Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sea Stories

Over on Xanga, the Colonel has been visiting and recent posts have brought to mind some stories from my time in the service of our country.


Introduction to Sea Stories

Despite the deep tradition inherent in the military, things can change quickly. The tale is told of the recruit on his first day in boot camp, while yet in forming, who sat down next to a second recruit who had arrived a day earlier. The first recruit expressed his bewilderment at his new surroundings. The second, eager to bring this new arrival up to speed, said, “Well… back in the ‘old corps’…”

Because of the pattern of change in the military, a tradition of lore helps to maintain a sense of continuity among units. In the Marine Corps, the accounts that make up this body of lore are called “sea stories.” Sea Stories are mostly-true accounts of humor, valor and extraordinary occurrences. This post marks the first of perhaps many sea stories to come from my experiences in the Marines.

(As a note, the only people who cuss worse than drunken sailors are drunken Marines. It should be a foregone conclusion that Marines, while typically honorable in duty, are often rough, harsh, brash… the precise adjective may not exist. As such, I’ll tidy up the language and accounts for public consumption. Also, while these stories are not explicitly Christian, they tell of a culture still alive in the US where thicker skins prevail and people are trained to live life in the most difficult situations.)


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Cockroaches

In boot camp, there was a special board where recruits could pin photographs of their girlfriends back home. This board was called a “hog board”. It was ostensibly for motivational purposes. The idea was the eventual realization that a recruit’s girlfriend wasn’t worth undue attention while he was at boot camp.

I didn’t contribute to the hog board.

A few photographs that went up on the hog board were perceptibly not girlfriends. One such was obtained by a recruit while our platoon was working a week of mess and maintenance around the base. I was assigned to the permanent personnel chow hall with a few others. I worked in the serving line next to a Corporal of obvious Scottish descent who called me “screaming eagle” for no apparent reason.

When the mess area (dining hall) closed from meal hours, we adjourned to the scullery (where dishes were washed) and pot shack (where large pots were maintained) to clean up. The pot shack was actually a separate room of the building. The reason it was separate was quickly apparent to us. The large scale cleaning of food from the pots attracted bugs… cockroaches to be precise. There was a significant population of them in the pot shack.

One day, one of the permanent personnel on base, a Lance Corporal, offered an attractive photograph to one of the recruits (I don’t recall his name – we’ll call him “Stevens”) so that he could hang it on the hog board. The stipulation was that he sample one of the six-legged delicacies that scampered about the pot shack.

Recruit D’Orville was the member of my platoon assigned to keep the pot shack at all times. D’Orville was from New York City. His father was French, his mother was from the Dominican Republic and he was naturally tri-lingual. He also had a sense of humor. Once one of the Drill Instructors, sensing an opportunity to rag him, asked him where he was from. D’Orville responded with an earnest-sounding, “This recruit is from the moon, sir!” After stifling a chuckle, the DI walked off realizing the game was over with this recruit today.

D’Orville grabbed a cup and went around the pot shack filling it with cockroaches, just so that our hog board hopeful could have his pick of tasty delights. We all gathered around to view the event. The Lance Corporal held up the photograph for motivation. D’orville held the cup up and Stevens rooted through it to find his preference. Slowly, Stevens opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue. He placed the creature with its back on his tongue and its legs kicking for freedom. His tongue quivered as he slowly drew the bug into his mouth. Just as he got it halfway past his lips, it flicked its wings enough to break the surface tension of the spittle on Stevens’ tongue and the cockroach fell to the floor free…

…followed by, STOMP!!!. The Lance Corporal’s boot came crashing down on the hapless insect. “Ooh. Sorry about that. I guess you don’t get the photograph.”

“I can still eat it,” Stevens pleaded.

“Sorry. It has to be alive.”

I think the lance Corporal eventually let him try another one.

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Another cockroach story took place in the chow hall behind the Band barracks at Camp Lejune. I was told that this was once in the Guiness Book of World Records, but I have been unable to find it.

Apparently, a cockroach once became too large and heavy to be accommodated by the tensile strength of the ceiling tiles in the chow hall. A Staff Sergeant had obtained his tray of food and sat down to eat. Just then the ceiling tile above him gave way and a cockroach nearly a foot long fell into his tray of food. An officer on duty who had been temporarily relieved from post for chow drew his firearm and shot the beast.

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If you’re thoroughly disgusted by these cockroach stories, let not your heart be troubled. These are the only cockroach sea stories I know that are worth telling.

Well… maybe the time in San Antonio we played soccer with a live cockroach…

Nah.

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