Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Summer 1965

 First Platoon, F Company,  Summer 1967
On my nineteenth birthday, while on Christmas Vacation from Westtown School, I drove down to the Marine Corps Officers Selection Office in Washington D.C.  When I returned home that evening I had enlisted in the Marine Platoon Leaders Course. Officially I was a PFC in the Marine Corps!  I was just a kid, doing what was expected of kids in that day, signing up to serve our country.  I had been living a sheltered life in a wonderful Friends boarding school in Pennsylvania.  My attempts to be accepted at Annapolis had been  thwarted by a lack of a local congressman to give me an appointment.  My family, who were living overseas had no local US address so I had no Congressman.
Now, as a PLC I would attend OCS-like training at Quantico, Virginia during my Freshman and Junior summers at Dartmouth.  These two training periods were both the most physically and mentally challenging experiences of my young life.  They were also the most rewarding. After all our training, where our Platoon Sergeant had treated us as lowly maggots, unfit to wear the Marine Uniform, Staff Sergeant Parker came up to me, shook my hand, and said he would be proud to serve under me in the future.  There could be no greater compliment; there could be no greater feeling of accomplishment.
During these Summers I met some strong leaders and friends. Friends who worked and suffered together. I also learned a great deal about myself.  I learned the difference of being one of the guys and being a leader who  trusts, values and learns from the troops he leads
I will recall some of the highlights of these summers:

At Camp Upshur, an aging and recently reactivated camp of ancient Quonset huts, located in the boonies of the Quantico Base training areas I first learned about a place called Vietnam. Both our Platoon Sergeant and Sergeant Instructor had recently returned from Nam. Staff Sergeant Ally was a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam and walked showing the affect of shrapnel collected in Korea.

The Hill Trail is a place or event known and remembered with dread by all candidates who passed through Quantico.  This trail hilly runs through the rugged woods over red clay near Mainside.  During the Summer the heat of Virginia is staggering due to the temperatures approaching 100 degrees with the humidity close behind.  The Marine Corps had a system to control what activities were allowed at certain heat levels.  A Black Flag meant  no physical activity was permitted.  However, most days were under red-flag conditions that required Corpsmen to be nearby with children's swimming pools full of ice loaded on six-buys (trucks).  Fortunately,  I was a track and cross country runner who knew to gobble down tons of salt tablets and water.  I actually enjoyed running the Hill Trail with pack, helmet and M-14.  Sometimes the heat was so bad it looked like a sniper was in the woods as candidates fell and collapsed from the heat.  The Navy Corpsmen quickly dragged the heat victims int mud puddles or the pools of ice to get the body temperature from rising to the dreaded 105 degrees that causes brain damage.  The last thing you ever wanted to be was a straggler.

Night in the Squad-Bay was a quite a scene.  There, in two rows of bunk-beds (racks), slept about 40 exhausted and stressed candidates.  At 2000 we were given the order to mount our racks. We said a prayer to Chest Puller, asked God to bless the Marine Corps and then our Sergeant would give the order:  "READY SLEEP".  And that we did - kind of.  If you were awake during the night or had the fire-watch duty you would hear many talking in their sleep.  One candidate would, while sound asleep, get out of his top rack and march down to the Sergeant Instructor's office which was empty at this hour.  He would then carry on a long conversation and then return to his rack, crawl in, and continue to sleep.  Candidate Thompson was DOR'd -dropped out- because, for some reason, the Corps did not think it wise to have an officer sleep walking through the jungles of Nam.  One night I woke up in the middle of the night to find myself fully dressed in my utility uniform and boots standing at attention at the bottom of my rack.  It took me a minute to figure out where I was and what I was doing.  I then heard Candidate Girard, sound asleep, in the rack next to mine yelling, in the best Platoon Sergeant's voice;  "GET UP, GET UP, GET YOUR ASSES OUT OF THE RACK!"  I had heard the order in my sleep and like a good Marine responded even though both Girard and I were sound asleep.  We were always exhausted.  As we marched to class or chow I would look ahead and see how far it was until we would have to turn or do some other maneuver.  I would then close my eyes and "nap" as we marched.

The Rifle Range.  Every Marine is a rifleman as explained by a by a Marine Fighter Pilot during the Korean War.  He was being interviewed and was asked what his duties were.  His response; " I am a Marine Rifleman but at the moment I am flying F-86s."

The Marines take marksmanship very seriously.  A full week was dedicated to qualifying with our M-14 rifles.  We were hauled from our barracks to the Rifle Range at 0 Dark Thirty in the morning.  For the first two days we did not fire a round.  We snapped in.  That is, we sat in large circles around 50 gallon drums with targets painted all around them.  We would practice sighting in on these little targets from the various shooting positions: prone, sitting, and off-hand.  In each position there is an exact method of tightly wrapping the rifle sling around your arm so the weapon becomes a part of your body and will move back to where you were aiming after the rifle recoils from a shot.  After  couple of days of this painful contorting of the body we finally got to shoot.
While half of us were on the firing line the other half were in the butts working the targets.  After each shot the target is hauled down and the shot marked with a sticker so the shooter will know where he hit and can make appropriate adjustments of windage and range. If the shooter misses the target completely the Marine waves Maggy's Drawers - a red flag on a stick.  It is quite an experience to be working below the target berm when 50 Marines open up with 50 rounds of rapid fire whizzing over your head.
I started out really well  on qualification week and was shooting in the Sharpshooter - almost Expert range.  But I choked on Qual. Day and only shot Marksman.

More to Come..............................................

The Night Compass March

Rifle Inspection



  1. I had been on my high school rifle team but did horrible at Quantico. I'd practiced shooting all my life but when it came to that day, forget it. I've never felt so embarrassed. Period. While I was shooting, I believe his name was Major Suthole (I'm not joking) walked by and as he passed, I rolled slightly to my right side and shot the finger at him. Next thing I know, Sgt. Foster, who I really liked, came walking by and grinning and said something to me. Anyway, I'm on this site, to try to find Sgt. Foster and Sgt. Hernandez (who was a real rough ass). I think my first PLC was in the summer or 1969. I really liked Sgt. Foster at Camp Upshur. He was rough but a great sgt.

  2. I was looking up the Hill Trail when I came upon your blog. I immediately recognized your picture since we were in the same platoon at Camp Upsher. At first I couldn't remember your name but then I looked at our platoon picture and the autographs on the back and figured that you are Hale Irwin. In the platoon picture I'm in the 3rd row second from the right. I well remember SSgt Alley along with Sgt Algobright(sp?), Lt. Posey, 1stSgt Fields, Gunny Figueroa who didn't have full use of one arm due to shrapnel. I remember RAThompson, he was a character. I remember when he hid the guidon and they tore the barracks apart looking for it. It's fun going through memory lane. Nes Kusnierz