July 09, 2004
Sgt. Ethan Rocke, editor of the Chevron at MCRD-San Diego, is leaving for his next duty station. Here's his goodbye to the place where so many heroic Marines started out. My son graduated from MCRD-SD in December 2002, then went on to Iraq. My two twin uncles preceded him in 1944, before going on to fight at Guam and Iwo Jima. This piece of ground, next to the San Diego airport, has many memories associated with it. Here are some of Sgt. Rocke's:
Over the past two years, I have served proudly aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, and during that time, this special place has ingrained itself deep inside me forever.
As I leave the Depot for my next duty station this week, I look back with fondness on the place Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey once called “The showplace of the Corps.” And as I look back, I imagine myself like the feather in the beginning of Forrest Gump. Gracefully floating from one story to the next as my romance with the Depot unfolds ...
As the chaotic alarm clock of a bugle call blasting over a loud speaker suddenly comes alive, so do the squad-bay lights, flooding the subconscious mind and leaving no room for the comfort of dreams. Reality comes crashing in with the intense snarl of a drill instructor barking orders.
For many, the dreams from which they’re wrenched, were inspired last night aft er they watched from a squad-bay window a cruise ship docking in the San Diego harbor as fireworks from Sea World exploded in the distance.
Outside, it’s still dark, but the lights from Lindbergh Field and downtown are always glowing in the night sky, and the clouds reflect a dim orangish gray. As the recruits form up on the apron, they can barely make out the Marine layer behind the silhouettes of palm trees in the pre-dawn sky. Those on the airport side near the mess hall can already smell their chow. If you go north from there, you can smell real-Marine chow. It smells a lot like recruit chow.
Outside the reach of those familiar mess hall aromas, are many other smells: Sometimes, it’s the smell of a crisp sea breeze fi lling up your lungs as you run
along the backside, where a chain-link fence separates you from the airport runway. A lot of the time, it’s the subtle smell of the cool, aged, stone walls inside one of the buildings by famed architect Bertram Goodhue. If you’re a “hat,” it’s the smell of Bulldog aftershave and Listerine. If you’re a hat at the beginning of a cycle, you wish it was aftershave and mouthwash, and you wish the term “recruit funk” had something to do with music. If you’re a member of the Museum Historical Society, it’s the smell of dozens of old uniforms, weapons,
paintings and other collectibles.
Of course, those museum folks know more of the sounds than the smells; I would think. After all, they hold one of the most prime pieces of real estate for the sounds. Every Thursday, there’s the low grumble of hundreds of bubbling family members all scrambling for the first look at their new Marine. Then comes the loud, motivated cadence echoing across Shepard Memorial Drill Field, followed by a whole lot of clapping and cheering. Sometimes, in the midst of all that, they can make out the excited, high-pitched bark of a young English bulldog named Molly as she lunges forward on her leash, trying to get loose to run in formation.
Some sounds can be heard from every corner. I wonder what the most familiar one is. Probably a bugle call — reveille, morning colors (pause for jetliners
blaring through the windows) retreat?
Marine Corps cadence echoing in the arcade? You hear that sometimes. Not quite as much as you hear a platoon of (Pause again for airplanes. It’s hard to hear myself think when they’re fl ying over, so I’m waiting for this one to pass) recruits yelling “Aye aye, sir!” and “Yes, sir!”
I know. Drill instructor’s calling (plane again) cadence. That’s got to be the most familiar sound. At least, I can’t think of (another plane) a more familiar sound right now.
Personally, my favorite sound is probably the national anthem followed by the Marines’ Hymn. Th is often means someone is graduating something. Recruiters
With every new batch of graduating recruiters, the Corps future is courted and conceived out “on the streets” all over America. When the drill instructors graduate, they just take a walk “across the street” to carry the Corps’ future
to term and watch it born over and over again on the grinder every Friday.
There’s that anthem and hymn again. If ceremonial music is not playing, you can almost count on some sort of hedge trimmer or weed whacker coming alive with a disturbing ruckus. But as parents snap pictures of their new Marines all over the Depot, cameras record only the exquisite landscaping and architecture in the background and never the annoying buzz of a lawn tool, which subsides in the evening time.
The day begins to fade, and night falls over the Depot. Seagulls scavenge for scraps of food behind the mess hall while recruits eat their evening chow. The
young men probably think forward to their hour of free time, looking straight past the hour or two they’ll spend in “the mini grinder.”
With a “snap!” a “pop!” and a canteen of water, the lights are suddenly out in the squad bay again. Recruits lay at the position of attention as Taps plays. A peaceful serenity settles over the Depot again, and my Forrest Gump feather settles on the open pages of a fire watch’s recruit knowledge. He doesn’t really notice at first. He’s too busy thinking about cruise ships and fireworks.
I’ll miss this place.
Posted by Deb at July 9, 2004 09:00 AM
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