Dec. 2012: Sound Off Letter of the Month

I recently had occasion to visit Lind-bergh Field, San Diego International Air-port. Between Terminals 1 and 2, there is an entrance to the United Service Organi-zations [USO]. I noticed two white buses with large USMC emblems parked in front of the USO entrance. There were about 90 young men hurriedly boarding the buses, counting and shouting their numbers until reaching number 40 when a bus was full. One drill instructor was present, fit and trim, about 6 feet 2 inches tall, and skinny as a rail, wearing the traditional “Smokey,” and shouting instructions.

As I departed to enter Terminal 1, I noticed the “overflow,” who had to wait for another bus to arrive. Those remaining recruits were lined up, standing four abreast in tight formation—faces, bodies and eyes as if cast in concrete. They were staring into space and focused directly ahead. Not an eyebrow moved, nor a muscle twitched, even though the drill instructor was nowhere to be seen. I think it occurred to them that their moment of truth and reality had just begun.

After I entered Terminal 1, I noticed two or three groups of five or six young men smiling happily, meandering around the lobby, shoving one another, laughing and joking while carrying identical envelopes that obviously contained their orders. Ap-parently, they had a later reporting time and did not realize it at the moment, but they were only a few steps from reality.

It was fun to observe, and it jogged my memory back to 1952 when I, at about 5 feet 9 inches tall and 119 pounds, with ap-proximately 200 other youngsters, arrived at the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego. After getting off the train, we saw an old Navy chief with gold stripes from his wrist to his shoulder, who began shouting for every-one going to the Naval Training Center [NTC] to line up in formation. After the NTC guys were assembled, they started to march off. One other youngster and I shouted at the chief that the two of us were going to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. The chief said, “Get out of here!”

So, as everyone else marched off to NTC, the other guy and I were left standing alone on the train platform. Imaginatively, we walked over to a pay phone, put in a nickel or dime (I can’t remember which) to call the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, and they sent a ¾-ton truck to pick us up. Shortly thereafter, our reality began.

The reason that I recount this is because in this modern age when a lot of our daily lives and world events seem so confusing, last Monday evening was refreshing and enjoyable ... at least to me as a bystander. I had just witnessed a group of young men, all volunteers, who had decided to accept the challenge to become Marines and to serve our country. I am hopeful that most, if not all of them, will make the grade and graduate as Marines. I guarantee the mo-ment of their graduation from boot camp will be the proudest moment in their lives.

Robert Stebbins
USMC, 1952-55
Encinitas, Calif.