Biographies & Memoirs

A Way Forward: My Years In The Marine Corps

By

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Synopsis

Can a teenage boy struggling with school, family, and drugs turn his life around to become successful? Not without the help of a nearly two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old American institution called the United States Marine Corps. A Way Forward: My Years in the Marine Corps reveals how a Marine recruiter used every old trick in the book to compel young Christian Dattwyler to sign his life away for government service. The memoir delves into his mindset as he experiences legendary Marine Corps boot camp, ‘Grunt’ training, and his life while assigned to the Fleet Marine Force.

CHAPTER ONE The Long Drive to P.I.


MEPS Station Tampa

My father asked me what I would be wearing to report in this morning. I was a

touch on the nervous side. It was September 23, 1987 — the day that I was

heading out to Parris Island. I was prepared as I could ever be to get physically

and mentally abused for thirteen weeks in order to earn the title of United

States Marine. I responded to my father’s question by appearing to him in a

ragged-out set of clothes. Such attire consisted of a cut-off white T-shirt,

Bermuda shorts, and flip-flops. Not a lot of thought went into my selection of

clothes for the trip. I figured they were going to throw away my civilian clothes

once I got off the bus anyway. The stress of wondering what was in store for

me in the next twenty-four hours weighed more heavily on my head than trying

to figure out what to wear!

Jumping into my father’s ten-year-old BMW 318i, we proceeded to drive

the two-hour trip from Cape Coral to Tampa, Florida. Once arrived in

downtown Tampa, I would meet Marine Sergeant Hagmann at the Military

Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) facility. Every state in America has at

least three or four MEPS, usually located in the state’s larger cities. MEPS is

where I would be put through physical tests, urine tests, medical evaluations,

and eventually swear my oath to defend the United States before boarding the

bus to Parris Island, South Carolina.

On the drive up, I was uncharacteristically quiet. A lot of stuff was

spinning through my head: What have I done? No turning back now. My

easygoing life is now over. Just weeks ago, my father took me to the movie theater

to watch Full Metal Jacket, a Stanley Kubrick film that had just opened. The first

half of the movie was set in Parris Island, during recruit training for the

Vietnam War. It was brutally vicious and realistic. The man who played the DI

must have been an actual drill instructor because he portrayed it so realistically.

Did I really need to see this movie just days prior to leaving for Parris Island?

Probably not. I now had a glimpse of what terrible things were in store for me

the next three months plus.

Finally arriving at MEPS Tampa, my father let me out of the car at the

door marked “USMC Candidates.” He looked me in the eye, shook my hand

(he wasn’t one for hugs), and said that he was proud of me for making this

decision. His one caveat was that I should have chosen the Navy, rather than

the Marines (he was an old Navy hand).

Walking through the USMC door, I was met and greeted by Sgt Hagmann,

my recruiter who played a major part in coercing me into signing a year ago.

Sgt Hagmann grouped me up with about ten other young guys like myself and

told us to wait outside the Master Sergeant’s office. While waiting, the gruff,

hard looking Master Sergeant’s eyes looked me over through his doorway. He

screamed, “Sgt Hagmann! Report to my office immediately!” As Sgt Hagmann

came back with a cup of coffee, the Master Sergeant chewed his ass out bigtime.

“What the f@#! are you doing bringing in a potential recruit dressed like

we fished him in off the f@#*ing beach?! Get that man some acceptable

civilian attire, now!”

“Sure, Top!” Sgt Hagmann did a quick about-face and leaned into me

saying, “Don’t worry about the Master Sergeant, he’s always cranky before he’s

had his coffee. I’ll be right back with some proper civilian clothes for you to

change into.”

One of Sgt Hagmann’s corporals came back in ten minutes and handed me

a paper bag with clothes. They must have gone out to Goodwill to get this

outfit. In the brown paper bag were a pair of brown penny loafers, an oversized

pair of flared out bell-bottom jeans, and a ’60s or ’70s era terry cloth shirt.

Once I changed into my newly acquired duds, I looked in a mirror and realized

that I now resembled the obscure underground comic characters, Freak

Brothers. “Oh well,” I thought to myself. “I just have to wear these weirdo

clothes until I get off the bus at Parris Island tonight. I will never have to see

these out of style clothes again! I wouldn’t even care if the Marines burned

these outdated garments with the trash!”

After hours of standing on lines, being run through a variety of tests, and

every orifice in my body being intruded upon, it was finally time to stand with

my group, raise our right hands, and swear our oaths. Swearing the oath to

defend the United States was something I took very seriously. I was ready to

give my life for the nation if it came down to it. For the first time in my life, I

felt that I now had a sense of purpose.

After the oath was completed, Sgt Hagmann met our group and handed a

manila envelope containing our orders to this recruit kid named Goetz. He was

designated the leader of our little group of Marine Recruits. It went right to his

head. He tried to order everyone around as we boarded the Trailways bus.

When he tried to exercise his “authority” over me, I told him to get out of my

face or there would be big trouble. He never approached me again for the rest

of trip.

For the past hundred years, the Marine Corps would bring the recruits into

Parris Island at midnight. This ensures that when the recruits arrive, they are

disorientated, lacking sleep, and as confused as can be. I purposed in my head

during the twelve-hour bus trip that I would get as much sleep as I could.

There wasn’t much chance of that coming to fruition. My spinning mind would

not let me be rewarded with anything resembling sleep. Nevertheless, I kept

trying to relax and slow down my brain. “I must get some kind of rest or I’m

going to really pay the price once we arrive at Parris Island. How can I put

away these wandering thoughts?”

Yorktown Heights

In the late sixties, Yorktown Heights was becoming an inexpensive, clean,

upstate suburban alternative to living in New York City. A thirty to forty-fiveminute

commute to New York City, Westchester County was a mix of bluecollar

and up-and-coming white-collar businessman. Yorktown Heights was a

sleepy residential town with an excellent school district that produced plenty of

Ivy League scholarships. Little did anyone know at the time that only twenty

years later, Yorktown would become an elite, upper-class neighborhood,

commanding premium dollars for its real estate. The town would eventually be

included with some of the wealthiest areas of the country per capita. In its later

and current years, Yorktown would go on to house well known upper-class

residents who run Wall Street, own prominent businesses in Manhattan, and

even turn out a rather unknown young waitress who would go on to be elected

into United States Congress (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — Dem.).

In the summer of 1969, I was born at Peekskill Hospital, just a twentyminute

drive west from our home in Yorktown Heights. Upon being released

from the hospital, my parents brought me back to our house on Barway Drive.

Our home was of a modest size, consisting of one bedroom, a kitchen, a dining

room, a living room, and a closed-in porch, which would become my bedroom

when I was older. The porch was not insulated, so I froze during the winter

and sweated profusely during the summer. At least I had my own room.

My father was a Yonkers Police motorcycle cop, and my mother was a stayat-

home housewife. We were the typical nuclear family. As I grew up, my

father’s salary always provided our family’s basic needs. We were not very

wealthy, but neither were we poor. Certain comforts that are considered

standard today were not present in our home. Back in the day, central heat and

air conditioning were more of a luxury than a necessity. Somehow, we got by

each summer and winter without. Kerosene heaters and window box fans were

the standard temperature controls during this time.

Sunday Service

My mother had me baptized shortly after my birth in a Lutheran Church in

Yorktown. She bore the responsibility of taking my younger brother Erik and

me to church on Sundays, since my father, being a cop, had to work revolving

shifts. When he was free on Sundays, he did not have much desire to

participate at church. In 1975, when I was six, my mother started taking us to

Yorktown Presbyterian Church, at the center of town on Route 202. The

church building was a glorious old historic building, dating back to

Revolutionary War times. Surrounded by centuries old gravestones, the twolevel

church had balcony seating, a huge old pipe organ, and a functioning bell

tower. Stained-glass windows completed the authentic church experience.

Alas, the beauty of the church building was offset by a young pastor in

scandal, caught having an affair with a female church member. A church can be

physically beautiful, but spiritually dead when a pastor is being led by the flesh

and not by the Spirit. When the scandal was starting to overshadow seemingly

all honest functions of the church, my mother’s friend, Carol O’Connor,

revealed some passages in the Gospel to my mother about being saved from

hell by faith and not by good works. My mother, shortly thereafter, read the

popular novel from author Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth. The

powerful book, guided by scripture, eventually led my mother to pray and give

her life to Jesus. She became born-again in Spirit (John 3:3-8). She was forever

changed. She then shared the same revelation that she received with me. I

shortly ended up praying a similar sinner’s prayer to Jesus at a summer

Vacation Bible School when I was seven. I had also become born-again in

Christ!

As my mother was now a new creature in Christ, she started sharing the

same Gospel (Good News) with other members of the Presbyterian church.

Immediately, she became shunned and cut-off from all the relationships she had

built with fellow church members. The Presbyterian Church in Yorktown

wanted nothing to do with being “born-again.” They feared people who

professed being in an extreme cult, despite the fact that Jesus himself

commands us to be born again in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. The

Presbyterians at this church believed that as long as we did our best to follow

God’s commandments, go to church on Sundays, be a good person, and follow

the Golden Rules, we would have no trouble entering the gates of heaven.

Many did not understand the concept of being saved through faith alone.

Eventually, my mother found a church that did preach the Born-Again

Gospel, the Christian Missionary Alliance Church. The church was a huge step

in the right direction, but the pastor was young, fresh out of Bible College, and

the congregation was set by their own traditions. My mother studied her Bible

daily and did her best to teach me the Christian walk. I was pretty much just

going through the motions. My mother started receiving resentment from her

own husband and other family members over her radical change. She did the

best she could in teaching me while not having a true mentor herself. As I grew

older, I kind of went my own way, drifting from the faith that had saved me. It

would be nearly thirty years later that I would be reconciled to God. In the

meantime, I preferred to keep my knowledge of Jesus to myself, not desiring to

be an outcast from society as my mother had experienced.

Journey to the Beach

Memorial Day approached on the calendar. This was the trigger for all the

New York beaches and pools to open. At least twice a week, my mother would

bring Erik and me to Sparkle Lake. Only three blocks away, Sparkle Lake was a

beautiful day swimming in brown, algae-infested water. Too bad the lake did

not quite live up to its namesake.

Until I learned to swim, I would wear “the bomb.” It was a large, thick

piece of Styrofoam, shaped like a flat egg, worn on my back. It was secured by a

red, white, and blue nylon strap cinched together with a rusty metal buckle that

would dig into my stomach. This primitive flotation device always made

swimming hardly enjoyable. Fortunately for me, I would eventually take formal

swimming lessons at the Mildred E. Strang Middle School pool. After

successfully mastering the art of staying afloat and not drowning, I was forever

free of that dreadful “bomb.”

On weekends when my father didn’t have to work, we would pack the car

and head through New York City to Jones Beach, Long Island. Just getting to

the beach made for an interesting ride. We would start out by heading south on

the scenic Taconic Parkway. This leg of the trip was filled with wonderful

mountain and woodsy views. After twenty minutes, we would turn onto the

Sprain Brook Parkway, passing by my father’s police precinct as we got into

Yonkers. The further south we travelled, the woods and trees would start to

disappear as Yonkers gave way to the Bronx. Shortly, we would have to get off

the Bronx River Parkway and head east on the always congested Cross Bronx

Expressway. Traffic was guaranteed to be at a stand-still on any summer

weekend. No matter what time of year it seemed like the CBE was always in

this motionless state. Sitting in the stopped car with beautiful scenic views of

South Bronx burned-out public housing towers, the scenes would always make

me appreciate that my family didn’t have to live in the City.

Once we crossed the Whitestone Bridge into Queens, traffic would begin

to open up as we traveled the various Robert Moses parkways which would

eventually conclude with the Meadowbrook Parkway in Long Island. My father

told us that renowned New York City Building Commissioner, Robert Moses,

designed the New York City parkways with low-clearance bridges and

overpasses on purpose. This ruled out commercial truck traffic on the

manicured parkways. Urban legend says that the real reason Moses designed

the overpass clearances so low was to prevent the poor neighborhood people

living in the Bronx from taking buses to the beach. Whether there is any truth

to this is still debated to this day.

On the Meadowbrook Parkway, we would eventually pass the huge city

landfill at the seashore of Long Island, with flocks of seagulls everywhere. My

father would curse as the windshield wipers would only smear the seagulls’

crap across the windshield. It was as if the birds were B-52 bombers doing their

best to pinpoint aim their droppings upon the passing cars below. After a tiring

two-hour-plus journey, we would finally arrive at the iconic Jones Beach.

After my parents argued about whether to park at Parking Lot #4, #5, or

#6, we would finally un-pack the car with all our beach gear. My father would

always put the large, heavy cooler on his shoulder (they hadn’t invented coolers

with wheels yet). We would then follow him on the long walk through the sand.

Jones Beach was a beautiful beach, but you had to walk at least a half-mile

through scorching sand just to get close to the water and waves. By the time we

picked a spot, we would all be thoroughly worn out, sprawled on the blanket

under the umbrella recuperating from the arduous trek.

Running out into the water, the eight to ten-foot waves seemed like twentyfive-

foot waves to me and my brother when we were young. Erik and I would

play in the waves together all day. Now, Erik and I did not always get along at

home. We were two different types of people, both of us into our own things.

Nevertheless, when we were on family outings, we played together to the

fullest. All day, the goal was to try to ride the waves without letting a “biggie”

crash on you, therefore planting your face into the sand below. In the late

afternoon, the jellyfish would start rolling in with tide. We would try to figure

out if our bodies were red from sunburn or from the multitude of jellyfish

stings. It usually turned out that both were true. Before sunset, we would pack

up the gear and head back to Yorktown on the same route. By the time we

would arrive home, nobody could move. The whole family would jump into

the backyard pool to remove the sand from our bodies and go right to bed. For

all the hassle, the trip to Jones Beach was always well worth it. It sure beat out

nasty ole algae-infested Sparkle Lake.

Middle School

In Middle School, I started to break out of my reclusive shell. Hanging out

with friends became more important than ever. Girls were starting to catch my

interest in ways I had never experienced. My first crush was with my favorite

Italian girl, Angela Miraglia. I believe that she had a crush on me as well. My

problem was that I was too worried about being rejected to ever tell her how I

felt. At that age, I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence in myself.

Once we were returning on the bus from a school trip. We had gone to see

a New York City off-Broadway production of the Maurice Sendak illustrated

children’s book, Really Rosie. The show had music by Carole King. Angela

ended up sitting in the back of the bus next to me. The whole hour-long trip

home we talked nonsense, exchanged loving glances, and almost brought lips

together within inches, but I couldn’t go through with it. I didn’t know

anything about kissing a girl! Even if I kissed her, what would I do then? Ask

her out? I had no money, no job, only a bicycle for a vehicle. My mind would

never allow me to relax and just seize the moment. I would constantly play out

various follow-up scenarios which included evaluating the consequences of

every decision. Everything always seemed to be more complicated for me than

for others. I was a bit naïve and was still carrying my boyhood innocence. I

finally resigned that I wasn’t ready for that girlfriend stuff yet.




Yorktown High School

Even though the high school and the middle school were adjacent to one

other, just a quick walk away, Yorktown High School was a whole different

world from middle school. The high school was staffed by a very liberal group

of teachers and deans, many of whom were throwbacks to the sixties/seventies

flower-power generation. The principals and teachers gave a lot of

independence and responsibility to the students, treating them almost as equals.

There were more than enough periods in the day to satisfy the minimal credit

requirements. Students could potentially have one or two “free” periods in

their daily routine, where they could use the time to study, leave campus to go

home or to a restaurant for lunch. Many students would just do as I did: hang

outside the woodshop wall, the designated smoking area for students.

Occasionally a teacher or the vice-principal would cross by from the middle

school to the high school, with the strong smell of pot in the air. The smell was

put there by the “Deadheads,” loyal fans of the Grateful Dead hippie-trippy

music and lifestyle. Most of the teachers would just walk on by and ignore it.

They didn’t want to call the cops on students participating in something that

most of them also practiced during their off time.

In high school, every student was naturally segregated into whatever group

they fit in with. Free periods would find the athletic jocks wearing their dress

shirts and ties on game day. They would meet in the cafeteria, going through

their game plans and post-game pursuits. At another area in the cafeteria would

be the “Preps.” The Preps would volunteer for all the afterschool clubs such as

Yearbook Club, Student Government Club, Chess Club, etc. Not far from the

Preps would be the “Dexters.” These students studied religiously to get straight

As in their New York Regents advanced college prep courses. The Dexters

were constantly picked on. As they later graduated from Ivy League

universities, these “geeks” would go on to become the CEOs of New York City

banks, hedge fund managers on Wall Street, and employers of the students who

picked on them.

Outside the cafeteria, hanging outside the shop room wall, one would find

the “Greasers.” This group consisted primarily of Italian guys and girls. They

would all wear their skin-tight Jordache or Sergio Valente jeans tucked into

their white, high-top Puma sneakers. A large brush or comb would somehow

fit into their skin-tight rear pant pocket. A Members Only nylon jacket or black

leather biker jacket would finish off the look. Marlboro and Salem menthol

cigarettes were chain-smoked by all as they talked about whatever Italian kids

talk about, looking good and being cool.

Across from the Greasers at the other end of the shop-room wall were the

Deadheads, also known as “burnouts.” The smell of marijuana was always in

the air as these guys and girls tuned out while playing hacky-sack as if in a

trance. They were dressed in faded, worn-out Levis, tie-dye shirts, with suede

tan Wallabee shoes or sandals. Four to five stoned-out hacky-sack circles would

be formed as Grateful Dead bootleg tapes played on someone’s boom box.

I wasn’t really Italian enough to be a Greaser (about a third of my heritage),

nor was I a jock or Prep either. I naturally started fitting in with the Deadheads

as I entered high school. Up to this point, I was still sticking to my Christian

moral values instilled in me by my mother. My friends were all smoking

cigarettes and starting to experiment with pot. I was a hold-out for a while. I

didn’t want to pollute my body and mind with nicotine or harder drugs for that

matter. From reading anti-drug books and paraphernalia, I had a certain fear

that experimenting with these substances would forever change me for the

worse.

Meanwhile, my musical tastes were changing. Billy Joel and The Police

records and tapes were hardly ever getting played anymore, while I was

beginning to discover Grateful Dead, Santana, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.

The problem with most of this music was that the songs were intended to be

listened to while stoned or tripping. It wouldn’t be long before I would cross

the line that I previously swore to not cross.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

During my English class, I was sitting in the back corner with three of my

friends, Jim Pullman, Ed Rodriguez, and Christine Peterson. Jim and Ed were

on the junior varsity soccer team with me. Christine was a Greaser who also

liked to hang out with Deadheads. Wearing her tight Jordache jeans and black

leather jacket, she was a good-looking girl, but always smelled like three packs

of cigarettes. Ed was doing in class what he always did, drawing stoned-out

pictures. These pictures would always be rated and laughed at by Jim,

Christine, and myself. Every day we would sit in the back of the class talking

nonsense for the boring English class hour. Somehow, we managed to pass the

tests and get our reports written. One day Ed and I were staying after school

for soccer practice. He asked me if I wanted to cut practice and go to his house

to get stoned. For some reason, without really thinking it through, I accepted

his offer.

Once we arrived at Ed’s empty house (his parents were both working), he

slipped his Zeppelin II record onto the turntable and fired up a water-bong with

a bowl packed with high-grade marijuana. The first time I inhaled, I swallowed

the bong water. I had to puke it out for it was disgusting. Ed gave me further

instruction on how to properly inhale from a pipe bong. After two or three

successful times, something was starting to happen. I was experiencing feelings

that I had never experienced before. The Lemon Song was playing, and it seemed

like the six-minute song was playing on for six hours! Ed was talking to me, but

I was only half listening, for my mind was occupied with new sensations. I was

stoned out of my mind! I finally left Ed’s house and started to walk home.

Paranoia was starting to set in. How long would this last? Was I going to be in

this condition permanently? How would I face my parents at home? On that

day, the last of my “innocence” was lost. There was no turning back.

One Thing Leads to Another

I started hanging out with a new friend, Mark Perricone. He was half Jewish

and half Italian. He also followed the Grateful Dead. We would hang out at his

house discovering and listening to old Santana and Jeff Beck Group albums.

Mark also introduced me to a new drug, cocaine. He would score a quarter

gram of the white powder from a source in the Chinese restaurant that Mark

worked at as a busboy. Back at his house, Mark showed me how to cut the

powder fine with a razorblade upon a small mirror. He then chopped it into

even lines, rolled up a crisp dollar bill, and offered the first snort to me. A few

minutes after snorting two lines, a whole different sensation overcame me.

Much different than the effect of marijuana, coke heightened all my senses and

gave me a feeling of power and confidence. Over time and habitual use, cocaine

would alter my personality, breaking me out of my shy, introverted, insecure

self to an aggressive, outgoing, ultimately arrogant self.

Nothing was out of bounds to me now. Friends were introducing me to

hash and even mescaline acid. I had no problem trying anything that was put in

front of me. All my self-discipline had been destroyed. I was regularly smoking

Merit brand cigarettes, failing classes, dropping out of sports, and tuning out to

my own family. All that mattered was hanging out with my Deadhead friends,

taking drugs, and drinking beer.

Pending Retirement

It was 1984, during my freshman year at Yorktown High School that my father

was approaching his final year with Yonkers Police Department. At the bright

young age of forty-four, he was retiring with full pension benefits after just

twenty years of service. For the last few years, I had not seen him much. He was

working all kinds of crazy overtime in order to boost his take-home pension at

retirement. When he was home, he was making plans for the next stage of his

family’s life. During the eighties, Yorktown Heights was in the middle of

change. A corporate office for IBM and PepsiCo were both recently established

in town. This began driving tremendous white-collar development and growth.

Affluent families from the City started moving to the burbs in droves. Property

values soared. At the same time, property taxes and the overall cost of living in

Yorktown soared as well.

The PBA (Police Benevolent Association) union had just negotiated one of

the greatest collective bargaining agreements with the City of Yonkers. My

father would receive one of the highest police retirement pension payouts in

the country, far surpassing the negotiated pensions of New York City cops.

Notwithstanding the huge monthly retirement pension and benefits he would

take, my father had a realization: The high cost of living in Westchester and

New York City would still force him to work a new full-time job in order to

pay bills and maintain our current standard of living. My father had worked his

tail off for the last few years. He wanted to retire without having to work. After

much searching and investigating, he found his answer in how to accomplish

his goal: move the family to sunny Florida.

Southbound

My father packed the family in the El Camino. It was capped by a low-profile

camper top. The rear cab window was removed, which transformed the pick-up

into a rough station wagon. My brother, sister and I were stuffed into the

carpeted rear bed. We launched a search party trek to find the right

neighborhood in Florida that would suit my father’s retirement dream. The

twenty-four-hour trip from New York to Florida inside a hot, black, El Camino

without air conditioning was torture. My friends called my father’s El Camino

“The Hearse,” due to the vehicle resembling one after he installed a matching

black cap over the bed. They used to tape hand-written paper “Dead Man

Inside” signs to the tailgate.

Unfortunately, my father’s retirement dream didn’t agree with my

immediate dreams. I had tight relationships with many of my burnout friends

and girlfriends. I wasn’t ready to just kiss them all good-bye and start anew in a

Florida high school. My attitude toward the Florida plan progressively soured,

but to no avail. My father was on a mission to succeed in relocating our family

to the Sunshine State. Nevertheless, after checking out properties and

neighborhoods down the A1A intracoastal highway, from Daytona Beach to

Boynton Beach, from Ft. Lauderdale to Key Largo, my parents kept striking

out. Either the properties or homes were a good deal, but the neighborhood

and school districts were lousy, or the school districts were excellent, but the

homes were unaffordable. They ultimately crossed Everglades Alligator Alley

to the Fort Myers area on the west coast out of desperation, but there weren’t

much better prospects in Naples or Fort Myers. They were about to give up

when a realtor encouraged them to cross over the Caloosahatchee River to

check out an up-and-coming new city on the Gulf coast… Cape Coral.

In 1957, two developers purchased 103 square miles of undeveloped swamp

land for a little over $600,000. Since then, the young city of Cape Coral has

become the largest city in Florida between Tampa and Miami. The city has 400

miles of dredged Gulf-access canals, more than any city in the world, including

Venice, Italy. It has become a suitable city for both retired families and up- andcoming young blue-collar families. In 1984, when my parents were discovering

it, Cape Coral was in the beginning of a massive development boom that would

continue throughout the nineties, and not cease until 2007. Currently, Cape

Coral is experiencing a reinvigorated real-estate boom.

It was a done deal. My father purchased a canal-front lot and contracted a

builder to build our new home. During the few months I had back in New

York, I passed the news to all my friends that I would be moving to Florida.

Their response wasn’t that they were going to miss me, but to make sure that I

send them some home-grown herb once I got connected down there. My

burnout friends weren’t very deep, but they were the friends that I had. I

continued to withdraw from my family and silently rebel against the moving

trip that I was not very happy about. At fifteen years old, and halfway through

high school, packing up and relocating to Florida was not what I wanted to do.

Growing up in New York was all I knew. I couldn’t conceive of living in

another neighborhood, let alone in Florida.

New Kid in Town

Our family arrived in Cape Coral. While our new home was being constructed,

we lived in a rental duplex on Skyline Blvd. Our temporary neighborhood was

barely developed. Many empty lots without trees surrounded our apartment,

lacking any plant life. Florida was flat. You could see down the road for miles.

Compared to my old neighborhood in Yorktown, I felt we were living in a

desolate wasteland, reminiscent of Mad Max, a futuristic apocalyptic movie that

came out a few years earlier.

Upon checking into my new school, Cape Coral High, I discovered that

this school was the opposite of Yorktown High School. This school did not

give the students any independence or freedom. Gone were any free periods to

do as I wished between classes. Gone were designated student smoking areas.

Smoking was treated like a crime, with an in-school suspension policy for

violations. Gone was an open-campus policy. Once you were on campus you

could not leave. If you were caught leaving, many days of in-school suspension

were given. The school had hardly any windows, and the structure resembled a

federal penitentiary. Nevertheless, I gravitated toward a small population of

burnout rebels, who would test the school rules continually.

My New Neighborhood

After moving into our new home, I discovered that a fellow New York

alumnus, Dominick Santella, lived just a couple streets away. He, similar to me,

was relocated from Queens NYC to Cape Coral by his family. He quickly made

connections and became a dealer of fine herb. This was good and bad. I only

had to walk a couple blocks to score some pot, but Dominick also had a bad

habit of showing up at my family’s door, soliciting to me his illegal substances

just about loud enough for my parents to hear. I had to quickly run him out to

the front curb to guarantee that my mother and father would not hear the

nature of what kind of “friend” Dominick really was.

On the first day of walking to my new school bus stop, I arrived to

discover a group of kids who I would never have any interest in hanging out

with. Girls wearing white George Michael WHAM shirts, guys dressed in

pastel-colored Sixteen Candles outfits, and jocks dressed in Florida Gators/FSU

Tomahawk regalia. It was definitely not my crowd. From the distance, I noticed

one latecomer to the bus stop. A short guy wearing jeans, a Black Sabbath Tshirt

and long blond hair. He very much resembled Ozzy Osbourne’s late

guitarist, Randy Rhoads. Almost instantly I introduced myself and he asked if I

would care for a hit off his one-hitter, a little brass pipe resembling a tiny

baseball bat. Mike Cohen became one of my first true friends who I would

hang out with through most of my later years in Florida.

One Restaurant to Another

Through eleventh grade, my grades started dropping off the cliff. I was cutting

classes and showing up late. When in attendance, I was either daydreaming

about being the hippie-rebel I thought I was, or I was sleeping in class from

staying out late getting stoned. I was sick of riding the school bus and decided I

need to get a job in order to save money for my own ride. I landed a

dishwashing job at a quiet restaurant, The Greenery. The restaurant was owned

by a heavy Jewish guy named Alan. There was no talking allowed while I

worked. If I caught up on the dishes, I had to occupy my time with cleaning the

grease off the floor and walls. Al paid me minimum wage ($3.35/hr) and kept

me working hard. The hours were long and slow. One day after Al left me to

close up the restaurant, the grease trap started overflowing and filled the entire

kitchen floor with an inch of greasy sludge. I did all I could do to stop the flow

and clean the mess. It was too much. I finally locked up and left. The next day I

received an angry call from Alan informing that I was fired. He tried to blame

the mess on me. I was done working for that angry man.

After getting fired by Al at The Greenery, I experienced a short stint

working at Wendy’s. Being a uniformed employee at a fast food joint wasn’t for

me, so I quit and took a walk next door to a small place called Venezia’s Italian

Restaurant & Pizzeria, which was next door to The Greenery. I entered

through the rear kitchen door to see a familiar face, Darrell, who I always

obliged to fill his beer mug from Al’s tap when Venezia’s tap went dry. He

introduced me to his brother, Chris Parks, who owned the place. Chris asked

me how much Al was paying me to wash dishes next door. I told him $3.35

minimum wage. Chris said that he would pay me $4.00/hr cash to wash dishes

for him. I was elated! I just got myself a raise and tax free to boot! After the

first summer working, I would have enough cash to purchase my first bike, a

Suzuki GS250.

Chris teamed me up with Brad, his senior dishwasher. Brad taught me the

ropes: Make sure to keep up with the dishes at all times; Once caught up, light

a cigarette and hang out in the back alley; When business slows down, put your

request in for a meal (slice of pizza, eggplant parm, linguini and clam sauce,

etc.); When the place shuts down, finish all dishes; Do a thorough clean so the

Health Department don’t shut the place down and get a complimentary beer

from the tap. After working a few days, I actually enjoyed working at Venezia’s.

It was never long and boring like working at The Greenery next door.

Venezia’s was a far better restaurant than The Greenery. Poor Al would be

lucky to get one new customer every couple of hours. Venezia’s had a packed

dining room with a line out the door waiting hours for seating! Chris had a

business partner in the kitchen, Paul Santini. He was originally from Long

Island. Pauly made sure that everything about Venezia’s food was as New York

authentic Italian as you could get. Every two weeks, a Cremosa semi-trailer

would deliver all the major ingredients from Long Island (mozzarella, yeast,

flour, pasta, even Spumoni ice cream). Chris Parks’ brother, Ricky, made the

pizza. Rick was in his mid-twenties. He was the Southwest Florida jet ski

champion, making him very popular at the open-front pizza kitchen. Hot

groupie models would stand at the counter watching him spin the pizza dough

all day flirting with him in hopes of being asked out that night.

Venezia’s was an all-night free for all. Chris, Darrell, and Pauly all rotated

cooking dinners in the back kitchen. Darrell drank nothing but beer from the

tap all night. Chris would drink screwdrivers from Cruiser’s liquor/bar next

door. Pauly would step next door to Cruisers as well to refill his Chivas Regal

scotch every hour. Brad was selling weed out the rear kitchen door. The poor

waitresses would come back to the kitchen to put their orders in, and they

would continually be verbally assaulted and sexually harassed. Nothing was

taboo. Drug and sexual innuendoes put one of the waitresses into tears one

night. Every evening was a working party that would be capped off at Cruisers

next door once the restaurant was closed for the evening.

Enter Santman

One month into working at Venezia’s, Chris Parks escorted an older couple

through the kitchen. He showed them the ovens, the walk-in cooler, the dough

machine, the steam dishwasher, the Bari pizza oven, and every feature of the

restaurant. Chris had sold Venezia’s to Harry and Susan Santman, a retired

older couple who sold their restaurant in Chicago to move to Cape Coral and

take over an existing award-winning restaurant. Harry was a big German guy.

He was bald but had a beard and wore big Herman Munster black boots. He

looked like an old-timer biker. Susan was Jewish and in charge of the deals and

finances. Chris Parks was selling the restaurant to pursue other ventures. Brad

and I looked at each other in front of the dishwashing machine, the gig was up.

The party was over at Venezia’s.

The following week, the deal was done, and Harry and Susan were the de

facto owners of the restaurant. Chris and his brother Rick left, but Darrell and

Pauly stayed on in the kitchen. German-descent Harry didn’t know a thing

about Italian food and kept them hired to school him in the various pasta

dishes and pizza making skills. Once Harry was confident cooking in the

kitchen, Paul moved up to the front pizza kitchen. Eventually, Harry

approached me and told me that he admired my work ethic. He then told me

that he was going to fire Brad that night. Harry perceived that Brad was a

slacker, liar, and a con, which was exactly what Brad was.

After a few nights, we realized Harry wasn’t the old square we thought he

was going to be. In fact, Harry partook in more drinks and drugs than all of us

combined. When the restaurant wasn’t busy, he would be next door at Cruisers

soaking up Beefeaters gin and quickly becoming a regular at the bar. Back in

the restaurant, Harry would bring me a cold tap beer regularly to keep me a

happy worker. By closing time, Harry was already sauced and would have to be

driven home by Susan, who also had her fair share of vodka to drink.

The drinking was only half of what went on nightly at Venezia’s. One night

after I was promoted to the front pizza kitchen, Harry approached me while

the restaurant was packed. He had just come out of the men’s room and told

me to go in, lock the door, and check out the surprise. Once I went into the

men’s room, I noticed three cut-up lines of cocaine on the toilet tank lid. I

rolled a dollar and snorted them quickly and got back to the pizza kitchen

before I burned the pizzas. Soon, Harry Santman became my source for

cocaine, yellow-jacket uppers, amyl-nitrate, valium, and any other

pharmaceuticals that his corrupt doctor was pushing at the time. Many nights I

would bring some of the Venezia drugs to my friend Mike Cohen’s house to

continue the weekend nights of partying.

Spiraling Out of Control

Starting my new semester, I was, of course, the last one to enter the classroom

for my eleventh- grade science class. All seats were taken except one seat at a

table with two girls. One of the girls was Theresa Xander. She was in my eyes,

the hottest and prettiest stoner girl in the school. I had seen her periodically in

the hallways between classes, usually hand in hand with her older boyfriend, a

senior named Rob Sartore. I took a seat at the table with her and introduced

myself, but played it cool, knowing that she was already taken. Nevertheless,

over time, Theresa and I became really close with each other. We realized that

we shared a lot of interests and really liked each other. Although I never asked,

I perceived that her relationship with Rob had grown stale, and that she was

relegated to just being a trophy on his arm. I eventually grew bold and started

riding to her house before school to smoke pot while listening to Aerosmith’s

Toys in the Attic with her. I would then drive her on the back of the Suzuki to

school. Kids in school were noticing and started talking to Rob about me. I

didn’t care much. If he wanted to fight me over Theresa, I was ready.

One morning, arriving early at Theresa’s home, I told her I had surprise.

The previous night at Venezia’s, Harry Santman scored me a quarter gram of

coke and Darrell got me a pint bottle of peach schnapps from Cruisers next

door. Both Theresa and I had done our share of cocaine before, but never

together. Being that it was only 6:00 a.m., we both snorted only a line or two

out of the little quarter gram paper pouch I was carrying. We then polished off

the small bottle of schnapps. Riding into school, we were both as high as can

be. We parted ways to go to our separate classes. Shortly after, as I sat in the

gym bleachers for homeroom class, the 6:00 a.m. schnapps started to make its

way back up its entry route. My head started spinning, and all I knew was that I

had to get out of the school. I ran out the gym’s emergency exit and made a

beeline off the school property towards a convenience store across the street. I

was sick as ever. My head was dizzy and spinning. I puked all over myself on

the walk twice. In the back lot of the Circle K convenience store building there

were some flattened out cardboard boxes. I just wanted to lay down and make

the spinning go away.

An undetermined time later, I was violently awoken by two Cape Coral

police officers. They noticed I was a mess. I wreaked of rotten peach schnapps

puke. My face was half sunburnt from laying on my side, and fire ants had

bitten me all over my arms. They asked me if I was a student at Cape Coral

High School. I lied and told them that I had dropped out last year. The cops,

realizing that I was a terrible liar, frisked me and found the remains of the

quarter gram that was still in my Levis jacket pocket. I was busted. The cops

took me to the principal and released me to my parents, who were called from

the school. I still remember the angry and disappointed look on my parents’

faces as they embarrassingly picked me up from school. For them, this was a

nightmare. Their oldest son was becoming a hard drug user and failing school.

It would be a long time before I had my bike back to meet Theresa in the

mornings before school.

Under the Influence

After getting busted, as usual, my motorcycle and freedom were taken away for

a time. My mother and father did not know what to do to help get me get off

drugs. They were not prepared in how to deal with this situation. They never

expected that this would happen to their son. My mother was crying out to

God, wondering why I was falling away from everything that that she had

taught me and raised me to be. They flirted with ideas such as sending me to

Catholic school, sending me to an outpatient rehab facility, and even

straightforward Christian counseling. I knew they were both praying their

hearts out for me, that I would turn my life back around. For the time being,

this was not to occur. Over the rest of my junior year, I would continue to get

in trouble with the law, being caught in possession of marijuana, and receiving

a DWI on my motorcycle. I would eventually hit my rock bottom, where I

would finally start to evaluate the damage I was doing to my life and those

around me who loved me.

Senior Year

During the summer of 1986 before my senior year, I started to self-evaluate my

life, asking myself what was the point and what would be the future for me of

even existing. I felt that my life had become a rut. Other kids in school, already

groomed for college, were already mapping out their lives and careers. My life’s

destiny at that time appeared to be cooking at an Italian restaurant for the next

few decades. To me, that was a dismal future. I was going nowhere fast! My

unimpressive grade point average pretty much ruled out any future at a

university. Inside me was a longing for adventure, but I had neither the skills

nor the knowledge of how to acquire it. Either way, I figured it was time to get

back to paying attention in class, take summer school classes, and get back on

track for earning my high school diploma. If I couldn’t complete high school,

what other task in life would I ever be able to complete?

I made significant lifestyle changes. No longer was I popping pills, smoking

joints, or snorting lines. I was leaving the illegal substances behind me. This

was all great progress forward from the depths I had just fallen to a few

months prior. However, a new problem developed: Dropping one addiction, I

replaced it with another one — alcohol. I was still partying with my burnout

friends. They didn’t give me any problems when I passed up on a joint coming

my way. My friends knew me long enough, and respected that I wanted to make

positive change in my life. The only problem was that I started drinking harder.

Budweiser and Cuervo became my new vices.

My father located a motorcycle for sale that he thought I would like. It was

an ’85 Suzuki GS550 café-style bike. It was red and white, like new, with a

custom Indian-eagle pinstripe pattern on the tank and fairing. I would sell the

GS250 and add a few more hundred dollars that I had saved from Venezia to

purchase this beautiful, much faster bike. The unique-looking bike got many

looks and challenges from others on crotch rockets looking to prove

themselves racing. I usually blew most of them off.

Michael Matchok, who was considerably taller than me, became one of my

closest friends. He was a very smart “gearhead” who taught me much of what I

now know relating to auto mechanics. He was in need of a new job. I offered to

get him a slot dishwashing at Venezia’s with me. Once the Santmans gave

Michael the position, he and I went out together every weekend looking for

stupid adventure. Each weekend, I would score whiskey or beer from Cruisers

next door and Michael would drive me around town in his fast ’71 AMC

Javelin. Michael didn’t drink, but he didn’t mind me getting sloshed in his

passenger seat as we cruised the neighborhood looking for parties with

intoxicated girls.

During my senior year, I worked evenings and spent the late hours in the

Cruisers lounge while most of my classmates were studying for college

placement tests and building school pride floats for the homecoming football

game. I was living in an adult world while most of my classmates were enjoying

their last year of adolescent innocence. I would catch some preppy girls

checking me out in class, but when I would finally approach them to ask them

out, they would reluctantly decline my advances. They appeared interested in

me but were intimidated by my reputation for living a “hard and wild” life. I

didn’t care. I didn’t need them. Most of my partying friends were older or high

school dropouts. I was pretty much a “lone wolf” at school.


Cut Day at the Beach

One morning, I was fighting to keep myself from nodding off in my boring

English class. It was the first class of the day. If it was just starting out like this,

it was going to be a long day. Five desks in front of me in the adjacent row, a

girl named Carmella Di Fiore had been watching my feeble attempts at keeping

my eyes open and my head from nodding out. She approached me at the end of

class and asked me if I wanted to cut the remainder of the school day with her

and go to the beach. I was in awe. I had never been asked out by a girl before.

It was usually me doing the pestering and begging to get girls to hang out with

me. I asked her how we would get there, being that I was, as usual, temporarily

grounded from taking my bike to school. She said that she had the wheels. I

immediately responded, “Let’s go!”

We waited until we saw “Chief,” the school’s security guard, get tied up

busting someone for smoking in the bathroom and figured that was our break.

We quickly proceeded to make the mad dash through the school grounds to the

student parking lot. Upon arriving at student parking, I was impressed:

Carmella drove a mint ’72 Monte Carlo with a powerful 454 cubic engine. We

talked and got to know each other as she drove us to Fort Myers Beach

listening to Bad Company cassette tapes on her aftermarket booming car

stereo. I was thinking to myself that Carmella was pretty cool, and good

looking to boot. Why had I not noticed her every day in my class sooner?

Maybe, this could be the start of something long-term?

One good thing about living in Florida, was that there was a beautiful Gulf

of Mexico beach close by to run away to. The daily weather in our area was that

the beach and water could be enjoyed nearly year-round. At our arrival, I asked

Carmella what kind of beer she preferred. She asked me how I was going to

buy beer underage. Trying to impress her, I said, “Don’t worry about the

details, I’ll take care of it. What do you like?” She said she was into Bartles &

Jaymes wine coolers which I had never tried up to this point. As she set up

beach chairs on the sand, I went across the street to bribe some beach burntout

into purchasing wine coolers in the 7-Eleven for me.

When I arrived back at the beach-side with the wine coolers, Carmella was

already set up in her beach chair. I soon noticed that tanning was an important

pastime for her. Carmella was very petite, had a large Italian nose, and a body

of a boy; nevertheless, she was still attractive in an exceptional way. We sat

together imbibing on the wine coolers. She was sipping. I was chugging.

I could drink a lot of beer, but I hadn’t had much experience with wine

coolers before. It was early, before noon. I hadn’t eaten anything yet, and I

discovered that a bottle of wine coolers had nearly twice the alcohol content

that a can of beer contained. This in turn produced the perfect storm in me. I

was rapidly transforming into a drunken mess. Carmella was starting to get

turned off by my slurring and reckless behavior. I asked her to go in the water

with me. When she refused, I proceeded into the surf alone. The small waves

rolled my lifeless sloshed body in the sand. Carmella, looking disgusted and

disappointed, packed up her stuff and told me that she would have to take me

back to Cape Coral. Not one word was spoken the whole drive back. She

couldn’t wait to drop my drunken butt off at Venezia’s in time for me to go to

work. I had blown it with her big time. Even the Santmans sent me home from

work when they realized I was too inebriated to toss pizzas. I was cleaned off

drugs, but alcohol was progressively making a mess out of my life.

Looking for a Few Good Men

One evening as I was flipping pizzas in the Venezia front kitchen, Susan

Santman informed me that she was holding a phone call for me. I asked her if

she knew who it was? She said it was a Sgt Hagmann. I replied nervously, “Well

don’t tell him I’m here!” thinking it was a Cape Coral police sergeant. Barbara

responded that the sergeant on the phone was with the United States Marine

Corps. “The Marine Corps? What does he want?!” I cautiously took the phone

from her while wondering how a Marine sergeant had gotten my number at the

restaurant. When I answered the phone, Sgt Hagmann blurted out aggressively

loudly and in cadence, “Hey Christian, this is Sgt Hagmann of the U.S. Marine

Corps. I have a card here that says you are interested in giving a shot in earning

the title of being one of the few, the proud, a lean mean fighting machine,

United State Marine!” I responded to the sergeant that I had never filled out

any card like that. As I replied, it dawned on me that the recruiters were at the

school during the last week, and I bet one of my “buddies” wrote my name and

number on the card as a practical joke! “I’m sorry sir, you got the wrong guy. I

don’t have any interest in joining your Marine Corps.” I would begin to find

out that Marine recruiters never take “no” for an answer. They were far more

persistent than any used car or insurance salesman.

It was a Friday evening, and Sgt Hagmann was scheduled to pick me up at

my father’s house promptly at 6:00 p.m. He had coerced me on the phone to

allow him to at least bring me downtown to take the ASVAB test, a military

entrance requirement. The ASVAB was a general aptitude test required by all

branches of service to measure potential recruits’ mental fitness for service and

placement in more advanced military occupational specialties (MOS). Sgt

Hagmann told me that even though I had no interest in signing up for the

Corps, I could take and pass the ASVAB test now. This would get it out of the

way if I was to change my mind in the future. I must have been extremely

bored that evening, to allow him to talk me into agreeing to take this test (a

little curiosity and admiration for the USMC also helped, even though I

wouldn’t admit it at the time).

There was a knock on the front door at precisely 6:00 p.m. I opened the

door and there was Sgt Hagmann in the flesh. He had a huge bodybuilder

physique. His Class B Dress Blues were starched and creased to perfection. He

also had a myriad of gold chains around his neck, somewhat resembling a white

Mr. T from Rocky III. I reached out to welcome his handshake which in turn

nearly crushed the bones in my hand. Speaking in his authoritative cadenced

Marine-speech, he let me know that there was not much time, and that we must

leave now. I responded with my first ever, “Yes Sir!”

Of course, Sgt Hagmann didn’t come to my house to pick me up in some

plain white, government-marked Chrysler vehicle. There outside, sitting at the

curb, was a beautiful ’79 Corvette Stingray. It was white with red and blue

custom pinstripes, along with polished chrome exhaust pipes curving under

each door. We took off as if taking off at the drag races, burning rubber,

enunciated by a loud, powerful motor. Sgt Hagmann routinely drove thirty

miles per hour over the speed limit and occasionally ran stop signs and red

lights. Curious, I turned to him and asked if Marines were exempt from

following traffic laws? He responded, “Don’t worry Christian, me and Sheriff

Wanicka are like this!” as he showed me his crossed fingers. I wouldn’t realize

until years later that the gold chains, the Corvette, the illegal speeding, was all

part of his act to make an awesome impression on an impressionable

seventeen-year-old like myself. His routine was working. I was slowly falling for

the bait.

We arrived downtown and Sgt Hagmann told me that he wasn’t allowed to

be present in the room where I would take the ASVAB. He would meet me at

the same curb when I finished the test. Many recruiters from the Army, Navy,

Air Force, and Coast Guard were also dropping off testing candidates.

Upon finishing the two-hour test, I felt that I had completed it

satisfactorily. Sgt Hagmann met me at the curb like he had said. He left me in

his Corvette while he ran inside to receive my test results. When he returned,

we took off speeding again. He turned to me and told me that he was proud of

me, in that I had not only passed the test, but passed it extremely well. He said

we must celebrate.

We pulled into the Fort Myers USMC Recruiting Center. It was after

hours, so we were the only ones in the office. Sgt Hagmann looked at me and

asked me what kind of beer I liked to drink. With slight surprise and shock

(Florida state drinking age was still eighteen at the time, though I had just

turned seventeen), I responded that Budweiser was fine. Sgt Hagmann sat me

down. He then gave me a copy of his personal photo book to peruse while he

went to the conveniently located ABC Liquor next door, to purchase some

beer. While he was gone, I flipped through his photo album which consisted of

nothing but topless or nude, exotic women from the many ports he visited

during his tours overseas. This Marine Corps idea was growing on me fast. Sgt

Hagmann then returned with a six-pack of Budweiser tall boys. After my

second beer, I surrendered, and signed the next four years of my life over to the

Corps. I would sign on to the Delayed Entry Program. This would allow me to

complete my last year of high school before shipping out to Parris Island. The

whole episode was a recruiter set-up! Sgt Hagmann added another battle win to

the hallowed U.S. Marines two-hundred-plus years of victory on and off the

battlefield. He had won me over the old school way. Very soon, my life would

be forever changed!

Receiving Barracks — MCRD Parris Island

I was shaken by the recruit sitting next to me on the Trailways bus. Apparently,

I had dozed off the past hour. He told me that we had just started crossing the

sole road linking Parris Island to the mainland city of Beaufort, South

Carolina. I looked at my watch, it read 11:45 p.m. “How do these bus drivers

time the arrival so precisely?” I wondered to myself. Looking out the bus

windows into the dark, nothing could be seen. There were no streetlights, just

shadows of buildings and tree lines. The darkness and uneasiness made every

person on the bus feel like we were about to enter the gates of hell itself!

Within minutes, we entered Parris Island. It was dark and empty. A lit

building appeared up ahead as the bus slowed to a stop. A great sign painted

red with gold lettering read, “Receiving Barracks — Marine Corps Recruit

Depot Parris Island.” Not a sound was uttered by any on the bus. There was no

turning back now. The silence was quickly broken by a Marine drill instructor

forcefully boarding the bus. His uniform was creased and fit perfectly; his DI

cap was tilted low, and you couldn’t see his eyes. He immediately barked,

“When I say move, every swinging dick will quickly de-board my bus and plant

your feet on my yellow footsteps right outside! Readyyyyy… MOVE!”

Everyone on the bus turned into a stampeding herd climbing over each other

in hopes of not being the last recruit off that bus. Upon stepping off the bus,

we were welcomed and greeted by three or four more DIs spitting, cursing,

yelling, and trying to confuse us as we looked like a herd of cattle being chased

by a vicious shepherd dog to our prescribed location on the yellow-painted

footsteps.

After everyone found their place in line, the DI who initially boarded the

bus, calmly spoke these words to us in a gravelly, inhuman voice: “You are now

aboard Marine Corps Recruit Training Parris Island, South Carolina, and you

have just taken the first step in becoming a member of the world’s finest

fighting force: The United States Marine Corps. Tens of thousands of Marines

began outstanding service to our country on the very footprints where you are

standing. You will carry on their proud tradition!”

A second DI instructed everyone to start off on their left foot when he

gave the command to march. We were expected to all stay in step with each

other. At approximately one hundred tired, confused, disoriented recruits in

the column line, this proved to be quite impossible. The DIs didn’t care. They

slammed into anyone they spotted out of step as we marched toward a huge

impressive building.

As we came to a halt in front of the building, we were instructed to break

off into a single column to climb the steps and enter two huge stainless steel

hatches (doors) at the receiving barracks. Those doors are the symbolic

threshold between the outside world and Parris Island. To walk through them

is to accept the challenges that boot camp brings. The gold sign above the door

reads: “Through These Portals Pass Prospects for America’s Finest Fighting

Force — United States Marines.”

As we entered the great room of the receiving barracks, we were kept

awake through dawn as we were issued camouflaged utility uniforms, black

leather boots, and web belts with brass buckles. Shortly after that we were

issued a debit card for the PX (Price Exchange). We would be given a “ditty

bag” to buy and load up on “skivvies” (boxer underwear), soap, shaving kit,

toothpaste, towels, Kiwi boot polish, and foot powder.

At the crack of dawn, we were marched to the chow hall. As we were

marching, I noticed that Parris Island reeked of a swampy, musty smell that I

never have experienced, nor will ever forget. All of the streets had overhead

twelve-inch galvanized pipes that carried steam above the sidewalks. Parris

Island was akin to being in another country. It had its own uniqueness,

separating itself from the outside world. Marching by century-old brick

buildings that housed Marines and recruits since World War I produces a

certain sense of awe and respect. The place was like no other place I had ever

been. Upon completing breakfast at the chow hall, we were marched to the base

barbershop to finally lose our now greasy, oily civilian hair. It was like a barber

assembly line, with over a dozen barbers quickly shaving every head down to

skin. We were all now equally bald, equally dressed in utilities, and equally

tired. The idea was to take away any sense of individuality. Besides differences

in skin color and height, we were all Marine recruits, or maggots, as the DIs

started to refer to us.

About the author

Christian Dattwyler currently lives with his beautiful wife and two boys near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A Minister of the Gospel of Christ, Christian gives Jesus Christ the credit for everything he has been able to experience and accomplish in his life. view profile

Published on September 06, 2020

Published by Sofrep Books

60000 words

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

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