liberty for the weekend. On Monday morning we would all go on leave. My cough had gotten worse, if thats possible. I had this nasty backache in the middle of my back, and I couldnt breath real well. On the march to turn our gear in, it got so I couldnt stand up straight. I was marching like some sort of hunchback. And wheezing. I was simply a walkin pile of shit. Ambling along, all caddywhompus, crosseyed, snottier than hell. What a sight.
When we got back to our area the Duty NCO asked if any of us wanted to go to sick bay. I swear all hundred and something guys in the formation turned around and looked at me. What?, I thought. Oh yeah. I guess Id better. There were a couple of other guys that stepped forward too. We all got some lip from the Corporal about being "Sick, Lame, or Lazy". He gave us pieces of paper and told us to give it to the Corpsman at sick bay. I didnt even know where sick bay was. As it turns out, it was at Camp Horno, about a mile or two down the road. I went to my quarters, tucked a couple of lengths of licorice in my pocket, and started the walk to Horno with the other misfits.
I just couldnt walk right. All bent over. Breathing started to hurt. The other guys just kept on going. Eventually they turned around to see what was taking me so long. "Go on", I said. "Ill be fine." When they were a hundred yards ahead or so, I took out some of my precious licorice and took a tug of it. I could barely taste it, but it really made me feel better. Not healthier, but better. In my feverish little haze, with my occasional chaws of licorice, I eventually made it to Horno sick bay. What a hell hole!
It was a concrete structure. A waiting room about fifteen by thirty. No heat. It was about forty something degrees outside, but it was thirty something degrees inside. Guys just packed in. Most standing. There were benches along the walls, but not nearly enough seats for all of us. We were given a number, and told to wait. As guys got called I eventually got to sit on a bench. I sat there, munching my licorice, waiting for my life to end or my number to be called, whichever came first. I fell asleep. Only a minute, Im sure, but when my number was called the guy next to me gave me a shove. I tried to jump to my feet, but no dice. I almost fell over. It was tough trying maintain any sort of military bearing when you cant even stand up straight. I approached the desk. There were three Corpsmen. One stuck a thermometer in my mouth and another started asking me questions.
"Whats wrong with you?", he said in a very sarcastic manner. All three of them acted as if everybody in the place was some sort of low life. Like we were taking up their valuble time.
"Ive got a bad cold", I croaked.
"Do you have a fever?"
"I know I did, but I think its gone down now." Me trying to be noble again.
One ofem pulled the thermometer out of my mouth and said, "Youve got a temp of a hundred and three, dummy!" They all looked at me like I was some sort of idiot.
"Are you spitting shit up?"
"What color? Yellow or grey?"
Now this is where I had a decision to make. I knew Id been coughing up yellow gunk for a week, but that isnt what they asked. They asked what color gunk I was spitting out now. Knowing full well the implications of my reply I said, "Sorta black, really."
Even the clerk looked up. The three of them looked at each other, then looked at me. Again like I was some sort of moron. The thermometer one swung open the door next to the desk. He said, "Spit, dipshit."
Outside was a gravel area. I stood my ground about six feet from the door and let go with a monster hunk of licorice laced mystery muck. Good arc. Good distance. As this flying object reached its apex I could sense an immediate change in the Corpsmens attitude. By the time it hit the gravel one ofem had me by the arms. He guided me to a chair at the side of the desk and sat me down. All three were impressed.
One of them quickly entered a door to the rear of the desk. He he returned in less than thirty seconds. In these thirty seconds the remaining two Corpsmen stared at me. Silently. Intently. Ive often wondered what they they were thinking. I was assisted to my feet, then led through the door to the inner sanctum of sick bay, leaving all the rest of the sick, lame and lazy in that ice box of a waiting room, where I was met by an honest to God doctor. I didnt think they even existed in the Marine Corps! Nobody ever sees a doctor.
This Captain doctor took out his stethescope and listened to my chest. In less than fifteen minutes, Id had an Xray, and was given two bottles of medicine,and an envelope of pills. The doctor said that I was to be on bed rest. I mentioned to him that I was going home on leave the following Monday. He obviously didnt think much of that idea, but the look on my face probably convinced him of my resolve in the matter. I was going home and that was that.
He told me that when I returned to my Company area I was to fill up my canteen, hang it on the head of my bunk, and go to bed. I was then to drink half of one of my bottles of medicine, then take one of the pills. He told me this a few times. I was to be in bed before I took the medicine. It would make me sleepy. When I woke up I was to drink from the canteen and then take another half bottle of medicine and another pill. I was to do this until the bottled medicine was gone, but I was to keep taking the pills, twice a day, until they were gone. He told me to stay in bed until Monday morning. "Doctors orders." He got somebody to give me a ride back to my Company area. I felt luxurious.
When I walked into the Company office and told them I was on "bed rest" they all gave me hell, but a note from the doctor was something rarely seen in those parts so off I went to my hut. All the other guys in my Company were getting squared away for weekend liberty. They were excited. Two days of liberty, then home for the holidays. They felt sorry for me cuz I was restricted to bed rest. I didnt mind a bit. I felt like hell, and sleep was a rare thing indeed during the training schedule. I was looking forward to a couple of days in bed.
I got a canteen from somewhere, hung it on the end of my rack, stripped down to my skivvies, folded my utilities, then hit the hay. As I sat up in bed, as all the guys were dousing themselves with cologne, and knotting their ties, I took one of my bottles of medicine from under my pillow, and slugged down half of it.. Then I washed one of the pills down with a couple of gulps from the canteen. I laid down. I was asleep in minutes.
And a good sleep it was.
Somebody was shaking the hell outa me. What? Leave me alone! Im on bed rest! I finally opened my eyes, and the guys were still getting dressed for liberty. What the hell was going on? Garrett was the guy who slept in the lower rack across from me. He was shaking me by the arm.
"Get up, godamit, weve got formation in fifteen minutes!"
I was really confused now. I sat up. A couple of other guys started yelling at me to get dressed It took me at least a minute to get my brain in gear. It was Monday morning!!!! Id slept the whole weekend! The more I thought about it I knew Id been conscious at least a few times that weekend. The bottles of medicine were empty, and some of the pills were gone, but it all seemed like a dream.
I hopped down from my rack and nearly fell down. The whole place was spinning. I was completely goofy, but I felt like a million bucks. I headed to the shower. A quick one. The guys had gotten my uniform out, and had stuffed my other junk in my sea bag. I got dressed. It wasnt like I needed help to get dressed, but every item I needed was handed to me. First shirt, then pants, and so on. I put the packet of my pills in my sock. In no time at all I was in formation, with sea bag.
I fell asleep on the bus to the airport. I fell asleep on the plane home. I woke up on Tuesday afternoon, at home, in my own bed, nearly wondering what the hell had happened. By Wednesday I felt completely healthy. Absolutely terrific.
Im always left with a couple of thoughts when I tell this story. One. Ive thanked my Grandmother time and time again for that licorice she sent me on the Christmas of 65. Two. I wonder what the Corpsmen are thinking, even to this day, about the Marine that spit up black goo. And finally three. What was in that medicine I took, and can I get some on the street today? I can always appreciate a good nap.